Hiking is a great way to get exercise and fresh air, but it's important to take care of your body before and after your hike to avoid injury and fatigue. That's why the concept of self-care is so important.
Self-care means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) [Link]
We've put together a short list of basic hiking self-care tips that apply to beginners and experts, alike. You can even take these self-care tips from the trail to the road, the slopes, the crag, the swimming pool, or any other place you enjoy outdoor recreation.
1. Warm up before you start
Just like any other physical activity, it's important to warm up your muscles before you start hiking. A simple warm-up routine of light stretching and jogging in place for a few minutes will help get your blood flowing and prepare your body for the hike ahead.
Stretching before hiking
Stretching before a hike not only conditions your body for the activity, but also prevents injury and exhaustion. When you stretch, it opens up blood vessels and sends more oxygen to your muscles. This primes them for action and gives you a greater range of motion, so you're less likely to get hurt during your hike. Here are some stretches to do before heading out:
- Standing hip flexor stretch
- Quadriceps stretch
- Gluteal stretch
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and place one foot in front of the other. Bend the knee of the back leg while keeping your torso upright and pushing your hips forward, feeling a stretch in front of the hip of your back leg. Hold this pose for 15–30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Stand with your feet together and bring one heel towards your buttock. Grasp your ankle with the same side hand, then draw it closer to your butt while keeping the knee pointing downward until a stretch is felt along the front of thigh and hip. Hold for 15–30 seconds and switch sides.
Lie down OR a more comfortable option outside will be to sit on a bench, chair, boulder, log, etc. with both legs bent and feet flat on the ground. Then, cross one leg over the other so that your ankle is resting on top of your opposite knee. If lying down, use both hands to pull your bottom leg closer towards your chest until a stretch is felt in the glutes. If sitting up, let your top leg fall comfortably and let gravity do the work! Hold for 15–30 seconds, then switch sides.
2. Pace yourself
It can be tempting to try to power through a hike as quickly as possible, but it's important to take breaks and go at a pace that feels comfortable for you. If you push yourself too hard, you'll end up getting tired more quickly and putting yourself at risk for injuries.
When you plan a hiking or backpacking trip, think ahead and picture yourself walking (or running) the pace you'd like to maintain during your time on the trail.
- Slow and easy (0-2 mph)
- Moderate (2-3 mph)
- Brisk (3-4 mph)
- Fast (4+ mph)
You may also find yourself changing your pace as your body warms up, or as you tire after being on your feet. By practicing mindfulness, and listening to what your body is telling you, is essential to hiking self-care.
Remember, the goal of any hike is to reach the turn-around point with enough energy left for a safe (and injury-free) return. If something doesn't feel right or you start to experience pain, it's important to listen to your body and take a break. Continuing to hike when you're in pain can lead to further injuries.
In terms of pacing yourself, try these simple techniques:
Pause for a few minutes every hour or so to rest and assess your hiking progress
Be mindful about how your body is feeling and ask yourself:
- Am I going too fast?
- Too slow?
- Do I feel like I can speed up while still having enough energy to hike back?
- Should I slow down and turn around sooner since my knee is starting to ache?
Think of it is a diagnostic you're performing on your own body. While performing this hiking self-care assessment, take the time to enjoy your surroundings, hydrate, perform self-massage, and stretch.
Don't overexert yourself
Don’t worry about reaching a summit for the sake of a beautiful view, if it means you'll be pushing your body past its limits. Take self-care breaks as needed, and turn around if feel unsure or doubtful about how much fuel you have left in your tank. Your safety should always be your number one priority!
3. Bring hydration and nutrition
We've talked about how important it is for self-care while hiking to listen to your body and recognize when it’s time to pause and reflect... but what about hydration? Well, when it comes to guzzling liquids, if you find yourself thirsty, you've waited too long to drink something!
The best way to beat dehydration is to drink before you get thirsty. If you're thirsty, you're already mildly dehydrated, and that can cause symptoms like headache, fatigue, dizziness and more.
- Cleveland Clinic [Link]
The amount of water you drink will depend on a number factors, such as your activity level, elevation, and sweat rate. For general hydration guidelines though, it's about:
- 0.5 Liters per hour for moderate activity in moderate conditions (e.g. a slow-paced 2 mile hike at sea-level on a 75 degrees Fahrenheit or 24 Celsius day)
- Up to 2 Liters per hour or more when exercising strenuously outdoors during hot weather
But, again, this varies based upon person age/body type so take your own self-care into major consideration and listen closely to what your body is saying!
By following these simple self-care tips, you'll be able to enjoy hiking while staying safe and avoiding injuries. Remember to warm up before starting your hike, pace yourself, listen to your body if something doesn't feel right, and bring plenty of water. Happy hiking!