Have you ever tried summiting a steep mountain and half way up felt like you were going to die? It was probably one of those “go on without me” situations that leaves you wondering how you got so exhausted. Even with a slow pace and excellent physical health, mountains can still get the best of you.

Fortunately, there’s this little mountaineering secret called the rest step. Although it’s normally used for summiting steep, snowy mountains, this technique can be used any time your body is feeling strained.

(Watch the video here.)

Let’s go through the process:

  1. Step forward on your climb — keep your stride length relatively short.
  2. Lock your rear knee and keep all of your weight on that leg.
  3. Swing your other leg forward while completely relaxing all of the muscles in that leg — let the swinging motion do all of the work for you.
  4. Rest your front foot on the ground and keep it relaxed — at this point you should pause for however long you feel is necessary.
  5. Shift your weight to your front foot, step forward with your other foot, and lock your rear knee again.
  6. Repeat the process until you conquer that steep climb! The video above gives a nice visual of what this process should look like on the trail.

But why is this process necessary, when should you use it, and what is it actually accomplishing?


photo by: Clay Junell

When you’re mountaineering, backpacking, or just hiking, your body is uses a lot of energy. Usually, “feeling the burn” is a good thing because it lets you know you’re working your muscles and getting in shape. There are times, however, when you want to use as little energy as possible in order to preserve it.

Backpacking is one of those times. Continuous movement can be very draining for your body. Stopping and starting, or speeding up and slowing down, can also waste a lot of precious energy, so it’s best to find a good pace and stick to it. That’s why the rest step is so helpful–it allows you to rest while still maintaining forward momentum.


Generally, people prefer to use the rest step during serious mountaineering situations. A steep grade and a lack of oxygen will certainly make this trick a necessary component of your hike. However, the rest step can come in handy even when you’re not faced with these extreme situations.

Use the rest step whenever you feel like your body is getting worn out. Whether you’re on a day hike with a few short climbs or you’re backpacking Mt. Kilimanjaro, the rest step is always a helpful tool.


photo by: Mountaineer

So what is this technique actually accomplishing? When you’re hiking, there’s a lot of pressure and strain being placed on your muscles, especially your quads and glutes. This causes your muscles to use a high amount of oxygen, which in turn causes you to breath hard. By using the rest step, you are putting all of your weight on your bone structure, not your muscles.

When you lock your rear knee, it provides support without straining your muscles. This gives your leg, hip, and back muscles a nice rest. Since your muscles are able to rest more consistently, they start to use less oxygen.

The key to this move is to find a steady rhythm that suits your needs best. You will be moving slowly, so don’t worry about racing to the top. Adjust your cadence and the length of your stride according to your environment.

Try out the rest step on your next adventure, and you’ll reach that mountaintop in no time!

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