Hike Smarter, Not Harder: Mastering Self-Care to Beat the Trail Blues

Hike Smarter, Not Harder: Mastering Self-Care to Beat the Trail Blues

Anyone who has been hiking for any length of time knows that it can be tough on the body. From blisters and sore muscles to joint pain and Plantar Fasciitis, there are all sorts of ways that hiking can leave us feeling less than our best. And yet, for all the challenges that hiking presents, self care is not something that I see discussed very much on hiking blogs, Reddit, TikTok, or Instagram.

Why is that?

  • Is it because hikers just take it in stride (pun intended) when something hurts?
  • Is it because there's no "source of truth" on how to prevent trail problems before they start?
  • Could it be because we're so focused on trekking to the top that we don't focus on our inner self, and perform important self-care / health checks to detect issues before serious injury occurs?

In this blog post, I'm going to explore these questions and more as we take a closer look at why self care is so important for hikers (and everyone else, too!).

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Hikers are Tough...But That Doesn't Mean We Should Ignore Pain

There's no denying that hikers and backpackers are tough. We often find ourselves walking in remote areas, miles from civilization, navigating rugged terrain. And when something goes wrong, we have to rely on our own strength and resourcefulness to take care of ourselves and get out of a tight spot.

hiker hiking boot foot pain

But just because hikers and backpackers are tough doesn't mean that we should ignore pain. In fact, ignoring pain can often make things worse. When something hurts, it's our body's way of telling us that something is wrong. And if we ignore those warning signs, we could end up with a serious injury.

7 Warning Signs of Injury that You Should Never Ignore

If you notice any of these warning signs, it's critical that you consider seeing a doctor or other medical professional to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

hiking friends injury

1. Sudden onset of pain

One of the most obvious warning signs that our body is injured is the sudden onset of pain. This can be a sharp pain that comes on suddenly, or a dull ache that gradually gets worse over time.

2. Swelling

Another warning sign that our body is injured is swelling. This can occur in the affected area, or in the surrounding tissues. Swelling can be caused by fluid buildup or inflammation, and can often be accompanied by redness and warmth.

3. Bruising

Bruising is a common warning sign of an injury. Bruising occurs when small blood vessels break and leak blood into the surrounding tissues. Bruising can often be painful, and may also cause swelling and discoloration of the skin.

4. Limited range of motion

If you have an injury, you may find that your range of motion is limited. This means that you are not able to move your affected limb or joint through its full range of motion. Limited range of motion can be caused by pain, swelling, or stiffness in the affected area.

5. Redness and warmth

Redness and/or warmth in the joints or muscles can be a sign of inflammation or even an infection.

6. Limping

Limping occurs when we favor one leg over the other, or one foot over the other, in order to avoid putting weight on the injured body part.

7. Numbness or tingling

Finally, numbness occurs when there is decreased sensation in an area of the body, while tingling occurs when there is an abnormal sensation in an area of the body (such as "pins and needles"). Numbness or tingling can often be accompanied by weakness, loss of coordination, or paralysis.

hiker pain foot

If you're on a hiking trail or resting at camp, and you start to feel any of these warning signs, don't just "suck it up" and carry on. Stay calm, don't stress, breathe, and take a few minutes to assess the situation. Some common gear adjustments and easy treatments include:

  • Different shoes and hiking boots (yours might be too narrow, too wide, too small, too big, etc.)
  • Blister remedies
  • Anti-chafe cream or powder
  • KT tape
  • Different socks or double-layer socks
  • Reducing your pack weight
  • Adjusting your pack or even getting a different pack
  • Stretching
  • Self massage with a massage ball to relax your muscles
  • Apply ice if available

wrapping knee with KT tape

Note that these adjustments and easy treatments are not professional medical advice. If you assess the situation, and feel that your warning sign or injury warrants medical attention--go get it! Again, it's up to you to do what's best for you. There's no trophy waiting for you at the top. You can come back another time in your life, the mountain isn't going anywhere. But you want to make sure your body is able to come back, since you only have one body in your entire lifetime.

The important thing is to listen to your body, monitor your health, take care of your physical wellbeing, and give yourself the time, attention, and self care you need to stay healthy on trail.

Preventing Hiking Injuries Before They Start

The best way to deal with a hiking injury is to prevent it from happening in the first place. And yet, I often see hikers and backpackers taking all sorts of risks that increase their chances of getting hurt. From wearing ill-fitting hiking boots to carrying packs that are too heavy or too big (or both!), there are all sorts of ways that we set ourselves up for problems on the trail.

man with blisters standing barefoot on mountain top

One of the most important and effective things you can do for your hike (and your overall health) is to invest some time in learning about proper self care and hiking gear before you hit the trail. There are lots of great hiking and backpacking resources out there that can teach you how to select the best gear for your level, body type, mileage goals, terrain, and more. Also, there are some amazing resources that can teach you how to prevent common hiking injuries before they start. Your future self will thank you! 

Self Care Tips and Resources

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