Our Oregon summers are truly magical. Time spent in nature can be restorative for both our mental and physical health and backpacking is a great way to enjoy our beautiful state. There are many trails in the Columbia River Gorge and one thing they all have in common is elevation. Knee pain is something that can easily derail a trip, however there are many strategies you can use to prevent pain from ruining your adventure.

1. Be Smart About Packing

When you look at old backpacking photos one thing usually stands out- they are carrying a lot of stuff! Old external frame backpacks were heavy and the gear hikers carried was even heavier. A pack weight of 40-50 lbs was not unheard of and it’s not hard to imagine how carrying that weight for 40 miles would feel on your knees. As a general rule, your total weight (and that includes food and water) should not exceed 20% of your body weight. For example a 150 lb person should carry no more than 30 lbs. There are many strategies to help lower pack weight including eliminating unnecessary items, replacing old gear with lighter weight gear, repackaging items into smaller containers, and sharing gear with your hiking companions.

2. Wear Proper Footwear

Wearing supportive footwear is one of the best ways to prevent pain in not only your knees, but also your ankles, hips and low back. Some hikers prefer hiking boots that come above the ankle or hiking shoes, while others prefer lighter weight trail runners. Both can be good options depending on your pack weight and style of hiking however all shoes should provide good arch support, have good cushioning and fit properly. I suggest trying on multiple pairs of boots or shoes to find what fits the best. Additionally, don’t wear your new hiking boots for the first time on a 30 mile trip, break them in on a shorter hike.

3. Stretch every day

Proper recovery is essential to staying pain and injury free on the trail. At the end of the day make sure to give yourself time to properly rest and stretch. The steep inclines and uneven terrain of the Gorge can put a lot of stress on the muscles of your legs. Once you set up camp, take some time to do a calf stretch against a tree, a standing quad stretch, and a standing hamstring stretch. Remember when stretching to never stretch to the point of pain and to hold gentle stretches for 30 seconds at a time.

The Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful place and following these tips can help keep you outside all season long.