Walking technique for backpacking

Please Register as a New User in order to reply to this topic.
 evinahmad86 18 Feb 2021

So I guess the real question is - are there better techniques of walking uphill and downhill?

I've struggled with IT band syndrome and a mild plantar fasciitis in the past and I'm doing everything I should (I think) - strengthening my gluteus medius, doing the exercises my PT recommended, using trekking poles, etc. but I've been wondering if I can do better when actually out on a hike. Also, I thought it might be interesting to make this a universal question, rather about a specific injury.

Examples of questions I've asked myself:- when going uphill, is it better to "keep low" and not straighten the leg, or is it better to straighten the leg at every step?- when going downhill, is it better to land on heel or front of the foot?- a woman who qualified herself as mountain leader once told me it's best to go downhill with your feet facing outward and almost running/hopping down: is this good advice?- this might be specific to me but I've been trying to be mindful about tilting my hips forwards when walking: I can't really do it on uphills, but is it a good thing to do on flat sections?

Hope this is of interest.

 Gav Parker 18 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

Hi

Get in touch with Chris Ensoll. He specialises in movement. He’s a guide based in the Lakes.

Some movement vids on you tube Chris has posted.

In reply to evinahmad86:

If you haven't already, get some walking poles.

I don't have any medical issues but found them revolutionary to how I tackle big days out. Going uphill is quicker, easier and reduces stress on the knees.

Coming downhill has an even more profound impact in reducing thigh and knee stress. Helps you balance on scree and especially stream / river crossings. 

Buy a cheap pair first to see how you get on and I'm sure you'll quickly upgrade to something lighter and more comfy.

 dabble 18 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

I've done double timing on descents; not quite a run, not quite walking and this has made a big difference in how my knees cope with them. I don't do it all the time, just every so often as a bit of a break from the heavy pounding that can happen or if I'm particularly keen to get to the van/ town/ trail angels house. I keep my feet straight though, can't see any benefit in turning my feet outwards, I would have thought that would put the knee and ankle under undue pressure and also be an unstable platform which could lead to a tumble. 

I also found the Pigeon Pose stretch to really help with hip pain that I used to get quite frequently after a long day with a pack on. General stretching was also employed to keep the legs supple.

If your backpacking/hiking regularly enough your body will get used to it, just remember to allow yourself to recover and don't try to push through the pain as it will inevitably make things worse.

Just as an aside, I hiked the PCT in 2019, covering 2659 miles over 6 months so I'm not just a keyboard consultant, I've done these things and put them into practice to help me achieve my goal.

Edit: Poles are a very good idea.

Post edited at 13:58
 mysterion 18 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

> Examples of questions I've asked myself:- when going uphill, is it better to "keep low" and not straighten the leg, or is it better to straighten the leg at every step?- when going downhill, is it better to land on heel or front of the foot?

Straighten the leg - increases stride, also gives the leg a momentary rest

Land on the front - ankles/knees flex for shock absorption

​​

 GerM 18 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

I claim no advanced knowledge on the subject, but I would suggest the basics are simple. Your body needs to be phsically fit enough for the activity, and used to the type of movement and loads involved.  Nothing beats volume, but very progressively from a (very) easy base, involving carrying significant loads (again progressively from a very easy initial load, no need to go looking for extra weight, just carry suff you would like with you on day walks, big picnics, the odd beer or wine bottle, a few luxuries, don't be shy of doing stuff that requires carrying extra stuff with you, it can be fun, your favourite fancy camera, swimming gear, binoculars, stove for cooked food at lunchtime, big flasks of hot drinks) if it feels easy knock it up a notch, if it feels hard knock it back a notch, little by little.

The problem many of us face is a sedentary work life, but although other specific excercies and short focussed sessions have a place, nothing beats the real thing. Your joints need time (longer than you may think) to get used to the loads, and your body needs to be strong enough that it is not being overloaded, if your legs are strong it will minimise knee issues (not by doing short, high load activities).

My thinking on actual technique is small steps on steep ground (up and down) to minimise loads on joints, and using the strength of your legs to control movement (moving slowly and smoothly through the whole movement to minmise jerky impacts). But if you've done enough of the movements building slowly from an easy base you will understand intuitively what works for you, your mind and body will already know what it needs to do.

In reply to evinahmad86:

What works for me, when walking uphill with or without a load, is to glide the feet forward just off the ground and concentrate on trying to make no noise with the feet at all. This requires planning the placing of each foot, almost like rock climbing, without knocking anything, including pebbles. All this is the opposite of clomping uphill, which many people do, making a hell of a noise. That noise is a symptom of wasted energy.

When coming downhill I often break into a semi-jog, because I find this less effort, although I wouldn't do this with a really heavy load. It is necessary to lean forward as one speeds up - rather like skiing.

 Henry Iddon 18 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

Consider core strength / fitness as well.  Your body needs to be in balance.

In reply to Kalna_kaza:

> If you haven't already, get some walking poles.

I've tried poles recently due to a knee issue but just don't get on with them. They just seem an encumbrance and something else to think about rather than concentrating on good foot placement and balance - I would say they are actually bad for balance since they encourage dependency rather than good technique (unless you actually mean steadying yourself if you do lose your balance). The only exception is when going really slowly (altitude, huge sack uphill, deep snow etc ) when they can actually be used to rest on. Downhill I usually do the flowing/jogging thing which I find does't really leave time for pole placement anyway.

In reply to Kalna_kaza:

> If you haven't already, get some walking poles.

> I don't have any medical issues but found them revolutionary to how I tackle big days out. Going uphill is quicker, easier and reduces stress on the knees.

> Coming downhill has an even more profound impact in reducing thigh and knee stress. Helps you balance on scree and especially stream / river crossings. 

> Buy a cheap pair first to see how you get on and I'm sure you'll quickly upgrade to something lighter and more comfy.

I agree but s/he does actually point out that s/he has got poles.

 tlouth7 19 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

I certainly wouldn't walk downhill with your toes turned out dramatically, that sounds like a great way of horribly injuring your knees and/or hips. Keeping your entire leg in column is especially important when you have the extra weight of a rucksack.

Like others I have found relief from 'jogging' downhill because this avoids the rather tiring slow lowering (eccentric leg bend) that takes place when trying to go down slowly. Whether it is good in terms of avoiding or mitigating injury I couldn't say.

In reply to John Stainforth:

> When coming downhill I often break into a semi-jog, because I find this less effort, although I wouldn't do this with a really heavy load.

That is what I do, only I do it with a heavy load too. I keep knees bent to absorb any shock in the muscles, get a lower centre of mass, and jog down as smoothly as I can. I find that this puts a lot less stress on my joints, as the motion is smooth and momentum is carried down rather than fighting gravity to a stop on every step.

 James Malloch 19 Feb 2021
In reply to Kalna_kaza:

> If you haven't already, get some walking poles.

Are there any specific ways to use poles? Going up hill seems fine, but I never feel in any kind of flow when going down. 

Definitely don't feel like I've any kind of correct technique with them!

 Pedro50 19 Feb 2021
In reply to James Malloch:

> Are there any specific ways to use poles? Going up hill seems fine, but I never feel in any kind of flow when going down. 

Downhill I find they are most useful descending a step. Plant the poles at the bottom of the step and then hop down; zero stress on ankles, knees or hips.

In reply to James Malloch:

I use them much like I use ski poles - of course if you don't ski that's not much help! Key points I suppose are that I hold them quite wide apart and plant each pole carefully in front, every step - in skiing you pivot round your pole plant, walking down hill if you've placed it ahead of you and with care you can consciously distribute the weight of braking between your arms via the pole and your legs. And you can definitely get a rhythm or flow going.  

In reply to James Malloch:

As Pedro and Rob said. Also I would add that once "in the flow" of jogging down hill etc I might only place them once every 2 or 3 steps. It probably only makes a margin reduction on your knees pet step at speed but on long descents it really starts to add up. 

The one technique that definitely doesn't work is when someone keeps the poles strapped to their bag the entire walk - I spot it regularly in the lakes!

 Basemetal 19 Feb 2021
In reply to James Malloch:

> Are there any specific ways to use poles? Going up hill seems fine, but I never feel in any kind of flow when going down. 

Have a look around the "How to Use" sections  on the PacerPole website for tips and videos . eg...  http://www.pacerpole.co.uk/pacerpole-user-guide/descents

I find the 45 degree cocked anatomical handle of pacerpoles makes a huge difference in use.

 Basemetal 19 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

Worth a look -quick but informative vid on mechanics of uphill and downhill walking. I found it a couple of years ago after an episode with my IT band (now healed).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDIeu_QL51U&

 druridge 19 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

The action of locking out the knee when walking downhill is still referred to as 'Sahibs' knee' in the Indian Himalaya, much easier if the muscle can take the strain rather than the joint. 

 lpretro1 20 Feb 2021
In reply to evinahmad86:

Just to add, if you are using poles then make them longer when coming down hill than going up so you are not over-reaching and it helps with the weight bearing. I have used poles for over 20 years now and they have really helped my walking days. I have not so good knees and descending causes a lot of pain. Using the poles has made a big difference


Please Register as a New User in order to reply to this topic.
Loading Notifications...