Years ago I learned from mountaineering guides the “French Technique” of ascending steep icy slopes with crampons. The “French Technique” is very useful to adapt to hiking as a “French Step”. For hiking on steep slopes the side step is very useful to help relieve overused leg muscles and tendons.
If you go strait up hill on a long steep trail all your tendons and muscles on the backside from the hip down to the bottom of your feet will be extremely stretched, especially your calves and Achilles tendons. On a long steep hike this extreme stretch will be repeated hundreds to thousands of times. This will cause overuse of very specific muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints.
Breaking up this repetition and overuse with the French side step can greatly reduce the overuse injury and subsequent soreness of your legs and keep you going.
To get the idea of side stepping up a steep slope, imagine how you would side step up stairs.
How to Side Step:
- Face the slope at an angle, like you were ascending stairs sideways.
- Cross your foot over the top and in front
- Bring your foot up behind your other foot
You can also use your hiking poles on the French side step. The motion and angle will need to vary with your arms and poles from a strait hiking pace. Most of the push off will be from your lower arm. With your upper arm you need to slant the pole back at a steeper angle to get a better push off and keep it out of the way of your feet.
When your legs are screaming on an uphill slope, try side stepping and giving those specific tired muscles a break and put the strain on other muscles.
Typically the trail is angling up the mountain, mountain left or mountain right. You will find the side step most natural in the outward direction with your toes pointed outward from the mountain.