Learn More About Ice Climbing

Snow and ice are ever-changing environments that make climbing challenging and exciting. Mountaineers and sport climbers enjoy everything from moderate-angle glacier walks to the vertical choreography of waterfall climbing. You can find ice-climbing opportunities at sites ranging from volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest to spectacular frozen waterfalls in the Rockies or the Northeast.

This article discusses the climbing gear and basic techniques used on ice.

Shop REI’s selection of ice-climbing gear.

Getting Started Climbing Ice

Ice climbing typically brings to mind frozen waterfalls. Here, a climber works his or her way up vertical ice with 2 axes, crampons toe-in to the ice.

Climbing alpine ice, though, can also include walking flat-footed with crampons and a single ice axe. A glacier is a larger and more variable beast than most winter-only waterfalls, so you need to use different techniques for changing ice conditions and slope angles.

First, we’ll look at how you use your feet on the ice.

Crampon Techniques

Though it’s possible to climb low-angle ice by using rough features or by chopping steps with an ice axe, at a certain point crampons need to be used for efficiency and safety.

Alpine climbing involves techniques adapted to different terrain. These styles are known as French and German techniques, for the areas in which they originated.

French technique: Also known as flat-footing on ice, this is the preferred technique for low-angle to moderately steep ice (slopes up to about 40°). All crampon points but the very front are kept in contact with the ice for traction. This is the most efficient way to travel over hard snow or ice. On lower-angle ice, climbing is simply a matter of pointing your feet uphill and planting them solidly, including your heels. As the slope angle increases, climbing requires greater ankle flexibility. It is easier to turn your toes outward to walk ducklike in order to keep the feet flat. On steeper slopes, you can progress diagonally up a slope with all points in, but with toes pointing across the slope or even slightly downhill.

Eventually, it becomes necessary to sidestep up the slope. To do this, plant your uphill foot solidly, then cross your lower foot over it and plant solidly. This cross-over upward progression requires care, as it is easy to catch your crampon points on the opposite boot, gaiter or crampon straps. It is important in the French technique to plant all points except the front 2. It is tempting to try to “edge” into a slope, placing only the inner row of points and leaving the outer points in the air. This is easier on your ankles, but your crampons can skate over the ice, allowing you to skate down the slope.

German technique: This is more commonly known as front-pointing, due to the fact that only the front-facing crampon points come in contact with the ice. It’s commonly used on slopes of about 45° and up. The climber faces the slope and kicks his toes in to plant the 2 or 4 front points. It is the most direct way to ascend a steep slope but also the hardest on calf muscles since only the crampon frames support your feet. Unlike French technique, which takes some practice to get the footwork down, German technique is fairly straightforward. Kick, plant the front points, stand. Your body weight must rest on the few sharp points of your crampons and tools, so secure footholds are essential.

Combined technique: One way to make climbing moderately steep ice more comfortable is to mix the German technique (or toe-in to the slope) with flat-footing. This combination technique is known as the “3 o’clock position” or “pied troisieme” and is usually less tiring than straight flat-footing. It involves planting the front points of one foot while keeping the other foot splayed out to the side, sole flat against the slope.

Two common mistakes:

  • Try not to kick repeatedly to set the crampon points. This and kicking too hard are not only tiring, but can weaken the ice you’re standing on. You learn quickly enough about “dinner plates,” or flakes of ice that come crashing out when you’re too rough with tools or crampons.
  • Another tendency is to keep one’s heels up too high, allowing the front points to pop out. Lowering your heels leverages the front points farther into the ice and will help to avoid an unnecessary slip. This is especially important at the end of a steep section or a pitch that ends in a shelf or on flatter terrain.

Using Ice Axes and Tools

Walking on level or low-angle ice does not necessarily require the use of an ice axe. In fact, it’s a good idea to practice your flat-foot technique (with and without crampons) without relying on your ice axe(s) so you learn the “feel” of the ice underfoot.

Of course, you carry and eventually use ice axes or tools on any ice climb. Longer mountaineering axes are often paired with shorter ice tools on alpine routes which involve both snow and ice travel. On steep, technical ice routes, 2 short tools are typically used, one with a hammer and one with an adze. The adze is used for clearing the ice before placing ice screws or for chopping steps or belay ledges. A hammer is used for pounding in ice pitons.

This section covers basics of using axes or ice tools on ice.

Ice Axe Techniques

For low-to-moderate-angle ice (up to about 45°) using French technique:

  • Cane (piolet canne): The cane position is used when you are walking on flat to moderately steep terrain. Hold the axe by the head with the spike (at the end of the shaft) contacting the ice. This axe technique is combined with walking forward or duck-walking as explained in the crampon section above.
  • Cross-body (piolet ramasse): As the slope angle increases, you turn your body sideways to the slope and progress diagonally upward. Here, the cross-body position is a more secure way to hold your axe. Grasp it by the head in your downhill hand and plant the spike across your body into the slope. This is especially useful if you are descending a slope by sidestepping.

For steep ice (45° and higher) using German technique:

  • Low dagger (piolet panne): This position comes into play when you face into the ice or snow and start to front-point. Holding the axe by the head at the adze, push the pick into the slope at about waist or chest level. This is used for short stretches for balance and is better used on hard snow or soft ice. It’s difficult to get much purchase on hard ice with this technique.
  • High dagger (piolet poignard): This is the same as low dagger except that you are placing the axe above your head. Your hand is wrapped around the head of the axe with the pick facing into the slope. High dagger is used when the slope gets too steep for low dagger to be effective.
  • Anchor (piolet ancre): The anchor position gives you even more security. Hold the axe near the bottom of the shaft. Swing the axe overhead to set the pick into the ice. Now, front-pointing, work your feet upward as you move both hands progressively higher on the axe shaft. Eventually, one hand will be holding the axe head, similar to the low dagger position. At this point, remove and place the axe again.
  • Traction (piolet traction): This position is used on very steep to vertical or overhanging ice. When ice is very steep, 2 tools are necessary to maintain balance and contact with the ice as you proceed upward. Holding the tool by its shaft near the base, swing overhead and plant the pick firmly but carefully in the ice. Do the same with the other tool and then work your feet upward. Snug wrist loops are essential when you are using the traction position for maintaining a good grip on the tools. They also let you “hang” by bending your knees and straightening your arms to rest.

Ice Tool Placement

  • When placing your tools, look for depressions in the ice, which are stronger than outward bulges and resist fracturing a bit better. If you are following, look for holes left by your partner and place your tools in them.
  • Just as with crampon placement, a single sure swing is far better than several taps or random chops at the ice. It saves energy and the ice surface. The right amount of force is important, too. Avoid swinging your tools too hard, or you will tire out your arms quickly. The more you can align your shoulder, wrist and axe when you swing, the more direct and secure the placement will be.
  • To remove your tools as you climb past them, lift them out the way they went in. Move the pick back and forth in the same direction it went into the ice, and push up on the adze or hammer to help lift it out. Try not to wiggle the pick side to side as this can break it.

Dry Tooling

Ice routes are frequently mixed with rock. Dry tooling is using your ice tools as protection in cracks or other features on the rock. You can place the pick in a crack or torque the hammer head into a rock feature and then work your way up with your tools as you would if they were in ice. Some hammer-heads are even designed with different angles on each side to fit into various-size cracks like a cam or chock.

Protection and Anchors on Ice

Just as with rock climbing, you need to place protection as you go to protect yourself in case of a slip. Anchors allow you to belay your climbing partner and to rappel back down from a climb. This section covers some of the tools and methods that ice climbers use for protection.

Using Natural Anchors

Natural anchors can be used on an ice climb if you can find them. On waterfall ice, it is common to find sturdy ice columns around which you can put a runner. On mixed climbs you may find natural rock features such as horns to tie a runner around. Some ice climbers make use of cracks between ice and rock by tying off an ice screw with webbing, placing it in the crack and turning it 90° to create a chockstone.

Placing Ice screws

Ice screws must be placed in the ice securely, then clipped with a quickdraw to the rope, all while you are standing on front points and hanging from 1 ice tool. It’s a tricky process for a beginner to master.

  • You first need to clear away any rotten, soft ice or snow, until you reach good, solid ice. Use your pick to create a small hole in which to start the screw.
  • It should go in at about a 10° angle uphill from the direction of expected pull.
  • Choose a spot in the ice near your waist rather than above your head for better leverage while twisting it in. The pick of your free ice tool makes a good screwdriver if you are having a hard time with just your hand. Ice screws with rotating handles make the process much easier.
  • As you work the screw in, clear away any ice that fractures around it. Keep turning until the eye or hanger is flush with the ice surface and pointing down-slope in the direction of pull.
  • On very mushy or rotten ice, it’s necessary to make a horizontal ledge in which to place the screw. Place it vertically in the ice well back from the edge.
  • Keep screw placements around 2 feet apart.
  • Back up sketchy screw placements with second screws linked with runners and ‘biners.

Ice Pitons

Pound-in protection is useful in certain situations where screws would fracture the ice. Hook-style pitons can be placed in cracks, between ice features such as icicles or into old tool placement holes. Use the hammer on your ice tool to pound them in.

Abalakov V-Thread

Named after the Soviet climber who first devised it in the 1930s, the Abalakov V-thread anchor is simple in design, yet very strong. It’s well suited to rappels or top-rope setups, assuming that the ice in which it is made is of good quality.

  • To make the anchor, you need two 22cm ice screws, a length of 7ml perlon or half-inch webbing and a piece of wire to retrieve it.
  • Insert the ice screws at a 10° angle uphill to the slope, and at about a 60° angle sideways. The idea is to make tunnels with the 2 screws that meet in the middle.
  • Leave the first screw partway in place as a marker for placing the second one.
  • Once you have the tunnel, thread the perlon or half-inch webbing using a wire coat hanger with a hook to retrieve it.
  • Move the webbing or cord back and forth to smooth out the tunnel, then tie a knot to create your anchor. If using webbing, use a water knot. For perlon, use a triple fisherman’s knot.

Ice Bollard

The ice bollard is another rappel anchor that is cut out of good-quality ice (i.e., hard ice with no cracks). It consists of a downward-pointing, teardrop-shaped trench in which your climbing rope rests, with an upper lip that prevents the rope from sliding off.

  • To make an ice bollard, use your axe’s pick to make the initial shape, then the adze for scooping out the trench.
  • Cut out a trench at least 6″ deep in the inverted teardrop shape, being careful not to crack the ice.
  • The bollard should be from about 12″ to 18″ wide. (Bollards are also used in snow, but need to be much larger for the snow to hold.)
  • At the top, make an undercut to keep the rope from slipping off. Be very careful not to crack the horn shape that you’ve created for the rope to rest on.

These techniques of ice climbing are just the basics. For more in-depth information and to gain competence, read available books or take a course from a reputable guide or club in your area.

Best Tips for Great Hiking

Planning a spring hiking trip?

Whether you’re finally doing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, looking forward to day hikes on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, or anything in between, your adventure will be more enjoyable if you follow a few smart tips from The Wilderness Society.

The essentials for a safe adventure

Avoid emergencies by having the tools you need to turn the unexpected into an exciting part of your journey.

  • Carry a map and compass and know how to use them.
  • Bring a pocket knife, and put fire-starting supplies in a water-proof container.
  • Assume the weather will change — bring sun protection, rain gear, and extra layers for sudden cold.
  • Pack extra food and water.
  • And don’t forget to tuck in a whistle and a first aid kit, and bring a headlamp in case your hike takes longer than you’d planned.

Day Hiking

Enjoy the refreshment of the wilderness (and prepare and train for longer hikes) with planned day trips.

  • Always check the weather to avoid afternoon rainstorms.
  • You will have better odds of spotting wildlife by starting before dawn.
  • Avoid the crowds, by exploring the less-well-known trails in designated wilderness or roadless areas.
  • Make sure you pack or have the right shoes for the right occasion.  Outdoor retailers have experienced staff who can help you find the right fit; their advice can mean the difference between a wonderful walk in the wild and a day of pain, aches, and blisters.

Night Hiking

  • Use a headlamp or allow your eyes to adjust naturally.
  • Bring a pair of goggles or glasses to help protect your eyes from the swat of an unseen branch.
  • As the air cools, you’ll be glad for extra layers of non-cotton, quick-drying, wicking clothing.
  • Assume your footing is unstable; walk with a more careful gait — place your foot and test the feel before transferring your weight.  It’s slower than your usual hiking stride, but you’ll avoid a turned ankle — and you’ll hear the night sounds all around you when you take your time.

Hiking with Kids

Hiking with your children is a great way to get them connected to the outdoors.  Just remember to keep the goals easy.

  • Start with short hikes that feature a goal — the waterfall you came to see, the lake where you can wade and play.
  • Plan to take a lot of extra time. If you don’t reach your goal because the kids want to explore under every leaf, then that’s a good hike, too.  With children, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Hiking with Dogs

  • Make sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations and ensure those identification tags are firm on the collar.
  • Remember that dogs need to train and condition for longer hikes, too, so don’t forget to bring them along on your short day trips.
  • With a special pack and time to get used to it, your dog can carry his or her own provisions.
  • Do a thorough health check at the end of each day, and include canine-friendly supplies in your first aid kit.
  • Always check the trail rules before you go; you don’t want your dog harassing wildlife.  National Park trails do not allow dogs, while other public lands simply require dogs to be on a leash.

Leave no trace

  • Collect all your trash.  In fact, collect everyone’s trash.  Make it your goal to leave a trail more pristine than you found it.
  • Take gallon zip-top plastic bags for day hikes; more refuse supplies for longer journeys.
  • Stay on designated trails. Protect our natural world by leaving only footprints, taking only pictures.

Hiking Tips At Hot Weather

Sunny days are perfect for lacing up your boots and heading out in search of an alpine lake, a mountain summit or a dramatic slot canyon. But, along with the sun can come intense heat, and if you don’t manage the combination of the two properly, your fun day can turn into a painful and potentially dangerous one.

To learn how to have a good time and stay healthy in hot weather, check out the following:

  • Planning tips: Choose where and when to hike
  • Clothing and gear tips: The right clothes can keep you comfortable
  • Health tips: Protect yourself against sunburn, dehydration, overhydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Planning Tips for Hot-Weather Hiking

Thinking about when and where you’ll be hiking are important steps in planning a successful hike in hot weather. Keep in mind that it can take 10 days to two weeks to acclimatize to high heat, so be cautious and take it slow on your first few hikes when the weather warms.

When to Hike

Avoid the hottest time of day: The hottest time of day is usually around noon to 3pm. On scorching days, it can be best to avoid this time altogether by getting an early start and ending your hike by early afternoon, or heading out sometime after 3pm. If you can’t avoid hiking during the warmest hours, try to plan your trip so you’ll be in the shade or near a body of water during that time.

Go for a night hike: If you live in, or are visiting, a hot locale, scorching temperatures can be uncomfortable (or even unbearable) during the day and hiking at night can bring relief. Learn more about hiking at night in our article, Night Hiking Basics.

Where to Hike

Stay in the shade: Choosing a hike that keeps you under the shade of trees or within steep canyon walls, rather than exposed directly to the sun, is a good idea.

Hike near water: If there’s not much shade, but you’re near the ocean or a large lake, go for a hike where you can enjoy the cool sea or lake breeze. If you’re hiking next to a river, you can dip your hat, shirt or bandana frequently and drape them on your body to keep you cool as the water evaporates.

Clothing and Gear Tips for Hot-Weather Hiking

Dressing appropriately for a hike can go a long way toward keeping you comfortable.

Choose light colors: Wearing light colors that reflect the sun’s rays rather than absorb them (as dark colors can) helps keep you cool. Look for shirts, shorts and pants in white, tan or khaki.

Wear loose, breathable clothing: Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that breathes well will help your body regulate temperature. Nylon and polyester are good choices.

Cotton can be OK: You’ve heard it before: cotton kills. Cotton has a bad reputation in the outdoors because it absorbs lots of moisture and dries very slowly, which can create an uncomfortable and dangerous situation on wet and/or cold days. But in hot and dry conditions, the moisture can feel good against your skin, and as it evaporates it will leave you feeling cool.

You must be careful when wearing cotton though. Make sure you’re OK with the feel of wet cotton next to your skin (some people just don’t like it) and that it won’t cause chafing if it rubs against your skin. More importantly, if there’s any chance you’ll be out when the temps dip in the evening, carry a change of clothes or choose to wear synthetics instead of cotton.

Open vents: Some shirts, shorts and pants designed for hiking incorporate vents. Opening these up on a hot day helps improve airflow.

Choose UPF-rated clothing: All clothing blocks the sun’s rays to a certain extent, but clothing that has a UPF rating is guaranteed to provide protection. Common ratings include UPF 15, UPF 30 and UPF 50+. Learn more in our Sun Protection Clothing Basics article.

Cover up: It may seem counter intuitive to put extra clothes on in hot weather, but the added coverage can provide necessary protection from UV rays, especially for people with sensitive skin. A lightweight long-sleeve shirt, sun sleeves and a neck gaiter can provide effective protection.

Put a hat on: A hat provides essential protection from the sun for your face and neck. A baseball cap provides OK shade, but a sun hat with a brim that goes all the way around is even better.

Cool your neck: A bandana, sun-protective neck gaiter or other lightweight cloth can be dunked in water and worn over your head or around your neck to keep the back of your neck cool and covered while the water evaporates. Special polymer-crystal filled neck scarves maintain the moisture for even longer periods of time.

Wear the right socks: Never wear cotton socks (choose wool or synthetic instead) and make sure they fit well. Socks that are too big can have wrinkles that rub and socks that are too small can create pressure points and sock slippage. Learn more in our Blister Prevention and Care article.

Carry a hydration pack: It might seem like a small difference, but having a sip tube always at the ready will make you more likely to hydrate frequently than if you have to reach for a water bottle.

Pack some heat: We’re talkin’ a water pistol here. When the going gets rough with your hiking mates, shoot ’em with a few squirts to cool them down. Alternately, bring along a spray bottle that you can holster to your belt and pull out for some fine misting when you need it.

To learn more about clothing for overnight adventures, read our Backpacking Clothes: How to Choose article.

Health Concerns for Hot-Weather Hiking

Sunburn, dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are some of the most common health concerns related to hot-weather hiking.

Sunburn

Sun-protection clothing is one good line of defense against the sun, but don’t forget to put sunscreen on exposed skin to help prevent sunburns. Sunscreen is absolutely essential on hikes in the sun. Always read the directions on your bottle of sunscreen, but here are the basics:

  • For hikes lasting longer than 2 hours, choose sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure
  • Reapply after 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, immediately after towel drying or at least every 2 hours.

Learn more in our articles Sunscreen: How to Choose and Sunscreen: When and How to Use.

Dehydration

It’s important to drink adequate water when you’re hiking in hot weather to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can leave you feeling crummy and possibly contribute to other heat-related illnesses, such as cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

How much you need to drink while hiking depends on a number of factors, such as temperature and humidity, your intensity level, your age, your body type and sweat rate, as well as the duration of your hike. A good general recommendation is about a half liter of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. From there, you may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise. For example, strenuous hiking in high heat may require that you drink one liter of water or more per hour. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to fine-tune how much you drink.

If you’re hiking with your dog, remember they need water, too. In a dry location, plan to carry enough water for your pet and bring along a small, packable bowl.

Learn more about hydration in our Hydration Basics article.

Overhydration

The flip side to dehydration is overhydration, or hyponatremia. This is a fairly rare condition that mainly affects endurance athletes such as marathon runners, ultrarunners and triathletes, but it’s something that hikers should be aware of.

In hyponatremia, sodium levels in the blood become so diluted that cell function becomes impaired. In very extreme cases, hyponatremia may cause coma and even death.

The symptoms of hyponatremia are similar to dehydration: fatigue, headache and nausea, causing some athletes to mistakenly drink more water and exacerbate the issue.

Preventing overhydration: The key to preventing overhydration is to monitor how much you drink.

  • Don’t overdrink—Stick to drinking a few gulps of water about every 15–20 minutes and try not to drink more than you sweat. Weight gain during exercise is a telltale sign that you’re drinking too much.
  • Add salt—Keep your salt levels balanced by occasionally drinking a sports drink with electrolytes instead of plain water and/or eating a salty snack, such as pretzels. You can also take salt tablets.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are painful muscle contractions that can happen suddenly during exercise in hot weather. It can be helpful to view heat cramps as a warning that you’re pushing your limits and that you need to slow down. It’s not known exactly what causes heat cramps, but to help avoid them, make sure you’re properly hydrated. If you get heat cramps, do some gentle stretching to try to alleviate the pain.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is your body’s inability to cope with the stress of heat. It can occur after lengthy exposure to high temperatures and is often accompanied by dehydration.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid pulse
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Treatment for heat exhaustion:

It’s important to treat heat exhaustion immediately if you or another hiker is showing symptoms.

  • Get out of the heat: Look for a shady spot and lay down and rest. Remove any excess clothing. If there aren’t any trees to provide shade but you have a tarp, use it to block the sun.
  • Rehydrate: Drink plenty of water and if you have electrolytes or salt tablets, use some of those.
  • Cool off: It can feel good to splash cool water on your face and head. If you’re hiking near a lake or stream, dunk your head or dip a bandana or hat in the water and put it on your head.

How to prevent heat exhaustion:

  • Take time to acclimate: You need to ease into hiking in hot weather. It can take 10 days to two weeks to acclimatize, so be cautious and take it slow on your first few hikes of the season.
  • Stay hydrated: Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids. A half-liter per hour is a good starting point, but you may need more depending on the intensity of the hike.
  • Wear appropriate clothing: Choose lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that allows your body to regulate temperature and a sun hat that will shade your face and neck.
  • Rest in the shade: If you need to take a break, take the time to find a shady spot rather than toughing it out under the hot sun.
  • Know what you’re capable of: Be honest about your level of fitness and choose hikes that complement that.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when your body literally overheats. It is a serious medical condition that can strike fast and requires immediate medical attention. If you see a hiking partner displaying symptoms of heat exhaustion combined with a change in mental status, he or she may have heat stroke. Pay particular attention to these signs:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Body temperature of 104-degrees-Fahrenheit or higher (if you have a way of measuring body temperature)

Treatment for heat stroke:

  • Cool down: It’s necessary to rapidly cool a person with heat stroke. Lay the hiker down in the shade, remove extra clothing and use cool water and fanning to lower their temperature. If you’re near a lake or stream, you can attempt to lay the hiker down in the water, taking care to keep their airway clear. Also, be aware that rapid cooling can cause hypothermia.
  • Hydrate: If the hiker is alert enough to hold a water bottle, get them to drink water.
  • Evacuate: Heat stroke can cause internal organ damage, so get the hiker out as soon as possible and head straight to the hospital for further evaluation.

How to prevent heat stroke: Follow the same tips for preventing heat exhaustion.

If you want to be better prepared to respond to medical emergencies in the outdoors, consider taking a wilderness medicine course.

Learn More About Sport Climbing Checklist

Sport climbing is more accessible than traditional rock climbing, both in terms of location and in cost of outfitting. Its fun and often-competitive atmosphere, combined with the immediate gratification of completing many difficult routes in a single outing, draws newcomers to the sport and is a natural progression for gym climbers who want to take their skills to the outdoors.

What is Sport Climbing?

Sport climbing involves high-intensity climbing on relatively short routes. Its distinguishing characteristics include preplaced bolts and an emphasis on the physical aspect of the climb rather than the destination or summit.

Sport vs. Trad Climbing

Less gear required: Because the emphasis is on the moves, sport climbers don’t place their own protection, but clip into preplaced bolts with metal hangers. This allows the lead climber to progress upward without the worry and hassle of carrying a full rack of gear and placing protection like you would with trad climbing.

Accessibility: Sport routes can be found indoors or out, on nearby, accessible rock crags or on artificial walls at a gym or a competition arena. Climbers can enjoy being on the “sharp end” of the rope—that is, leading the climb—without knowing how to place chocks or camming devices.

Falling: When sport climbing, it’s normal and expected that you’ll fall, often repeatedly, as you work out a difficult move. In trad climbing, you would typically take care not to fall and stress the anchors you are placing.

Sport Climbing Route Ratings

In the U.S., the Yosemite Decimal Rating System is most commonly used to classify climbing difficulty on sport climbs. All sport climbs range from an easy rating of 5.0 to a very difficult rating of 5.15.

Just like with other styles of climbing, sport routes are rated by the hardest move on the route, so when a climb is rated 5.7 that does not mean every move is 5.7.

Class 5 climbing sub-categories
5.0-5.4 Easy A steep section that has large handholds and footholds. Suitable for beginners.
5.5-5.8 Intermediate Small footholds and handholds. Low-angle to vertical terrain. Beginner to intermediate rock climbing skills required.
5.9-5.10 Hard Technical and vertical, and may have overhangs. These hard climbs require specific climbing skills that most weekend climbers can attain.
5.11-5.12 Hard to Difficult Technical and vertical, and may have overhangs with small holds. Dedicated climbers may reach this level with lots of practice.
5.13-5.15 Very Difficult Strenuous climbing that’s technical and vertical, and may have overhangs with small holds. These routes are for expert climbers who train regularly and have lots of natural ability.

To further define a route’s difficulty, a subclassification system of letters (a, b, c or d) is used for climbs 5.10 and higher. For instance, a route rated 5.10a is easier than one rated 5.10d. Some guidebooks use a plus (+) or minus (-) rating instead of the letters.

Sport Climbing Gear

Gear for sport climbing is light, streamlined and aimed at speed and efficiency. A bolted climb requires a rope, harness, shoes, quickdraws, helmet, chalk and a chalk bag.

Climbing Rope

Most sport climbers use a single dynamic climbing rope. For length, a 60m rope is usually sufficient, however, some modern sport-climbing routes require a 70m rope. It can be helpful to ask other climbers or consult a guidebook if you’re unsure what length rope you need.

Climbing ropes are sold as dry-treated or non-dry. The more expensive dry-treated ropes resist water absorption, keeping them supple and strong if you’re caught in a rainstorm or traveling on snow. Most sport climbers will pull their ropes and go home when it rains, so if you primarily sport climb, you can save some money and go with a non-dry rope.

Learn more about climbing ropes in our article, Climbing Ropes: How to Choose.

Shop Climbing Ropes

Climbing Harness

Harnesses designed specifically for sport climbing are generally lightweight and streamlined but have padding to cushion repeated falls. The design is thinner, often with fewer gear loops to shave weight and maximize mobility.

Shop Climbing Harnesses

Climbing Shoes

Since sport climbs tend to be short and challenging, climbers often choose moderate to aggressive shoes that have a downturned shape and thin, sticky soles that provide an excellent feel of the rock. The downturned shape puts your feet in a strong and powerful position for stepping on small holds but sacrifices some comfort. If you’re a beginner climber, you might prefer a neutral shoe that’s comfortable to wear while you develop your technique.

Sport climbers often choose shoes that slip on or have hook-and-loop straps for easy on and off before and after a climb.

Learn more about climbing shoes in our article, Climbing Shoes: How to Choose.

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Quickdraws

Most sport climbers use quickdraws (pre-attached carabiner and sling sets). Quickdraws are typically sold with one straight-gate and one bent-gate carabiner each. The straight-gate carabiner is used for clipping the bolt, while the bent-gate carabiner is shaped to make clipping the rope easier.

Rather than buying pre-made quickdraws, you can make your own if you prefer different combinations of carabiners. Simply buy individual quickdraw runners (sometimes called dogbones) and the straight-gate and bent-gate carabiners that you like.

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Climbing Helmet

When climbing outdoors, you should always wear a helmet made specifically for climbing. Climbing helmets are designed to cushion your head from falling rock and debris, as well as provide protection in the case of a fall. They are generally not worn in a climbing gym since it’s a controlled environment.

A helmet should feel comfortable, fit snugly but not too tight and sit flat on your head. Helmets have a hard, durable protective shell and an internal strapping system that consists of the harness, headband and chin strap.

All climbing helmets must meet the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme) and CE (European Committee for Standardization) standards to protect your head from top and side impacts. See the REI Expert Advice article, How to Choose a Climbing Helmet, for more detail.

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Chalk and Chalk Bag

Chalk is a necessity to keep hands dry for dicey moves with tenuous holds.

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Sport Climbing Terms

If you hang around a climbing gym or crag long enough, you’re sure to hear some jargon being thrown around. Here are some key terms to know:

  • On-sight Flash —This describes the “preferred” (and most difficult) way to complete a sport route. It signifies that the climber has completed the entire route on the first attempt without falling or “hang-dogging” on the rope, and without any prior knowledge of the climb.
  • Flash —A flash is to climb a route on the first try without falling or hanging on the rope, except that the climber has been given information about how to do the climb.
  • Redpoint —Redpoints are the successful climb of a route that the climber has practiced many times. He or she now completes it without falling, resting or hanging on the rope (“practice makes perfect”).
  • Pinkpoint —The pinkpoint is the same as a redpoint but with all the quickdraws preplaced. All the climber has to do is clip the rope into the carabiner instead of removing the quickdraw from the harness, clipping it into the bolt and then clipping the rope. Some climbers don’t make a distinction between red- and pinkpoint routes.

Backpacking in the Rain

Into each life, some rain must fall. If you’re a backpacker with the right mindset, this can make the woods a more beautiful place: crisper, cleaner and calmer. Heavy rainfall can also present some special challenges, though, if you’re not prepared.

For some tips on how to thrive on a wet-weather hike, we turned to REI’s Laura Evenson, whose 2013 Appalachian Trail thru-hike featured 27 straight days of rain. Her advice on precip preparation covers:

  • Gearing up
  • Trail hazards
  • Campsite tactics
  • Drying out

Gearing Up

When rain is a distinct possibility, it’s wise to adjust your gear list. Take a closer look at your clothing, including outerwear and footwear. You also want to assess the rain-readiness of both your pack and tent.

Clothing Strategies

  • Absolutely no cotton. This is especially true in next-to-skin layers because cotton doesn’t wick sweat away from your skin and it takes a long time to dry. In soggy conditions, that means you’ll get chilled and become more susceptible to hypothermia. Go with wool, nylon or polyester clothing instead.
  • Evaluate your rainwear. A soft shell alone won’t be enough. You need a hard shell for full waterproof protection. Because rainwear brands update technology often, an upgrade is worth considering. First, though, read Rainwear: How to Choose.
  • Renew your rainwear’s Durable Water Repellent (DWR). If you think your current rainwear needs replacing, first check to see if raindrops bead up and roll off. If not, there’s a good chance that renewing its DWR coating can restore performance.
  • Evaluate your footwear. Waterproof options work well in colder conditions, keeping your feet warmer and drier initially; nonwaterproof mesh footwear works well in milder conditions, draining and drying more quickly if you land in a puddle or creek. With either option you need deep lug soles to deal with mud and superior traction to deal with slippery rocks and logs.
  • Pack more substantial camp shoes. You want camp shoes that will be secure underfoot, so you can wear them around a muddy camp or to wade across a high creek. Then you can change to your still-dry trail boots on the other side.
  • Go with gaiters or rain pants. If you forgo rain pants in favor of greater breathability, then you should pack gaiters to shield your socks and the tops of your footwear from rain. You’ll also need an extra pair of dry pants.
  • Take a rain hat. In addition to avoiding cotton, look at hats with a wide brim or long bill to keep your face (and glasses) drier.
  • Bolster your dry clothing stash. Extra clothing is already one of the Ten Essentials. Never skimp on the amount of extra clothes you pack when rain is in the forecast. Bringing extra clothing that you only use for sleeping helps ensure you’ll always be dry and warm in your sleeping bag.
  • Bring blister supplies. Moisture makes feet more susceptible to blisters. So, in addition to making sure you have multiple pairs of wool or synthetic hiking socks, you should double-check the blister-treatment items in your first-aid kit.

Extra Pack Protection

Though many packs are made of waterproof material, their seams aren’t sealed. In addition, all of the places that make gear accessible to you—like a top lid or an open stash pocket—also make it accessible to precipitation. Even zippers that are water resistant or covered with a flap can let water sneak in eventually.

Added protection options for your pack include the following:

  • Pack raincover. Some packs come with one, or you can buy a cover sized to fit your pack. If you’re willing to listen to it flapping in the wind, you can also adapt a trash bag by cutting slits for shoulder straps.
  • Pack liner(s). You can use a trash-compactor bag, buy a special pack liner or use several smaller plastic bags for key gear. Your main pack and exterior pockets can get soaked eventually, making your load heavier. Your essential gear, though, will remain dry.
  • Lightweight dry sacks. These can be used like the smaller plastic bags noted above. In addition, even if you have a pack cover or liner, you should use dry bags for your most vulnerable gear. Using one as a sleeping-bag stuff sack is smart, especially if you have a down bag. Storing food in a dry bag not only protects it from moisture, it also provides a handy top handle when you hang it up to prevent bears and rodents from getting to it.
  • Waterproof gadget cases. You can put things like your cellphone or expensive digital camera in a plastic bag or dry bag. Getting a specially designed waterproof case, though, will provide even better protection.

Trail Hazards

A significant storm system can create added dangers and health concerns. If you’re on the lookout for them, you can take steps to avoid unwanted complications.
  • Slippery surfaces. Even if your footwear has great traction, you still need to tread extra carefully on muddy slopes, slimy rocks and rain-slickened logs.
  • Trekking poles are a huge help, and can be your best friend on a rainy hike.
  • Swollen creeks. Water will be running faster and higher, requiring extra care on every crossing. Unbuckle your hipbelt before you cross, so you can easily get free of your pack if you slip and fall into a fast-moving current.
  • Flash floods. If you’ll be in canyon country, check the forecasts ahead of time and keep an eye out for quickly accessible higher ground.
  • Hypothermia. Learn to recognize the early symptoms, which include shivering and confusion, because it can creep up on you in cool, rainy weather. Wear wool or synthetic clothes because they continue to insulate even when damp. Change into dry clothing when you are no longer moving.
  • Dehydration. It’s easy to forget to hydrate when you’re in the middle of a downpour. Be sure to drink and eat even though it may be inconvenient; if rain discourages stops, drink and snack while you’re hiking.

Campsite Tactics

Site Selection

Most of the following tips are from our How to Set Up a Tent article:

  • Seek higher, drier ground. You’ll have less moisture in the air to form condensation inside the tent as temperatures drop.
  • Look for sites under trees. They create a warmer, more protected microclimate that will produce lower levels of condensation.
  • Avoid sites under damaged limbs or trees. A strong gust can bring them down on top of you.
  • Avoid camping in low areas between high areas. Rain can channel through and pool when a storm blows in.
  • Orient doors away from the wind. You’ll prevent rain from blowing in.

Pitching Tips

When the rain is coming down sideways, speed counts. Beyond general pitching tips, here are some rainy-day strategies for ensuring that your tent is well set up:

  • Practice at home. It lets you double-check that all the parts are there and helps you develop into a quick-pitch artist.
  • Use a footprint. As the ground gets more and more sodden, you’ll be glad you took the time to lay down this extra layer of protection.
  • Be wary of the fly-first pitch. Though some tents offer this option, it often takes longer than the standard tent-first pitch.
  • Recruit rainfly holders. You’ll get less rainfall on the main tent if hiking pals or people camping nearby hold the fly over your tent while you pitch it.
  • Tighten it up and guy it out. Though it’s tempting to dive in as soon as the tent is minimally in place, your rainfly needs to be rock-solid first.
  • Become a vent master. If your fly has vents, use them to prevent condensation buildup. Open them wide and check them often to be sure they aren’t letting in rain. Open vents in opposing pairs, rather than all at once, in order to create flow-through ventilation.

Drying Out

When the weather gods conspire to hit you with seemingly endless days of unrelenting rain, it’s important to make the most of each and every opportunity to dry yourself out.
  • Preserve a dry set of camp clothes. Keep them in a dry bag and don’t open it until you’re inside your tent. Dry clothes will do wonders for your comfort level and your mental health.
  • Switch to dry clothes during the day, too. A midday change to dry pants or socks or base layers bolsters your spirit and deters hypothermia.
  • Seize weather windows. Dry gear is more important than making time. Halt immediately, set out your wet stuff and let the sun work its magic. (Utility cord can double as a clothesline.) Laying over an extra day to fully dry out after a storm breaks is also wise, especially if more wet stuff is on the way.
  • Dry out gear at home. It’s essential that you completely dry out gear after every trip. Failure to do so causes mildew and mold to grow, ultimately ruining your gear. Always make sure your gear is completely dry before you put it away.

Learn MoreAbout Night Hiking Basics

When the sun takes its daily dive below the horizon and delivers nighttime to your doorstep, there’s no rule saying you have to stay in for the evening. If you’re looking to extend your daily window of time for getting outdoors, here’s some inspiration and information to get you started on your after-dark adventures:

  • Why hike at night? A different perspective of the scenery, relief from summertime heat and a deep connection with the outdoors are three good reasons to hit the trail when it’s dark.
  • Using lighting and night vision for hiking at night:Knowing when and how to use a flashlight or headlamp and how to improve your natural night vision are key to having a pleasant night hike.
  • Tips for hiking at night: Starting on a familiar trail, heading out before sunset and using the light of a full moon are just a few tips.

Why Hike at Night

With the arrival of nighttime, most hikers aren’t rushing to lace up their boots and head outside, but there are a few reasons why you might want to:

It’s beautiful: Gazing up at the Milky Way galaxy, watching a meteor streak across the sky or finding your way by the light of a full moon can be transformative experiences, especially if you’re used to city living.

Relief from the heat: If you live in a hot locale, scorching summertime temperatures can be uncomfortable (or even unbearable) during the day and hiking at night can bring relief.

Connecting with the environment: By hiking at night you’re deliberately reducing your ability to use your vision to navigate. This gets you to focus on your other senses, especially your hearing, which can put you more in tune with the environment around you, especially wildlife.

Lighting for Hiking at Night

If you’ve never been on a night hike before, you may hold the common misconception that a brighter light is better for exploring the darkness. Bright headlamps and flashlights are great for some outings where maximum illumination is essential, such as with trail running or in emergency situations. But, that harsh white light will wreak havoc on your night vision.

Limit the use of your headlamp or flashlight as much as possible and rely on the natural light of the moon (if there is one). This will allow your eyes to adapt to the darkness and amplify your night vision so you can better observe the landscape, wildlife and starry skies under natural light.

Tips for Optimizing your Night Vision

  • Give your eyes time to adjust: It can take up to 45 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark.
  • Avoid looking at any light source: It only takes a second of looking at a light source to affect your night vision and you’ll have to start the adjustment process over. If you encounter a group of hikers using headlamps and flashlights, ask them to turn their lights off while they pass you on the trail, or look away as best you can.
  • Use your peripheral vision: The rods in your eyes that are essential for seeing in dim light are more numerous in the periphery of the retina, which means you can actually see better at night by using your peripheral vision. Rather than looking straight at an object, try more of a blank gaze where you are aware of what’s visible above, below and to the outsides of your eyes.

Tips for Using a Headlamp or Flashlight

Naturally, there are times when you’ll need to use a headlamp or flashlight, for example, checking a map or finding something in your pack. But you’ve worked hard to achieve maximum night vision, so before you turn that light on, make sure you really need to.

Here are some tips for buying and using a headlamp or flashlight:

  • Get a red light: When shopping for a headlamp or flashlight for night hiking, it’s essential to look for one with a red-light setting in addition to the standard white-light setting. Your eyes are less sensitive to the longer wavelengths of red light so your night vision will be less affected by it. After buying a light, make sure you’re familiar with how to use the red-light setting before going on a night hike.
  • Look for multiple brightness settings: It’s nice to be able to switch from low to high or vice versa when you need to see something, like a trail marker or details on a map. Being able to do so also gives you control over battery life.
  • Get a comfortable fit: Find a headlamp that fits comfortably on your head without bouncing or a flashlight that’s easy to carry in your hand.
  • Never shine your light in someone’s face: Not only is it rude, it drastically impairs that person’s night vision, which they may have spent up to 45 minutes working to achieve.
  • Turn it off: If you’re using your headlamp or flashlight and you hear another group of hikers approaching, be polite and turn your light off so you don’t affect their night vision.

You can learn more about headlamps in our article, Headlamps: How to Choose and flashlights in our article, Flashlights: How to Choose.

Tips for Hiking at Night

Hiking at night can be more intimidating and challenging than going during the day. Here are some tips to help make your experience more comfortable and fun.

Head out for a view of the sunset: Starting your evening hike with a goal like this can make it easier to get motivated to get outside at the end of the day when your body would otherwise be winding down.

Hike with a full moon: If you’re new to night hiking this is a good way to start. You’ll be able to see much more and depend on your headlamp a lot less.

Don’t go solo: Hiking at night can be intimidating and your mind can be your own worst enemy when you’re out there by yourself. Every snap of a twig or looming shadow can feel like a threat. If you’re just getting into hiking at night, go with a group of friends.

Start on a familiar trail: If you’re new to night hiking, start on a trail that you’ve hiked many times before during the day so it won’t feel quite so foreign at night.

Pick the right location: You can night hike just about anywhere, so it depends on what you’re after. Open areas with reflective surfaces like light-colored rocks are easier to navigate and give you a great view of the sky for stargazing. Dark forests will allow your eyes to fully adjust to the night so you can spot nocturnal animals. If you’re headed to a city or county park for your night hike, be aware that some are closed after dark so always check the operating hours.

Be ready for wildlife: Most of your nighttime wildlife encounters are likely to be benign, but it’s important to do your research about animals common in your area and be aware of your surroundings. Listen and look for animals not only so you can enjoy seeing them but also so you can respond if necessary.

Slow down: Darkness makes terrain more challenging, even on familiar trails. Rocks and roots can seemingly come out of nowhere to trip you up or twist an ankle. Slow down and don’t expect to hike at the same pace you would in daylight. Going slow also lets you observe things you might miss otherwise.

Be observant: It’s easy to get turned around in the dark, even on a trail that you’ve been on a bunch of times during the day. Watch for trail markers and turns. If you intentionally leave the trail to scramble on rocks or lay down in a meadow, be sure to remember how to get back on track.

Keep your pack organized: It can be harder to find things buried in your pack at night. Stow important items like your water bottle and food in easy-to-reach places so you won’t have to turn on your headlamp.

Bring layers: With the setting sun comes cooler temperatures, so check the forecast and dress accordingly. If you start out before sunset, bring along an extra layer to pull on when it cools off.

Bring a cellphone for emergencies: Understand that you can’t always count on getting cell service.

Tell someone where you’re going: Day or night, you should let someone know where you’re hiking in case you don’t make it back in the time you expect to

Learn More About Training for Hiking

You might be asking yourself, “Don’t you just train for hiking by going for a hike?” That’s one way to do it, but if you’re getting back into hiking after taking a season or two off or you aspire to hike longer distances and reach loftier summits, proper training becomes ever more important.

In this article, we recommend strength, balance and cardiovascular exercises that can be done as part of a three-month training plan. While that might initially sound like a lot of work, most of the exercises mentioned here are simple and can be done in your home or around your neighborhood.

In this article we’ll look at:

  • Benefits of training for hiking
  • Strength training exercises for hiking
  • Balance training exercises for hiking
  • Cardiovascular exercises to prep for hiking
  • A sample 3-month hiking training plan

Before beginning any new workout routine, we always recommend that you check in with your doctor.

Benefits of Training for Hiking

One of the wonderful things about hiking is how simple it is: With a quality pair of shoes and sense of adventure, you can be on your way into the wilderness. But, don’t underestimate how strenuous hiking can be and the toll it can take on your body. By training for a season full of hiking or an ambitious multiday adventure, you’re likely to experience a couple of noticeable benefits:

You’ll have more fun: When you’re in shape for hiking, you’ll feel strong and be able to move more swiftly, which will allow you to enjoy the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors rather than suffering through your trek.

You’ll put less strain on your body: When your muscles, ligaments and tendons are strong and well-tuned, they’ll be ready to respond if you stumble or slip on the varied terrain of the trail.

In addition to being physically prepared for hiking, you need to make sure you always carry the appropriate gear for a day on the trail. Touch up on the Ten Essentials before heading out the door.

Strength-Training Exercises for Hiking

Strength-training exercise that works on developing core strength can help you with overall fitness and balance for traveling on the uneven terrain of a trail. Here you’ll find a list of exercises that are ideal for hikers and can be done in your home or outside. After familiarizing yourself with them, check out our sample training schedule (located at the end of this article) with recommendations on how to incorporate each exercise into a three-month training plan.

Mountain climbers: This total-body workout strengthens your core, back, arms and legs. Start by getting in the push-up position and bringing your right foot forward so it nearly touches your right elbow. In one motion, switch your legs by extending your right leg back and bringing your left leg forward so it nearly touches your left elbow. Continue switching your legs back and forth quickly for 30 seconds. You can modify this workout to make it more challenging by using gliders or furniture moving pads under your feet. Doing so will engage your lower abs more than standard mountain climbers.
Hip bridge: This exercise strengthens your abs, butt, hips and lower back. Lie on your back with your arms by your sides. Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground and underneath your knees. Raise your hips by pushing up through your heels so that your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Lower back down to the starting position and repeat for 30 seconds. Focus on tightening your abs and glutes while raising and lowering. You can modify hip bridges to make them more challenging by lifting one leg off the ground and extending that foot straight out in front of you.
Russian twists: This is a great ab workout. Get down in a sit-up position. Raise your back of the ground so that it forms about a 45-degree angle with the floor. Now twist your torso as far as you can to the right and then as far as you can to the left. Repeat for 30 seconds. To make the exercise more difficult you can lift your feet about 6 inches off the ground and hold a weighted object straight out in front of you, like a medicine ball or weight plate.
 Forearm planks: This simple exercise helps build strength in your core, shoulders, arms and legs. To do a plank, get in the push-up position, but bend your elbows so that you’re resting on your forearms. Keep your body as straight as possible and focus on keeping your abs and glutes clenched for 30 seconds. For a more-challenging modification, place your forearms on an exercise ball and use the ball to support most of your body weight.

Side plank: An alternative to the standard plank, side planks strengthen your abs and side muscles. Lay down on your right side with your legs extended. Place your right elbow directly under your right shoulder and support yourself on your forearm. Clench your abs and lift your right hip off the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.

Supermans: This exercise strengthens your abs and lower back. Lie down on your stomach with your arms extended straight out above your head and your legs straight out below you. Simultaneously lift your arms, chest and legs off the floor about 6 inches (and imagine you’re Superman flying through the air). Hold this position for a couple seconds, then slowly lower back down to the starting position. Repeat for 30 seconds. As you progress, you can increase the difficulty a bit by lifting an opposing arm and leg (e.g. right arm, left leg), then lower them while simultaneously lifting your other arm and leg. Continue this motion as quickly as possible for 30 seconds. This variation is often called the swimmer exercise.
Exercise ball squat with overhead press: To do this exercise, you need an exercise ball and two 5-pound dumbbell weights. Grab a weight in each hand and hold them at your shoulders with bent elbows, then place the exercise ball between your lower back and the wall. Position your feet slightly forward of your body and shoulder-width apart, then roll your back down the ball as you lower your body toward the floor until your knees reach a 90-degree bend. As you’re doing this, extend your arms so the weights are above your head. Then stand back up, while at the same time bringing the weights back to shoulder height. Repeat for 30 seconds. You can increase the dumbbell weight, but your focus should always be on doing the proper movements, not lifting lots of weight.

After a training session, it’s a good idea to do some light stretching and/or foam rolling.

Balance Exercises for Hiking

The exercises listed below are designed to strengthen your legs and ankles and improve balance and proprioception (your body’s ability to know its position in space and react with proper movement). On the trail, this can result in better agility and coordination when you’re stepping over logs, landing on uneven surfaces or reacting to a sudden slip.

Some of these exercises incorporate a soft surface to simulate a trail, which can increase difficulty and make your stabilizing muscles work harder. A soft surface can be anything from a yoga mat to a sandy beach. As with the strength-training exercises, see our sample training schedule for information on how to integrate balance exercise into a three-month workout routine.

Standing single-leg balance: Stand upright with your feet together on a solid, level surface, then lift one foot about six to 12 inches off the ground. Keep your hips level and hold for 30 seconds then switch legs and repeat. For more challenge, stand on a soft surface or the squishy side of a BOSU® balance trainer. This can be difficult at first, so if you need to extend your arms to improve your balance, do so.
Step back to balance: Start by standing upright with your feet together and take one big step backward. Keep your torso upright and use your core muscles to slowly and steadily bring your other foot back to match the first one while maintaining your balance. Now step back with the other foot. Repeat for 30 seconds. As you improve, you can add more challenge by doing this exercise on a soft surface, such as grass or sand.
Jump squats: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and then squat down until your thighs are at least parallel with the ground. Focus on keeping your chest up, your feet flat and your knees over your toes. As you come up from the squat, push through heels and explode up and jump a few inches off the ground. When you land, do so softly and immediately go into another squat. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Jump down to soft surface: Find a set of stairs and place a yoga mat at the bottom to create a soft surface. Then stand on the second or third step and jump off, landing on the mat in a soft, controlled manner with both feet at the same time. Let your knees flex to absorb the landing. Return to the starting position and jump again. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Lunge off step: Stand on a step and lunge forward off the step with one leg as you drop the knee of the other leg toward the ground until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Keep your front knee directly above your ankle. Now reverse the motion to return to the starting position. As you do so, push up through the heel of your front foot to engage your glutes. From the starting position, lunge forward with your other leg. Repeat for 30 seconds.

After a training session, it’s a good idea to do some light stretching and/or foam rolling.

Cardiovascular Exercise for Hiking

Cardiovascular exercise is a critical component of training for hiking. Early on in your training, any cardio is good cardio. That means you can bike, swim, run, walk or do another activity that gets your heart and lungs pumping. Shoot for about 30–45 minutes of quality cardio work three to four times per week.

As you progress, make sure that a couple of those cardio workouts each week involve walking or hiking. It’s also a good idea to start wearing your hiking socks and boots to get your feet used to being in them, even if you’re just walking around the neighborhood.

The closer you get to hiking season or a big trip, the more hiking you’ll want to be doing. Shooting for four training hikes per week is a good goal.

Training with weight: If you’re training for backpacking, or day hikes that require you to carry a significant amount of weight, it’s a good idea to get used to that by wearing a weighted pack on some training hikes. Start with about 10 pounds in your pack and as you get stronger you can add more weight until you’re roughly at 75 percent of the weight you anticipate carrying on your actual hike.

The sample training plan at the end of this article recommends how much cardio work to do and how often to carry a weighted pack.

Training Plan for Hiking

Here is sample three-month training plan designed to give you a feel for how you can use strength, balance and cardio exercise to train for hiking.

3-Month Training Plan for Hiking

3-Month Training Plan in Printer-friendly version (PDF)

How closely you follow this workout depends a lot on your current fitness level. If you’re in very good physical shape, you can possibly skip ahead to the second month. If you haven’t been very active recently, start slowly and you may need to give yourself more than three months. The week prior to your big adventure, ease off the training and do two or three days of easy walking.

Tips to Go Hiking in the Rain

Before you grumble about a gray forecast, it’s worth remembering that giant redwoods, colorful wildflowers and grandiose canyons were all made possible by the relentless pitter patter of a billion raindrops.

If you adopt the proper attitude, you can learn to love hiking in the rain. Proper prep helps, too. In this article we’ll cover the basics:

  • Gearing up: Consider adding a few key items for wet-weather comfort and safety.
  • Clothing tips: Learn what not to bring, and how to check your clothing for rain-readiness.
  • Trail hazards: Learn how to avoid common complications.

Gearing Up for Hiking in the Rain

All trips should start with Ten Essentials. When rain is a distinct possibility, it’s also wise to adjust your gear list.

Protecting Your Gear: Because seams aren’t sealed, packs aren’t truly waterproof, especially in a downpour. In addition, all of the places that make gear accessible to you also provide a path for rain to seep in. Even zippers that are water resistant will let water sneak in eventually.

Added protection options for your pack include the following:

  • Pack raincover. Some packs come with one, or you can buy a cover sized to fit your daypack.
  • Lightweight dry sacks. You can use these inside your pack for your most vulnerable gear.
  • Waterproof cases. Look for one that’s specially designed to fit your phone, helmet cam or other favorite gadget.
  • Ziplock plastic bags. These are inexpensive, though not unfailingly waterproof nor particularly durable.
  • Trash bags. On a rainy day, some might call this the Eleventh Essential. You can use the scissors on your multi-tool to fashion a crude pack cover out of one. You can also use one to double-bag important items for added protection. And it’s always a good move to use one to carry out trash you find along the trail.

 

Almost-Essential Wet-Weather Gear: The following items can make things easier and more enjoyable on a drippy day:

  • Trekking poles. When footing is sloppy, poles can be a huge help, especially on creek crossings.
  • Handwarmers. Typically considered a winter sports accessory, these work when you tear open an outer foil pouch to produce a heat packet that lasts for hours. The added warmth can lift your spirts if your extremities are getting uncomfortable.
  • Extra blister supplies. Wet feet are more blister-prone feet. Read Blister Prevention and Care for more details.
  • Headlamp. Because it’s one of the Ten Essentials, you should be packing it. Consider using it before dark, though, if light conditions get extra gloomy.
  • Bandana or multitowel. These are handy for wiping or drying off wet gear. The bandana can be the token cotton item on your list. (Most multitowels are synthetic.)

Clothing Tips for Wet-Weather Hiking

Before you head out with the possibility of rain in the forecast, take a closer look at your clothing, including outerwear and footwear, and assess how rain-ready they are. Some things to keep in mind:
  • Absolutely no cotton. This is key for next-to-skin layers because cotton holds water, including your sweat, and chills you. Go with wicking materials like wool, nylon or polyester clothing instead. Don’t think that cotton in briefs or a bra is OK either, because those are the first things search-and-rescue workers will cut off if there’s a possibility that you’re starting to get hypothermia.
  • Go with synthetic insulation in your jacket. Standard down loses much of its insulating ability if you get it wet. Water-resistant down and hybrids that combine synthetic insulation and water-resistant down are your next best bet. If you’re hiking in milder weather, you can pack a lightweight fleece or soft-shell jacket instead.
  • Evaluate your rainwear. If you’re considering an upgrade, read Rainwear: How to Choose. Going with bright colors can help brighten your mood on a relentlessly gray day. In an emergency, bright colors also help search teams locate you.
  • Renew your rainwear’s Durable Water Repellent (DWR). If you love your current raingear, see if drops bead up and roll off. If not, renew its DWR coating to restore performance. It’s a good idea to renew your DWR coating at the beginning of every hiking season.
  • Pack a rain cap. Even if your rain jacket has a brimmed hood, it does a poor job of keeping rain off your face or glasses. A rain hat should have a nice, broad brim. If you choose a ballcap-style hat, then you can wear it under the hood of your rain jacket.
  • Evaluate your footwear. Waterproof boots and shoes keep feet drier initially, making them a good option for colder conditions. Renew the waterproofing at the beginning of each season, or if you notice large dark spots forming when you splosh across wet terrain. Mesh footwear works well in milder conditions, as mesh drains and dries more quickly if you land in a puddle or creek. With either option you need deep lug soles to deal with mud and superior traction to deal with slippery rocks and logs.
  • Pack gaiters. They’ll shield your socks and the tops of your footwear.
  • Pack dry clothes. Extra clothing is already one of the Ten Essentials. Be sure dry socks are one of the extras you bring.

Wet Weather Trail Hazards

A significant storm system can create dangers and health concerns. If you’re on the lookout, you can take steps to avoid unwanted complications.
  • Slippery surfaces. Tread carefully on muddy slopes, slimy rocks and rain-slickened logs.
  • Swollen creeks. Unbuckle your hipbelt before you cross, so you can easily get free of your pack if you slip and fall into a fast-moving current.
  • Flash floods. If you’ll be in canyon country, check the forecasts ahead of time and keep an eye out for quickly accessible higher ground.
  • Hypothermia. Watch for the “umbles”: mumbling, grumbling, stumbling and tumbling. Those are telltale signs that you need to stop, dry out and get some calories in you. And, in general, you need to eat and drink more often than you would in sunny weather. If rain discourages rest stops, drink and snack while you’re hiking.

Rainy Day Hiking Tips

With the right mindset, a rainy-day hike can be one that you remember fondly for years to come. The air is cleaner and the solitude more profound. It will take an extra precaution or two to keep things on track, though:
  • Remember that staying dry is easier than drying out after you’re wet. Don’t wait to throw on your rain shell, or to take cover in a full-on rain squall.
  • Keep monitoring the weather. Weather forecasting is an inexact science.
  • Keep an eye out for lightning. It puts on a great show, which you won’t want to miss. However, it’s even more important that you know how to take cover. Learn more by reading Weather Basics for Backpackers.
  • Constantly self-assess. Add layers or grab a snack if you’re starting to feel a little cold. And gloomy light can sap your mental state, so poll your hiking crew to be sure everyone’s still having a good time.
  • Ditch destination fever. If a relentless storm makes things miserable or downright hazardous, turn around and call it a day. You’ll still have tales to tell and time for an extra hot cocoa or two to tell them over later.

Tips to Clean Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are built to take muddy, gritty trails in stride. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to toss your mucky companions in the closet and forget about them. Clean them faithfully and you’ll enjoy many years on the trail together. If you’re too tired immediately after a hike, then clean ’em the following day.

Ignoring cleaning breaks down your boots in a couple of ways:

  • Every time your boots flex, particles of dirt, grit or sand creep deeper into their leather and fabric, grinding away like sandpaper.
  • Mud sucks moisture from leather as it dries, leaving your boots’ leather less pliable and speeding up its aging process.

What you’ll need for cleaning your hiking boots:

  • A special boot brush, an old vegetable brush or toothbrush
  • Specialized boot cleaner, saddle soap or a mild solution of dishwashing soap and water

Cleaning Hiking Boot Uppers

Remove laces prior to cleaning. Use a brush to gently remove dust and dirt. For a more thorough cleaning, add running water and whatever boot cleaner you have chosen.

Some additional boot cleaning tips:

  • Though most footwear cleaners can be used on a range of materials, always double-check to be sure your cleaner is OK for use on your boots—and be sure to read and follow the directions.
  • Do not use bar soap or detergents; many contain additives that can be harmful to leather or waterproof membranes.
  • To clean mold, use a mixture of 80 percent water and 20 percent vinegar.
  • Always rinse your boots thoroughly with clean water afterward.
  • Never put boots in a washing machine because it can damage them.
  • If you plan to waterproof your boots, do it while they’re still wet. Most boots are waterproof when you first buy them, so you don’t need to waterproof them until you start to notice that water drops no longer bead up on the surface. For details, read How to Waterproof Your Hiking Boots.

Cleaning Hiking Boot Outsoles

Though caked-on mud won’t damage your boots, removing it will restore them to full traction. Also, having clean outsoles prevents you from transporting invasive species from one hiking area to another.

Brush the outsoles vigorously and dislodge pebbles that are stuck. For stubbornly caked-on dirt, soak just the outsoles and then use a hose to power-wash the gunk away.

Hiking Boot Drying and Storage Tips

  • Remove insoles and let them air-dry separately from the boots.
  • Dry boots at normal temperature in a place with low humidity.
  • Do not use a heat source (fireplace, campfire, wood stove, radiator, heater, etc.). High heat weakens adhesives and prematurely ages leather.
  • For quicker drying, use a fan.
  • You can also stuff newspaper into the boots to speed drying; change the paper frequently (whenever it’s damp).
  • Store boots where temperatures are stable and normal. Do not store boots in attics, garages, car trunks or any damp, hot or unventilated place.

Conditioning Your Boots

Use a conditioner when your boots’ full-grain leather (leather that looks smooth rather than rough on the outside) appears dry or cracked. Other types of leather—suede and nubuck—don’t require conditioning. Conditioner can also be used if your new full-grain leather boots need to be broken in quickly.

Use a conditioner judiciously. Healthy leather functions best when moisturized. Too much conditioner, though, makes boots too soft, reducing the support they provide.

Do not use Mink Oil or similar oils designed for industrial boots; it over-softens the type of dry-tanned leather used in hiking footwear.

Hiking Tips for Cold Weather

It doesn’t have to be the middle of winter to make cold weather a concern on your hiking trip. Depending on where you live and where you’re hiking, you can encounter cold temperatures any time of year that can make your trip uncomfortable, or worse, cause a serious injury or illness.

To have a more pleasant adventure, first arm yourself with some tips and knowledge for cold-weather hiking, including:

  • Proper cold-weather clothing and gear
  • Food and hydration
  • Cold-related injuries and illnesses

Clothing and Gear Tips for Cold-Weather Hiking

To stay comfortable on a cold-weather hike, it’s critical to wear the right clothing and carry the right gear.

Wear layers: Layering is a three-part system that includes a base layer that wicks perspiration away from your skin, a mid layer that insulates you from the cold and a shell layer that keeps wind and moisture out. The goal with layering is to add and remove layers throughout your hike so you can stay warm and comfortable without overheating and getting sweaty. It can feel like a chore to stop and change clothes, but it’s really important to stay dry. Getting wet on a cold day can possibly lead to hypothermia.

Learn more in our Layering Basics article and Underwear (Base Layer): How to Choose article.

Say no to cotton: When cotton gets wet, it takes a very long time to dry, which can leave you feeling damp, cold and miserable. Synthetic and wool layers dry much faster and will move perspiration away from your skin.

Cover your skin: Any skin that is exposed to freezing temperatures and cold wind is prone to frostbite. Take special care of your nose, cheeks, ears, fingers and toes.

  • For your hands, try wearing lightweight or midweight fleece gloves under waterproof shell mittens or shell gloves. It’s also a good idea to bring an extra pair of fleece gloves that you keep stowed in your pack in case the ones you’re wearing get wet.
  • For your feet, wear synthetic or wool socks that fit well. Thicker socks provide more insulation, but make sure they don’t cause your boots to fit too tight, which can cut off circulation. It’s also important to keep your feet dry, so carrying an extra pair of socks to change into is a good idea. Wear waterproof boots if you’ll be trekking through snow, and if you’ll be in very cold temperatures you might require boots with built-in insulation.
  • For your nose and cheeks, try a neck gaiter for face mask.
  • For your ears, a winter hat or headband can do the trick. A neck gaiter or face mask may also provide coverage for your ears.

Avoid tight clothing: Wristwatch bands, cuffs of gloves, gaiters and boots that are too tight can cause poor circulation, which can increase your chance of getting frostbite. Make sure your clothing and gear fit properly.

Add heat: Hand warmer and toe warmer packets are a great way to warm up your digits, especially if you’re prone to cold fingers and toes.

Wear a hat: You can lose heat through the top of your head, so pull a winter hat on if you’re feeling chilly.

Keep snow out with gaiters: If your hike will take you through deep snow, gaiters are a must for keeping snow out of your boots. They also add a bit of warmth. Be sure to use waterproof/breathable gaiters for hiking in snow. Learn more in our Gaiters: How to Choose article.

Bring goggles or sunglasses: Always protect your eyes from the sun and wind. Many goggles and some sunglasses allow you to swap lenses in and out so you can select the right lens tint for the weather. Get some tips on buying goggles and sunglasses.

Pack a headlamp: If you’re hiking in winter, you’ll have less daylight hours, especially if you’re in the northern part of the U.S. You don’t have to end your trip when the sun goes down, but you must be prepared to hike in the dark. Have a sense for how many hours of usable daylight you have and always pack a headlamp with fresh batteries.

Keep batteries warm: Cold weather can kill batteries quickly. Lithium batteries tend to hold up better in cold temperatures than alkaline batteries, but no matter what battery type you use, it’s best if you try to keep them warm. Stowing your headlamp, GPS, cellphone and other electronics in a pocket close to your body can help.

Apply sunscreen: Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you stop worrying about sunburn. In fact, if there’s snow on the ground, the sun’s rays can reflect back up at you, so you need to be diligent about applying sunscreen on the underside of your nose and chin and around your neck. Learn more in our article about how to use sunscreen.

Bring the Ten Essentials: The Ten Essentials are a collection of items that help outdoor adventurers be prepared for emergency situations. It’s wise to take these items along whenever you head out for a hike, but perhaps even more so when exploring in cold weather where consequences of a mishap can be more severe. Learn more in our article about the Ten Essentials.

Food and Hydration Tips for Cold-Weather Hiking

Your body’s metabolism is its best heat source, so you need to keep it fueled up with food and water.

Remember to eat and drink: When it’s cold outside, you might be less inclined to stop for food and water. Make it simple by keeping snacks and water within reach so you can eat and sip regularly throughout the day.

Keep food from freezing: Nobody enjoys chomping on a rock-hard energy bar. Foods like candy bars, chocolate, nuts and cheese tend to stay softer than some other items in cold weather. You may have to experiment to figure out the foods you enjoy that will stay edible in cold weather. Whatever you choose to bring, stowing food close to your body will help keep it thawed.

Don’t let your drink tube freeze: If you use a hydration reservoir, you need to keep the drink tube from freezing or else you’ll be left with no way to access your water. To solve for this, many reservoir manufacturers make specific items to insulate the tube and bite valve. Some handy hikers have made their own insulation system with some inexpensive foam from a hardware store. Also, try these tips to keep your tube from freezing:

  • Sip often to prevent water from freezing solid.
  • After drinking, blow back into the reservoir to keep the tube empty.

Use water bottles: In very cold temperatures, you may need to give up the hydration reservoir and use water bottles because the chance of your drink tube freezing is too high. But, bottles can freeze, too, and it usually happens from the top down, which means the bottle tops are prone to getting stuck shut. Flipping your bottles upside down will solve that problem (just be sure your bottles don’t leak and that the tops are screwed shut securely). Putting the bottles in your pack rather than in exterior pockets will help insulate them from the cold.

Another option is to buy insulated sleeves for your water bottles.

Pack warm drinks: Fill up a vacuum-insulated bottle with hot tea or hot chocolate to sip on when you take a break. The warmth goes a long way toward keeping you comfortable.

Learn more about staying properly hydrated in our Hydration Basics article.

 Cold-Related Injuries and Illnesses
Your primary health concerns while hiking in cold weather are frostbite and hypothermia.

Frostbite

Frostbite is the freezing of tissue. It’s most common on fingers, toes and ears. There are three levels of frostbite: frostnip, superficial frostbite and deep frostbite. All three can look the same while frozen, so it can be difficult to tell how extreme frostbite is until after the skin has thawed.

Signs of frostbite:

  • Skin is cold, waxy and pale
  • You may feel tingling, numbness or pain in the affected area
  • Your skin can feel soft if partially frozen or hard if frozen
  • After thawing, blisters often form with superficial and deep frostbite

Treatment of frostbite:

Frostnip, the mildest form of frostbite, can be treated by covering up the exposed skin and taking the time to warm the affected area. Placing cold fingers in your armpits or toes on a partner’s warm belly are both effective techniques. Do not rub the cold skin or place it under hot running water because the tissue is very susceptible to damage.

If the treatment for frostnip results in blistering, then it’s likely you have superficial frostbite or deep frostbite. It’s best to get to a doctor for treatment as soon as possible. As with frostnip, avoid hot water that can burn and don’t rub the injured area as that can damage the tissue. After thawing you need to be very careful to not let the area refreeze.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is the result of the body’s temperature dropping below normal. Some people assume hypothermia only happens in winter, but a cold rain or the frigid temperature of a rushing river can be enough to cause it. Hypothermia can be life threatening and must be taken seriously.

Signs of mild hypothermia:

  • Shivering
  • Minor clumsiness (eg. trouble operating zippers)
  • Slow thinking, confusion, change in mood

Signs of moderate hypothermia:

  • Intense shivering
  • Obvious change in coordination (e.g. stumbling, falling)
  • Obvious change in mental status (e.g. irritability, forgetfulness)

Severe hypothermia:

  • Shivering may stop due to energy depletion
  • Further deterioration of mental status (e.g. disorientation, irrational behavior)
  • Pulse may be undetectable

Treating hypothermia:

The first step in treating hypothermia is to change the hiker’s environment. That means if you can get the person indoors, do so. If you’re outside and far from shelter, do what you can to get away from whatever is causing the cold stress, such as getting out of the wind and off of snow. If the hiker is wearing wet clothing, swap it out for dry clothes and make sure the hiker is well-insulated. Give the person water and food so they have enough energy to shiver, which is your body’s natural way of producing more heat.

With the right treatment, hikers with mild hypothermia can possibly recover and continue on the trip. Hikers with moderate and severe hypothermia should be treated and evacuated as soon as possible.

Preventing Frostbite and Hypothermia

To prevent frostbite and hypothermia you need to actively take care of yourself and your hiking partners. Many of the tips listed above about clothing, gear, food and hydration apply, but here are some additional things to think about:

Stay warm: It’s so much easier to stay warm than to get warm. By dressing appropriately, you can maintain a comfortable temperature, which is much simpler than trying to warm up after getting too cold.

Don’t try to tough it out: If you feel your fingers or toes getting cold, stop and take the time to check on them and warm them up. Placing cold fingers in your armpits or cold toes on a partner’s warm belly are good ways to warm up. Using hand warmer and toe warmer packets is also effective.

Keep an eye on your friends: A good hiking partner keeps an eye on their buddies. Regularly ask your friends how they’re doing and if you see pale spots on your friend’s face or they’re starting to get clumsy on the trail, make them stop and cover up exposed skin or add a warm insulating layer.