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Top Tips to Level Up Your Hiking Skills From Deya

Top Tips to Level Up Your Hiking Skills From Deya

Posted by Alpinistas Ambassador Deya Bhattacharya on Sep 26, 2022

So you’ve been hiking a while. 

You hit the trails at least once in two weeks, AllTrails has become your new best friend, and you talk about the benefits of Type 2 fun to anyone who’ll listen.

What next?

How do you start taking on the bigger hikes?

How do you prepare for challenges like the Six Pack of Peaks or summiting your first 14er?

How do you improve your moving speed over uneven terrain and build up toward multi-day hikes?

Since I started hiking in May 2022, I’ve been consistently amping up the difficulty levels of the trails I do. I was helped partly by the fact that I’ve been strength training for two years and thus have a strong body overall, but there were also conscious steps I took to improve my performance. Here are some of the things that have enabled me to walk faster, go further and tackle higher altitudes. Try them out if you’re looking to level up your hiking game!

● Pay attention to your sleep position

Ever woken up with a stiff shoulder or aching neck from having slept at a weird angle? It’s absolutely going to affect your performance. If you’ve been dealing with weird aches on the trail, consider sleeping in a more neutral position or investing in a better pillow.

● Have a pre-hike warmup routine

Warming up for a few minutes gets the blood flowing and helps you set a faster pace from the get-go. I like to do some jumping jacks, squats, lunges and calf raises before I start.

● Work out your posterior chain

The muscles in the posterior chain are crucial for posture and stability. They include primarily the back, the glutes and the hamstrings. My favourite posterior chain exercises are rows (as heavy as you can lift with good form!), pullovers, hip thrusts and Romanian deadlifts. Work them out twice a week and you’ll soon see the difference!

● Pick the right backpack

Speaking of posterior chains, imagine a deadweight on your lower back when you’re hiking. Yup, that’s what happens when you have a poorly-fitted backpack! Pick something that distributes the weight evenly across your back and shoulders and with snugly fitting straps. Do a recheck of the fit prior to each hike so you don’t have to stop and readjust on the way.

Shop female specific backpacks.

● Take downhill as seriously as you take uphill

Earlier, I’d go downhill with zero attention to form. No more fighting gravity, yay! As you can imagine, though, that’s terrible for your knees. Try walking a little slower than you would on flat terrain and keep your knees slightly bent. If you find yourself going too fast, try tilting your torso slightly backward as you walk. That acts as a counterbalancing weight and helps you descend more carefully.

● Take shorter breaks on a long hike

This might sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. When you’re doing a long tough hike, your muscles are strained into active mode. By stopping for too long, you’re jolting your muscles into rest mode while they’re still in that shortened, keyed-up mode without stretching them - which leads to muscle soreness and stiffness when you resume walking, i.e. you’re jolting them yet again into action! Instead, if you’re pausing for more than a few breaths, I’d recommend taking dynamic rest by lightly jogging or shaking your legs out. You could even do some simple stretches such as reaching down to touch your toes.

● Invest in good snacks

You need substantial nutrition on long hikes, and as I have learned the hard way over multiple trails, chips are NOT enough. You need something substantial like a Cliff bar or sandwiches, or crackers spread with nut butter. Especially if you’re tackling high-altitude hikes, you will need extra nutrition. Also, candy is fine, but too much of it could cause a sugar crash, so intersperse it with something savory.

● Learn to optimize your water intake

Ideally, you’ll have water fountains or streams along the way where you can refill. But what about long, rocky summit trails without even a blade of grass? Practice drinking your water in small sips, letting it wash over your tongue and mouth, and consuming just enough to refresh you. I’ve found that when I’m thirsty on the trail, I actually don’t need big gulps of water, and that big gulps could actually cramp my tummy and do more harm than good.

● Beat the bloat

That annoying full feeling in your stomach can make it that extra bit harder to hike. If, like me, you’re susceptible to bloating, try chewing your food slowly and taking smaller bites. Smaller sips of water will help here too. Wear pants that aren’t too tight around the waist so you can accommodate some puffiness.

● Reserve some water for after the hike

Especially if you won’t have ready access to a water source, keep a bottle of water in your car for after you’re back from the hike. You need to rehydrate as soon as possible after all that exertion.

● Stretch after every hike

Much as you might feel like flopping down in a chair the moment a hike is over, don’t! Stretching is vital to muscle recovery and can save you a lot of stiffness later on. Spend at least five minutes after every hike stretching your full body, with an emphasis on the parts that feel sore. And yes, this applies to the shorter hikes too. Recovery is recovery!

● Dress for success

Tackling a challenging peak? Doing your first 20-mile day hike? Wear something that makes you feel like the powerful, badass lady you are! I actually bought new leggings for my Mt Langley day hike, as it was my first 14er. And then every time you wear that outfit afterwards, it can remind you of the epic adventure you had!

Read more articles from Deya Bhattacharya over on her blog, The Bougie Hiker.