Have you ever observed the footwork of a very experienced hiker? They tend to walk very efficiently, at a constant pace, often without looking at their feet. It’s something I do unconsciously now, but it took a couple of year of serious hiking to internalize.
Take Small Steps
For example, we have a lot of very rocky trails in New England, especially in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. If you were to try hiking them by climbing up or over all of the rocks on the trail, you’d quickly burn out the big leg muscles in your legs and run out of gas.
However, there’s a way to preserve your energy on these long approach hikes. Instead of stepping on and over the big rocks, try to walk between them, taking the route with the smallest elevation gain possible. Taking small steps like this will preserve your leg muscles all day. It also makes it possible to keep a steady pace, which is physically and mentally less taxing.
When I’m hiking up a rocky trail, I try to visualize what it would look like if it a riverbed covered in water. I used to whitewater kayak quite a bit, so this is a natural thing for me to do.
If I were kayaking down such a river, I’d follow the easiest line, picking my way around the big drops created by the large rocks and following the gentlest slope downriver. That’s the line I follow (uphill in reverse) when I hike on rocky trails like this. It works great and keeps my legs fresh all day.