Backpacking and hiking are two recreational pursuits that can be greatly improved by a little stretching. Most of us who wander into the forests and spend the night often wake to find stiff legs, sore backs, and a general feeling of soreness. While a pre and post hike stretch might not fix all of these problems, they certainly will not hurt. Here are some tips and ideas for backpacking and hiking stretches.
Before looking at a few general stretches, here are some general stretching tips for not only hikers and backpackers, but anyone. While ‘bouncing’ at the end of a stretch is common, most experts say that this should not be done. A stretch should be taken short of the point of pain and held for about 30 seconds. As mentioned earlier, stretching is not just for before an activity but for after an activity as well. Remember to start you hike slowly and end it slowly to produce a ‘warm up’ ‘cool down’ period.
Perhaps the most important area to stretch well is the calf. To stretch the calf, stand with your toes on an elevated area. Lower the heels of your feet until you feel your calf muscle begin to stretch. Again, if you are stretching to the point of pain it is too far. After 30 seconds with your heels lowered, raise your heels and stand on your toes for 30 seconds. Repeat this until you are comfortable, 3 or 4 sets should be fine. The best location for a calf stretch is on a set of steps, but these are generally lacking in the woods. A rock, tree stump, or other raised area can be used in the woods. Hold onto a tree or have a buddy assist to keep your balance. If there is no way to stand on something and stretch, calf muscles can also be stretched one at a time by taking a big step with one foot and leaning forward stretching the back leg.
The next stretch that will benefit hikers and backpackers is the standing leg stretch. This common stretch is accomplished by raising one leg onto a tree or other nearby object. The leg should be raised to belt height or as close as is possible. The hiker or backpacker then places their hands on the leg and stretches as far as possible. Do this several times with each leg.
While these two stretches are hardly all that would benefit a hiker or backpacker, a simple and easy plan is more likely to be followed than a complex one.