Downhill walking technique

Hiking downhill is often taken for granted. For lots of walkers and mountaineers, getting back down a hill you’ve just spent hours or days climbing up is, comparatively, the easy part. Hiking downhill though, can take its toll. When I did my first major trek (Kilimanjaro), the two days we spent walking down were much harder than the seven days walking up. The wear and tear on your knees and ankles is staggering, and I’m pretty sure my toenails have never been the same since.

Learning how to move downhill efficiently is important; it helps minimise joint and muscle stress and can help prevent falls and slips. As a bonus, descending with good technique will help you feel faster and lighter, without expending any physical effort. Here’s our guide to great descent technique.

Try and keep your centre of gravity low and neutral, and resist the urge to lean forward or back. It helps minimise the stress on your joints by keeping your movement more fluid. Pay attention to your foot placement; it can be very tempting after a long hike to “let it all hang out” and kick your feet out. Try and keep your feet in line with your ankles and knees and keep your movement deliberate. Keep your downhill leg bent on impact; it’ll help take some of the pressure off your knees.

You may need to adjust your pack on a downhill slope; it can be useful to tighten your hip belt as well. A loose pack can swing around and impede your balance. If you’re going to be hiking downhill alot, be aware of the risks of carrying an overly heavy pack, which can be taxing on your back. If you’re carrying camping gear or other heavy loads, try and plan a route that avoids really steep descents.

If you’ve never tried using hiking poles before (we like ours, but then again, we’re biased) give them a try on your next major downhill run. They’re very useful for testing loose ground and helping maintain balance, as well as taking some of the weight strain off your lower body. 

Lastly, keep it easy, fluid and slow on your descent. Move with the terrain, not against it, just as you would going up hill. Above all, don’t rush. Take smaller, shorter steps; a bit like the higher gears on a bike, shorter steps help you stay in greater control of your descent and can help prevent slips and falls.

If you’re going somewhere with a spectacular descent, have fun and don’t forget to send us a postcard. We’re always looking for your hiking pictures, which you can share with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.


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