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  1. #21
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    Default Ergonomic Hiking and Foot Placement

    I did take a tumble last week. Going down a hill I go down 7 or 8 times a day, 3 or 4 times a week. One of countless places along the trail with loose dirt, rocks, leaves -- just ready to "get" you if you get a little careless.
    My head hit the ground hard. Must have stuck my right arm out, cause I sprained that too. Thankfully, no permanent damage. It DID scrape my head up pretty good -- just in time to help with my Halloween look!
    Well, I don't remember, but, since I sprained the right arm, logic tells me that I was carrying my hiking poles, unused, in my left hand. There's a lesson there...

  2. #22

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    I've fallen on limestone covered with Lady Bugs on a slight slope in Florida. Same thing happened at higher elev in Yellowstone when the scree slopes were covered with moths making them even slipperier. I fell one time because a slab was covered with dead hardened casings of millipedes that acted like little rolling sticks. Better to maybe throw the trekking poles held if not using them on a downslope. Better yet maybe is to use them?

  3. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    I've fallen on limestone covered with Lady Bugs on a slight slope in Florida. Same thing happened at higher elev in Yellowstone when the scree slopes were covered with moths making them even slipperier. I fell one time because a slab was covered with dead hardened casings of millipedes that acted like little rolling sticks. Better to maybe throw the trekking poles held if not using them on a downslope. Better yet maybe is to use them?
    My best falling comes on a hillside covered in acorns. Miss Nature's ball bearings.

  4. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    My best falling comes on a hillside covered in acorns. Miss Nature's ball bearings.
    You should have seen my driveway before I cleaned it. Acorns. Forgot about those fall fall magnets. You prolly mash them into acorn flour though.

  5. #25

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    OP, about 9 yrs ago, I found a book at the library by a man and woman who wrote about the physical act of hiking including proper foot placement, gait, and stride. It was old back then and for the life of me, can’t recall the name. Does anyone remember this book?

    At the time, I thought the info in the book was outdated and now regret not paying more attention.

    Also, have you checked out The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher? I haven’t made it through the entire book but you may find useful tips on hiking ergonomics.

  6. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Storyguy View Post
    I have followed with great interest threads that provide advice to "older" hikers. Several posters have said that older hikers would be well served by learning about ergonomic hiking and foot placement. Can anyone recommend a book, article or You Tube video that would give me a good start on this? I will be 65 in March and plan a thru hike starting in April 2020.

    Thanks in advance for any help or guidance!
    Lots of good stuff above. I think there is something I can add.

    It relates to the 'gliding' comment of Dogwood's about Skurka and that he looks like he glides. This type of walking is what I am talking about when I mention that I work on my mechanics every day. I usually start the walking day consciously thinking about my mechanics for about 10-15 mins. This is to get me in the groove so to speak. And later in the day, if I notice for some reason that I have had some heavy foot placements or 'hear' my steps starting to sound loud or realize I am bobbing up and down too much, then I go back to concentrating on mechanics for a time again.

    What I am striving for with my mechanics is to both walk quietly and not to bob up and down. Glide and walk silent. If you concentrate on not taking steps which are beyond your bodies ideal length (overstriding) you don't hit the ground hard with your heel. Your lower leg will not be way out in front of your knee. Your heel touches first but only by a little before your mid-foot comes down. Put your foot down softly. Have soft knees. Cave men did not overstride because they did not wear shoes. Sticking your leg way out and hitting the ground hard with your heel is a bad idea when barefoot. Walk like you are barefoot. The zero drops shoes help with this btw.

    A big benefit of this is that when (not if) you start to roll your ankle you can unweight it easier and reduce the chance of injury. I have noticed that many folks who hike constantly, or thru hikers who are about 500 miles or more into a hike have relearned what I call the Hiker Hop (which I am sure all cave men knew well). You will be watching your partner cruising down the trail and he all of a sudden does this weird little twitch where he starts to take a step and instantly unweights his foot with a sort of hop/skip/stutter and does not even break stride and keeps going. Before he pulled this little trick up from his ancient DNA he would have fallen on his face due to that little rock in the leaves he just stepped on.

    When you walk down hill don't fall down to your next foot placement. Many people stride off into space and accelerate downwards until their foot hits the ground and then they have to catch their falling weight. This is an inefficient use of your strength and somewhat prone to resulting in injury and falling on your face periodically. "Reach" downwards with your lead foot and put it down softly - this requires that your back leg thigh muscles be used to lower you down rather than just letting you drop.

    When you get this all down right (and it is easier said than done) you will not bob up and down and you will walk softly. It will result in many fewer injuries and greater endurance due to less wasted motion and inefficient use of your muscles.

    Every body has an ideal stride length where you will be most efficient. It is determined by the length of your leg bones. Find that sweet spot and perfect it.
    Hiking speed does not come from long strides (unless you have really long legs of course - and I am jealous because I don't). Real speed comes from stride rate. The faster you take steps the faster you go. There is an optimum for each person I believe in that if you hit your perfect stride length and hit the rate you can hold all day that is the best your body can do in terms of daily mileage. For some of us old guys that may not turn out to be that much and for Anish it is 50 mpd.
    Something I find works pretty well when training in the gym is the treadmill. For working on stride length and rate I set the machine at 2% and slowly run the speed up past 3 mph. I concentrate on not striding too far and not making a sound (no pounding feet) and just keep ramping up the speed while trying to hold my mechanics solid. If you do this you will reach a point where you just cannot go beyond the rate you are at without losing your form. So stay at that rate as long as you can. If you get too out of breath then dial it back a bit. You can also use one of those machines to practice your hill climbing mechanics (the machine I use goes up to 15 degrees).

  7. #27

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    What I am striving for with my mechanics is to both walk quietly and not to bob up and down. Glide and walk silent. If you concentrate on not taking steps which are beyond your bodies ideal length (overstriding) you don't hit the ground hard with your heel. Your lower leg will not be way out in front of your knee. Your heel touches first but only by a little before your mid-foot comes down. Put your foot down softly. Have soft knees. Cave men did not overstride because they did not wear shoes. Sticking your leg way out and hitting the ground hard with your heel is a bad idea when barefoot. Walk like you are barefoot. The zero drops shoes help with this btw.


    I started practicing this as a teen when hunting which for me was more like wandering through the woods, mountains and swamps.

    Walking in the woods with Ricahard Pryor -

  8. #28
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    I think that most good practices described and recommended here come automatically when hiking barefoot.

  9. #29

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    The fastest hiker I saw on the AT (3.5 plus mph) was an average-looking guy in his twenties (I think). Medium height, thin but not overly so. Anyway, I watched him walk and he appeared to glide over the trail with minimum effort and great efficiency. He was a cross-country runner in college, he said.

  10. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wyoming View Post
    When you walk down hill don't fall down to your next foot placement. Many people stride off into space and accelerate downwards until their foot hits the ground and then they have to catch their falling weight. This is an inefficient use of your strength and somewhat prone to resulting in injury and falling on your face periodically. "Reach" downwards with your lead foot and put it down softly - this requires that your back leg thigh muscles be used to lower you down rather than just letting you drop.
    When you do this are you leaning slightly forward, backward, or neither?

  11. #31
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    Most of the "damage" is probably done on ups and downs. Give me a flat trail with minimal roots and I can pull a 20 mile day no problem. I am a small person so steps are the biggest challenge for me. When I hike up rocky steps (which is all the time since I hike almost exclusively in the whites) I try and keep my center of gravity tight. I will take smaller steps up , for example if I come to a spot where there is a large step up, I may take several smaller steps up instead by skirting the end rocks as opposed to going straight up the center. I switch the foot I lead with on and off. This can sometimes almost look like a limp but I will be limping if I step down onto the same foot for the entire hike! Side steps up as opposed to forward steps are also helpful. I might do a parkour type side to side motion to get up and over two rocks that are pushed together. Occasionally I will just bull my way through a section but that just makes you tired and sweaty faster. It really is about taking your time and finding alternate routes within the LNT priciples to avoid huge steps and over extending yourself as well as repeated impact to the same joints for too long. I am also not ashamed to veggie belay as needed. My zipline gloves, fingerless leather gloves we use here to guide zipline tours, theyre singing rock climbing gloves, are a must have in my pack and are almost always on me to protect my palms when swinging around trees and climbing rocks. When climbing a long set of steps I will stay low and slow, not fully extending myself back up with each step. That combined with the stepping methods I mentioned before is how I keep my center of gravity tight and makes me almost seem like I am floating up the trail. Occasionally you may come to a flat rockface that needs to be climbed such as towards the top of Katahdin or Mt Washington. These are my favorite. I like to do hikes that include class 3 or 4 climbs. When that happens I stay close to the rock, almost flat to it and spider man my way up the wall. Friction climbing is what I am most familiar with so just making sure to keep weight in your toes should keep you from slipping which can be fatal in those cases. I left a group of people in awe at how easily I climbed up a wall like that on Katahdin. Damp conditions are the enemy. My falls have been from slipping on wet rocks or roots (wet roots are the worst) As we all know, when you fall on the trail its a very slow process. Try and use that time on the way down to think about how you are about to fall. I met a girl who would fall on her pack since she carried the bedding and her partner had the hard stuff. Personally I try to land on my butt and slide if its a big rock that I'm slipping on. Again, Im small so those are the problem areas for me. I fell once while crossing a very small rocky stream. It that situation there was no good way to fall. I went down in a crab walk type position so my body wouldn't hit any of the water or sharp rocks but ended up jamming my hand between two rocks, I split a fingernail and lost a small chunk of cuticle but was otherwise unharmed thanks to my gloves. If they had fingers I wouldve been fine but I like fingerless. So yeah, avoid the fall by stepping close and careful, anticipate the fall by wearing the right protective gear, and plan the fall on your way down as best you can. They say when older folks fall in a facility to not try and catch them, to help them to the ground. Help yourself to the ground because a lot of damage can be done fighting the inevitable. That's my 50 cents.

  12. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by Traffic Jam View Post

    Also, have you checked out The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher? I havenít made it through the entire book but you may find useful tips on hiking ergonomics.
    One of my take aways from Fletcher's book was his mentioning the importance of achieving a hiking cadence or rhythm---it's one of the few things I remember from his books.

    Years ago I developed a category of Gaits---which in effect were the distance of one boot from the other boot. I came up with about 4 or 5 different gaits. When going up a steep trail with a big pack I was in my first gait---one boot length overlapped with the next boot length---"baby steps" in other words. ETC.

    And baby steps also work well on very steep descents---and also the "side step gait" whereby you stand sideways on a steep nut trail and go down sideways one step at a time---this helps to prevent sliding and wiping out.

  13. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by tiptoe View Post
    The fastest hiker I saw on the AT (3.5 plus mph) was an average-looking guy in his twenties (I think). Medium height, thin but not overly so. Anyway, I watched him walk and he appeared to glide over the trail with minimum effort and great efficiency. He was a cross-country runner in college, he said.
    Loose but no overly so, losing the tension. Too loose and form can be off. Too tight and it leads to greater stresses. It's important also when using trekking poles. Watch some who rigidly tightly hold onto their poles white knuckling the grips and hold their shoulders and arms which affect being tight elsewhere. You might see the muscles and tendons in the arms tightly flexed. Straps help to loosely hold on and reduce muscle tightness and stress. Now watch someone like Skurka using trekking poles. They also glide with him. Same with skiers doing moguls who have to be loose moving/gliding/sliding with the terrain but still under mindful control. They don't fight their momentum! They have examined and know their line and approach it as one controlled but loose movement as each movement seamlessly leads to another. Watch how they use their poles. They barely, for such short duration, touch the earth. First thing as a Newb runner I was told is to loosen my wrists and tension particularly upper body. It affected breathing and breathing affected it, which affected so many other things like, um performance, injury risks, circulation, energy expenditure, etc. My hands and arms flop around somewhat loosely while running now. Same thing learning to serve in tennis; instructors call it having a spaghetti arm or loose arm. It allows for greater pop, lower potential injury risks, and disguise on the serve. Same in Yoga. Yoga instructor immediately caught my tension and breathing were related. Tennis teachers caught the same thing. I had to learn to breathe and breathe correctly which led to not only better performance on the serve but more sustained focus ready for the return. Watch Roger Federer. His professional longevity at such a high level is related to all this. He's a decent person too because of it. In all cases others were teaching me breathing was affecting not only my body but emotional and psychological states...hence performance. Sounds ridiculous that we may need to revisit walking, or interestingly breathing, as technique to become more ergonomic less energy wasteful less prone to injury as hikers. These details can allow a hiker to hike faster IF one wants and be less prone to injury with greater joy .


    As physical stress can lead to emotional and mental stress the reverse has also been shown to be true. Allowing oneself to constantly be in a state of emotional or psychological stress is not good for the physical body. Think whole person or holistically rather than just bodily. Although there will be some that would scoff this extends to one's spirituality, however that broad concept may be personally defined. Regularly(habitually) being in a state of anger, ingratitude, complaint, high judgment, hate, offense, sadness, depression, selfishness, fear, impatience, unforgiveness, bitterness, unkindness, etc negatively affect the body. Likewise the way we hold our bodies(physiology) affects our mental and psychological states. What do we want in our lives? Is it not love, peace, joy, self control, patience, forbearance ...? Being in these later states offer positive consequences for not only ourselves but for other in the environments/aura or atmosphere we create.

    Since I'm not a regular trekking pole user I gently without tension swing my arms like a pendulum in a shallow arc as if I was using trekking poles, often. Doing this adds to momentum, can increase the workout, helps maintain balance and center of gravity...and ultimately conservation of energy. My arms are similarly used as a squirrel's, monkey's, or cat's tail assisting balance.


    Stresses are also magnified by extreme TPW's when technique and improper gear adjustments are ignored. Yet on nearly every hike I witness heavy highly impacting plodding, shallow breathing, tightness, or consistently extremely stressed out of breath breathing even by 20 yr olds in otherwise seemingly very good physical shape.


    Now, consider ignoring some or most of these pts? Do you think it leads to slips, trips, and falls or other injuries or quitting as a backpacker/hiker. Do you think it affects one's personality or likability and those around us? Do you think it doesn't affect us in the bedroom? Does it not affect employment?, lifespan, health, and the quality of life one experiences?

    Food for thought.

  14. #34
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    I started practicing this as a teen when hunting which for me was more like wandering through the woods, mountains and swamps.
    Hah! Me too. Politically incorrect today but I was pretending I was an Indian (I'm a little more Native American than Warren at least - lol).

  15. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Recalc View Post
    When you do this are you leaning slightly forward, backward, or neither?
    You always want to be in balance (easier said than done of course), so you want to be neutral. That being said all you have to do is watch people going down hill and you can often tell that they are on the verge of having their feet slip away from them (leaning back) and landing on their butt. I doubt hardly anyone actually leans forward going down hill as they would fall to often - most face plants are caused by catching a foot when striding and having your mass surge ahead of your feet and down you go.

    What I am trying to say is when you are going down is to not let your mass accelerate as you step down (like it does when you fall) as then you have to catch (absorb) a much higher impact with your downhill foot. This impact is very hard on your joints and, since you are going downhill, there is a much higher chance of slipping and falling.

    Remember (or imagine if you have not done it) walking down a really steep slope when not on trail. You are concerned about slipping so you walk carefully and reach out with your downhill foot and carefully place it. This is done by 'lowering' your mass with the planted back leg by slowly releasing muscle tension. Now on a downward sloping trail you use the same basic technique while keeping yourself loose and relaxed. You can go quite fast this way as long as the slope is not too steep and you will not hurt yourself.

    It is much harder to describe this stuff than one would imagine. The words only sort of come together.

  16. #36
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    Re: Dogwoods description of how to use poles. This is exactly how Justin Lichter describes how he uses poles. He was also a cross country ski racer and he actually gave a figure about how much faster he could hike using poles than without them (but I forget what the number was).

    I always carry poles. I always use them when going up or down slopes and normally not when on the level (unless the footing is bad and calls for them for safety reasons). The reason I try not to use them on the flats is that I am saving my arm strength for using them on the ups and downs as they really help get more out of your legs there. Though I do sometimes replicate the cross country ski technique when on the flats - it is kind of fun actually as one flies along.

    It is worth noting that I use different hand grip/positions when going up as opposed to down. Maybe everyone does this - I don't know. Being old and really wanting to protect my knees I switch to a grip which places the top of the pole sort of resting in the base of the palm of my hand when going down a steep hill. I reach down with the pole just like I reach down with my leg and then I have the pole catch a small amount of the force. This also gives me a planted point of support when the inevitable slip happens.

    I agree also on how emotions effect the hiking. I sometimes use them on purpose. When I am dying on a huge uphill I deliberately start thinking about things that make me mad sometimes and I get all pumped up and charge up the hill like doing so will fix things. It has never fixed anything but I get up the hill lickity split.

  17. #37

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    I never fall going up a steep uphill which is weird---but my falls come from downhills and on level ground.

  18. #38

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    The way I described a mogul skier, examining their lines, knowing them, and flowing with one controlled series of motion, much like a lumberjack on rolling logs partially submerged floating in the water, also maintaining balance, is the way I went through the often dreaded Rocksylvania. I first assessed the rock, born out of climbing/non tech mountaineering and learning some local geology on every hike, which were stable, which I knew would roll and in what direction, traction with my footwear, determining if either I was going high on the top surface or if allowed, although I have size 14 EEEE ft, between the rock, or some combo. I blew through the state. Many things were coming together at the same time but the technique can still be used by segment ATers. Same thing out of Lehigh at the old zinc Superfund site with rocky brushy tread and Kittatiny Ridge in NJ. I'm not optimally unique or attempting to puff myself up. I witnessed a couple of other thrus doing the same thing, one from Great Britain, Ireland if I/m who literally almost ran over the rock in Rocksylvania with such precision and conservation of motion never once falling. He made it seem like the rock wasn't even there. I saw one petite younger female thru with small feet blast through these conditions by mostly going between the rock. I saw her sometimes on top but she was always right anticipating how rock would move. Later I found out she was from OR and had competed in Lumber Jack/Lumber woman(?) competitions. I listened to the way they saw this part of the AT obstacle course. It widened my perspectives on how to successfully deal with these trail conditions. This is the same as considering Justin's winter S&R and skiing experiences and how he translates that to winter conditions LD backpacking and using trekking poles, a natural transition, much like an elite collegiate runner/athlete who applies himself to LD endurance backpacking first ever GW Loop or Alaska Traverse or continuous NCT. Here this. We don't have to be elite runners, athletes or S&R personnel to personally excel at backpacking or move forward, be better.

    Say what we will about TW but he knows what serves him and his body. He knows the why's of why he 's out there. Even with the way he does things, hiking his own hikes, he has learned to make his way with the style(s) he chooses. I respect that despite giving him some good natured shart.

  19. #39

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    I never fall going up a steep uphill which is weird---but my falls come from downhills and on level ground.
    Some say climbing falls(some types) occur more often on the descents too. Falls at home most often, I think, occur in Bathrooms. ie;wet floor, in a hurry, lots of things going on, inattention, in out of tubs, shower stalls/stepping up or down onto a different ht platform. This is our backpacking step up's/step down's, combined with uneven slippery surfaces, wt on the back which in normal life we are un accustomed. Same around waterfalls.

  20. #40
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    Default Ergonomic Hiking and Foot Placement

    I've never fallen going uphill, but one I climb frequently has the potential. Loose dirt, loose rocks, steep. You really need to test where you're going to step before you commit in a ome places, especially because you're about to transfer your weight and you want to be sure where your foot is going to go is going to hold.
    sometimes, on a sketchy, steep downhill, I'll plant both poles in front of me before I take that downhill step. lift the poles and repeat for the next step. Till the trail levels out a little.
    What amazes me is, I'll be doing that, and then here comes some young kid running down these hills! Don't see how none of these runners don't ever break their necks!

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