9 Tips to Descend Safely on a Trek

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 noted that a majority of injuries occur because trekkers do not descend safely.

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. 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.

Protip Avoid shoes that don’t have ankle support.

If you need help picking the right kind of shoes, this article will help you.

2. 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.

3. Don’t arrest your speed

I’ve seen trekkers deliberately arrest their speed when they can go faster. Slowing down adds enormous pressure on your knee. This is most likely the reason why your knees are shivering and wobbling.

Protip Most trekkers make the mistake of slowing down while descending. Don’t be one of them.

What you should do instead is go with the speed. Let gravity take you down at its pace. It is the most natural movement of your knee. Any slowing down can cause bad ligament injuries. Use a trekking pole to control your speed on steep descents.

4. Use two trekking poles

A trekking pole acts like your third leg while trekking. And two of them make trekking a whole lot easier!

Trekking poles reduce your energy consumption by around 40%. That’s a huge amount of energy, especially on a high altitude trek. More than anything, they give you added balance and stability. You can control your fall to an extent in case you trip. So take a pair of trekking poles with you. Even if you don’t use them while ascending, use them on your descent.

5. 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 toenails 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.

6. 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.

Protip Just like you have to lean a little forward while ascending, you must lean back while descending.

This way, your chances of losing balance are almost nil.

7. Trace out a criss-cross 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-cross path. The video above illustrates this point clearly.

8.  Take side-steps

Stepping sideways, as opposed to with your toes down first, makes sure your feet grip 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.

9. 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.


Conclusion

These are the 9 tips to descend safely while trekking. There are a lot more external add-ons you can use such as 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!

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy heads the digital content team at Indiahikes. She is also the face behind India's popular trekking video channel, Trek With Swathi. Unknown to many, Swathi also writes a weekly column at Indiahikes which has more than 100,000 followers. A TEDx speaker and a frequent guest at other events, Swathi is a much sought after resource for her expertise in digital content. Before joining Indiahikes, Swathi worked as a reporter and sub-editor at a daily newspaper. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind more than anything else. Through trekking, Swathi hopes to bring about a profound impact in a person's mind, body and spirit. Read Swathi's columns. Watch Swathi's videos.