Hiking Tips

How to set a steady hiking pace

Up one hill and down another: Before you know it, your pack weighs a ton and you’re panting like a dog. But a hike does not have to be this tiring. A steady pace will conserve energy by ironing out all those ups and downs.

FINDING YOUR STRIDE

Everyone has a different stride (natural pace). Find yours during the first steps of a hike. It should be smooth — with rhythmic breathing, swinging arms and a consistent length to the step.

Maintaining that pace can be difficult. Slower hikers ahead on the trail slow your pace. Faster ones tempt you to hurry along.

Spreading out helps you maintain your pace, says Mark Anderson, director of program at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. “The truth is your pace can’t be any faster than the slowest hiker in your group. It’s important that the group stay together.”

If not, when Scouts come to a fork in the trail they’ll get separated. And if a problem arises with hikers at the rear, the ones in front won’t know about it and will keep going.

HEADING UPHILL …

The 50- and 100-mile backpack treks offered at Philmont cover trails at 6,000 to 12,000 feet of elevation. Shorten steps to pull such grades but retain your rhythm.

Also, step over objects in the trail instead of stepping on them. Stepping up on logs and rocks in the trail all day is like climbing an extra thousand feet straight up.

“On the really steep parts you might try what we call the rest step,” suggests Mr. Anderson. “with each climbing step straighten either the forward or trailing leg (the rear leg is easier for me) and lock the knee. Pause for a second, letting the bones of the locked leg bear your weight. This gives the leg muscles a short rest between steps.”

… AND BACK DOWNHILL

The uphill struggle is rewarded with a downhill coast. “But,” Mr. Anderson cautions, “I see way more injuries to hikers going downhill because they’re not in control.”

A slight bend in the knees absorbs the shock to the feet and leg joints when coming downhill. Placing the feet flat on the ground provides more boot sole surface to grip the ground.

“If the going’s real rough you might even want to side-step down the trail,” he says.

REST STOPS

Time between rest stops varies.

“Here at Philmont, with the hot and dry conditions and an uphill grade, you’ll want to rest every 20 or 30 minutes,” Mr. Anderson says. “At the least, you’ll want to stop every hour to readjust packs and drink some water.”

Limit rests to five minutes or so. Any longer and muscles tend to tighten, making it harder to resume your hiking rhythm.

Sit and give your feet a break while resting. Face downhill so your pack rests on the ground, not on your aching back.

Leave the pack on, but loosen the hip belt and shoulder straps. That eliminates lifting the pack and struggling back into the belt and straps.

With a break and a drink, you’re ready to hit the trail again with a steady step.

HELPING HAND

A walking stick lends a supporting hand while crossing streams or rough spots on a trail. Many hikers use the enduring wooden staff.

Modern trekking poles made of metal and/or plastics are lighter and provide a molded grip. Some hikers clutch a trekking pole in each hand. The swinging poles help help keep a fluid pace.

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