Hiking in the natural world is one of the best ways to get fit and get happy. Following these tips on how to hike efficiently will make hiking even more enjoyable!
This instructable goes beyond the basics (i.e. comfortable shoes, hydration and snacks), and presents practical tips on how to hike as quickly and efficiently as possible while minimizing discomfort.
If you want to take your hiking to the next level, whether it's to hike to Everest Base Camp, compete in a race, or keep up with your super-fit friends, read on!
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Step 1: Maintain Equal Effort, Not Speed
Many people try to maintain the same speed, no matter what the grade or terrain they are on.
This is a waste of energy.
It's much better to adjust your pace and slow down when you are going up a steep hill, and then speed up when you come to a flat or downhill section of the trail. What you are striving for is equality of effort, not constant speed. Some athletes use heart rate monitors to try to maintain a steady heart rate, to ensure that they are working at a consistent pace. You can use a monitoring device to check your effort level (which your heart rate measures from a cardiovascular perspective), or just make a conscious effort to keep your breathing and effort level at a more consistent level. Take smaller steps when you are going up a steep hill and larger steps when the trail is flat.
This approach will increase your speed while conserving energy. This is particularly useful for a long endurance hike (e.g. Mt Kiliminjaro) or a race over difficult terrain, and is useful whenever your hike involves hills.
Step 2: Apply Sunscreen and Insect Repellant, But Not Above Your Eyes
It's best to apply sunscreen first (the instructions suggest applying it 15 minutes before sun exposure), and then insect repellent later. I will usually wait and evaluate the bug situation before I apply insect repellent, as I'd rather avoid applying repellent if I can.
If you wear a hat (see next step) you don't need to apply sunscreen and repellant above your eyes, thus preventing either of these from dripping into your eyes.
If the bugs (mosquitoes, etc) are really bad, you can also spray insect repellent on the outside of your hat brim, which helps to repel them, and on your face below your eyes. If the bugs are extremely bad, you can wear a mesh headnet over your hat to keep bugs off your face. The wide hat brim will keep the headnet away from your face and help you to feel more comfortable.
Step 3: Wear Sunglasses and a Hat With a Brim
Wearing a hat with a brim protects you from:
- impact of falling objects
Another benefit noted in the previous step is that a hat allows you to apply sunscreen and insect repellant ONLY BELOW your eyes, not on your forehead.
This protects you from having sunscreen or harsh chemicals like DEET drip into your eyes. This tip alone will save you a lot of potential grief while hiking!
Sunglasses not only protect your eyes from the sun, but also from dust and tree branches that could hit you in the face.
If it's hot, I recommend wearing a straw hat, rather than a cloth hat.
Step 4: Secure Your Back Pack Properly
On my first big hike in Nepal, one of my fellow hikers pointed out that my backpack was opening as I walked, because it had been closed with the zippers meeting in the middle of the top (See outer pocket of first photo with X through it). If you close the zippers this way, and your pack is full, eventually the pressure of the items inside, and your movement, will force the zippers open and your stuff could fall out. The second photo shows the pack with the zippers properly closed for all compartments, with the zipper pulls meeting near the side bottom of the pack.
Lesson learned: Always close your pack with the zippers meeting near the side or bottom, not the top middle.
You will also note that the hiker in these photos has the waist strap attached around his hips, and a chest strap attached at the front of his chest. The waist strap should be tight against your hips - this will spread the weight around, so that instead of carrying the full weight of the pack on your shoulders, you are carrying much of the weight on your hips. If you have a heavy pack (e.g. on a backpacking trip where you are carrying your tent and food), it will feel a lot lighter once you attach the waist strap. The straps will also stabilize the pack against your body, so that you and your pack move as one, and you are not unbalanced by your pack.
The chest strap is optional but will help keep your pack close to your body. Note also that there is one water bottle on each side of the pack - so that the weight is evenly balanced and the pack is not lopsided.
Step 5: Use Hiking Poles
Hiking poles act like a 3rd and 4th leg.
The result is much better stability - especially useful for stream crossings, steep and narrow trails, or trails with loose scree and poor footing. The extra stability is helpful if you are carrying a heavy backpack or hiking on snow, ice or other slippery surfaces. The poles also reduce the impact that hiking has on your body - your joints will thank you! And using poles means that you are using your arms and getting some upper body exercise which you might not otherwise get from hiking. If you use poles with the right technique, they will increase your speed and reduce fatigue, while burning more calories!
Two poles are generally more efficient than one but some people like hiking with one pole and that's okay too.
It can take a bit of practice to use poles (bonus - if you are a cross-country skier it will seem natural). For good videos on how to use hiking poles properly, click here.
Step 6: Anticipate! Take Regular Breaks to Assess and Refuel
There is often a time lag between when our bodies need something and when we first feel the need.
Usually, our bodies need water before we actually experience thirst. And we can easily get chilled and not notice until it's almost too late to easily warm up. Similarly, we may run out of fuel and only realize we are hungry when we feel suddenly fatigued.
To prevent crashing from frozen toes or lack of food or water, it's helpful to take regular breaks (at least every 90 minutes) to hydrate and assess your needs. Is that lump in your sock about to cause a blister? Maybe it's time to change socks or put a bandaid on your heel. Are you starting to feel cold? Time to put that sweater on.
Frequent check-ins with yourself are an important part of making sure that your body has everything it needs to function as efficiently as possible. Over time you will learn to drink BEFORE you are thirsty and be able to anticipate your body's needs before it is too late and your energy crashes from dehydration, lack of food, cold or overheating.
Step 7: Now Get Out There and Hike Like a Pro!
I am in favour of anything that makes being active in the natural world more enjoyable.
I hope these tips for efficient hiking encourage you to get outside and have fun hiking!
P.S. All photos were taken in the Yukon Territory, Canada.
Runner Up in the
Outdoor Fitness Challenge