Between ascending and descending, the latter is very deceptive. It seems like the easier of the two, but descending for long hours can be very painful, especially to your knees and toes. To add to that, we have found that majority of injuries occur while descending.
But you can avoid those wobbly knees you have while descending. You can avoid that unbearable pain in your toes too. All you need is the right technique.
After years of observing the most common mistakes trekkers make, we have put together a few tips for you to descend safely. If you follow these tips, you’ll enjoy your descent all the way, even if it is as long as 20 kilometres.
The following video has illustrations of nine tips to descend safely. Take a look.
Here are 9 tips to descend safely on a trek
1. Keep your knee joints loose
This is the most important point to keep in mind while descending. Never keep your knees stiff or tight. If your knees are stiff, there are high chances of you injuring your knee. Instead, keep your knee joints loose. Pretend like you have springs under your feet while walking. That’s the kind of flexibility you need in your knees while descending.
2. Don’t arrest your speed
Most trekkers make the mistake of slowing down while descending. Their body allows them to go faster, but they deliberately arrest their speed. But slowing down adds enormous pressure on your knee. This is most likely when your knees are shivering and wobbling.
What you should do instead is go with the speed. Let gravity take you down at its pace. It is the most natural movement for your knee. Any slowing down can cause bad ligament injuries. Use a trekking pole to control your speed on steep descents.
3. Use a trekking pole
A trekking pole acts like your third leg while trekking. It also reduces your energy consumption by around 40%. That’s a huge amount of energy especially on a high altitude trek. More than anything, it gives you added balance and stability. You can control your fall to an extent in case you trip. So take a trekking pole with you! Even if you don’t use it while ascending, use it on your descent. If you’re looking to buy a pole, you’ll find custom-made poles here.
4. Put your heel down first and then your toe
One thing you should never do is step down toe-first. This causes your toes to constantly hit the toe box of your shoes resulting in painful toe nails and nails chipping off. So remember to always put your heel down first and then your toe. This should become a habit — heel-toe, heel-toe.
5. Lean back to lower your centre of gravity
Adjusting your centre of gravity to the gradient you are on is what makes you stable while trekking. Just like you have to lean a little forward while ascending, you must lean backward while descending. This way, your chances of losing balance are almost nil.
6. Trace out a criss-crossing path
On steep descents, coming down in a straight line might be faster, but it is more dangerous. You are more prone to slipping, especially if there’s loose gravel or mud on the trail. So always trace out an imaginary criss-crossing path. The video above illustrates this point clearly.
7. Take side-steps
Stepping sideways, as opposed to with your toes down first, makes sure your feet grips onto more surface area on the ground. It reduces your chances of slipping to a large extent. It also adds more stability to your descending.
8. Step on flat surfaces
This is something that will happen instinctively when you descend. Your feet will look for flat surfaces to step on. But if you put in a conscious effort to do this during your first hour of descent, it will come more naturally to you over time.
9. Tie your shoelaces tight
Most ankle twists and sprains occur while descending. Making sure your ankles are stable and protected is very important while descending. So tighten your ankle support by tying your shoelaces tight. Avoid shoes that don’t have ankle support. If you need help picking the right kind of shoes, this article will help you.
These are the 9 tips to descend safely while trekking. There are a lot more external add-ons you can use like knee braces and ankle braces. But if you know how to control your natural movement while descending, you won’t find long descents daunting. In fact, you’ll enjoy descending!
Try these tips on your next trek and tell me how they worked for you. If you have any more points you’d like to add, drop in a comment below!