by Roko Koell, Hiking Guide, CMH Summer Adventures
Energy is extremely important when unexpected things happen like getting off route or getting lost, fatigue, injury or changes in weather, not only out of bounds, but also on hiking trails and areas which do not see a lot of hiking traffic. Most inexperienced hikers take steps that are too big! The most effective way to save energy is by choosing the proper size of step. The larger your step, the longer you carry your body’s weight with the muscles of one single leg. It’s just like walking up stairs, if you take three steps at a time, you will get tired and exhausted much sooner. The longer the stairs are, the smarter you have got to be when distributing your energy.
Balancing with longer steps becomes increasingly more difficult and is a waste of precious energy. Oversized steps result in bad balance and this can be dangerous when crossing a little creek or walking in terrain where a loss of balance could cause a fall. In steeper the terrain when energy is lost by improper step distances fatigue occurs unnecessarily too soon. This can lead to exhaustion before you realize it!
Smaller steps result in more even weight distribution over both legs, for only half as long and half as far. The bigger the steps, the further the feet move ahead of your centre of gravity and your entire weight has to be transferred by pure (leg) muscle. If the feet step short under the body, the bone structure (skeleton) supports significantly in moving the weight forward and upward from one foot to the next. While one leg works by taking the weight of the body in a step, the other one has a short but crucial rest period and recovers. Large steps allow for less resting. Shorter steps guarantee physical (and mental) strength over a much longer period of time which makes your hiking trip significantly more enjoyable and safer.
The right size of step depends on the steepness and the cover of the ground. You can figure it out quite easily. Whatever the conditions, make the steps about half as big as you would usually. Walk for a few minutes, and if it feels extremely limiting extend the step-size until walking feels comfortable. As soon as you hyper-ventilate, either the step size is too big, or the pace is too high - react and readjust! Also before you lift your leg off the ground in uneven or steep terrain, you should have already (visually) picked the exact spot where to step next to avoid stumbling, loosing balance and wasting energy. Remember each grade of steepness has its ideal step-size.
photo: Cariboo Hiker by Topher Donahue