Navigating a steep slope is the ultimate fitness achievement. But hiking downhill can be just as challenging as hiking towards the summit. Descending steep slopes in rugged terrain is particularly tough on the knees, as it requires more focus and technique overall than climbing up.
Here are our favorite tricks for navigating steep descents carefully and with grace. Make sure to try out these steps depending on your ability, comfort level, and the slope’s angle.
Most hikers end up hurting themselves when they’re in a tremendous hurry to descend. Try and avoid rushing downhill since the chances of injury are higher. Start early and pace yourself, leaving enough time to descend at a suitable pace and arrive before dark. If you’re carrying hiking poles, lengthen them to ensure the proper alignment of your body.
Keep scanning the terrain as you descend. If the slope is unfamiliar, you’ll want to watch out for loose rocks and uneven ground. Even if you’re hiking down the same way you came up, look out for hazards you may have missed on the way uphill.
Bend Your Knees
Keeping your knees bent is the best way to maintain stability on a descent. Bent knees ensure your weight remains centered over your feet. Moreover, in case of a fall, bent knees ensure your body weight remains uphill – minimizing the risks that come with a sudden drop.
Far too often, we see hikers take incredibly long strides as they charge downhill. Avoid this at all costs. Taking smaller steps keeps you centered and safe. Needless to say (but we’ll still say it for emphasis) leaping downhill is always a bad idea!
Zigzag Your Way Down
Instead of walking in a straight line, control the descent in zig-zag motions across the trail’s width. The technique makes it much easier for hikers to stay safe and maintain a good pace while slowly losing elevation. Some of the best mountain trails typically have switchbacks naturally built into them. All you need to do is follow the trail!
Use Your Heels
Without the correct technique, walking down scree or snow can be an extended nightmare. Digging your heels into the slope helps with a stronger foothold down the slippery terrain.
Sit or Crab-Walk
If all else fails, use both your hands and feet. It’s a move that involves crab-walking down on all hands and feet. You can also sit on the ground while getting your feet ready for the next step.