Trekking is a combination of hiking and walking activity. It simply means a journey on foot particularly to mountainous and remote areas with a close encounter to people wherein their culture and lifestyle might still unchanged for many generations now and an opportunity of being one with the grandiose sierra on the country side. Trekking can be risky and adventurous depending on the terrain and can really be grueling and hard.
When I started trekking as my sweet escape to the chaotic city life, I simply flung myself with all of my energy and cluelessness in every trek, not appallingly anxious about anything. I didn’t mind how long and how far I was hiking, how difficult the trail I was taking, how heavy the pack I was carrying with me, how many of my companions were more than willing to laugh at my bad jokes thrown in between breaks, and how many were enthusiastic to join me whatever crazy stuffs I was dragging them into. Simply put, I was that reckless free spirit who doesn’t care much how my poor body ached after the long journey as long as I had fun and enjoyed the scenery along lovely mountain villages.
It’s normal to contemplate that walking is walking and when you know how to walk, then you know how to hike and there are no secrets on how to do it better!
After several treks, the mountains had taught me lessons that I didn’t even thought I would learn. It may be true that there are no secrets on how to make walking easier as we were walking most of our life since we were just toddlers, but like any sports, specifically endurance sports, there are always several ways how to trek more efficiently. These ways include but not limited to conserving energy and plummeting the physical toll brought by fatigue from these strenuous activity.
Because of these learnings, I am exuberant to introduce to you all the “Trail Tweaks” series. This series will showcase my personal views, trek experiences, and how did I manage to improve such haphazard strategies. For the first installment, I would like to share how to make trekking a lot easier.
Here are few points that worked for me:
Be physically and mentally fit – is top on the list to make trekking a lot Easier
This is the most obvious and the often taken for granted point for some. Stay fit when you are planning to have trekking activity. The only way to prepare for a coming trek is another trek or a short hike. If you are planning for your first trek then at least maintain a regular exercise program so that when you are going to hit the trail, you will be at your optimum physical condition. It is really hard to find ourselves falling off the track and struggling too much even on the easy terrain trek. Mental fitness however plays an equal role too. We should ensure that our minds are in tip-top shape and attitudes are flowing into the right direction. Luck favors the prepared!
Be Kind to yourself
Do not exceed what is your normal level of physical activity. Do not push beyond your limits. Hike at certain pace that you can maintain for hours especially trekking uphill. Remember hiking is an endurance sport, not a race. Aim to finish the day hiking at the same speed at which you started rather than on your upper limits that would really fatigue your muscles much faster. Think rhythm and flow. Tortoise rather than hare. If you can talk while you are hiking, then you are hiking the perfect speed.
Keep your pack as light as possible. An overly heavy pack will extract its biggest toll on your body during steep and/or long downhill sections of the trail. Do weight management of your packs and refer to efficient backpacking tips. Do not bring the whole house with you or your whole closet. Just keep in mind that even if your pack is just 8kgs, it can be enervating to carry such load for an 8-hour trek.
Make Switchbacks / zigzagging
To decrease the gradient on very steep ascents, consider zigzagging rather than going straight uphill or downhill. Walking straight up or down on a steep slope puts the greatest pressure on your feet not to mention the fatigue the leg muscles and soft joint tissues can get. I personally like this technique as it can lessen the pressure impact. You may try this on your next trek and see if it makes any difference.
Choose the right footing
Do not step on lose soils. Step on a stable one or on rocky flat surfaces especially when striding downhill. It can serve as the natural breaking mechanisms to reduce the risk of slipping and falling.
Take shorter steps (baby steps)
When the gradient is steep, taking smaller steps or baby steps will help in keeping your center of gravity over your legs, thus promoting greater balance and control. Keep your downhill leg slightly bent on impact. This will help minimize stress on the knees, as the muscles rather than the joints take the brunt of the strain. Imagine which is harder, walking up or down in a stairway one step at a time? Or two? Bending your knees deeply while taking big long steps can make your muscles work harder.
Stay hydrated when on the trail. Bring water and Gatorade/koolaid or any sports drinks and have a sip every 30 mins or so to stay hydrated and or replenish your electrolytes (salts). If you replace the water, but not the electrolytes that you have sweat out of your body, then you can develop a serious and dangerous medical condition known as hyponatremia (water intoxication) which, if left untreated, can lead to seizures. Liquids help combat muscle soreness and help in preventing cramps.
Eat well and Bring Trail foods
No food, no fuel, no fun! Hiking takes a very large amount energy. You need to make sure that you eat more than you normally do. When on the trail, trail foods can do the trick. Eat small amounts of complex carbohydrates like breads, fruits, crackers, grains, non-fat energy bars frequently throughout the day. Remember that hunger is a delayed signal, it arrives only after your body’s energy reserves have become depleted.
If you notice companions slowing down, getting quiet or grumpy, or with a faraway look in their eyes, that’s usually a sign they need some food. Eating can be one of the most effective defense against exhaustion and water intoxication (when it’s too hot) and hypothermia (when it’s cold). Eating well helps you hike well!
Use walking sticks / trekking poles
Walking sticks are really helpful in trekking. Most trekkers if not all use trekking poles to significantly reduce the impact and cumulative fatigue on leg muscles and joints. When planted and used correctly, it can reduce the weight on the legs and back of at least on average of 5kg. Effectively using two trekking poles reduces fatigue, increases speed, provides excellent stability on trails, and reduces accumulated stress on the feet, legs, knees and back.
But trekking poles are useless when not used properly. When hiking uphill or flat terrain, adjust the pole height so that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Plant the pole in the opposite hand beside your trailing foot so that you can push off slightly with every stride forward. Do not plant your pole in front as it is deemed useless.
When hiking downhill, adjust the height of the pole around 15 cm or so depending on the steepness of the trail and plant each pole out in front of you (right-hand pole when stepping left foot forward and vice versa). This way, the poles take some of your body weight when striding down and prevent you from slipping and falling.
Take a break regularly
Breaks in between treks are really important. But try keeping them short and regular rather than long and occasional. This keeps your heartbeat relatively constant rather than subjecting it to dramatic fluctuations, you will expend less energy and cover more distance. Keep most of the long breaks for eating, bathroom, etc. for around 15-20 minutes but not long enough to let your muscles cool down completely. This allows less time for the muscles to stiffen up, thus making it easier to get going again.
Another good alibi to have a quick break in between is when you have your camera and take pictures on the trail. If your body needs that 30 secs break, then find your subject then shoot.
Tip: Every .5 to 1 hour, take a seven to nine-minute break.
Did you find these tweaks helpful? Are you practicing these already? I hope this list can help you make trekking a lot easier. Let us know your thoughts.