For many the act of hiking is a rather simple feat (no pun intended) of putting one foot in front of the other, but did you know how you're trekking can affect how tired you get, if you get blisters, and how far you can go in a day? Different terrain and trail conditions require different footwear and a variety of techniques. Our team of outdoors experts got together to discuss a variety of combinations, and the best technique to tackling them.
Paved trail - asphalt, concrete, stone Although a paved trail is easy on your ankles and allows you to maintain a quick and steady pace, it can be murder on your feet. The pavement doesn't have any give at all meaning whatever cushioning is in your footwear is all the shock absorbing protection you will get.
Good sturdy boots that breathe well on warm pavement and offer excellent arch support are key. Sneakers in some situations may be better than boots offering more cushioning on each step, although a pair of trail runners would be ideal. Walking at a normal pace and gait should do fine under most circumstances. On long up hill or down hill treks holding on to a railing if provided will take some strain off of your knees, toes and heels. A person in average condition can cover eight to twelve miles in a day on paved trails.
Dirt trail, packed, good condition Probably the easiest terrain to cover especially if the trail doesn't have any stairs to assist climbing of descent. Sometimes under dry conditions a dirt trail can be as hard as concrete. Relatively smooth yet gives a little with each step, offering more natural cushioning with each step.
Good sturdy boots with ankle support and some bounce are key. If you're day hiking trail runners or under ankle cut may be sufficient. If you're carrying a pack then consider an over the ankle boot for more support. You can walk at a normal pace but try to consciously lift your foot an inch or so higher than you would on a city sidewalk. This will keep you from tripping on snags or rocks in the trail. Trekking poles can help take the strain off of your body on long up hill or down hill climbs. A person in average condition can cover ten to fourteen miles in a day on dirt trails in good condition.
Dirt trail, rocky, root covered, poorly maintained A rough trail can be a nightmare if you don't have the right footwear or use the proper techniques. Each step is a twisted ankle waiting to happen, especially if you are wearing a load. Stepping over an uneven surface can wear on your feet, being particularly hard on the ball and toe regions. Cushioning with each step is varied depending on just what is under your feet at that time.
Good sturdy boots with ankle support are critical unless you have ankles of iron. Avoid sandals unless they are close toed, this will prevent cuts or worse a shattered toenail on a rock (ouch!). A normal gait and walk is a good way to get up close and personal with the ground. You should slow your progress down a bit; around two miles an hour is a good pace with a pack. If you don't have trekking poles walk with your arms slightly out and in front of you (not exaggerated like a tightrope walker). This will help
you balance and help you break a fall if you go down. Before you take each step make sure the foot your leaving behind is on solid ground, most twists, breaks and falls happen when the one foot on the ground during a step looses traction. A person in average condition on a fair trail can cover eight to twelve miles in a day.
Lava, pahoehoe or a'a' Crossing lava flows, fields, or hardened lakes provides a number of challenges. The smooth or rolling pahoehoe lava can be slippery and broken edges are as sharp as glass. A'a' (pronounced ah-ah) is sharp and pointed lava making your trek similar to that over a rock covered trail. Each step on either surface is challenging for different reasons. Because hardened lava is black or dark brown in color it absorbs a lot of heat, which can be torture to your feet.
If you are crossing pahoehoe or smooth, rolling lava you should wear very sturdy boots with ankle support, good soles, and toe rands to prevent cuts. To minimize injury if you fall long pants and gloves are very helpful, even in warm weather. The edges of pahoehoe lava can cut like shards of glass if you fall on it. In some cases walking over pahoehoe is very similar to a paved trail in fair to poor condition. If the pahoehoe is in good condition an average hiker can cover eight to twelve miles in a day, less if it is broken up, rolling like sculpted sand on a beach, or rough.
If you are crossing jagged, broken, jumbled a'a' lava you should also wear very sturdy boots with ankle support, good soles, and toe rands to prevent severe cuts. Long pants and gloves are critical, as is a durable ground cloth for sitting on when you rest. Some people believe that the Hawaiian word a'a' comes from the sound you make if you were to walk barefoot over it. Treat a trek across a'a' similar to walking on a rough rocky trail. Trekking poles with carbide tips are extremely helpful and will keep you off of the ground. If not hands out and in front slightly to balance and break the potential fall. Walking over a'a' is going to slow you down, expect to cover six to ten miles a day if you are in average condition, if the a'a' is deep or extremely rough expect to cover even less ground.
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