I like to say if your butt don't hurt, you ain't hikin'. This means hiking is challenging and can bring about some common injuries – injuries that are preventable. Get back to civilization injury-free, in one piece and without the help of the local search and rescue.
How to Prevent Blisters While Hiking
This seemingly minor injury can ruin a perfect weekend of hiking. It is amazing that one little fluid filled pustule can cause such enormous pain as it bursts open leaving your fresh, new pink skin exposed to the harshness of a rubbing cotton sock and ill-fitting boot! Some blisters can almost be crippling, but they are preventable.
- Break in your hiking shoes! Of course, first you have to purchase the right footwear for your hike, but once you found THE pair of hiking shoes, you need to break them in. This means wearing them with the socks you plan to hike with on for short hikes and walks on varying terrains. This way, when you are on a long day hike or multi day backpacking trip in Grand Canyon (or wherever), you are not hiking with blood soaked socks.
- Wear merino wool socks. They wick moisture, add padding and help prevent blisters. Give Darn Tough a whirl.
- Use salve. But before you even put on the socks, use some Super Salve or other kind of salve to put on your feet. Salve will reduce friction on the hot spots on your feet where you might normally get blisters.
- Pre-tape. Pre-taping is a common practice and one that does work, IF you are good at taping. The premise is to put a smooth surface sports tape over the areas on your feet that are prone to blister (many people use duct tape since it sticks well and has a smooth surface). The problem with this is, if you suck at taping, you can leave gaps and the exposed skin will the rub. If the tape is not seamless, it will roll up and cause blisters. Not to mention that tape adhesive and foot sweat don't tend to mix so well (immiscible like oil and water - a science term for you!).
- Wash your feet! Small rocks, sand, dirt, etc. are abrasive and will cause blisters. Clean feet are happy feet. And our noses are happy when you wash your feet.
How to Prevent Chafing When Walking
Chafing occurs when there is friction. Friction is the resistance that occurs when one surface moves over another. Backpacks rub on skin, clothing rubs on skin (especially wet clothing) and skin rubs on skin. To prevent chafing:
- Lube up. We lube many things to reduce friction in order for better performance - I am talking about cars people! So we should do the same when hiking. Any place you have rubbing, you need to lube up - thighs, underarms, feet, hips where your hip belt might be, your lips because you talk too much when hiking - any place. There are many items that work - Glide, Vasoline (but can be messy and not a huge fan), items with zinc oxide such as Desitin and Squirrel's Nut Butter which is my personal favorite. Put on your skin BEFORE you start your hike.
- Wash up. At the end of the day - clean up the area(s) that tend to chafe. Sweat and dirt is a contributing factor to chafing. Plus, cleaning up - especially your sweaty nether regions, is just good hygiene.
- No cut-offs. - Leave the Daisy Dukes (denim cut-offs) at home - sexy but not great for hiking! Actually, don't wear denim when hiking, ever.
- Undergarments. I find a lot advice for men on this topic. I get it, wearing boxer briefs that are NOT cotton (like merino wool, nylon, etc) will wick moisture from your twigs and berries thus keeping them from rubbing and chafing. So while women lack both the twig and the two berries, we do chafe and I for one have never preferred to wear boxer briefs. That said, cotton underwear of any kind is not advised and remember, we all have a crack on our butts, it collects sweat and it can chafe.
How to Prevent Sprains, Strains & Pains While Hiking
It happens. You are hiking, you step on a rock wrong, you roll an ankle. You are hiking downhill, you step too hard because your are moving too fast and you hyperextend your knee. You finish the first day of a three day Yosemite backpacking trip and you are too sore to move the next morning. While not 100%, all of this is preventable.
- Train for your hike. Being active as a general rule of life is a great start. I don't know how many people I have encountered in Grand Canyon who decided that they would hike Rim to Rim in Grand Canyon in a day as not only their first hiking endeavor ever, but the first active thing they have done since running Cross Country in high school 20 years ago. Having an idea of what working out strenuously actually feels like is a step in the right direction. Read the articles we have on our "Training" page for some good advice on how to train for your hikes, are just to get in/stay in shape.
- Stretch. Any workout routine needs to include stretching. Flexibility helps you through those ankles rolls that can occur on the trail. When you are flexible in the muscles and joints, you are less likely to pull something when you step wrong or move a bit outside of your normal range of motion because stretching moves you out of your normal range of motion (gradually and carefully). Kill to birds with one stone - give Yoga a try. You will gain strength, flexibility AND balance (another "good to have" to prevent injuries, especially sprains).
- Pay attention. Watch where you are stepping and plan accordingly - This means when you are hiking, you need to watch where you are stepping. Stop taking pictures or gawking at the hiker wearing shorty shorts - even the smallest of pebble can be a hiker’s worst nightmare. Step with purpose and pick your line - this means don't just look straight down at your feet but notice the trail several steps ahead as well.
- Slow down. This doesn't mean everyone should hike the same speed since slow is relative to your experience. But if you are hiking downhill and you feel like gravity is pulling you down the trail versus your legs propelling you down the trail, then you are going to have some issues. Your hiking speed should be controllable. Kind of like driving a car. If you are going too fast and you come to a sharp curve, you will have a hard time controlling your car into that turn. Then you crash and then you get a ticket and a huge insurance bill. Our bodies function the same way.
Beat Fatigue on Your Hiking Trip
If you can prevent the above 4 injuries, you will almost have fatigue beat. Blisters, chafing and muscular skeletal injuries or pains make you walk slower, having you on the trail longer, thus, fatigued. Training, if done right, gets you ready for those long days. If you try to run a marathon after only having run a 5K as your longest run, you will fatigue by your 10K. Get your body ready for the hike by getting used to the distance. Having liquids coming out of all orifices uncontrollably will also cause fatigue, so do what you can to keep that whole situation in check. But what else can you do?
- Eat. Food. Often. You need to consume calories when hiking so take ample amounts of food with the proper percentages of carbs, fats and proteins (60, 15 and 25 is a good rule of thumb) as you need ALL of these macronutrients. And make sure this is real food! Energy drinks, Gu shots, and Clif Blocks, etc. are NOT real food.
- Stay hydrated. Not much to say here but if you're thirsty, you need to drink water and you need to carry more than you think you need - just in case.
- Rest often. Feel a bit tired, rest a spell. Tired you = injured you.
How to Avoid Giardia While Backpacking
This is an ailment more than an injury but whatever - it still sucks and can ruin a perfectly good trip. This cute little protazoan parasite will have you losing all your lunch, among other meals, from both ends - thus leading to another ailment not discussed here - dehydration. Not pleasant for anyone involved. Giardia is a person-to-person contaminate and is more commonly contracted by not washing your hands - gross! Unfortunately, when we are in the backcountry, we somehow forget that we need to wash our hands. While not an easy task, it is possible - here is a tip from Leave No Trace. No water? Then always have some hand wipes AND anti-bacterial gel (not just the gel). This little critter, I call it "Gia" for short, can also get you if you drink it so if you need drinking water, you will want to use a filter like the Katadyn Be Free, Aquatabs, or just boil.
I prefer some kind of filter for taste but filters clog, break, etc., so while boiling and tablets are not ideal, they are a perfectly suitable backup.
Check out the Just Roughin’ It Blog for More Hiking Tips