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Tips for hiking down very steep inclines
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HElinTexas C
(Helintexas) - MLife
Tips for hiking down very steep inclines on 08/26/2012 18:56:17 MDT Print View

Does any one have some great tips on hiking down VERY steep inclines? I use the rest step going up a steep incline. However, going down I feel like I am just constantly breaking to keep from sliding and move way too slow. I do use hiking poles....they certainly help. But I end up sore because of keeping my muscles tense. Any tips?

A side question. Why does everyone say the downhill hiker should yield to the uphill one? Steep descents are a controlled fall. I always find it easier to stop much safer going up than going down?

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Tips for hiking down very steep inclines on 08/26/2012 19:08:53 MDT Print View

For downhill hiking I use a small zig zag method (kind of like skiing). This isn't something I planned or do on purpose...I just noticed myself doing it naturally. I think it really depends on the terrain and personal methods.

I yield to uphill hikers because gravity is against them. They have to work harder to gain acceleration. I think of it like biking. If I were climbing and had to yield to a downhill rider, I would be screwed. It's much more difficult to stop and start while climbing than it is when descending.

Edited by spavlock on 08/26/2012 19:23:37 MDT.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: Tips for hiking down very steep inclines on 08/26/2012 19:23:58 MDT Print View

This thread nicely complements a thread I started and which has some interesting replies.

I finished my 2012 27 day JMT hike (my 5th but 3rd full JMT hike), and because of an injured torn meniscus in my left knee from an injury in July 2011, the two long downhill days of post 10+ miles of straight descent left me very sore (the last day is the worse). The tips I got for walking down steep, long descents are worth looking into and they involve things like Chi Walking, Walking downhill like a Sherpa, Yoga, etc.

Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Tips for hiking down very steep inclines on 08/26/2012 19:24:33 MDT Print View

I learned a very effective method from fellow backpacker Casey B. He suggested very small, if fast steps. That keeps the center of gravity right below you which makes catching yourself during a slip much easier. It looks a little silly but together with the use of poles this technique has made my downhill much faster and less treacherous even on craggy ground.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Tips for hiking down very steep inclines on 08/26/2012 19:29:42 MDT Print View

I agree about the center-of-gravity thing--it's counter-intuitive and very important. Also, plunge heel-first in loose soil, gravel or snow; there, aggressiveness trumps caution.

It's always nerve-wracking testing sole adhesion on granite slab.



HElinTexas C
(Helintexas) - MLife
Steep incline on 08/26/2012 20:50:37 MDT Print View

So as you guys do the smaller steps do you tens to land on heel or toe?

Hamish Reid
(MrExplorerDouglas) - MLife

Locale: Arthur's Pass National Park
Re: Tips for hiking down very steep inclines on 08/26/2012 21:40:11 MDT Print View

Zig zagging is certainly a helpful strategy, and absolutly agree with keeping centre of gravity low and taking smaller steps. I'd also suggest facing your feet across the slope on steep loose terrain, and using the edges of your footwear to get traction. That tends to work best with heavier boots, but helps with shoes too. When it gets really steep, it can work well work your way down hill with small side steps, while facing your body and feet across the slope rather than down it. On firmer terrain (like rock slabs), instead of using the edge of your soles, face downhill (ankles tend to have a greater range of motion rotating forward than they do sideways) and try to get the whole of your foot flat to the ground. This ensures maximum rubber contact.

Also, keep your weight over your feet. The more you lean back (unfortunately a natural reaction) the more likely you are to loose traction. Trekking poles can help with this, by making you feel more stable, as can reminding yourself to keep your "nose over your toes".

Another trick which can help, depending on the terrain, is working from one stable zone to another. Pick spots on the slope that are slightly flatter or more stable, and deliberately set out from one to the next. This can help to break up a longer slope.Descending scree, Mt Cassidy, New Zealand
This terrain is not super steep, but the hiker is coping with the scree well.

Edited by MrExplorerDouglas on 08/26/2012 21:42:52 MDT.

Alpo Kuusisto
(akuusist) - F
Re: Tips for hiking down very steep inclines on 08/27/2012 14:58:11 MDT Print View

Now this is just a brainfart, no experience whatsoever:

After trying a single pole (hiking staff) skiing or snowshoeing, I found it superior to two poles in really steep places. Could it be the same in summer?

BTW: When walking (or skiing) I find it more difficult to stop and start while descending than it is when climbing. Only biking is vice versa.

Edited by akuusist on 08/27/2012 14:59:44 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Tips for hiking down very steep inclines on 08/27/2012 15:47:42 MDT Print View

I was taught to keep the soles of my boots parallel to the surface to get maximum traction-- this was on bare rock.

With the steep rock surface, the composition of my boot soles of real importance. It would be interesting to have some sort of friction coefficient rating for hiking soles. I have seen a few reviews of trail runners and hiking shoes that revealed terrible wet traction, which could be very dangerous.

As to the question, "Why does everyone say the downhill hiker should yield to the uphill one?" The old rules of the road gave right of way to the descending load--- the concern was more with horse and wagon I think. I've never heard of a real trail rule to this and have left it up to whoever had the best place to step off the trail and let the other guy pass. If the other hiker looks less able due to condition, experience or load, I let common sense prevail and give them a break. Likewise if I have my dog on a lead, I let others pass. I tend to let livestock pass too, regardless of any right of way--- I don't like getting kicked or stepped on and I haven't been inconvenienced.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Butt on 08/27/2012 19:54:54 MDT Print View

There is no shame in butt scooting or sliding down if you need to ... Though it may wear out yr ul ger a tad faster ;)

Other than that keep yr body centered over yr feet, use yr poles and let gravity take you where it may

HElinTexas C
(Helintexas) - MLife
Steep trails on 08/27/2012 22:46:07 MDT Print View

The worst incline for me was descending down Mt Meru last year. The down track we took had long sections that were so steep when I kicked a stone loose it would travel at least 50 ft before finally stopping. The trail just went straight down in many switchbacks. Luckily I had my trekking poles. It was a total slog downward that lasted over 10 hours and was over 9700 feet down in elevation. Luckily it was a mostly stable trail. A few sections above 12,000 were pebbly among fine dirt. Even with poles, I did 2 butt plants. My guide seemed to glide down the trail with no poles at all. My poles were total brakes. I would love to be able to move down a steep trail without worrying about sliding and breaking something.

Everything was made worse by the worst flare up I've ever had of my planar faschiitus. (caused by a bad side effect of a antibiotic ). The day before I left for Africa I could barely make a step on my right foot. Thankfully I had 10 days of flights and safari before my hike started to recooperate to some degree.

The only good thing in regards to the foot was that my thighs were so sore the next 2 days that I ddin't notice the pain from my foot!

(I did get to enjoy the fun of glissading while coming down some ice/snow covered sections on Mt. Washburm in Yellowstone early June this year....first time ever hiking on snow/ice.....stupidly done with no poles nor any kind of crampons.....I was totally scared to walk down a very steep ice section and decided to sit and scoot...realized that coming down a steep section was fun this way and a lot faster)

Edited by Helintexas on 08/27/2012 22:47:11 MDT.