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Leg Cramps
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Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
Leg Cramps on 08/07/2012 13:58:56 MDT Print View

I have been having some really, really fierce leg cramps when I backpack--to the point of having to shoot out of the tent and stand up to get them to subside. I haven't had any issues that I can recall just on day hikes, mostly just when backpacking. Last time, it was on a 7.5 mile hike up to Royal Basin in the Olympics, with 2650' elevation gain--most of it at the end. That one, I had cramps in my calves, my shins, my arches and the tops of my feet--I couldn't get away from it! Finally just got up and walked around, and that took care of it.

Not stretching? Not hydrating enough? Not enough potassium? Other?

I'm going on a 6-night outing in 3 weeks, and I'd really like to get some sleep while I'm out!

Edited by dipink on 08/07/2012 13:59:31 MDT.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
All of the above? on 08/07/2012 16:42:30 MDT Print View

...or any of the above? It could be any of those- clearly you already have some idea of things you can try to void the problem. Especially if you're deconditioned and the only exercise you get is the occasional hike, you might just need to get in better shape. Sure, stretch and take some salty snacks or sports drink with you and see if that helps. (Not just potassium.)

Edited by acrosome on 08/07/2012 16:43:39 MDT.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 08/07/2012 17:00:06 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 06/18/2015 23:16:56 MDT.

Angus A.
(mangus7175) - F

Re: Re: Leg Cramps on 08/07/2012 18:50:29 MDT Print View

The above advise is great. I get cramps too when hiking over 10 miles in a day, However, this is because I AM out of shape :)

Anyone know if taking magnesium pills help at all? Anyone take them when hiking?

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
conditioning and potassium on 08/07/2012 23:05:36 MDT Print View

Well, definitely my conditioning this year is less than it has been--work has been intense and I'm so exhausted that I don't want to get up early to work out on the treadmill.

I do drink a lot, and I find that when I'm getting fatigued, often eating Gu Chomps really helps. I don't like all the sugar in Gatorade, so I've been carrying Nuun tablets and adding 2 tabs to 20 ounces of water--but looking at the label, they have very poor amounts of potassium!

I like dehydrated bananas, and was wondering if the potassium amounts survive the dehydration process. Also, how much banana do you have to eat to get enough? Any other suggestions for potassium supplement?

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Dried Bananas on 08/08/2012 01:25:25 MDT Print View

Dehydrated bananas have all their original potassium in them. Dehydrated food can lose some volatile chemicals, but not any minerals.

Trader Joe's is a good source of dried bananas with no additives. "Banana chips" in the "health" food section of the supermarket have a lot of oil on them. Usually a bad thing, I suppose it may add desirable calories for a BPer.

Edited by DavidinKenai on 08/08/2012 01:26:25 MDT.

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Dried Bananas on 08/08/2012 02:23:56 MDT Print View

I thought they would keep some of their mineral value as well...until I finally bought some and read the label.

TJ Banana chips (all relevant nutritional facts):

Calories: 160
Serving Size: 13 pieces (30g)
Total Fat: 11g (16%)
- Saturated Fat: 10g (48%!!)
Total Carbs: 13g (4%)
- Fiber 1g (4%)
- Sugars 9g
Calcium 8%
Iron 2%

No potassium. Commercially processed banana chips are much different than if you do them at home. These guys are dipped in coconut oil and cane juice.

I wonder if the potassium is retained if you dry them yourself??

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: conditioning and potassium on 08/08/2012 03:46:58 MDT Print View

Hi Diane. You can make drinks over the course of the day with a small, I mean small, amount of lite salt. I would guess about 1/8tsp or about 2 shakes per half liter bottle will be *plenty*. I mix 3:1 (salt:litesalt) or 25% in my regular salt shaker.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Electrolytes on 08/08/2012 06:20:30 MDT Print View

I make my own electrolyte mix out from 41g of Morton Salt Balance (lite salt) and 108g of Calcium/Magnesium Complex. This makes 100 servings and can be added to any food or drink or put into empty capsules. I used to have major problems with cramping when I laid down for bed. It would start at my feet and work its way up. I only had this happen once or twice on my thru hike and those were on resupply legs when i didn't have any of the electrolyte capsules or my Malto mix with the electrolytes mixed in.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Electrolytes on 08/08/2012 07:11:12 MDT Print View

I know where to find Mortons Lite at the supermarket, but where do I look for the Calcium/Magnesium Complex Powder?


Edited by greg23 on 08/08/2012 07:27:38 MDT.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
Bananas on 08/08/2012 08:35:07 MDT Print View

I home dry my own bananas--can't stand banana chips, they're nasty. Eating the chunks I dry at home is like eating candy. When I'm getting really tired, though, eating isn't always something I feel like I can do, so I think I need something liquid that isn't too sugary. I have calcium/magnesium capsules at home, and wondered about using them too. Maybe if I combine the Nuun tablets for flavor, and spike it with the lite salt and some calcium/magnesium, that would help.

A friend of ours who is a failed Appalachian Trail hiker said that tonic water would help, because of the quinine. He claimed he got that tip off of Whiteblaze. Any notion whether that works?

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Calcium Magnesium Complex on 08/08/2012 09:42:25 MDT Print View

You can find it at any nutrition store that has a large selection. The powder is a bit harder to find than caplets or pills but it is all over the net. This is the product here.

One other note.. The ratios that I used in the recipe above mimick Hammer Endurolytes. If I remember correctly one of my servings is equal to three of their capsules.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 08/08/2012 13:53:24 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 06/18/2015 23:18:47 MDT.

Jim L
Cramps and electrolytes on 08/09/2012 14:48:46 MDT Print View

A few years ago I cycled the hills around Austin, Texas every Saturday all summer. I suffered ferocious cramping until I started using Nuun tablets ( No sugar - so no sticky mess. Dissolve very easily in water. They worked extremely well for me.


Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Leg Cramps on 08/09/2012 17:11:46 MDT Print View

S-Caps are awesome for cramps; you can find them online. But my guess would be, in the situation you describe, that your cramps have nothing to do with hydration or electrolyte levels. You can also get cramps from over-use, which I think is the more common cause. Especially when you go up 2600' in 7 miles. Unless you do that every day.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
red wine too on 08/10/2012 17:44:20 MDT Print View

A relative who is a nurse also reminded me recently that red wine, some types, can cause cramps. Something I confirmed while socially imbibing red wine, just to be polite, after a day or two of that (usually don't drink it, don't like it), woke up with the worst leg cramp of my life, one that made me actually yell in pain, ripped muscles, was sore for days.

But I think OP has the causes pretty much right, not enough water, not enough potassium, and no stretching.

give the above a try.

I'm not sure I'd trust the trader joe's nutrients listing for dried bananas, I'd do my own research into that and see how potassium does under drying. Home dried are probably going to be better, that's usually the case, but that's becuase usually you start with better stuff and dry it better.

no idea of the info quality of the source, but potassium is a mineral I believe, and won't go away if you pull the water out of something by drying, at least it doesn't seem like it would.

So I'd ignore the labels, though buying bulk from health food stores is probably a better idea for pretty much all dried or whole foods.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 08/10/2012 21:59:41 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 07/10/2015 07:08:59 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Leg Cramps on 08/11/2012 00:05:53 MDT Print View

It isn't just potassium that's needed, but a balanced mixture of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium that is needed. I suggest checking the ingredients of the oral rehydration salts used in medicine and try to find something with the same proportions. However, without some kind of flavoring, just rehydration salts--or a home-made substitute--isn't very appetizing.

A few years ago, I started using a powdered sports drink mix, Vitalyte (formerly known as Gookinaid) and mix it half the recommended strength. I can't stand Gatorade (which contains high fructose corn syrup the last time I looked) and Vitalyte is a lot less sugary. It has a mild citrus flavor which I like (there are other flavorings, too). It not only seems to prevent cramps (although not sore muscles!), but it also makes me feel stronger and better hydrated at the end of the day. Until I started using it, it always seemed that the water I drank just went in one and and out the other and I was still thirsty. Now I feel that my thirst is more satisfied and I don't have to "go" quite as often.

BTW, the symbol for potassium is K. (I looked it up to be sure since it's almost 60 years since my college chemistry class.)

Edited by hikinggranny on 08/11/2012 00:15:48 MDT.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
No agreement on proportions on 08/11/2012 03:10:44 MDT Print View

I recently tabulated the carbs and electrolytes provided by a dozen endurance drink products, including Vitalyte. Both amounts and proportions are all over the map, although each contends it has the "ideal" mixture.

For example, Vitalyte has the least Ca and Mg of any of them -- much less than most.I'm not criticizing Vitalyte -- just noting that its proportions are quite a bit different than, say, Hammer Endurolytes.

As another example, several of those I checked have chloride included, while the rest do not. Some say chloride is important, others disagree.

If you are trying to do a home made version, how should you decide which brand of endurance drink to copy amounts and proportions from? How exact do you have to be? From what I read the human body is pretty adaptable if you train with what you will use when you are serious about pushing.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: No agreement on proportions on 08/11/2012 04:48:38 MDT Print View

For leg cramps it all depends on how fast you are loosing electolytes/trace elements.
I don't ever use gatoraid full strength. Two weeks ago, paddling/hiking in 95F heat, I could have used some, though.

Trace elements, zinc, manganese, etc. are just that. Even if you loose half of them they continue to work. Though I suspect they do reduce your performance slightly, I seriously doubt that you will get sick from this loss for a day of sweating. Even two is probably not important. A week, yes, you may notice a little performance drop off. Mostly, these are found in wild water, though. So, just keep drinking water and they will be replaced to sustainable levels. Not all are gotten through water, though. But a single vitamin per day will cover you there. Cramps are usually caused by 1) dehydration 2)overuse of muscles 3) lack of NaCl. These are the big three. Even potasium is down on the list after the top three.

Water: Drink more and more often. Blood is composed of a lot of fluids besides red blood cells. This carries a good proportion of your oxygen. Removing this will decrease oxygen to cells, leading to cramping. Slightly over hydrating will actually allow you to carry more oxygen to the muscles...Drink when climbing or hiking.

Lactic acid, is built up in cells as part of working them. This is caused by working a muscle without enough oxygen and is a way for your body to burn more glucose to make cellular energy without oxygen. Not bad, you body knows how to deal with it, but, runners and other athletes may need to deal with it quicker. This eventually causes cramping. It hangs around in the cell waiting for more oxygen to be burned...recovery mode. Without large amounts of oxygen, it stays in your body to be processed later. It makes you feel tired after 4 hours of running on a trail. Or 1 hour of hiking if you are not in "shape." Muscle aches, cramps are symptoms... overuse, generally. Often stiffness in the morning, or lack of "zip" in the morning is ascociated with this, too. Up to 36 hours in the body.

NaCl (table salt) is perhaps the most important electrolyte by about 20:1. All are important, but salt is necessary for proper nerve function. Sodium is basically the nerve component. This is maintained at specific levels in nerve endings, and if in short supply, can cause misfiring. You get cramps, or, worse. It effects all nerves.

Much of this is simple high school biology from 50 years ago, so, don't pick it apart...I was also told 50% of what I was being taught was wrong. It's just an overview of the top three reasons.

I highly recommend a simple shake of salt into your drink when hiiking. If you are really working hard, maybe...maybe two. It will add water and salts to your systems in 4-5 minutes. Sugar (glucose/dextrose) is needed, soo, some sugar is OK, also. Table sugar is complex polysacharide(sp?), usually sucrose, and takes about 5-15 minutes to break down in your digestive system. Take a 5 minute break, eat a little. The body knows what to do.

I also use Litesalt in about a 25% ratio. Basically, this is because it helps with nerves and circulation a bit. Not much, but it is easy to insure enough. It supplies potasium. Too much and you can get sick. Potasium is highly toxic in large amounts, but it is needed for nerve function.

This is the formula I have used for many years. 3 parts table salt, 1 part lite salt in the salt shaker. 1 dash per 500ml of water. Coupled with a vitamin (with trace minerals) in the morning and this will work to stop most cramping. Not fatigue, but cramping. IFF you are working hard, add two tablespoons of glucose. It helps when your liver cannot produce enough to supply your body. A tablespoon of cider vinegar works, or other acidic stuff (Vitamin C, etc.) All in a 500ml bottle. This is the old farmers drink I got from my grandfather 50 years ago out haying. It works.

Bill Segraves
(sbill9000) - F - M
Night cramps on 08/12/2012 04:59:04 MDT Print View

My own experience with night cramps in specific muscles on backpacking trips was that it was due to the use of muscles that I hadn't conditioned adequately before the trip. They'd tighten up at night and I'd awake with spasms. Dietary solutions didn't help. Shifting my exercise routines at home to better simulate hiking and doing a little post-hike stretching and massage each day ended the problem.


Good luck!


Bill S.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Leg Cramps on 08/12/2012 09:00:02 MDT Print View

I basically picked the Vitalyte because it appears to have less sugars than most and because I tend to bloat on anything with high sodium. It also has a pleasant taste, while I've found several other brands I've tried quite obnoxious. YMMV, of course. Note that I dilute it to half of what is recommended, too. It does work for me, especially in hot weather. One time last summer when I wasn't using it, I was so tired when I got to the car that I didn't think I'd be able to drive home. I mixed up a pint, drank it and within an hour I felt fine.

I certainly don't want to minimize the importance of stretching, and daily exercise, though! If you're going to go for a vigorous hike when out of condition, you're going to be sore! For the last three months I've been doing extensive stretching 3-4 times a day for my plantar fasciitis (which is now a LOT better). I suspect that (because I had a severe case) I'll have to keep doing those stretches for the rest of my life, just as I have to keep doing knee and lower back exercises. However, back in the days of my pregnancies, I'd experience leg cramps the last 2-3 months which the doctor specifically said was due to low calcium. There's both a dietary and exercise component here.

Re the dried banana labels--potassium is not one of the items that the government requires on the label. Just because it isn't listed doesn't mean it isn't there.

Anthony Weston
(anthonyweston) - MLife

Locale: Southern CA
leg cramps on 08/12/2012 17:25:19 MDT Print View

I've always had leg cramps. I have had many nights where I had to throw myself out of the tent into the snow trying to straighten my leg because of the pain.

I tried most everything.

The one thing that did help was product called Sportslegs, you can get it on You take it before you start hiking and it works. It's vitamin D, Calcium and magnesium and lactate. I think taking it before you hike is what does the trick.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: leg cramps on 08/12/2012 17:58:27 MDT Print View

I've taken Magnesium Citrate capsules, about 400mg total, and that has helped me with leg cramps in my regular, non-backpacking life. It can also help you sleep and keep you regular.

Matthew mcgurk
(phatpacker) - F

Locale: Central coast California
salt and potasium are electrolytes on 08/18/2012 14:41:51 MDT Print View

Your problems would be solved by prehydrating with gator aide. Using water on the trail and gatoraide with lunch. Make sure to put massive bannana chips in your oatmeal. I have suffered too but mine were hamstrig cramps. It has kept me up all night. I drink emergen-c at times in the morning to bolster and a multivitamin. Salts are important and should be added to the backpackers meal plans. Many of the premade entre's have huge levels of sodium for a reason

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
"Leg Cramps" attn. Mary D on 08/18/2012 16:37:57 MDT Print View

Mary: you've probably heard this, but I thought that I might mention a really easy stretch that I do for my mild--now virtually non-existent--plantar fasciatis. Someone gave me a shaped wooden dowel that was designed to roll your spine through. So picture
a dowel with two "bumps" in the center that contain your spine. Actually the bumps are pretty thin and have an edge. When sitting in a chair--say, watching tv-- I can roll this apparatus underfoot and stretch out the entire bottom of my feet at a wide variety of angles. It feels really good. This is the same principle as using a ball or a frozen can of orange juice but I like the variety of stretches this thingamabob gives me. I also do other stretches as well. since I also will be doing this for years to come, it's nice to be able to do it sitting down; and I'm more likely to do the stretches too!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Electrolytes on 08/18/2012 17:22:11 MDT Print View

"I make my own electrolyte mix out from 41g of Morton Salt Balance (lite salt) and 108g of Calcium/Magnesium Complex."

+1 albeit in different proportions for my shorter, less demanding trips.

And if all else fails on especially hard days, I have found Hyland's Leg Cramps, a homeopathic formulation, does the job. It can be found in "health" stores and many regular pharmacies.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: Re: Electrolytes on 08/19/2012 10:31:34 MDT Print View

Brawndo, Its got Electrolytes. It's what plants crave.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Electrolytes on 09/19/2012 23:03:49 MDT Print View

i recently started cramping in the evenings after sweaty hikes during the day. I can't stand electrolyte drinks - the taste, the sugar, and the black gunk that starts growing in water containers.

I started using SaltStick Caps and SaltStick Caps Plus - the Plus is caffeine.

I take one per hourly rest stop, where I drink 250-500 ml of water. I feel much better while hiking, and the evening cramps are gone. If I'm not sweating hard, I take fewer. On really hot days, I take a few more in the evening. I'll take one or two in the middle of the night if I wake up with cramps or other symptoms from under-dosing during the day. I like being able to control how much I take.

I like the Caps Plus, I get my caffeine fix without the hassle of boiling water, etc. But I take a few plain ones along for the middle-of-the-night scenario.

I can't say these are better or worse than any other brand, but they worked for me.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
Cal/mg to the rescue! on 09/20/2012 13:30:39 MDT Print View

On my 6 day backpack, I had *no* leg cramp issues. I don't think I was any better conditioned, as work has been challenging and finding time to exercise has been too. However, I took a calcium/magnesium supplement with me, and took 1 capsule at bed-time. No problems whatsoever. So, that will make it into my backpacking kit from now on, it was worth it!

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Electrolyte on 10/23/2012 06:47:32 MDT Print View

My cramping issue is caused or compounded by blood pressure medicine.

I carry a tiny little vile of Lite Salt(Sodium and Potassium salt).

When I get cramps, I sprinkle a little on my tongue for almost immediate relief.

If I start to feel like a cramp is coming on, I take a little bit. This seems to prevent any cramping.

I will add a pinch of Lite Salt to my drinking water on hot hikes. This almost totally prevents heat cramps for me.

Kyle Meyer
(kylemeyer) - M

Locale: Portland, OR
Dietary Supplementation on 10/28/2012 12:16:07 MDT Print View

This is one of the few areas in which the more "sciencey" the food, the better. Compared to previous generations, even the most conditioned of us are relatively unconditioned for the trials we put our bodies through while backpacking. I think it's foolhardy to recommend to anyone to eat a banana or lick salt without understanding the science behind it, and then to expect that their condition will improve.

My recommendation would be to read about muscles. This is a reasonable article about electrolytes that describes some pitfalls. Once you get the basic understanding of electrolytes and how much you need based on environmental and personal factors, you can make a much more informed choice on what you supplement with.

Personally, I carry little electrolyte pills called Endurolytes for everyday backpacking, and switch to liquid calories from Perpetuem for anything over 20ish miles. It really makes a world of difference to how I feel the next day.

Edit: link got filtered. Trying again:

Edited by kylemeyer on 10/28/2012 12:17:02 MDT.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Dietary Supplementation on 10/28/2012 22:09:49 MDT Print View

As a person with diabetes I often have terrible legs cramps that debilitate me. For me it is due to insufficient vitamin B12. Taking it, and eating right (for me, lowering my carb intake) has virtually eliminated leg cramps for me.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Leg Cramps on 10/29/2012 22:31:21 MDT Print View

I get cramps on backcountry ski trips sometimes - hardly ever when hiking or backpacking, but often on ski trips, mostly in the first couple days of a week-long trip. It's pretty hard to get the legs and feet into skiing shape without skiing! But I also think the colder temperatures have to do with it - work the muscles hard and then cool them off. Stretching seems to help, and I eat dried bananas - not banana chips, mind you, but whole dried bananas. They are getting harder for me to find, but I eat 2 a day when I'm out. Plus I usually drink Electro-mix (made by the same folks who make emergen-c) at lunch. I find that helps with general muscle issues - I am less stiff the next day when I use it. I tend to sweat a lot, so I figure I'm losing a lot of salts that way.
Worked with an older guy once who had leg cramp problems in everyday life - his doctor prescribed a banana a day, and it worked for him.