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physical therapy approved hiking tips

PT-Approved Hiking Tips

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This time of year filled with sun drenched days and warming weather, combined with daylight lingering into the evening hours is known as the “golden” season of hiking. As a plethora of outdoor opportunities abound, it is the perfect time to get off the beaten path and enjoy a hike! Before you trot off on the trail, ensure you have the proper knowledge and injury prevention tips necessary to enjoy the golden days ahead.

Hydration is Paramount

You can survive for several weeks without food, but only 3-5 days without water. Several options for transporting water include bladders, vests, waist packs and backpacks with easily accessible water bottle pockets.

Build a Strong Foundation

Pre-hiking conditioning may not be as vital for short excursions, but is essential before extended hikes or those in variable terrain. The following exercises are a good start, being fundamental to hiking and easily accomplished in the home without additional equipment.

  1. Step Up/Down: Use stairs or sturdy step and using caution, ascend and descend a flight or step up and down on the lower step. Train for time progressing from 30 seconds for 2-4 sets to longer duration.
  2. Single Leg Balance: Stand close to a sturdy surface for assistance if needed and balance on one leg. Avoid locking the knee or leaning and use a few fingers for support if exercise is difficult. Begin with 3 sets for 30 seconds and progress time while decreasing repetitions. Challenge yourself with reaching arm or leg away from body which proves beneficial for similar motions when negotiating unstable surfaces.
  3. Multidirectional lunges: Forward, backward and to side. Ensure knee is in line with hip and ankle; descend to level of comfort and progress to changing directions with each repetition.
  4. Squat with overhead press: Start with feet shoulder width apart and arms at sides. Sit back to squat ensuring knees are in line and behind toes. Raise arms to the ceiling to challenge stability. When descending do not allow back to arch. As you stand up out of the squat press your arms toward the ceiling. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions. Progress by adding a weighted object to one or both hands.

physical therapy approved hiking tips physical therapy approved hiking tips

Essential Gear

Of course you cannot embark on your adventure without the proper gear. Known as the “10 Essentials” of backpacking, check out this list for what to bring with you on your hike.

Trail Creed

For those who are not experienced hikers, the following is a list of trail knowledge to take into consideration.

  1. Hiking Speed: The average hiker travels 3 mph; Add 30 minutes per 1000 feet of elevation gain or subtract 10 minutes/1000 feet of elevation loss. Be sure to build in “fatigue time” based on your fitness level and terrain.
  2. Estimated Return Time: Note starting time and calculate return time based on mileage. Along the trail and at the midpoint, reference the time to avoid pending storms or nightfall. Estimate remaining daylight by aligning extended hand, thumb up, at horizon and counting number of fingers between the earth and sun; each finger correlates to 15 minutes. Notifying family or friends regarding your travel plans including destination and return time increases chance of rescue should you become stranded or injured.
  3. Awareness of Surroundings: Pay attention when you hike; avoid wandering off the trail. Notice layout of the land. Stepping backwards, rounding a turn too rapidly or descending a steep embankment can result in injury should you lose your balance. Note major trail junctions and think about which way you turn. Every so often, and at all trail branches, stop and look backward which proves important when returning via the same route and is critical for backtracking to a known location if lost or disoriented. Referencing the map at major junctions helps commit the trail to memory.


  1. Nachusa Grasslands: Native Illinois prairie (less than 1/10 of 1% remain) complete with bison
  2. Mississippi Palisades State Park: The best of both; rolling woodlands (northern section) and towering cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River (southern section)
  3. Cache River Wetlands: Cypress swamps, boardwalks, and a Midwestern Garden of the Gods resembling the Colorado location with the same moniker
  4. Ice Age Trail: 1200 mile long trail bearing features of the bygone era of its namesake
  5. Grayson Highlands, VA: Revel in the beauty of alpine views and a native herd of wild horses just a mile from the parking lot with a connection to The Appalachian Trail.
  6. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, MI: High vistas, old-growth hemlock woodlands, and river crossings. Snowshoe to a trailside cabin or be lulled to sleep by the waves at a campsite on the shore of Lake Superior.
  7. Seven Devils Hells Canyon Wilderness, ID: A challenging hike with towering mountain vistas, remote beauty, and a multitude of secluded lakes. A breathtaking view of the Snake River below an 8,000 foot plunge into Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest river gorge, rewards you at the halfway point.

For additional trail recommendations, visit The Backpacker that lists a database of trails throughout the United States with descriptions, GPS coordinates, topographical maps and hiker feedback! .

If you’re experiencing any pain or injuries outside of general soreness after your hike, schedule a free assessment. Assessments are available in-clinic and online through our telehealth platform.

Request a Free Assessment

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

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