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How to Walk

Yes, there's a better way to put one foot in front of the other. Improve your stride, trek farther, and end leg and back pain with our guide to the new science of healthy hiking.

Tips from the Pros
Two veteran thru-hikers share tips for racking up pain-free miles.

Justin Lichter: Completed the PCT, AT, and CDT in one year

>> I switch insoles about two-thirds of the way through the day, especially when I’m doing big miles. I think the different feel helps prevent overuse injuries.

>> A tight IT band pulls your knee out of alignment and causes pain. Massage the band with your thumb at night to keep it loose and relieve soreness. [The IT band runs along the outer thigh.]

>> Sleep with your feet elevated to prevent swelling and keep your shoes fitting right. I rest mine on my packed backpack. Jack haskel: 7,500 long-trail miles… and counting

Jack Haskel: 7,500 long-trail miles… and counting
>> Toughen your feet before a trip by applying tincture of benzoin to problem areas like your heels.

>> Avoid and treat ingrown toenails by not rounding the nails when you cut them. Try to keep them cut ‘square.’ If you have an ingrown nail, treat it in the field by notching a ‘V’ into the end of the nail at its center. This will open up some space for the nail to move back toward where it should be.

>> Make sure your shoes have enough wiggle room in the toe and that there’s no chance that your toes will touch the front on downhills. Hikers typically select shoes that are too small.

Fast Fix
Toss Your Big Boots

A load carried on the feet requires five times more energy to haul as the same load carried in a backpack. Plus, heavy, high-cut boots can cause feet to drag, creating a floppy gait that may result in pain and numbness in the forefoot (number two complaint of AT thru-hikers) and blisters (number three complaint).

Fast Fix
Keep Loads Under 40 

U.S. Army tests have shown that the heavier the pack, the less distance covered. The reason weight trumps fitness? With loads over 40 pounds, the body needs to stabilize itself with shorter steps, spending more time on both legs.

Fast Fix
Ease into Big Miles

Don’t overdo mileage at the start of the season or the beginning of a long-distance hike. An injury intervention program developed for U.S. Marine recruit training focused on incremental improvements. Participants gradually built up hiking miles over time, as opposed to high, hard miles at the start. The result? Hiking-related overuse injuries decreased by a whopping 55 percent. After a period of low activity (winter, injury recovery, hectic work schedule), stick to a conservative training plan that allows your body to adjust to new demands.

Fast Fix
Strengthen Your Quads

Walking with a loaded pack causes your knees to bend
nearly twice as deeply as when you’re not carrying weight. Quad muscles (not calves) share a disproportionate share of the burden. That’s not a problem if you’ve done strengthening exercises, but it can stress the knee if you haven’t. In a study of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, the top complaint was “acute joint pain” in the knees.

Fast Fix
Lighten Your Load

U.S. Army tests have demonstrated that loads greater than 15 percent of your body weight cause your trunk to lean forward as a counterbalance. Lean from the ankles and hips—and don’t bend at the waist—in order to prevent back and neck pain. And avoid carrying heavy loads that pull on your shoulders or cause you to hunch forward.

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