Hiking Recovery Techniques While On The Trail

Following the really useful after hike recovery post, we thought to share an advanced one on what to do while you are on the trail and still hiking.

Yes, we understand your pain (pun intended). When you hike for many days, your body tends to react a lot.

Small pains get bigger. Fatigue piles up. Your mind starts telling you things like “Woah! what a nice forest”, but also things like “Stop walking, you are tired”.

Fortunately there are many and different ways to workaround all the mind and muscles fatigue.

Many of the things you will learn here affect your body and muscle soreness. When body is affected then your mind gets that too. Then it can become a vicious circle that wears you down.

Let’s start learning.

Prevent Muscle Soreness in Hiking With the Right Gear

Could it be that easy? Read along and pay attention to all the factors that can affect hiking soreness and stiffness… of muscles.

  • Does your gear fit properly?
  • Are your hiking socks and hiking boots or hiking shoes of good quality?
  • Is your backpack weight well balanced on your body?
  • Did you do your pre-hiking stretching?
  • Did you do your post-hiking stretching?
  • Are you keeping the right pace and rhythm?
  • Do you have all the necessary hiking props and aids?
  • How do you cope with inflammation?
  • Do you eat properly?
  • Do you get properly hydrated?

You need to think of these. There is no easy solution, like getting some pill or such. Preparedness is the key.

Wear the Right Backpack Right

Did you spend time in one day hikes, trying, testing and playing around with all the straps and openings of your backpack?

Did you get the right backpack by measuring the length of your torso or you just ordered the next fancy or affordable one from an eshop?

Is your backpack siting nicely on your hips and waist? Have you adjusted all the straps to achieve that?

Did you search on how to place things in and around your backpack in order to achieve optimal weight balance, while walking for miles, but also to be able to reach them fast if needed?

Better ask your back and legs first. A poorly attached backpack, or one where things have been thrown in without thinking, will speedily create pains on back, waist and legs.

Neglect to adjust the straps properly and your hips and pelvis will ring a bell, crying “please, no more”.

Research and adjust all straps and weight properly.

Before Making a Step, Warm Up

Ever being into a gym? Most probably you are. Rule number one is to warm up your muscles before attempting any kind of heavy exercise.

This is the case. You reached your hiking entry point with a bus or you drive there. Your body is stiff after all these hours and you are about to put it under strenuous work for more than one days.

Needs some foreplay… Some heating up on those muscles.

Stretch your legs, back, shoulder and hip muscles like in the gym. Allow them to prepare for walking long distances, going uphill or/and downhill.

Give them a hint saying “hey guys, lets start moving”. Stretching will send more blood to the muscles. It is like having them well greased prior any usage.

Is your Body Ready for Hiking Trails?

Yeah, stretching is great but your body needs to be in a good condition to be able to hike for many days.

Do you workout in a frequent manner? You need to prepare for your trip.

If you hate gym, try to follow some daily routine that keeps your muscle groups active.

  • Getting the stairs instead of the elevator, is a good one
  • Walking whenever you have the opportunity (after/before lunch/dinner, to get to work or return and such)
  • Pump iron. Get to the gym for weight strength exercises
  • Do HIIT (High-intensity interval training) or do Cross-fit
  • Hate pumping iron? Do aerobic exercises. Biking, swimming, walking fast, even dancing are some of them.
  • Do you yoga? If so, you will have the “tools” to build up, warm up and stretch before and after your daily hiking plan. Read this post for yoga for runners that also applies to hiking
  • There are tons of complete online exercise routines you can adopt and do in-house too

Last but not least, listen to your body. Learn to accept and know your weak spots in your body and handle them properly during your hiking.

Do you need some motivation or you prefer to participate in groups? Find your local hiking group and participate in one day hiking excursions. You will make new friends, optimize your gear, exchange knowledge, spot the mistakes you do and exercise at the same time.

In all ways, you need to build up your capability for multi-day hiking and hiking soreness prevention.

Post & After Hike Hydration

Get hydrated or get smashed.

Many think that proper hydration is limited to the hiking day. In fact it starts days before. In fact it has to do with your overall hydration habits and knowledge.

Your body is 70% water. That should be enough to say for proper hydration but it is better to explain it a bit more.

What water will do for you (in any day and in your hiking):

  • Flushes out things not needed
  • Helps to build up your energy
  • Helps and allows flexibility to your muscles

Hikers and climbers have one rule: When you feel thirsty enough you are already dehydrated!

That is why you need to drink before you start walking and also drink often as you walk.

A CamelBak is the norm here. You don’t need to ruin your pace while at the same time you can sip as much as you need.

But is it OK to drink as much as you like? At the same time, how much water can you carry? If you carry lots of it then that is extra weight. Extra weight means you get more tired and thus hungrier and thirstier.

Sounds weird, correct? That is why you need to know where water springs are along your route, and also carry a water filter to be able to convert dirty water into potable.

Despite the equipment, start training yourself prior the hiking trip. Drink double the amount you usually drink.

Any kind of “soda’s” or coffee and tea are not considered as “water”. In fact if you consume such while you walk, you are actually pulling water out of your blood, which gets out of your system with urination.

Too much water is not good either. Try to find a balance. If after drinking lots of water you feel uncomfortable or having some belly pains then maybe you drink too much. In rare cases, drinking a big amount in a short time can be dangerous to your health. It can cause the levels of salt, or sodium, in your blood to drop too low. That has a name. It is a condition called hyponatremia (or water intoxication). It can be fatal.

Be moderate and give yourself the gift of proper hydration. Your kidneys will thank you and your skin too. Your muscles will be more flexible too.

Proper hydration is a must to avoid muscle soreness.

Some people love to enhance their water with electrolytes. That is an additional good idea as your body loses salt with sweat.

Electrolytes come in the form of ready to consume sticks or as a powder you can add to a bottle of water (follow proper dosage). If you plan to hike during extremely hot days, it’s not bad to have some spare.

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Eat Well Hike Long & Pain Free

Two words: Proteins and Carbohydrates. Are you getting enough every day?

Muscles need food. They (have to) work hard for you day in and day out. Not enough protein and gradually your muscles will reduce their performance.

Carbs will fuel you up too, but there are good carbs and bad carbs. Good carbs will be released slowly into your system and you will have energy for longer. Bad carbs (usually sugary sweets) will give you spikes of energy and then it will drop fast and you will need more to keep up.

Whole grains are a must to start the day and in lunch.

But -as mentioned- you need protein, especially after your daily hiking. Your muscles go under stress and micro-tears are happening.

That is normal. It also happens in gym when you lift heavy weights. Muscle actually tears apart and you need protein (among other things) to help the muscle repair and get stronger.

For meat lovers, dried meat and fish is a good source of protein. For non-meat eaters there are alternatives and they will need bigger portions.

Proteins will also make you feel fuller and stabilize blood sugar for longer.

Nuts are another thing to eat as they additionally provide healthy fats. They can be a snack or supplement to meals.

Your hiking menu must be well prepared and calculated prior your hiking. It is part of the overall weight that you carry in your backpack and crucial for your health.

This information here is a general guide and not a nutritional plan or medical advice. Each person has its special needs depending on their health status, age, sex, etc.

Know Your Body Know Your Limits

“Putting one foot in front of the other and start your journey of a thousand miles” might be a mantra in many philosophical books. Keep walking is another “haiku” and a famous brand slogan.

But are these enough? No. You need to know how to walk on different terrains, under different weather conditions.

Depending on your age or your knees health some routes may not be good for you.

There will be moments in your trip where it will feel great when you do that “extra mile”, but you need to know what that means for you.

The Importance of Two Trekking Poles

On a multi-day hiking trip, poles will be used frequently if not all the time. Trekking poles are not just to help you go uphill or downhill. They need to be used in zero angle ground too. Their correct usage will take weight from your back and knees.

If you don’t believe us, just hike a difficult route without poles and try the same with poles. You will notice the difference.

Despite the big help they provide, you give yourself a pretty good upper body workout.

You see that we mention poles (plural) and not “a pole”. A pair of good poles weigh very little and provide you with equal body balance when hiking. One pole, shifts weight to one side and gradually you will build up waist and shoulder pain. Maybe not the first time but it will be there.

You can also move very fast when you learn how to use two poles. Take a couple of classes in a Nordic Walking class (sounds weird, right?).

We did that and we learned to walk so fast, it was like hovering. Not to mention that we learned to walk with our full body and correct posture. Try to find one near you.

Pain Can Be a Friend to Listen

Pain while hiking is not a thing you want but there are many kinds of pain. A sharp pain in joints and muscles is not a good sign, while the soreness pain can mean that you are tired due to reasons mentioned here.

Pain -when you pay attention- tells you that something is wrong or/and you are doing something wrong and you need to take measures.

Inflammation, that causes pain, usually manifests in the form of these: sharp or intense pain, heat, stiffness, swelling, redness.

Your body sends a message and you need to respond. So, how do you respond? Here comes -again- the importance of preparedness.

Your pain may be related to your gear and how your use it so far, or your body limits & status. There is a long list of more posts at the end of this one, especially for gear selection.

For example:

  • Are your hiking boots/shoes too tight? Did you spend time “breaking into them”?
  • Maybe your laces are too tight? Adjust them accordingly
  • Are your socks the proper ones?
  • Is your overall lower body moving freely? Some times, improper pants limit movement and legs get strained. After many hours this leads to pain and soreness. Same happens when you carry many things in your pants side pockets (if you wear such pants)
  • Are your trekking poles correctly adjusted? Perhaps they need a re-adjustment
  • If you feel pain to your palms and arms, maybe you need to loosen your grip on the poles? Many do that unconsciously
  • If your back is in pain this can mean wrong backpack adjustment or wrong weight distribution, or even carrying too much weight for many hours without resting
  • Pain on the neck or and shoulders may be caused by backpack reasons
  • Pain on the head can mean improper nutrition, hydration, heat stroke and many other things, even issues with vision

Make necessary adjustments and deal with inflammation and pain before it becomes a chronic case or gets worst in the same day.

Most of the times the best cure for sore toes is to take of your shoes and socks and dip them in cold water. It is a method used by many hikers and runners that helps re-adjust blood concentration in blood vessels.

Some dip them alternatively into warm and cold water, ending with cold. There are different methods.

There are lots of gear to use, especially for legs, as for example a pair of compression socks (that must be suitable for hiking).

If you know how to give yourself a foot massage, then do.

Same stands for all aching points of your body. Give them a treat and lots of love.

Important tip: There are cases where your body will present symptoms of soreness the 3rd day after the hiking day. So, you may feel a bit sore the after the first one and much more on day after that.

You need to eat, drink and exercise properly prior any hiking trip. Prepare to reduce as many issues and problems as possible during your trip.

Start each day with stretching and end it in the same way. Maybe some meditation will also help you out, when it starts with body relaxation techniques.

Your mind is a tricky thing and can relax your body on command, if you train it like that.

Yoga for Hikers: Post Hike and After Hike

Yoga helps prevent injury that is caused from stiff muscles. Even when you fall, your body has more chances to fall gently when it is flexible and not stiff.

You can help reduce minor aches and pains and recover faster from sore muscles. You actually need no gear other than your body to do yoga and that is a good thing. If there is grass where you hike you don’t even need a mat.

Here is a really helpful video with post hike stretches, that you can do at the end of each day. As I have practiced Ashtanga yoga for a couple of years, I know that these exercises really work.

Recover Today Hike Stronger Tomorrow

As you are about to end the day, here are some really important tips to help you with your recovery and resting.

Slow down: Are you reaching your end-for-today time? Then gradually start slowing down your pace and rhythm. Allow some time to your body and mind to slow down and adapt to the upcoming resting as you approach your camp site.

Stretch enough: We mentioned that many times already. Stretching is crucial before and after your hike, for recovery. It will also calm your mind along with your muscles. Skip stretching and get prepared for some limping tomorrow.

Eat before you camp: Sounds strange but your body has been under lots of exercise. The first 45 minutes period, after you stop for resting are considered a window where intake of proper food and liquids gives the maximum benefits to your body. You may have heard that in a gym; to take the proteins in the first 45 minutes after you stop exercising. That is the maximum absorption window. Eat good carbohydrates and protein and nuts, not sweets. That food prepares your muscles for the next day.

Some claim that a good amount for carbohydrates is approximately 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight but don’t count that as a medical advice as each person is different.

Hydrate: Your next day performance depends on it. It is as simple as that. Your brain will work better too. You need both for having fun.

End the day with a proper meal: You need to have a complete and proper meal. Do not go to sleep without having such. You need a balanced meal of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

The Mind Is your Enemy & Friend

Either traveling solo or with a friend, there will be times that along the path your mind will play nasty games as you hike.

Some of such thought trains will be about abandoning everything, while others will be about becoming too risky.

Using your common sense and being focus on the present is the best way to both enjoy your hiking trip and be safe.

If your “gut feeling” says “don’t do that detour” then listen to your gut.

If you feel tired then rest.

If you are in pain, stop and deal with it. Don’t ignore the pain, especially when you have more days ahead.

Be aware of the surroundings and be prepared. Start preparing your gear a few days before your hiking day. In that way you will have the time to think over and again on the things you need to carry along. Don’t leave things for the last minute.

Have a safety plan. A way to communicate with friends and relatives is needed, as much as your map and compass and GPS device.

Explore our advise deeper to find all the details about the important things we mentioned here.

Explore our Outdoors & Hiking Gear Posts

We have created (and more are coming up) a series of post for the great outdoors, camping and hiking. Feel free to go through them and find out more tips for things to take care and how to choose proper gear.

Have fun!

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