The Rest Step – Winter Hiking Footwork

When I go hiking in winter, I’m frequently climbing a mountain and carrying 2-4 times the amount of gear by weight that I carry the rest of the year. On top of that, I wear double plastic boots that weigh 5lbs per pair, plus crampons that weigh nearly 3 lbs per pair, over double the weight of my 3 season leather hiking boots.

But there’s a hiking technique that I learned last year called the rest step that is used by winter hikers and mountain climbers to preserve their energy during a climb. It takes a little practice getting used to it, but after that it’s a charm. It’s particularly useful for winter loads, but you can also use it during the rest of the year on steep ascents.

The idea behind the rest step is to shift your weight onto the bones of your leg and off of your quadricep and gluteus maximus muscles. The motion is a little like marching. Each time you take a step, you briefly lock your leading knee and rest your entire weight on your skeleton. This gives the big muscles in your legs a chance to rest. From there, you bring your other hip forward and take another step, locking the knee again at its apex. The motion is kind of like walking in a pool, where you lead with your hips instead of your feet. This is actually easier if you are wearing mountaineering boots which tend to have less ankle flex than regular 3 season hiking boots.

In addition, you slow your rate of walking and take smaller steps. Slowing your cadence goes hand in hand with the rest step. By walking more slowly, you can walk continuously without taking breaks. This is very useful on winter hikes where you want to keep your temperature steady and remain as dry as possible. Walking more slowly prevents you from perspiring too quickly, keeping you warm and better hydrated.

Getting the rest step down takes some practice, but it’s a very useful technique to prevent muscle burn out on a long ascent. Learn it. Use it.

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8 Responses to The Rest Step – Winter Hiking Footwork

  1. eddie s January 10, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    Thanks for information I've been using that method since Colin Fletcher wrote about it so many years ago, but a refresher course is always welcome..I was wondering if you have done a comparison of Leather versus Plastic Boots..I have always found plastic boots to be Colder and not retain any heat at all unless they have wool or a manmade insulator..but I haven't worn a pair of plastic boots in 20 years for that reason and am wondering if there has been a change in their manufacture..

    Thanks again…

  2. Milton January 10, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    The rest step is one of many techniques that can be used to conserve energy when winter climbing. The French, German and American crampon techniques are also used to conserve energy. Proper ice axe techniques are very important as well. I see too many people using crampons and axes improperly every year. It's a wonder there aren't more fatalities in the White Mountains during winter given all the poor technique I see out there. Having the right gear is one thing but knowing its proper use is another. Everyone who does winter mountaineering should know and master crampon and ice axe techniques. It might save your life some day.

    Three years ago on a cold March winter day I was picked up and thrown off of Lion Head by the wind. I weigh 185 lbs and I had a full pack on which weighed about 40 lbs. I began to slide down the mountain into Tuckerman Ravine at an extremely high rate of speed. I stopped myself by self arresting and climbed back up to my climbing party. Had I not known proper axe and crampon techniques I believe I would have died on that day. I was able to automatically do what it took to save my life because I practiced until these techniques became second nature. I recommend that everyone do the same. Learn it and hope you never need it is my motto.

  3. Earlylite January 10, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    I've heard that people get blown off Lion's head, but that's a hell of a story. Glad you practiced…I was just thinking about practicing with my ice axe today…

  4. Kimberly Aardal January 11, 2010 at 6:32 am #

    I have heard of the rest step before but haven't tried it yet so I'll give it a go next time I'm out. I was wondering how long you usually hike to carry that much gear?

  5. Earlylite January 11, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    8-10 miles and at least 2,000 ft of ascent per day. Lots more on a multi-day trip. This is for winter mind you.

  6. wvevie December 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    I’d like to see a video.

    • Earlylite December 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

      Youtube provides. Just added a video illustration. Imagine doing this in snow.

  7. wvevie December 27, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    Thank you. Much needed.

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