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  1. #1

    Default Ergonomic Hiking and Foot Placement

    I have followed with great interest threads that provide advice to "older" hikers. Several posters have said that older hikers would be well served by learning about ergonomic hiking and foot placement. Can anyone recommend a book, article or You Tube video that would give me a good start on this? I will be 65 in March and plan a thru hike starting in April 2020.

    Thanks in advance for any help or guidance!

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    Back in my 30s I fell all the time while backpacking---didn't think much about it cuz I recovered quickly and never broke anything.

    Then in my 60s I started practicing (by necessity) Slow and Careful Boot Placement on the trail. My falling has dropped by 90%---and this is with carrying butt heavy backpacks.

    Point is? Go slow and concentrate everything on the trail right below your feet. This simple technique works in snow too---although ice will require Microspikes etc. Don't be hiking along and gawking at the scenery---in other words.

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    One thing I've learned that applies especially when rocks are wet is to always ask yourself "what will happen if my foot slips?" In most cases this will be a downhill slide. A foot slipping backwards is usually a lot less dangerous than a foot slipping forward because your hands will be in front of you. Also, a foot that rolls inward is a lot less likely to injury you than a foot rolling outward. If you have to step somewhere that looks a little risky, make sure you do so in such a way that the consequences of a slippage of feet is not a major problem.

    The sharp edges of rocks can be used as lines much less likely to allow slippage. Low points in rocks or between rocks are good places to step in order to leave few or no options for a direction your foot can slip. A wet rock that angles forward can be very risky. I often choose to put my foot down sideways in such places so that it would slip sideways rather than forward.

    As Tipi also said, you have to be careful to look at your feet and not the scenery in many, if not most places. If you need to look around or otherwise give your attention to something other than foot placement, you may need to stop.

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    I was cautious before I got old, and I'm even more cautious now. When attempting a possibly risky maneuver (fording, a tricky ascent or descent), I like to have three of four points stable before I move the fourth -- the points being two feet and two hands or hiking poles, as the case may be. I also pay attention to balance, keeping my weight (center of gravity) directly over my feet as much as possible, weight being my own weight as well as the backpack. I also consider what move I'll make after the current maneuver. If any of this involves heights, I focus calmly on what I'm doing, not on my (moderate) fear.
    Last edited by tiptoe; 11-02-2019 at 18:52.

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    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    Not being overweight helps any hiker, but older ones in particular. Not many fat 70 year old Hikers out there - for a reason.

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    In many of the jobs I had in the military it was stressed to us over and over to always maintain three points of contact. This specifically relates to climbing where the tag line/fall protection counts as a point of contact so... if you are tied in you need both feet, or both hands, or one foot and one hand in contact with the wall. If you are not tied in you need both feet and one hand in contact. Only after placing both hands to advance up or down do you move one of your feet to the next point of contact. Sounds tedious I know but it's really pretty simple. When hiking with two trekking poles you have two extra points of contact besides your feet. Practice walking with the polls and keeping both poles in contact with the ground as you take your next step. It wont be necessary on even ground but when traversing steep, slippery or otherwise treacherous terrain, make a conscious effort to maintain three points of contact and you can seriously limit your chances of becoming over balanced.
    "I love the unimproved works of God" Horace Kephart 1862-1931

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    https://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/sho...-Speed-Walking

    This is an interesting conversation from awhile back that I think is relevant. Us old folks don't necessarily want to walk fast, but do want to walk efficiently and safely. Mostly read Just Bill's comments...
    Lazarus

  8. #8

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    I guess it just takes practice.

    The main problem I have is the knees no longer have the spring that they used to. That's mostly a down hill issue. Up hill is safer then down hill. A lot of injuries happen towards the end of the day on the down hill leg as your already tired and it's easy to slip and slide.

    Like the trail I came down today. Steep, rocky, wet and with ice on ledge in places. Slow and careful foot placement. Skidded a couple of times, but stayed on my feet. Of course, a couple of fit 20 something woman came dancing by like no problem.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1azarus View Post
    https://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/sho...-Speed-Walking

    This is an interesting conversation from awhile back that I think is relevant. Us old folks don't necessarily want to walk fast, but do want to walk efficiently and safely. Mostly read Just Bill's comments...
    Great thread!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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    One of those who I suspected had to be more mindful of their movement especially since going out so often for extended periods with one heavy resupply and kit while rarely to never complaining about injury was Tipi Walter. At his age, with the load he carries(both wt and bulk), combined with his fitness level, mindfulness of movement, hilly terrain he visits often, laborious trail maintenance, and combined with his daily MPD avg are all part of his longevity and basically injury limited backpacking career. I'm glad to have him reply. As TW said too often we can go mindlessly head down the trail. I don't see him doing that.

    On the other end of the spectrum are big time MPD avg backpackers like Skurka. Watch Andrew particularly when he's in HIS Zone. He flows, born out of his competitive track days and now racing in events like the Leadville 100. He uses trekking poles backpacking but his movements are still less impactful very ergonomic very deliberate very mindful putting less stress on his body whether he was using poles or not. He almost glides not fighting his momentum. FKTers like Scott Williamson and the many other LD serialists as well as Ultra runners I witness have the same non plodding mindful ergonomic approach with less wasted motion.

    I don't know about books or vids but some things to offer as a suggestion:

    1) Consider the places we step. Pick rocks that are not likely to move or if they might predicting how they might... not just so we might not fall or trip but so that when they move we maintain balance while moving with them and the momentum of our bodies instead of fighting it. Consider the weather in this. Consider the type of rock like climbers do because it affects traction. Consider where we can slip on wet leaves on a descent, even when the wetness is under the top leaf layer, or on wooden trail construction(steps, pontoons, boardwalks, etc) particularly when that construction uses trees with bark removed. They can be as or slippery than that algae covered stream crossing. This might make Rocksylvania less intimidating.

    It's not just wet or icy conditions where traction can fail but under dry conditions with AlMOST an imperceptible layer of fine sand on some rock/asphalt that acts like mini ball bearings that with attempting a quick stop or start can have us sliding uncontrollably with wt and bulk on our backs making it more problematic. Over the escarpment or dry pour off we can go or down a flight of steps or slope. Avoid screeching halts and accelerations unless conditions allow...just like when behind the wheel of an automobile. Ever been a passenger in a motor vehicle when the driver is hard on the accelerator and brake? I feel like a bubblehead in an off road race. FWIW, auto accidents are caused by that fine dust on streets out west causing ice covered road like conditions after the lightest of rain.

    2) Dont blast down descents taking huge step riser heights in one leap possibly breaking up the riser height into more than one step. Same thing on ascents. These are places on trail where wet or slimy well worn wood or slimy step construction combined with a turn the mind of approach is recipe for slip, trip, and fall scenarios. Dont take deep knee bends when not absolutely required. This is conservation of energy and movement. It seems like we all should know and be mindful of this but watching hikers it's obvious that is not the case.

    3) Dont stretch out the gait/stride length when conditions are most slippery or on steep slopes. Save the longer stride lengths for flatter fair weather.

    4) Learn to scissor and side step employing a wider number of muscle groups to spread the physical impact.

    5) Keep the center of gravity under neath us. Be mindful of pack adjustments and form. Feet spread shoulder width and shoulders leaning neither too far forward or erect. Swing arms to increase forward momentum on flats even if not using trekking poles to establish a mindful rhythm. Trekking poles assist many to establish a cadence but it can also be done without them.


    One thing that can happen on maintained trail like the AT or PCT is we take footing for granted. We can so easily turn our minds off. We follow the blazes, beaten 30-40" wide tread, and the herd turning our minds off. This increases slips, trips, and falls. Take hints from the "pros."


    Now, of course proper trekking pole use can help but IMHO should not be assumed a panacea for otherwise ignorant non ergonomic movement.


    Now, if you're a new backpacker this makes an even stronger case for going out slower more mindful not too fast too hard or too long as we practice these techniques incorporating them while possibly also incorporating trekking poles. However, it is NOT simply about putting in the miles but taking hints from others more experienced while putting in the miles to shorten the learning curve. Learn to embrace the success of others while noting but NOT majoring on the causes of so many injuries and other problems.
    Last edited by Dogwood; 11-02-2019 at 21:22.

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    Registered User HeartFire's Avatar
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    I've been working with a personal trainer now for a couple of years - we concentrate a LOT on core strengthening and balance - it's made a huge difference. I did not fall once on my last 5 week long backpack trip, and I trail run as well, and have not fallen in a long time - I'm able to catch myself and recover easily if I miss step. (OK, I did slip on this last trip - walking down to a creek, it was very muddy and I ended up sitting on my butt - but I don't consider that a 'fall')

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    An important lesson I soon learned was to not step on wet roots. Roots become quite slippery, especially roots that parallels the trail.
    Grampie-N->2001

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    My situation is a little different. My "Achilles heel" are my ankles. They are prone to rolling. I have unintentionally developed an almost reflexive response to this phenomenon. When one of my ankles starts to roll, I simply collapse. Seems this is protective; rather than having a bad ankle injury, I risk injury during the collapse, but, knock on wood, I have been able to fall with relative safety. So for me, falling in this case is a good thing.

    Like Slo-goen commented on an earlier thread, I most commonly get in trouble on what appear to be the less risky types of trail. This points to the importance of never losing focus. Of course on rock scrambles we intensely scrutinize every step, thus, I almost never have trouble on this type of terrain. On easy trails we tend to drop our guard. I can't tell you how many times I have stumbled when I encounter another hiker traveling toward me! My attention is diverted and I get in trouble.

    Lastly, the importance of good footwear cannot be underestimated. What works for one person won't work for another. I loved my first pair of Altras (3.5s). I replaced them with Altra Timps(since 3.5s were no longer available) and had 4 bad falls within 30 miles (slick as snot in wet conditions). I hated shelling out $150 for Salomons, but it would have been false economy to continue with the Altra Timps. The Salomons were great and got me through Maine, NH, and most of VT. Trying different shoes when one pair is not working is WAY cheaper than sustaining an injury.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grampie View Post
    An important lesson I soon learned was to not step on wet roots. Roots become quite slippery, especially roots that parallels the trail.
    Slick roots on the trail---don't step on them---this is something we learned the hard way at the very beginning. Practicing this is second nature now. Wait until you step on a trail root that's covered with an invisible sheen of ice.

    Slumgum brings up the importance of footwear---so true. Ankle rolling occurs in some boots/tennis shoes alot more than in other boots. Nobody backpacks in high top boots anymore but these things did prevent ankle rollovers.

    And this subject should be divided into Two Separate Subjects---Foot placement and/or falling with a 15 to 30 lb pack---and falling with a 90+ lb pack. World of difference. The 90 lb pack will take you where you don't want to go during a fall. I remember in 2016 I was coming down the Brush Mt trail in Citico wilderness in 4-6 inches of snow and my microspikes were picking up way too much globs of snow underneath---essentially causing me to backpack on big balls of wet snow.

    I slipped of course and the pack swung around and I performed a Five Point landing---elbow, hips, knee, etc etc. It was comical and sobering. Took the blasted Kahtoolas off fast and it was so much better in regular full leather boots.


    Pic taken on Brush Mt trail just before the fall.

    This pic shows the location of the fall---all those "score" marks in the snow was me flailing down in the Five Point landing etc.



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    With time, increased flexibility and strength, better foot placement, and perhaps lighter loads we can reach a pt that rolling an ankle withOUT injury is preferable to attempting to stop the momentum and 'jam' joints and tendons abruptly. For myself I roll my ankle occasionally but without injury more so wearing low cuts without proper heel cupping or when my foot rises too high out of the shoe or with improper lacing. I practice off trail on asphalt and grass walking on the sides of my feet in low cuts which helps collapsing like Slumgum stated. I do have to then be careful other joints especially knees aren't damaged.

    This is a topic like learning how to breathe better. We often assume we know all there is to know about it - breathing, walking, gear, etc. It leads some to say we're over thinking these actions. In my experiences I've learned I didn't know as much as I initially assumed. Keeping our minds ever open to incorporating new ideas and info is a good thing. As easy as it is to dismiss it as a past experience, that we're beyond it happening again, like right now, we no longer believe our new bicycle came down the chimney with a jolly old fellow in red suit. So it is now with other beliefs.

    If we thought about these aspects and incorporated these techniques/skills before using or as we initially used trekking poles we would even more so reduce bodily impacts. This is what developing our skill set is about.

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    One other thing I'll mention. On my most recent hike in PA, there had been no recent rain, but the dew point seemed to be just right so that the cool rocks were surprisingly wet.

    Wet can be bad, but when you're not expecting it, it can be really bad. Look out for slick rocks even when it hasn't rained recently.

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    To employ ergonomic hiking I find myself, like Liz 'Snorkel', adjusting pace according to conditions like terrain, weather, slope, fitness level, wt carried etc. As a newb I tried to go at a quicker pace than I was ready or at inappropriate times. This was because I hiked with too much ego attempting to judge myself and performance while competing with or constantly comparing myself with others. Some try to go at their quickest pace all the time when they witness others flying. That is no longer me. I learned to happily accept responsibility for my hike, to let go of the need for constant competitive comparisons. As I did I hiked more joyously, less fatigued, for longer hrs day after day after day wk after wk, less less prone to injury, according to someone else's agenda. This is a most wonderful aspect of hiking. Now, I find I can hike almost always faster if desired. Sometimes that's needed. And, those that may hike past me don't have the long term endurance I do so that ultimately I hike further than them if not on a daily basis over several days. Best of all I'm not fatigued. I've found my natural acceptable pace and style.

    Going out too fast too hard too long expecting to always do as others not HYOH not working our way into our hikes is what causes some AT thru Newbs injury or emotional or psychological discontent that leads to quitting. We need to be honest where we're at when we hit the starting TH without so much of the ego. We don't all hit a new hike in elite backpacker condition as we may fool ourselves.

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    I would think weekenders and short section hikers are the most likely to overestimate their abilities and pace. It looks easy on the map and you want to maximize the distance to make it worth the trip.

    On a thru hike or LASH your less confined by deadlines, so you have the time to work up to longer days and longer miles. But then, if you don't want to be the last one to a shelter when there are 50 others headed in that direction, do what you can. Sometimes it does turn into a race
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    The most important thing is not to forget safety precautions and a positive attitude!

    Try to do the same thing, but a little slower. Craftsmanship sometimes requires grinding and the slow execution of any element gives exactly this result. Even if you have a lot of experience, this tip will help you.

    This is what my grandfather told me when he taught me hiking and climbing.

  20. #20

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    I almost took a tumble on a steep trail yesterday when the tip of my shoe caught the top of a rock. Not lifting the foot high enough to clear the obstacles is one of my problems. PA chewed up the toes of my boots really bad last spring.

    In addition to roots, watch out for log water bars. It's tempting to step on them as you go over the ditch, but if they are nice polished wood, they are very slippery and usually angled down across the trail.

    I don't remember too many rocky sections south of VA, but the leaves can be an issue and Georgia clay can be really slippery when wet.
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