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 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.
Written 2010. Updated 2018.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.
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