Walk up a hill more efficiently

A few years back a client of mine who had been on several of our weekend adventures complained “Will, I’ve been coming on your weekends but I still feel so tired on the hills!?” The fact is that we all feel tired on a hill – we just do them quicker than the last time. But that is not to say that we can’t do hills better, so here are some top tips to help you get even more out of your days hill walking …

1. Look where you’re going

When I follow my guide Padam on treks in Nepal I watch and marvel at how effortlessly he walks. He never raises his foot higher than it needs to go – and he’s always looking for and finding lower intermediate steps – so he’s never over-exerting his leg muscles. When walking on scree or loose rock look out for the larger stones that look more solid thus reducing the loss of progress made.

2. Dress for the hill, not the car park

Once you’ve got started on the hill, remove a layer. Over dressing leads to heat exhaustion – which is … exhausting. Allow your body to breathe, and allow it to cool itself by taking the time to remove a layer sooner rather than later. With this in mind it’s important also to drink plenty of fluids on your ascent – so have water ready – a hydration bladder works best for this.

3. Make targets for your breaks

If the hill is unrelenting look up and make targets to aim for. These might be physical features (like a boulder) or these may be time targets (in five minutes I’ll break for 30 seconds). Making your rests uniform and regular helps you to maintain some sort of momentum and hence achieve progress. And these breaks serve as incentives for progress made (all good for the psychology).

4. Measure your progress

If you have one – use an altimeter in conjunction with your map. Your map will tell you the total height gain to do, your altimeter will tell you how far you’ve gone. When taking a team up a mountain I’ll tell them how much they’ve done every hundred meters or so after the half way point – makes a real difference to morale.

5. Use walking poles

Use walking poles – and not one but two. (You wouldn’t use one boot would you). Use poles for up hills and down hills too. Proper use of poles makes a huge difference, which is all the more marked when you’re carrying a back-pack. Sprung poles are best since they offer shock absorption for the elbows.

6. Pack your bag properly

Make sure your bag is packed so that it’s evenly balanced on your back and ensure it fits your back properly too. And don’t pack too much either: if it’s a scorching hot day do you really need a spare fleece and a slab of Kendal mint cake too? More on what kit to pack here.

Walk down a hill safely and confidently

Going down a steep hill is far harder than ascending one – but all the same some people manage it better than others. Use the lessons outlined above incorporated with these tips (below) and with a bit of practise you too will dance the down the slopes.

1. First – your footwear

If the soles on your boots are threadbare they’re going to be of no use to you on a steep descent of wet grass. Similarly if they’re badly fitted and your feet are slamming into the ends they are too small and your toe nails will bruise. (Take care of your feet, and your feet will take care of you: Top Tips For Footcare)

2. Keep your weight above your feet

Especially on a slippy surface or on scree, so often the natural response is for people to lean backwards which normally ends up with them on the back-side. So maintain a vertical alignment and have your knees bent taking short steps as you go.

3. Go with the flow

On loose rock and scree allow yourself to relax. If your car skids on ice you need to pump the brakes. It’s the same when the rock beneath your feet slides a little – don’t go rigid trying to arrest your fall – just go with it a little.

4. Don’t like the exposure?

If the drop before you is bringing you to your knees with fear – ask a friend to walk right in front of you. This blocks the view and helps you to focus on their foot steps rather than the view. If you have to an old trick of mine is to try and recall your phone number … in reverse. (Try it next time you’re in a panic – it’ll work wonders). Better understanding your fear of heights will also help you here.