Fall is a great time for hiking: more downtime after a busy summer, the cooler but not-too-cold weather, and of course, the beautiful fall foliage. However, hiking can also be hard on your body and it’s essential to warm up and prepare yourself. You may have read our Hiker’s Checklist back in 2019 and we wanted to bring you a new-and-improved list of things to keep in mind while hiking, so that you can keep your body healthy and enjoy the trails all year long:
1. Preparation and warm-up
First off, it’s important to choose a hike that’s right for you—fun and challenging, but not too difficult or dangerous based on your abilities—so make sure that you research your hikes carefully and understand the terrain and elevation before you go. Warming up and stretching is critical before setting out so that you have full range of motion and your muscles and joints are warmed up and ready to go. Important areas of the body to stretch or warm up before you go are the hips, quads, hamstrings, and calves, and it’s a good idea to start your hike at a slightly slower pace for the first 5-10 minutes.
2. Fit your equipment
Good hiking boots or shoes should be snug but not painful. You should still be able to wiggle your toes, but your foot should not move back and forth and your heel should not slide up or down in the shoe. Find a hiking backpack with a waist strap and sternum strap and tighten your shoulder straps so that the pack is always in contact with your back and shoulder girdle and not sliding around as you walk. Adjust hiking poles so that your elbow is at a 75 to 90 degree angle when standing with arms by your side.
3. Proper posture and mechanics
Your hiking mechanics may vary with different types of terrain, but there are some good general principles to keep in mind: step from heel to toe, swing and use your arms for support, engage your core, keep your shoulders down and back, and keep your head up to lengthen and straighten your back. When hiking uphill, be sure to find stable footing and engage your glutes and quads to lift your body weight. Hiking downhill comes with its own set of challenges since your legs are supporting all of your weight and the terrain can sometimes be slippery or uneven: make sure that you are careful about your foot placement, go slow, and engage your leg muscles to support your weight.
4. Injury prevention and pain management
The unpredictable terrain that comes with hiking can cause injury if you’re not prepared; sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support, hiking poles, and being careful about your foot placement will go a long way. However, other things to keep in mind to prevent injury are working on your balance and stability with exercises like standing heel raises or balancing and/or squatting on a Bosu ball or other uneven surface. And, as with warming up, a cooldown series of stretches after you finish your hike will keep your muscles and joints healthy and pain-free for future hikes: target your hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves, and back.
As physiotherapists, we see a lot of hikers with twisted ankles, knee pain, or sore backs. The above list should help you avoid these while hiking, but if you are experiencing persistent pain or discomfort during or after a hike, make an appointment with a physiotherapist so that they can evaluate your posture, mechanics, joint stability, flexibility, and provide you with an exercise program or other ways to remedy these imbalances to get you back on your feet.
Bonus: looking to explore some new places or need some hiking inspiration in Edmonton? Check out this list of the Best Hikes and Walks in Edmonton!