Form Walking for Hiking the Backcountry?

Do you have a hitch in you giddy-up or are you a easy-strider? You may already be able to hike twenty miles a day through alpine terrain with time and energy left over to setup camp in the daylight. This article isn’t going to help you double that mileage, but it may help you get there 10% quicker and be more comfortable doing it. When I’m out on the trail and I feel myself starting to fade, I take a moment to analyze my hiking form to see that everything is in check. Usually, I’ll find a relatively small issue, like my knees slightly bowing outward and I’ll focus to bring them back into form. This typically results in immediate positive feedback of an increased pace without exerting any additional energy. I ran track for a time growing up, mostly mid-distance events like the mile, and we used to spend a lot of time focusing on form. This wasn’t necessarily to create a running posture fit for the cover Runner’s World Magazine, but rather to focus on small imperfections in your mechanics that would suck away energy or otherwise make you vulnerable to injury. I’ve found a lot of crossover in the techniques to analyze running form that can be used for hiking. I wouldn’t recommend someone try to force a stiff upright posture, since we are inevitably going to be making adjustments while hiking due to pack loading and varied terrain, but small imperfections can be corrected with a little attention and time. Once issues are identified, a lot can be improved through focused stretching and exercise. If you’ve got any real joint or back issues, you should get with a specialist to work them out as soon as you can. Procrastinating on chronic issues is just going to make them harder to correct in the long run.

When to analyze your stride? Start out by focusing on your hiking stride without a pack, while on a relatively flat surface. Be relaxed, just act natural as you walk. If you try to walk too perfectly, you’ll likely stiffen up with tension and cause more imperfections. Walking unladen on a flat surface will give you a pretty good idea of your baseline mechanics. Once you have that, focus on how your mechanics change when you are hiking inclines, mellow declines, trails, when loaded up with a pack, and (most importantly) when you’re fatigued. Weaknesses always show themselves when your tired, and this will cause the most exaggerated breakdown of your hiking mechanics. Personally, I have a left ankle weakness that causes a slight slap in footfall rather than a smooth roll from heel to toe. I try to strengthen it by doing exercises like one-legged squats, as well as performing other isometric dumbbell lifts while standing on one leg at a time. I’ve also got some reduced hip mobility that causes my right foot to swing slightly outward when running. I’ve come up with a nightly stretching routine which includes attention on glutes and hip flexors which has largely improved this issue.

What should you focus on? It’s tough to look at everything at once, so the best approach is focus on one joint area, and in one plane of movement. Are your knees bowing outward, or moving like two efficient pistons moving you forward with no lateral sway? If your knees are moving efficiently on one plane, are your feet following them or do they wander to the side and travel through an elliptical orbit in the horizontal plane? If someone were to view you looking straight down at the top of your head, would they see your hips stay relatively on the same plane as your shoulders, or do they open up to one side as you stride forward? Do your toes of each foot point in the same direction throughout your stride, or do they stray inward or outward as you swing your leg forward?

Our hiking mechanics usually feel so natural to us, it is difficult to analyze on our own. If you don’t have a friend to help out and give observations, or if you don’t want to look like a weirdo asking your buddy “Hey would you mind checking me out as I walk this trail today? I mean, really focus on my body and my movement, and give me your honest impressions. I can do the same for you later.” Just set up you cell phone to get some video from a couple different angles; one at your feet and knees, one at your hips, one at your shoulders, and make sure you get both profile as well as directly in front and behind you. Check your shoes and gear for uneven or unusual wear as well, which could be an indicator of imperfect hiking mechanics. Small improvements in mechanics can yield real results on the trail.

Ultracheap Ultralight

Ultralight backpacking and hunting gear is expensive, right? The “Big 3” in regard to ultralight consists of your shelter, sleeping system, and pack. These are usually the biggest and heaviest items that you will be taking with you, and will usually yield the biggest weight savings when you upgrade. But they also usually come with the heftiest price tags. What if you just got geared up a year or two ago? Are you going to abandon perfectly good gear in favor of the new product line? It can be tough to accept the steep cost-benefit ratio of dropping hundreds of dollars to upgrade to a new sleeping system just to gain a couple of free ounces over your old reliable bag. But, if you want to drop some serious weight from you pack, the Big 3 are going to yield the most impactful upgrades.

So if you are not yet ready to pull a full Big 3 upgrade, or maybe you already have the top of the line bag, tent, and pack and you want to trim a couple more ounces, keep reading for some tips to get how to shed a little more weight from that hunting pack for a price of next to nothin’.

Consolidate your electronics, consolidate your batteries. Like an ever-evolving beast, my cell phone has devoured and absorbed a multitude of my other devices. I no longer need a backup flashlight or collapsible lantern, because my cell phone has a sustaining camera flash that can fill both their functions. I haven’t carried a camera in years. I no longer carry a GPS because my phone has apps like OnX Hunt. I no longer carry a book because I have an e-reader app with books stored on my phone electronically (including valuable hunting reference guides and other pdfs). Giving up other devices for the phone may seem pretty obvious, but my recent weight saving has been in batteries. To power my phone, I carry an extra battery pack (I’ve found the Anker PowerCore 10000 to have the best charge to weight ratio). It gets me about four full charges, which is usually more than I need. Since I’ve now got a universal USB power bank, I can also power up my rechargeable headlamp, reducing my need for any backup AAA’s (It also charges my watch and Steripen if needed).

You call that a knife? If you’re like me, you find yourself accumulating knives without even trying. I’ve got a full box of knives that I’ve received as gifts, or were door prizes from hunting banquets, or I may have bought just because I liked the feel of it. Some are great knives, some are decent. I don’t know where the impulse came from, but I always seemed compelled to try and get some sort of use out of each of them. I had one that I would use for elk, one for deer, one for skinning, one for caping, and so one. I’m not saying that I would take all those knives with me into the backcountry, but I did have a fairly large elk knife (9.2 oz, 9.5″ overall length, wood handle, full tang) that I would regularly pack deep in the woods. I’ve since come to the conclusion that one of my smaller knives (2.6 oz, 7.5″ overall length, rubber handle, full tang) is completely adequate in the field, and I am more than comfortable using it to take apart an elk. Since losing a knife would be pretty much a game-ender for a hunt, I usually bring a smaller backup knife as well. From my random collection I’ve found a Buck Paklite Caper that weighs in at 1.4 oz. Those two knives combined are still over a quarter-pound savings over my larger elk knife.

Speaking of quarter-pounders, cut out the snacks. This can be a tough one, initially. But in reality, you probably don’t need snacks. You’ll be more efficient while hunting and less distracted if you don’t bring snacks. How many times have you sat down to glass, and impulsively began pawing through your day bag for something to eat. Many times we are using snacks as a distraction to boredom rather than as a means to restore energy. This isn’t a recommendation to cut down your daily calorie intake, but rather consider putting all those calories in your main meals. Many times, snack foods are less calorie dense, or are lower quality fuel (i.e. sweets), or are in smaller portions with more packaging than your meals. Be aware of how you pack your food. I’ve been guilty of neglecting to include the calories of my snacks in my food plan, throwing them in last after I’ve already accounted for all my necessary fuel in meals. This has resulted in extra weight I don’t need, and I regularly those snacks uneaten when I unload at the end of a trip. If you don’t want to get rid of your snacks completely, you can front-load them in your trip. The hike in is likely going to be one of the most physically strenuous days of your hunt, so you can use that first day to chow through your junk food.

You’re gonna stink, cuz you nasty. You may be able to reduce some of your scent, but you’re not going to be able to eliminate it…not even close. Once you come to terms that you are trying to manage scent, not eliminate it, you can get rid of a lot of gear. Extra undies, extra socks, deodorant, bathing wipes, scent concealer spray, soap, and shampoo are all either ineffective or impractical to take into the backcountry. The soap and shampoo are probably the most effective at reducing your scent trail, but I’m not interested in bathing in a high country lake during September (especially at the sacrifice of daylight hunting hours). The bathing wipes are nice to have, but I have found them to be much heavier than they need to be. They are thicker than shop towels and drenched in de-scenting solution. If you feel you must utilize some method of bathing, I’ve found baby wipes to be a much better alternative, which are still unscented and are much thinner and lighter. Extra clothes are going to help manage scent, but I usually only bring one extra pair of socks and undies for a week-long trip. I can always give one set a rinse in the stream and an air dry if thing get too ripe. Or, if the bike/hike in is going to be strenuous and I know I’m going to be pretty brutal on that first day’s clothes, I’ll consider that first set of clothing to be sacrificial, and cache them somewhere where I can collect it out my way out.