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There are two trails leading to a beautiful spot in a nearby park. One of them has a steady climb all the way (trail A) while the other has some sharp climbs followed by relative level segments (trail B). Start an end points are the same. Sunlight and wind exposure are also the same.

The distance on the map for both is around 2mi and differ by only a few yards (A is longer). I've walked both several times and to me it seems that I always end the hike more tired after going through trail A.

So, a few questions:

  • Is it common for the steady climb trail to be more tiresome than the sharp climb with level segments one?
  • How should I deal with each type of trail in order to lessen the exaustion? What techniques can I use?
  • A straight climb will always be more tiring no matter what. Usually if you're going up without a track you would zigzag your way up. I would only choose a straight climb depending on a fitness level. – Desorder Sep 12 '16 at 20:07
  • 3
    I'm like Olin, preferring to go up toughest sections and down the easier ones (steady grade in your case). That's mostly based on how hard it is on the knees though rather than fitness/endurance. – topshot Sep 13 '16 at 13:50
  • @Desorder alternatively, if it's scenic or you're looking for wildlife, a short sharp climb followed by resting/scanning/admiring the view can be quite effective (I also prefer circular walks and gentle descents). – Chris H Sep 13 '16 at 16:44
  • I find it extremely interesting that the two trails are so close to the same length. Normally the steady up route is shorter and the flatter route is longer. I wonder what the back story is behind these two trails. – Erik Sep 15 '16 at 22:11
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The freedom of the Hills provides a rough guideline for the most efficient climbing grade when switchbacks can be set. I think the climb traverse ratio is in the neighborhood of 1:3. I don't own a copy anymore so I can't reference it directly.

That said we all work differently and a muscular build will prefer a steeper shorter climb while a more endurance optimized build will prefer a smaller gradient with a longer total distance.

5

Since no one is really answering your question, I'll give it a go. First, anytime you are travelling by increasing the elevation, you exert more work on your body. Imagine this, lay out a path. One is two giant steps, almost like someone stacked two big boxes that you have to climb to get up 5 ft. Then for 50 ft you get to walk in a straight path. Now, instead of the initial two big boxes, you instead have to walk 50 ft with a steady incline. The whole time you are walking you will be exerting more work on your body with less recovery time. What you are experiencing is normal. Your body may need to do short bursts on trail B, but you get to recover on the flat areas for a larger portion of time. On trail A, it's like you are on a constant uphill climb with no way for your body to recover on a flat plane surface. Your leg muscles are constantly working to increase your elevation.

For your second point. For both, always stretch. It will keep you loose and drink lots of water, especially on trail A. For trail A, eat a long burning carb like oatmeal. It will help keep you going on the trail. Mentally you need to be prepared for the long haul. Keep a deep steady breath. Breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. Take breaks regularly and let your body rest if you are feeling too fatigued. But mentally, accept the fact that path A is just going to be more strenuous and that when you finish, you just accomplished a nice steady workout (helping your heart and endurance).

For path B since you are doing sharp increases in elevation, stretching is really important. You will be more prone to injury with quick thrusts on your muscles. About 30 min before a quick change in elevation, eat an apple/banana to give you some quick energy for that sharp increase that will burn fast. After you do the sharp climb, take a small break (2 min) and stretch. Then proceed on the level areas at a steady pace to keep your muscles warm.

When you get done with both, stretch again and take nice deep breaths. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

On a side note, if you want your hikes to feel more like relaxation instead of exercise, it's best to just get yourself in better shape. If you make sure your physical activity when you exercise is more strenuous than when you hike, hiking will be a much less demanding activity on you and will feel like a day in the park compared to your regular workout routine.

Happy hiking!

3

It is impossible to generalize which will make someone feel more tired. That depends on how fast you go, how you handle the intermittent steep parts, etc. You may feel more tired from trail A because you tend to do it at a faster pace, for example.

In any case, I'd want to go up trail B and down trail A.

  • I understand that how tired one will be depends on how you do it, but th e main point of the question is techniques on how to best handle each course. -- Otherwise it would be a "opinion poll" question. – Mindwin Sep 13 '16 at 13:58

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