The Best Stretches for Loosening up after a Day of Hiking

Hiking and Camping Expert Hannah K. gives all the details about how she keeps her muscles happy and reduces soreness before, during, and after hiking!

A man in a hat and a plaid shirt stretches his legs on top of a scenic outlook.

Photo by Zach Dischner

Published on

Raise your hand if you want to avoid the post-hike soreness and body aches that come with high-impact hiking!

Keep your hand raised if you are looking for a quick regiment to lower the recovery time of any soreness you might have while keeping your body both limber and happy!

If your hand is still up to any of the above statements, fear not, friends, I have the answer:

Stretch!

Stretching is not just for those trying to get flexible, but a practice that can benefit everyone. Some of the key benefits include but are not limited to; elongating muscles, loosening up the body to help relieve pain, and perhaps my favorite use—getting in touch with the physical form of your body. A while ago, I discussed the importance of cross-training for hikers that included a short stretching routine of mine. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details!

But remember, before you start: You always warm up to stretch; you do not stretch to warm up! The most important note to remember is, do not statically stretch your muscles before you warm them up, always after! Do a few minutes of cardio to get your heart rate up and your muscles loose, then you can cool down on the mat.

Pre-Hike Warm-Up

A hiking man with a backpack walks down a dirt trail. There are mountains and a body of water in the background.

Step One

If I shouldn’t stretch before I hike, well then, what should I do? Easy! Start walking slowly and small—take small steps and move slowly. Annoyingly slow. For about 10 minutes, let the snails pass you.

Step Two

Ankle and hip rotations, deeper bends of the knees, and slow air squats are great ways to get into your body and continue preparing your muscles for the activities ahead.

Step Three

Once I spend a few more minutes moving slowly, I want to speed up the pace with some split lunges (to warm up my quads), calf raises, push-ups, and core activation of some kind.

I found this is the best way for my body to feel prepared for a long day(s) in the backcountry.

Mid-Hike Check-In

A man stands on top of a lookout and stretches his hamstrings. He is wearing a red shirt.

Photo by Shawn Levie

In the interim of any hike, I like to include a check-in with my body. I love a good body scan! I close my eyes, slow down my breath, and visualize every part of my body from my toes to my head. I focus on the sensation of each area and offer breath to help relax each muscle.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How am I feeling?
  • Do I need to adjust my pack?
  • Do I have any pain and if so, can I stretch or roll it out or should I turn around for help?

After some time outside, you will notice any pain that may come up. Maybe it is a simple blister that needs some tape or a quick rub down of your calves to help stay loose. But perhaps it is something you need more help for and should turn back before you get too far from emergency medical assistance.

Remember: There is no shame in listening to your body and turning back. You should not ignore any type of body pain! Learn your body’s cues and understand what that means for your safety.

Post-Hike Self-Care

Two hikers lay on their backs on the ground as they put one leg in the air to stretch it.

When I'm done with a hike is when I do most of my stretching! I like to start from my toes and work my way up the body, focusing first on stretching our major ligaments and joints as well as using my body weight to include gentle self-massage if I feel necessary. Sometimes I will also carry a tennis or lacrosse ball to roll out any painful knots that I may develop on the trail.

Feet

My feet are generally one of the more tender spots on my body after an intense trail day. I like to massage my feet at the end of every day and most mornings. I spread the toes away from each other, squeeze the tips of my toes, use my knuckles to rub down my arches, squeeze my heel, gently rub my Achilles tendon, etc.

I also will use a small lacrosse ball to roll out my arches to help separate any build-up of scar tissue. You can also sit on your feet with your toes tucked, thus stretching out your arches—I find that this hurts a lot, but in a good way!

Calves

The calves are an underappreciated muscle in a hiker's body. They do a large chunk of the work when hiking and need extra love at the end of the day. I will either use a lacrosse ball to roll out, use my elbow to self-massage it, or stretch it.

You can stand against a wall with one foot in front of the other. Bend into your front leg and feel the stretch into your back calf. Then switch and bend your back knee and straighten your front knee for a deeper stretch in the Achilles tendon.

Quads

Knee pain from hiking down the trail is often from tight quads! There are many ways to stretch out the front of your quads, and some prefer to do it standing. I like to lay on my stomach with both legs straight out behind me. I will bend one knee and kick my butt until I can grab my foot into my hand. Gently push your pelvis and quad into the floor while also keeping pressure from your foot and hand. If this does not work for your body, you can do the same thing standing!

Hamstrings/IT Band

My hamstrings are relentlessly tight about 110% of my life, so I spend most of my stretching time here. If you have lower back pain, tight hamstrings may be a key contributor. Downdog from yoga is a great way to stretch out your hamstrings as well as your upper back and shoulders. You can also lay on your back with both legs straight on the floor. Lift one leg until you can grab either your ankle or back of the calf in your hands and rest here. Keep your knee straight and flex your foot for a deeper stretch. For your IT band, cross that leg across your body.

Hip Flexors

Any lunge will do!

Glutes

The pigeon pose is my favorite way to stretch out my glutes and hips. Bend one leg in front of you at a ninety-degree angle and let your other leg be behind you—almost like a split. Gently rock side to side to find where it hurts the most and sit into the pain.

Lower Back

Any sort of twist is excellent for your back. Laying down with your knees at your chest will help relax your spine and lengthen your vertebrae.

Upper Back and Shoulders

Bring your arms in front of you, grab your hands, and push them far away from your body to create a big curve in your upper back. I also will hold onto a pole or tree and lean back to create this curve. Child's pose is another great one for the back of your shoulders if you stretch your arms far away from your head.

Chest

Bring your arms behind you and grab your hands to open up your chest. Easy!

Arms/ Wrists

I like to do wrist circulations at the end of the day. Maybe I stumbled (which I generally do) and landed on my wrist (which you should not do).

Neck

Last but not least, I like to tilt my head from side to side and stretch out the sides of my neck. It often gets very tight from my backpack and is where I keep my stress. Stretching out the neck is a relaxing thing to do before bed to help calm the nervous system.

Let's Finish Up!

A woman stretches in a field. There are some mountains in the background.

Photo by Vladislav Gromakovsky

Be sure to hold each stretch for at least thirty seconds and breathe into any pain or discomfort. Stretch consistently but don't overdo it! Listen to your body and if one area seems to get sore a bit more than others, make sure to pay special attention and adapt your stretching routine accordingly. Following these steps will help you reduce your risk of injury and keep your body happy for years to come! And for any snowboarders or skiers out there, check out Snowboard Expert James C.’s stretching routine!

Do you have a self-care post-hike routine you practice daily? Are you gearing up for a big hiking adventure? Want to chat all things hiking and camping? Hit up a Hiking & Camping Expert on Curated and we'd love to hear about any outdoor adventure you have coming up and offer personalized advice for any questions you may have or gear you may need!

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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