While researching and writing about hiking and backpacking, I experienced an "aha" moment where several things came together, where I connected some dots that allowed a much different picture of my hiking style. The unpredictable result was a whole new way of looking at my walking, day hiking and backpacking.
A bit of personal history is necessary to relate my "aha" experience. My hiking and climbing over the years evolved into the following “power walking” style: taking long, powerful steps enhanced with trekking poles, powering up and down hills and mountains wearing heavy boots and a heavy pack. I was convinced this was the best hiking and backpacking style for me. This style was great for conditioning and burning lots of calories. When in good physical condition, I loved feeling the power of my body and its ability to cover ground uphill and down. When not in condition, I rationalized this as the best way to get in better shape. This “power walking” style, relying heavily on powering my legs and hips, was probably the cause of the lower back pain, tight hamstrings and sore quads I usually experienced at the end of longer hikes and scrambles.
My "aha" experience occurred while experimenting with five separate elements of hiking gear and style: lightweight trail shoes, lighter weight packs, custom orthotics, ChiWalking and Nordic Pole Walking. When I had my “aha” experience, I begin to see how these five elements could work together in harmony. Previously when experimenting, I viewed these elements as relatively independent parts of my hiking and walking experience. Synthesizing these elements has resulted in a much more relaxed, natural and efficient walking style, one that I am still tweaking.
How has integrating these five elements (trail shoes, orthotics, lightweight pack, ChiWalking, Nordic Pole Walking) resulted in a more relaxed and natural rhythm? First, my lightweight trail shoes provide adequate stability, but not enough to interfere with a relaxed and efficient walking style. Most hiking boots interfere to some degree with a fluid and natural style. Second, a lighter pack has allowed me to walk more upright with shoulders back and much less strain on my body. Third, my custom orthotics with aggressive arch support provide more stability and balance over the pivot point of my arch. Fourth, using lightweight, trekking poles with effective poling techniques has contributed to a more fluid and natural body rhythm (somewhat akin to ice skating and cross country skiing). Fifth, ChiWalking techniques (with its mid-foot strike, aggressive arm swing, rotated pelvis) provide an upright posture necessary to getting gravity and my core muscles to do more work. This ChiWalking style is so much different that the stressful and bone jarring “power walking” style.
The essence of synthesizing these five elements is one of getting gravity, my core muscles and my arms and shoulders to do more of the work. I hike further with an easier rhythm, more energy, less strain and pain, and with real joy. As a consequence, I now spend a lot more time in the backcountry—enjoying-it-now, for its own sake, with or without a destination or goal. I now look forward to enjoyable hiking and walking into my 70s, 80s and beyond.
This summary of my "aha” does not capture the full flavor of my research and experiences, but it should provide a glimpse of the end result. I have related my “aha” experience not to claim that my chosen walking tools and techniques are the only way or even the best way. My goal is to encourage hikers and backpackers interested in taking their craft to a higher level to experiment. I look forward to more experimenting with Walking and Hiking Styles.