Keeping Your Footing - Tips for Traction and Balance on the Trail

From Pre-Hike Workouts, to the Right Shoes, to Trekking Poles, You Can Stay Steady and Strong On Your Next Trek

From techniques to training to terrain, here are our tips for maintaining your footing on the trail.

Stable to the core

The best way to ensure you’ll be stable and steady on your feet while on the trail is ensure your body is steady and stable. Just as you train hard to ensure you have the cardiovascular endurance for your outings, so, too, should you train for core and leg strength.

Leg strength is obvious; you need those muscles to power you up and down the hills and around the curves, but your core is not to be overlooked. A strong core is key to balance and stability and can prevent knee damage or ankle rolls while on the trail. A variety of workouts can help build core strength. Pilates and yoga are great, but aren’t your only options. Backpacker.com recommends balancing on one leg (with eyes closed to make it harder) and Fitness Magazine has a list of six must-do exercises for stability and balance (complete with helpful video demonstrations) that include one-legged squat reaches and curtsy salutes.

From the feet up

No matter how fit and ready your body is to tackle your trek, if you don’t have the right gear it won’t be a good outing. Chief among the right gear is the right pair of shoes.

Shoes can make or break your outing. In addition to comfort and fit, key considerations for choosing the best pair include tread and weight.

The American Hiking Society offers a great checklist for choosing the right shoes:

  • If your typical route is easy-to-moderate terrain, trail shoes, which are more structured and provide better tread than trail runners, are a good choice.

  • If your hikes are varied in both conditions and terrain, a light hiking boot is a sturdy choice that will protect your ankles.

  • And if your sights are set on strenuous climbing in difficult terrain, AHS recommends a heavy hiking boot with a stiffer midsole.

An extra bit of traction

If you’re hiking in winter months, adding traction devices to your boots or shoes can keep you stable and slip- and fall-free on the trail.

There are a variety of types and brands to choose from. Two of the best types for backpacking and hiking (as opposed to mountaineering) according to campingtourist.com are:

  • Coiled devices: Inexpensive and easy to use with any shoe, these traction enhancers afix to shoes via stretchy rubber cables wrapped in wire and can dig into ice and snow.

  • Spiked devices: More expensive than their coiled counterparts, spikes devices are more durable and provide great, no-slip grip on icy surfaces.

Pole position

Trekking poles, while they look like ski poles, are very different and provide distinct advantages on the trail.

Trekking poles are rigid and strong and often feature steel tips able to dig into rock and soil for added traction.

They also provide protection for knees by allowing the upper body to “take over” some of the cushioning tasks often assumed by the quadriceps and smaller, discrete muscles that support the knee, according to the American Hiking Society. This means that hikers using two trekking poles experience less knee pain, especially during descents, but also on level terrain, according to AHS.

Trekking poles also provide stability by providing two additional points of contact with the ground, which means even if you stumble, you are better able to brace yourself and remain upright.

Tips from AHS for using trekking poles effectively include:

  • Consider rubber tips, which cover the sharpest part of the steel point and prevent them from scarring rocks, while still maintaining traction.

  • Place poles carefully. Avoid easily scarred rocks, fragile trailside vegetation, and other hikers.

  • Place poles narrowly. Try to confine your pole tips to the established tread surface of the trail.

Only you know where you’re heading on your hikes, what type of shoes and traction devices you’ll need, or if trekking poles will be of value, but weighing all your options is just one more way to ensure you’ll stay stable and strong from outset to summit.

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