If you are a hiker or backpacker, you understand the frustration of being sidelined due to a leg injury or pain. However, there are many conditions such as knee pain, ankle instability, iliotibial band syndrome (ITB), plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, or hamstring and quad injuries where a leg brace, ankle stabilizer, compression sleeve, or strap can provide added support to eliminate pain and keep you on the trail. I’ve benefited from many of the products below, due to injuries and the normal wear and tear that comes with age. Most of them are quite inexpensive and definitely worth a try so you can get back on the trail, where you belong!
|Make / Model||Condition|
|Med Spec ASO Ankle Stabilzer||Sprained ankle recovery, prevention|
|Cho-Pat Dual Action Strap||Runner's Knee, Jumper's Knee, Patellar Tendonitis, Illiotibial Band Syndrome|
|Pro-Tec Patellar Tendon Strap||Patellar Tendonitis, Illiotibial Band Syndrome, Chondromalacia Patella|
|Pro-Tec Illiotibial Band Wrap||Illiotibial Band Syndrome (ITB)|
|Zensah Thigh Compression Sleeve||Hamstring, quadriceps, and groin strains|
|Pro-Tec Gel Force Knee Sleeve||Runner's Knee, Jumper's Knee, Chondromalacia Patella, Osteoarthritis|
|Bitly Plantar Fasciitis Compression Socks||Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendinitis|
|Mueller Adjustable Knee Support||Runner's Knee, Jumper's Knee, Chondromalacia Patella, Osteoarthritis|
|CEP Compression Socks||Achilles Tendinitis, Plantar Fasciitis|
Be sure to read our guide to hiking leg braces, compression sleeves, straps, and supports below to understand which provide the most targeted relief. While these products can help alleviate pain while hiking, they can also be useful to prevent injuries or during the physical therapy, strengthening, and recuperation phase. You’ll notice that we’ve left out bulky hinged leg braces (the ones that look like bionic legs), which are usually prescribed by doctors post-surgery. That’s deliberate because you’re probably not going to be hiking and backpacking much while wearing one. If you’re in doubt about the activities you can pursue with leg pain, be sure to consult your physical therapist or physician.
1. Med Spec ASO Ankle Stabilizer
2. Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap
3. Pro-Tec Patellar Tendon Strap
4. Pro-Tec Illiotibial Band Wrap
5. Zensah Thigh Compression Sleeve
6. Pro-Tec Gel Force Knee Sleeve
7. Bitly Plantar Fasciitis Compression Socks
8. Mueller Adjustable Knee Support
9. CEP Compression Socks
10. Kinesiology Taping
Hiking Brace, Support, Compression, and Strap Guide
There basically two types of braces, supports, compression products, and straps available to hikers and backpackers:
- Lightweight over-the-counter products that can be used to reduce pain or promote healing, such as those listed above, with a minor impact on your range of motion.
- Bulkier, protective braces and stabilizers that are prescribed by doctors after accidents, knee surgery, or serious injury, with significant limits on your range of motion.
The lightweight braces, supports, sleeves, and straps that we’ve listed here can work very well for many hikers, but there’s often a trial process involved to find one that works best for you. I’ve benefited from using these products and so have many of my hiking and backpacking friends. This isn’t some junk list I’ve thrown up to get you to buy stuff online, but a carefully qualified list of products that are actually used and recommended by serious hikers.
All of these products provide a certain degree of compression in order to help stabilize internal muscular or skeletal structures so they work more smoothly. Many times, that’s really all you need to reduce pain and promote healing. I also think it’s important that you also seek remedial exercises or physical therapy, when possible, to overcome the underlying condition you need to address. For example, if you have illiotibial band syndrome (ITB), it pays to stretch and strengthen your gluteus medius and tensor fasciae latae muscles, so you can eventually hike without an ITB wrap or brace. On the other hand, if you have a degenerative condition like Osteoarthritis of the Knee, remedial exercises may not be an option.
Frequently asked questions
What is Runner’s Knee?
Runner’s Knee isn’t a specific ailment and may be caused by many different activities other than running. Its symptoms include pain, in front of or around the knee cap; pain from deep knee bends; and pain in your knee when walking downhill. It can be the result of overuse, weak quadriceps, overpronation, or a breakdown of the cartilage under your kneecap, called Chondromalacia Patella.
What is Jumper’s Knee (Patellar Tendonitis)?
Also called Patellar Tendonitis, Jumper’s Knee is an inflammation of your patellar tendon, which connects your kneecap to your shin bone. It is an overuse injury caused by frequent jumping on a hard surface. Its symptoms include pain with jumping, running, or walking; tenderness behind the lower part of the kneecap; or pain when bending or straightening the leg.
What is Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITB)?
Illiotibial Band Syndrome (ITB) is one of the most common sources of knee pain among hikers and occurs when the band of fibers running down the outside of your leg becomes very tight and begins to rub against the exterior of your knee. The key symptoms are exterior knee pain, hip pain, or clicking sensations such as snap or pop on the outside of your knee. One of the main causes is a muscular imbalance in the muscles that control the hip, often caused by sitting too much. While braces and straps can be used to mitigate ITB pain, physical therapy and a targeted conditioning program can often resolve the condition.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar Fasciitis is one of the most frequent causes of heel pain. The Plantar Fascia is a band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot between the heel bone and the base of the toes. It can be caused by a sudden increase in your activity level or a lack of arch support in your shoes. Rest, anti-inflammatories and stretching of the Plantar Fascia can help mitigate the condition as can switching to footwear or an insole that provides more arch support.
What is Chondromalacia Patella?
Chondromalacia Patella is the breakdown of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. Its primary symptoms include pain underneath, on the sides, or behind the kneecap. Taping, bracing, rest, and taking anti-inflammatories can help mitigate the discomfort of the condition.
What is Achilles Tendinitis?
Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury the Achilles tendon which runs down the back of your foot connecting your calf muscles to your heel bone is used in walking, running, and jumping. It’s often caused by a sudden increase in activity Symptoms include heel pain, tight calves, and swelling in the ankle and foot. It’s a very stubborn condition that can take months to resolve because cleansing and restorative blood flow to that area of the foot and calf is so poor.
What is Patellar Tendonitis?
Patellar Tendonitis is an inflammation of your patellar tendon, which connects your kneecap to your shin bone. It is an overuse injury caused by frequent jumping on a hard surface. Its symptoms include pain with jumping, running, or walking; tenderness behind the lower part of the kneecap; or pain when bending or straightening the leg. See Jumper’s Knee.
What is Osteoarthritis of the Knee?
Osteoarthritis of the Knee is a condition in which cartilage, which acts as cushioning between your joints, wears away, primarily through wear and tear. It is primarily a function of age, but younger people can also experience it. The key symptoms are pain, swelling, stiffness, and a decreased ability to move. The resulting pain and functional degradation can be managed by losing weight, strengthing the muscles of the leg, taking anti-inflammatories, and the use of a knee brace.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
Great article! That’s for all the good info!
Top of mind – I’ve come down with a case of ITB manifesting itself as knee pain which I’m trying to rehab with exercises although I may opt for an IT band wrap as a stopgap measure. I haven’t had ITB for many years, so it’s kind of a shock that it’s back. Probably just sitting around too much.
Great article! I’m not getting any younger, this information will keep me hiking longer!
I used the ankle stabilizer for about a year after I received a high and low ankle sprain and fracture after passing out twice one morning from hyponatremia. It’s comfortable and easily fits in a shoe.
I also had to use the adjustable knee support until I lost weight and the knee pain went away. I’d allowed myself to get a bit “chunky” and now I weigh less with backpack than I did without one back then (around 2006).
I’ve also been in compression socks. It seems the older we get, the more we resemble a walking medical supple store!
I figured you’d leave a comment since you are the 6 million dollar man (hint – old TV show). But think it’d be a mistake to write these braces and supports off as things for “old” hikers. I started using some of them in my 30’s as a result of too many desk jobs and rolled ankles. Everybody, young and old needs a little help once in a while.
I remember the Six Million Dollar Man and recall that every time he was running at 60 MPH, they showed him doing so in slow motion… which is kind of how I run these days! In an alternate reality (my brain), I must be traveling a mile a minute. I don’t know if all my replacement parts and surgeries total six million dollars yet, but I must be getting close!
I think this list is missing compression calf sleeves. They’re great on the trail for minimizing calf cramps and shin splints and after the hike for recovery at home or in camp. I started using them this year to get rid of shin splints after ~20 mile hike/trail runs, and I was really surprised how effective they were. They also provide some protection against bugs and sun when wearing shorts. One drawback is they will increase blood flow to the foot, so I never wear my tighter shoes if I’m hiking with the sleeves. There are calf compression socks, but those are really difficult to get on/off and the sock portion is not ideal for hiking unless you want to double layer with a hiking sock.
Agree – I have found Zensah brand (same brand as the quad sleeves mentioned in the list) calf compression sleeves very helpful to prevent calf swelling and pain.
I use the compression socks, but I’m never sure how much good they do. The thing that really saved me was trekking poles. I went from “who needs a cane” to “how did I ever go down a hill without these” over the course of about three miles.
I just use the compression sock when I have swelling, either from Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, when or my ankle is acting up They’re also an excellent way to prevent blisters if you get them.
I never did have swelling, unless you count a Haglund’s deformity. Maybe that’s the difference. It’s just hard to tell what is making a difference because the pain varied so much.
I have plica syndrome, which is kind of like ITB except it’s on the inside of the knee. And while I found a knee strap and a brace to be helpful, what really worked for me was doing Alexander Technique. It’s like PT except instead of focusing on specific areas of the body, works on your posture and breathing and doesn’t focus on any one area. I didn’t do it for too long but just focusing on my posture really helped the problem completely disappear. This summer it was really bothering me again and I realized that I was reverting back to my bad posture habits so I am once again working to correct this and the problem is going away again. (Side note: I started doing Alexander because it’s supposed to be good for musicians; it really helped my viola playing feel much less difficult and the fact that it fixed my knee was only an excellent and unexpected side bonus.) (And also I will carry the brace with me while hiking just in case I have issues but I hope it won’t bother me on my big hike next week.)
Anyway, I realize that of course YMMV in terms of recovery etc (I doubt Alexander would help with arthritis, for example) but for anyone concerned about posture and walking mechanics, Alexander Technique might be a good thing to try.
I’m familiar with the Alexander Technique (I’m a closet physical therapist). I just use Pacerpoles for my ITB and that usually works. But at the moment, I’m doing TFL stretches and strengthening my Gluteus medius. That usually does the trick….eventually.
Closet physical therapist? Do tell!
Pacerpoles are one of the many items you’ve reviewed that I WANT but still haven’t actually gone through with purchasing. I’m sure they would help me a lot.
I just know an enormous amount about human anatomy as it relates to hiker injuries and how to overcome them through targeted exercise. I always wanted to be a PT but I never wanted to go to graduate school ever again. I don’t do well in hierarchical environments where you need to kiss ass.
By the way, I’ve been watching some of your viola pieces on Youtube. They’re nice to listen to. Wifey likes them too.
Oh, wow, thanks, very nice of you to say so. When I was looking for a new career (still do music as a side gig, of course) I thought about nursing myself but also never want to go back to school. So I totally get that. :-) But I LOVE medical stuff, my favorite podcasts are medical ones. So I guess I’m a closet nurse, maybe? (I like to joke that haha, I do have medical training. WFA counts, right?)
Enjoying reading this as I await my hernia consult with the surgeon tomorrow! While only “the knife” will be good for that, my knees can use a bit of help, so this info is great! Thank God the USPS lets you accrue sick leave indefinitely.
I wish you the best on that hernia. I’ve had two hernia surgeries, the “tire patch” variety, and bounced back quickly from both. I was camping and hiking a week after the first one.
Both were discovered when getting my aviation medical test. I didn’t know I had one so they must not have been too bad. I’ve got friends and family who had hernias much worse than mine. I hope your experience is more like mine.
A belated thank you to Philip and Grandpa!
Had bilateral inguinal surgery in September and stayed out 9 weeks because my job is so physical. Did two types of recovery activities – light hiking and “letting go.” The latter refers to watching Prema head into the woods without me! Light hiking was fine for the post hernia, but after spending a good portion of a lovely November afternoon trying to get up Mt. Percival, I was in excruciating pain and made that orthopedic visit in December. Xrays showed it felt a lot worse than it looked. Osteoarthritis and no need for surgery, doing PT for now. I am going to ask the therapist about the products mentioned above; I’ve seen a lot of happy folks in the woods with them.
Good article and very sensible. The Cho-Pat knee brace has worked for me with ITB pain. It’s not a cure, but the stabilizing effects help immensely as does the compression. Since you’re so knowledgeable about PT, I’m sure you know all the stretches that help relieve ITB, some of which I can do on trail for more relief. Since I’m too lazy to look it up, have you ever done an article on stretches for hiking ailments like ITB? Seems like that would be a good companion piece to this article.