Congrats, you crushed that grueling 10-mile hike up the mountain! But now your legs are shaky, your feet are throbbing, and your body feels like it got hit by a truck. That infamous post-hike pain and fatigue is otherwise known as a hiking hangover.
We’ve all been there after pushing ourselves on a long trek. As hiker Jennifer T. says, “After climbing Mount Whitney last summer, my legs were so sore I could barely walk down the stairs at home!”
Thankfully, there are many strategies you can use to kick that awful hiking hangover to the curb quickly and get back on your feet. Let’s explore these ten surefire ways to cure the pain, stiffness, and tiredness so you can keep hiking.
- Stretch Out Those Sore Muscles
One of the best ways to help your poor, overworked muscles recover faster is to stretch them out. This boosts circulation, brings nutrient-rich blood to damaged tissue, and flushes out waste products, contributing to soreness.
As soon as you complete your hike, find a flat spot and do some gentle static stretches. Start with your calves – stand facing a wall with your hands on it for balance. Step one foot back, keep it flat and bend your front leg slowly until you feel the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
For your hamstrings, sit on the ground with one leg extended front. Lean forward from your hips, keeping your back straight, and reach toward your toes until you feel the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds before switching legs.
Pro tip from experienced hiker Mark W.: “No matter how tired I feel after a long hike, I always stretch out my legs, hips, and back right when I get home. It greatly affects how sore I feel the next day.”
Continue stretching daily until the soreness subsides, and try yoga classes too. Just listen to your body, and don’t push past the point of comfortable stretching. Those simple post-hike stretches are a significant first step to less pain!
- Alternate Hot and Cold Therapy
The classic home remedy of applying heat and ice is still one of the best ways to relieve that post-hike agony. The heat increases circulation to soothe your angry muscles, while the cold reduces painful inflammation.
Here’s how to do it properly for best results:
- Apply heat via a hot shower, bath, or heating pad for 2-3 minutes
- Immediately follow with an ice pack, cold compress, or bowl of ice water for 30-60 seconds
- Repeat the sequence 3-5 times
As a recreational hiker, Sam L. discovered, “After my first backpacking trip, I was hobbling around with sore knees and hip flexors. My friend suggested trying a hot shower followed by an ice pack. I can’t believe how well it reduced swelling and pain!”
The contrast between hot and cold stimulates healing blood flow to your overworked tissues without shocking your system. Ahh, sweet relief!
- Book a Massage to Knead Out Knots
One of the most glorious ways to find rapid relief after a grueling hike is to treat yourself to a therapeutic massage. Please make an appointment with a professional masseuse or massage therapist and ask them to focus on your sore spots.
As hiking blogger Beatrice L. shares, “Getting a deep tissue massage was the best money I ever spent after hiking 30 miles in the Grand Canyon last spring. My legs and feet were so wrecked, but an hour with a massage therapist worked out all the knots, and I could walk normally again.”
The kneading and muscle manipulation increase circulation, reduce stiffness, drain lactic acid buildup, and feel amazing. Ask a friend or partner for a DIY rubdown if a professional massage isn’t feasible. Those healing hands can be magic in your misery!
- Soak in an Epsom Salt Bath
For soothing relief straight away, soak your sore body in a warm bath infused with Epsom salts. The magnesium in the salts helps relax muscles, draw out inflammation, and flush away toxins.
Fill your tub with warm water between 92-100°F, add 2 cups Epsom salts, then soak your aching parts for at least 15-20 minutes to allow the magnesium to absorb through your skin. Soreness seems to melt away!
As avid hiker Steve J. notes, “I swear by Epsom salt baths for curing any muscle aches. After a grueling uphill climb, soaking in a hot bath with some Epsom salts is my go-to recovery routine. It’s like a miracle – I soak away the pain!”
Light some candles, play relaxing music, and make it a soothing spa-like experience. The mineral-rich soak works wonders.
- Massage on Topical Pain Relievers
Another way to target those sore spots is by rubbing on creams, gels, sticks, and sprays that contain pain-relieving ingredients like menthol, camphor, capsaicin, or arnica. The cooling or warming sensations go right to work to make you more comfortable.
As day hiker Amanda C. shares, “I keep a bottle of topical pain relief cream specifically for after long hikes. It has menthol and other natural ingredients that provide a cooling sensation and help alleviate muscle soreness when I massage it.”
Gently massage the topical analgesics into tender areas 2-3 times daily after cleaning the skin. Discontinue use if irritation occurs. The increased circulation provides additional healing benefits, too.
- Remember to Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Chugging down plenty of hydrating fluids is one of the simplest yet most vital things you can do to bounce back after a punishing hike. When dehydrated, your tissues can’t effectively flush out lactic acid and other waste products that are making you sore.
Avid hiker James P.’s strategy is to “drink electrolyte sports drinks while I’m hiking and water consistently for the rest of the day. It makes a night and day difference in how I feel.”
Drink 16-24 oz of a sports drink or coconut water in the first hour after hiking to restore fluids and electrolytes. Continue with 8 oz of water every 20-30 minutes for a few hours, aiming for 80-100 oz daily until your urine is a pale yellow. Bottoms up!
- Refuel with Wholesome, Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Hiking takes a significant toll on your body, burning up energy stores and depleting nutrients. That’s why it’s vital to refuel properly after a hike with wholesome, anti-inflammatory foods that aid healing.
Lindsey P., who hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail, recommends refueling with “nuts, yogurt, and vegetables on hand for when I get home from a long trek.”
Focus your post-hike diet on plant foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, which deliver antioxidants to reduce inflammation. Lean proteins like chicken, fish, eggs, or plant-based proteins help repair overworked muscles. Complex carbs refill depleted energy reserves.
- Log Some Extra Zzz’s
Quality sleep is crucial for recovering after an intense, demanding hike. Your exhausted muscles desperately need extra rest to mend and regenerate fully.
Aim for 8-10 hours per night in the days following a big hike. Adjust your schedule if needed to get more bedtime. As trekker, Hannah L. discovered, “After I hiked 30 miles over two days in Glacier National Park, I was completely wiped out. But after indulging in a day of Netflix and naps, I was amazed at how recharged I felt. Rest works wonders!”
Those extra sleep hours allow your cells to repair damage and synthesize new tissue so you bounce back faster. Sleep is when the magic happens!
- Consider Over-the-Counter Medications
For moderate to severe muscle aches and pain, OTC medications like NSAIDs or acetaminophen can offer targeted relief so you can regain movement comfortably. Always carefully follow dosage instructions and warnings.
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) block inflammatory enzymes, reducing swelling and discomfort. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) increases the body’s pain threshold.
According to hiking guide Isaac D., “I’ve learned to keep OTC meds like ibuprofen on hand when my legs are screaming after an intense hike. It helps take the edge off so I can keep going.”
OTC topical creams like capsaicin can temporarily numb and soothe sore areas. Oral medications can undoubtedly assist in easing your hiking hangover.
- Have Patience, and Let Your Body Heal
As frustrating as it sounds, one of the healthiest things you can do is have patience and allow your body the time it needs to recover after an intense hike.
Pushing too hard usually makes the ache and fatigue worse, according to recreational hiker Isaac D.: “As eager as I am to get back out on the trails, I’ve learned I need to be patient and give my body time to recover after strenuous hikes. Pushing it too soon usually ends up making me even sorer!”
Treat yourself gently, continue light exercise when able, eat nutritious foods, stay hydrated, and monitor your pain levels. Within a few days, the worst soreness will likely dissipate. Your body knows how to heal itself!
Preventing Hiking Hangovers
While it’s impossible to prevent post-hike muscle soreness and fatigue completely, there are things you can do to lessen the chances of an awful hiking hangover:
- Stay hydrated – Sip water frequently rather than guzzling just at rest stops. Electrolyte tablets in your water help replenish lost salts and minerals.
- Pace yourself – Start slow, take ample breaks, and save some energy for the end. Don’t overexert.
- Eat protein-rich trail snacks – Jerky, nuts, eggs, etc.- to help muscles stay energized and recover better.
- Wear proper shoes – Well-fitted hiking footwear prevents many aches and pains. Break them in pre-hike.
- Use hiking poles – They distribute impact more evenly with each step.
- Do muscle-prep workouts – Lunges, squats, and yoga build fitness so your body is ready for the hike’s demands.
- Listen to your body – Take more breaks as needed, and end early if necessary to avoid acute injury or overexertion.
FAQs: Lingering Questions About Hiking Hangovers
How long does a hiking hangover last?
For most people, the worst muscle soreness, fatigue, and stiffness lasts about 2-4 days after an intense, long hike. Some lingering minor aches may persist for up to a week. Full recovery depends on factors like your fitness level and hike difficulty.
What helps muscle pain after hiking?
Stretching, massage, hot/cold therapy, Epsom salt baths, OTC medications, topical gels, and proper nutrition/hydration all help relieve muscle pain after hiking. Get extra rest, too.
Why am I so sore after hiking?
Hiking uses muscles in new ways, leading to microtears and damage to muscle fibers. Lactic acid and other waste products build up, causing inflammation, pain, and soreness. It’s called DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
How can I speed up muscle recovery after hiking?
Stretching, massage, compression, hydration, anti-inflammatory foods, sleep, and OTC meds help speed muscle recovery after hiking. Take it easy until the worst soreness passes.
Should I hike again if I’m still sore?
It’s best to avoid hiking again until your muscles fully recover to prevent further damage or injury. Wait until any lingering soreness or stiffness resolves.
Dragging yourself out of bed the morning after a killer hike because of muscle aches and pains is no fun. You can take many proactive steps to relieve that awful hiking hangover quickly. Before hiking, you should know the hiking scale difficulty.
Stretching, hot/cold therapy, massage, Epsom salt baths, pain relief gels, proper nutrition, and hydration will have you feeling better fast. Listen to your body, rest up, and you’ll hit the trails again before you know it!