18 Keys to Better Balance On The Trail

Using your arms with slightly bended knees leaning a bit forward are all ways to be better balanced on the trail!
Using your arms with slightly bended knees leaning a bit forward are all ways to be better balanced on the trail!

I (Loral) have always struggled with being a  prone to tripping—even on a city sidewalk. When I first moved to Chicago years ago and got places mainly by walking, my roommate used to joke and say, “OK, your trip of the day has happened, so you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

Needless to say, if I would trip on a flat sidewalk, getting out on an uneven hiking trail— particularly as you descend—can be kind of scary.

Because of my naturally not-so-graceful tendency, I have intentionally tried to gain better balance through the years. I have learned somethings along the way that I hope will be useful to some of you—or  for you to pass along.

My first few tips are from my dance training—those techniques definitely comes in handy—so if you can take dance lessons and would enjoy them, great! If you can’t do that or don’t have that interest, I’ve spelled out some of the lessons for you here.

  1. Suck in your stomach when you walk, keeping your core engaged at all times. Doing this will help you not too lean too far forward or backward.
  2. Strengthen your quads and hamstrings to protect your knees from impact.
  3. Keep your knees slightly bent, kind of in a relaxed pulsing position.
  4. Lean forward slightly with your upper body when you are climbing.
  5. Use your arms to help you balance and counterbalance your body—or grab onto trees or rocks as you need to—but keep your arms primarily in front of you. Let go when your arm gets behind you to avoid shoulder strains.
  6. Make sure your knees and the direction of your feet are aligned in the direction you want to move. In this case, avoid the dancer’s turn out with you feel.
  7. Check your weight, making sure it is more on the balls of your feet—more than on your heels.
  8. Wear high quality shoes with good tread. Ahnus are my favorite, because they were specifically designed for balance.
  9. Ensure those shoes are properly tied, supporting each part of your foot, especially your ankles. Buy the good hiking socks—I like smart wool for all occasions. Don’t skimp on your feet. I only have a few pairs, and we hike a bunch.
  10. Commit to one foot or the other when you step. If you are using both feet, one may drag. Just like in dance, your weight should always be on one side or the other as long as you are moving and not in neutral.
  11. Try to think about where you will step next before you get to it, and try not to change your mind at the last minute. This practice is kind of like leading in dance. You have to be a step ahead in order to clearly signal to the other person.
  12. Glance down, but don’t lean your head too far down for too long. Try to keep it more level.
  13. If you start to slip, if your knees are bent and you are leaning slightly forward, and your arms are out slightly, you can often catch yourself.
  14. Prepare yourself both cardiovascularly and with strength training off the trail. I’ve let exercise go a bit with the business of moving this Spring and an increased workload this summer, and I can tell. I’m recommitting to it this fall.
  15. Don’t try to do too much at one time. If conditions require much balance, consider shortening your distance if you get tired, or take more breaks. If you get tired, it’s hard to be cognizant of your body’s signals.
  16. Be cautious but not fearful. Go at a steady pace that makes you feel comfortable. Especially as you are starting out, taking it slower until you feeling confident in your footing is so important. If you end up turning around rather than going on a loop trail, you will have more confidence.
  17. Stretch out before you hike and after you are finished. Even if it is short and an “easy” hike for terrain, or if you go up hundreds manmade steps, your body will be forced to take it easy for more days if you don’t stretch.
  18. Take snacks and plenty of water so that you don’t get light headed or dehydrated.

If you haven’t already done so, feel free to read my other tips for enjoyment on the trail.

Happy trails to you!

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