Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Wonder why you're tripping on the hiking trail? There are several reasons this may be more common at the beginning and end of the season.
Taking on too much
When the season is coming to an end, hikers tend to scramble for that last great trek or push to finish a through hike before an unexpected winter storm hits. They might not be ready for the increase in mileage or challenging terrain. Fatigue plays a role in stability and judgment. Pay extra careful attention towards the end of your hike, as the sun starts to set, or when the weather changes. Slow down and take sure steps to help prevent falls.
Conversely, spring hikers eager to get back on the trail are also more likely to be unstable. Tripping after a few miles gives you a sense of your muscular endurance. Gauge how far you should go by this factor. You want to challenge your endurance, but not push yourself to the point that fatigue puts you at risk of falling. Additional strength training helps improve stability. Strong glutes and core will help keep you upright.
Children tend to practice balance all the time. They play games, hop, skip, and walk on curbs. As people age and become more sedentary, their balance declines. Office workers have little need to challenge their balance. Therefore, weekend hikers may find themselves tripping and losing their balance often, even on level terrain.
Balance is the ability to return yourself to an upright position when your base of support is disturbed. Training your body to do this actually improves your balance! Studies show that cross-training activities like tai chi and yoga help gain stability and decrease falls. You don't have to join a class to work on balance, though. Access your inner child and walk on a curb, skip, and hop more often. You might remember how fun it is!
Wound too tight
When walking in the community, people typically move in one dimension - front to back. Occasionally you might turn to the side to squeeze past someone in the grocery aisle or get into your car in the parking lot. Hiking, however, requires more three-dimensional movement, especially when traversing technical terrain. Climbing over rocks, leaping across streams, and stepping over branches requires the body to stretch and turn.
Flexibility in the hips, ankles, and trunk improves the ability to make those challenging movements and remain stable. If hikers lack the range of motion to take big steps, they risk not only tripping but also spraining an ankle or pulling a muscle. Weekly stretching helps maintain this flexibility. Performing yoga poses and dynamic warm-up movements improve range of motion.
If you find yourself tripping on the trail, you might need more intensive training. The Healthy Hiker program addresses balance as part of the hiking readiness training. Need a tune-up? Let's talk!