Does downhill hiking make your heart beat out of your chest and palms shake by your sides? Do you have a slight panic attack after you’ve climbed up a mountain only to realize you still need to climb back down? Don’t worry you are not alone. Many have a fear of falling, others have an above average fear of heights. Both of these fears cause problems when it comes to downhill hiking. So how does one conquer this fear? Here are a 6 ways you can take to overcome your downhill worries and complete a safe, successful hike.
1. Wear the Right Shoes
Wearing the right shoes hiking can make all the difference between a safe hike and disastrous one. Increase your chances of safely completing a downhill journey by wearing hiking boots instead of sneakers. Downhill hiking can feel much more terrifying when slipping and sliding down loose gravel. Hiking boots prevent this, providing the proper traction needed to walk downhill without feeling unstable.
2. Bring Trekking Poles
Investing in a pair of trekking poles can provide the reassurance and confidence you need to feel stable when hiking downhill, especially if you’re carrying a heavy backpack or if the terrain is uneven/rocky. A good pair of trekking poles will be lightweight yet sturdy, and more importantly, length-adjustable. When using them during downhill jaunts, set them a little longer so you can place them a bit in front of yourself.
3. Acclimatize Yourself To Heights
Perhaps Judy Blume said it best, “Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.” To start facing your downhill hiking fears, find a downhill trail that is “scary yet doable” to you, and walk it often — if you can find one near your home that you can “practice” on every week or every few weeks then even better. Many people find that forcing themselves to come in direct contact with the things they fear most scares them a bit, but becomes a little bit less scary each time they do it again. Eventually after you do it a lot, “scarier” downhill hikes may not even phase you.
4. Maintain Your Center of Gravity
Focus on your center of gravity as you walk downhill. Don’t lean too far forward or backward. Your center of gravity should be low and over your legs. Consider how you pack your gear if you bring a backpack as this will affect your center of gravity. Large, or heavy objects should be kept closest to your back. Items such as water bladders, food, first aid kits, etc. all constitute heavy objects. Keeping these large objects near your center of gravity will help tremendously when going both up and downhill.
5. Take Shorter Steps
Your first inclination when you get to the downhill portion of a hike may be to dart forward and finish the hike as quickly as you can. However, most slips occur on downhill stretches that immediately follow long ascents. You may not be as focused after the exertion of the climb, and the tendency to “let loose” on the decent can lead to mistakes. Taking smaller steps will not only help you keep your focus but will also keep your center of gravity over your legs, thus promoting greater control.
6. Look Ahead
You may be descending the same way you came up, however unexpected terrain can creep up on you with a moment’s notice. You won’t be familiar with every rock, crevice, and natural element along the trail no matter how many times you’ve hiked it before. Keep an eye out for hazards you may not have noticed on the way up — such as slick or unstable portions of the trail.
Next time you find yourself facing a downhill jaunt and feel fear surfacing remember, it’s ok to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really brave. Take control of the situation and make it less frightening by using the tips above. Happy hiking!