For many of us, spring is the start to the hiking season each year: improved weather conditions make it easier to get active again and fully enjoy the many benefits of hiking. Health benefits in particular make hiking attractive for all ages and fitness levels. We have compiled a few useful hiking tips in this article to make starting out easier for beginners: find out what makes consistent, brisk walking so healthy, how to prepare perfectly for your next trip, and how to successfully prevent knee and back pain whilst hiking.
What makes hiking so attractive and healthy?
Hiking is so suitable for beginners because you don’t need much equipment and you can be pleased with quick progress early on. Those who set realistic goals based on their fitness will enjoy their excursions and improve quickly when it comes to distances and elevation. A further benefit is that you can hike basically anytime, anywhere. Many people make use of the mild temperatures in spring to enjoy outdoor activities. Discovering new places provides variety and prevents boredom. Whether alone, as a couple, or in a group – being out and about in the fresh air, enjoying nature, has a positive impact on body and mind in many different ways.
On level terrain, hiking is an activity that is gentle on your joints. The even and moderate movements subject the locomotor system to less strain than other sports but they still exercise your muscles: specifically, the thigh, lower leg, and buttock muscles are strengthened but also the back and abdominal muscles responsible for an upright, steady gait as well as your balance. If you’re using walking sticks, not only will you reduce strain on your legs, knees, and ankles but you’ll also incorporate the upper extremities in your movements at the same time. By moving your arms and legs in opposite directions, you’re also promoting diagonal core stability. Plus, you’ll burn more calories and will probably start to sweat a little. This gentle endurance training has a positive effect on the heart and circulation and strengthens the immune system. And last but not least, our mental health also benefits, as has been proven in a study (source):
Regular hiking reduces stress and promotes positive feelings like happiness [...]
Take the vitality test!
Do you want to know how your fitness and well-being are doing? Then take the vitality test.
It’s all about the journey!
If, based on your physical constitution, a preexisting condition, regular joint problems, or back pain, you’re not sure whether hiking is the right activity for you, please consult your physician before you start. Together, you can agree on an appropriate initial training load.
With the following hiking tips, we would like to provide you with additional support when you start hiking, so you can get active without having to worry. In particular, we will explain how to protect your knees and your back so that nothing can get in the way of your enjoyment of hiking.
Our hiking tips
1. Use the correct hiking equipment
When choosing footwear, look out for a material mix that is equally robust, waterproof, and breathable. Depending on terrain, you may wish to choose an ankle-high model that offers increased stability and protects you from twisting your ankle on uneven ground. Furthermore, the sole of the boots should provide comfortable cushioning and secure grip on different surfaces.
Appropriate hiking socks also play an important role for the well-being of your feet. Their compression effect promotes circulation and ensures that your calf muscles can keep going for longer. Models with special functional zones offer additional comfort and can relieve your feet and calves.
Adjust the rest of your outfit to the relevant temperature and weather conditions. You should certainly not feel cold in your hiking clothing, but it should ideally be lightweight and have moisture-regulating properties in case it gets hot or you start to sweat. Remember that temperature fluctuations can be significant, in the mountains in particular, when you’re ascending several hundreds of meters.
What is known as the “onion principle”, i.e. wearing several layers of functional clothing on top of each other that can be easily taken off or put on as needed, has proven useful among hikers. You can also take a thin rain cape with you so you’re equipped in case you get surprised by rain. You should also protect yourself from strong sunshine – a head covering and sun cream must be part of your equipment.
Speaking of equipment: as a general rule, you should only take what you definitely need. Depending on the length of your trip, you will take food and sufficient drink, of course, so you can refuel every now and then and prevent dehydration. Pack your hiking backpack in such a way that all the heavy gear is close to your back. If you have a backpack with a chest strap and hip belt, most of the weight will be borne by your iliac crest, thus relieving your back. This is one way of preventing back pain whilst hiking.
A back support like our LumboTrain can also alleviate symptoms, stimulate your back muscles during movement, and support your posture. It will exert maximum effectiveness if you wear it under your clothing.
Another tip is to warm up your back before starting your hike with suitable stretches and mobilization exercises. This will promote your muscles’ circulation and can loosen tension.
2. Plan your route
Preparing every hike is an absolute must. In addition to suitable hiking equipment, you should definitely plan a specific route in advance. In this way, you can make sure that you pick the right degree of difficulty by specifying the length and characteristics of your journey. Precise planning will also reduce the risk that you’ll get lost.
If you want to be quite gentle on your muscles and joints, you should look for a route with a soft forest floor instead of subjecting yourself to paved paths. Remember in this context that the weather can have an impact on the terrain: extreme weather that persists for extended periods can change your chosen paths. Muddy stretches will increase the risk of slipping and require a certain surefootedness that not every beginner may have. That’s why it’s important to consider the weather of the past few days and weeks when planning a hike.
Another positive side effect of planning is that you will be even more motivated to start and look forward to the specific highlights of your trip. There are many options how you can keep an eye on your route and goal whilst hiking. Sports watches and apps are particularly suitable because they navigate using GPS coordinates. But if you’d rather leave technology behind for a few hours, get a printed hiking map if you don’t know the area. Looking at a guide in advance will also provide information about the special features and estimated duration of your chosen route. Many regions also feature well-signposted hiking trails you can rely on even without a map.
You should also include enough time for breaks to give your body a little rest every now and then to recharge it with drinks and snacks. For your stops in between, you can pick particularly nice places along your route, for example, a natural landmark or a viewpoint.
3. Don’t overestimate yourself
It’s particularly advisable for beginners to realistically assess their own fitness level and to increase step by step to gradually get the body used to the exertion of hiking. So there’s no shame in returning early if you notice that you can’t manage the planned route. There’s a good reason for that: those who don’t assess their own strength and fitness level correctly and choose trails that are too long or demanding because of it, subject themselves to an increased risk of excessive strain and injury. Most accidents then happen because of the locomotor system fatiguing and because of loss of concentration. The knee joint will suffer particularly often and stretched or torn ligaments are quite common.
What to do to prevent knee pain whilst hiking?
The knees generally bear the majority of our body weight – during movement, this includes hiking, forces are exerted on the knee joints that are several times our weight. A lot of people will primarily notice this when going downhill. It can be helpful to take small steps in this case and to slightly lean forward with your upper body during walking. You should always put your heel down first, then follow the natural heel-to-toe movement from back to front. If your leg isn’t fully stretched but slightly bent, the thigh muscles incorporated in this way will relieve the knee.
Going uphill or walking on the flat shouldn’t trigger or intensify knee pain in most people. In cases of osteoarthritis of the knee, there may be some start-up discomfort which should reduce during the course of the hike. The hiking sticks previously mentioned are suitable for anyone wanting additional knee protection. They can also improve surefootedness and balance. But even without sticks, you should include your arms in the dynamics of your steps.
A knee support like the GenuTrain will provide additional help and stability. Thanks to its breathable material and secure fit, it’s ideally suitable for your hiking trips. The support can also improve your muscle activation and therefore positively influence your walking technique to make it gentle on your knees.
You might also be interested in this