3 Tips to Help You Move Faster in the Backcountry

Getting outdoors and moving for the sheer joy of it is all the reason you need to hike. Whether you're a long-distance backpacker or a happy day hiker, there's no reason to change anything if you're completely content with the way your backcountry adventures have been going.

But, if you're like me, improving might be something you're interested in. That could mean improving your skills in a certain outdoor discipline, upgrading your gear or tackling harder trails. Or, it could mean improving your efficiency as you travel through the backcountry.

If you're interested in "leveling up" this year, here are some tips for improving your efficiency (mainly your speed and ground coverage) while traveling outdoors. Try one, a few, or all of these tips, but only try one at a time.

Backcountry Travel

1. Master the Rest Step

One of my favorite techniques for hiking steep inclines, which I've been experiencing more of lately since climbing more 14'ers in Colorado, is the rest step. I've also heard it called the lock step, which makes sense as it involves locking out your knee. The basic idea is this:

As you step forward/upward while hiking, lock out your rear leg/knee, and shift your weight into that back leg. Keep your other leg relaxed as you bring it forward to climb. Once that foot is resting on the ground, hold the position for a moment, using your skeleton - not your muscles - to support your weight. Repeat as needed.

When trudging up a steep incline, the rest step can be an invaluable way to take "mini" breaks while climbing, without having to really stop. It gives your muscles a break, even if only for a moment, and helps you attain a rhythm. Getting into a good rhythm is a must when you're powering up a long and difficult incline, and it's far more efficient than sprinting for a few moments only to run out of breath and stop for several minutes after.

2. Practice Eating on the Go

Stopping for a lunch or snack break is often the highlight of a hiking trip, especially if your meal destination is somewhere gorgeous. But, if your main objective is covering a lot of ground quickly, it might be worthwhile to master eating on the go.

There's not so much a technique to this, but there are few things you can do to make it easier. First, before you start hiking, place your hand-held snacks like bars and cookies in the outer side pouch of your bag, your hip strap pouch or in your pants pocket, if it won't melt. That way you won't need to stop, unload, and unzip your pack to find what you're looking for.

Choose as level ground as possible for your snacktime; it's hard to eat while hiking up a steep slope requiring hands for balance! If you have a long stretch of flat ground coming up, take advantage of it. While snacking, your goal is to keep moving, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't slow down -- in fact, you must. You won't be able to get as much oxygen, for one, and two, you'll be distracted so you need to be more careful with your foot placement. Once you're on some level terrain, grab your bar and take small bites while slowing your pace. It will probably feel weird at first, but with practice, it'll become second nature.

The same goes for hydration; a water bladder with a tube and mouthpiece is a lot easier to access on the go than a clunky water bottle buried in the bottom of your pack.

3. Ditch Unnecessary Weight

Assuming you've already done your homework and purchased gear that is as light as possible without sacrificing performance, there are still other ways you can trim an ounce here or there. If you're really pushing to increase your pace or ground coverage, every ounce counts.

First off, lose anything that isn't truly necessary. I've seen trowels for digging toilet holes hanging off the back of people's packs before, and that always confused me -- use a stick or a rock! No need to haul that little shovel around. If you have a ton of extra strap length hanging off your pack, cut that extra length off.

Secondly, make good use of multi-use items; for example, if you're traveling solo, there's really no need for a pot and a bowl; eat straight from the pot you cooked in! Who needs a pillow when you have a stuff sack or, better yet, can stuff your down jacket into your sleeping bag? Duct tape makes a great repair tool for pretty much anything, and can act as a substitute for moleskin as well as a bandage in a pinch. Cut off the handle of your toothbrush - you don't need that extra plastic! Same goes for your eating utensil.

You get the idea. Some of these may seem a bit "out there," but if you're serious about traveling light, all these little efficiencies can really add up. Pair these efficiencies with better movement technique and you'll be blazing a faster path through the backcountry in no time!

Want more tips on reducing pack weight? Check out these blog posts:

5 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Reduce Your Pack Weight

How Low Can Your Pack Weight Go?

How To: Pack 14 Days of Adventure into a 30L Pack
posted by
Kayleigh Karutis
Kayleigh Karutis lives in Denver, Colo., with her partner and two dogs. When she's not hiking or climbing in the nearby mountains, she's exploring the West. See more of her adventures on Instagram, @kkarutis. (Freelance bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.)
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