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Do you look at your feet while hiking?


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Home Forums General Forums General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion Do you look at your feet while hiking?

Viewing 25 posts - 1 through 25 (of 38 total)
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  • #3668675
    PaulW
    BPL Member

    @peweg8

    Locale: Western Colorado

    I’m hoping folks will help me with something I’ve wondered about for awhile. During my research into front packs (hip packs, Aarn packs, chest packs, etc) I’ve seen many comments from people stating that they need to see their feet while hiking. I’m really curious about this. I never look at my feet while hiking, in any terrain. I find I look no closer than 8 to 10 feet ahead while on trail; maybe less off-trail, but I don’t look at my feet. I’m curious about those who do. Why do you look at your feet? Is it a footing thing? Worried about tripping or snakes or…? This is not criticism, but genuine curiosity. So, if you wouldn’t mind taking a moment to humor me, it would be most appreciated. Thanks.

    #3668680
    Ryan Jordan
    Admin

    @ryan

    Locale: Central Rockies

    This is a great question, I think about this too.

    It seems that most people I talk to who look at their feet do so because they fear tripping or twisting an ankle.

    I spoke to my PT about this and there seems to be a decent number of neurological studies that suggest that if you look ahead a little, and register that terrain, you can trust your brain to deliver the info to your feet in time to make the necessary adjustments. It’s fascinating stuff.

    #3668683
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    If I’m walking on boulders then I need to carefully place my foot

    Or other terrain like that

    If it’s a normal trail, and I can put my foot anywhere, then I don’t need to

    #3668689
    Liz Black
    Spectator

    @backpacking4ever

    Sounds like a matter of expression – don’t think they are looking at their feet just a foot in distance in front of their feet and they probably find the pack distracting but not Truly blocking the sight of their feet.   I only look at exactly where I’m putting my foot when crossing river and using large rocks to get across.

    #3668709
    Todd T
    BPL Member

    @texasbb

    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Exactly what Liz said.

    #3668737
    Tipi Walter
    BPL Member

    @tipiwalter

    Careful boot placement is critical for backpacking longevity, most especially past the age of 60.

    In my hiking youth I fell often and hard but never gave it much thought—but now in older age I rarely fall because I concentrate on foot and boot placement—as I can’t afford to fall.

    And then there’s pack weight.  Let’s say you’re doing a 24 day winter backpacking trip w/o resupply and your pack is 80 or 90 lbs—This kind of weight has a way of focusing the brain on the trail underfoot.

    And then there’s rattlesnakes and copperheads across the trail or on the side.  It’s best to keep your eyes focused on the ground right in front of your feet and don’t gawk, look around or sight-see.

    #3668739
    David Thomas
    BPL Member

    @davidinkenai

    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    Everyone is descended from an unbroken line of 20,000 pregnant women who walked around unable to see their feet during their third trimester, survived, and birthed all your ancestors.

    I don’t look at my FEET.  I look at where my feet WILL BE in 2 seconds.  I do that during the day, unconsciously, and I do it very consciously at night because I don’t use a headlamp – I carry a small light in my hand so as to reveal the bumps and dips ahead by their shadows.

    But I am looking at the trail.  More than I’d like to.  Yesterday I was walking the dog, looking at the bumpy path ahead and out of the corner of my eye, noticed a moose, 20 feet to the side, staring at us.  He’s seen us numerous times before and I’d like to think remembers that this particular human and this particular dog are both cool, but still, when I’m more than a mile from home, I don’t personally know all the megafauna.

    I worked on staff at a Boy Scout summer camp in 1977 (Diamond-O just west of Yosemite NP, north of Hwy-120 on the road to Hetch Hetchy).  We never carried flashlights despite all the unlit trails through the woods with water ditches and diverter logs across them.  And I developed a kind of un-committed step from which I could recover if there was a hole or bump or log there.  Ever since, I’ve been able to switch back into that mode when it’s pitch black.

    #3668741
    Phong D
    Spectator

    @poledancer

    If something like a chest pouch prevented me from seeing my feet when slipping or sliding on gravel I’d be worried.  I’m used to being able to see my feet if I have to.  I cant imagine crossing a stream on a log without looking at my feet.  I also look at my feet when going downhill on sandy rocks.

    Most of my time I look a little ahead though.  Its more for the emergency breaking that I want my feet visible.

    #3668744
    Tom K
    BPL Member

    @tom-kirchneraol-com-2

    What Ryan said.  Over the years, it becomes an automatic process, requiring no conscious thought, of interpretation of the terrain and adjustments in stride, foot placement, center of gravity, etc.  Hard to describe, but I love it.  Part visualization, too.  I visualize myself as water, and my path, on trail or off, is where the water flows.  Probably sounds weird, but that is how I experience it.

    #3668746
    W I S N E R !
    BPL Member

    @xnomanx

    I know what people are saying about looking ahead while walking. And I’ve been in then Zen mode flying through rocks while trail running, your body just “knowing”. But that said, I most definitely do look at my feet when things start getting more technical on slow and slippery log crossings, wet boulder hops, talus fields, steep sidehilling in loose soil/rock, kicking snow steps…

    I think a front pack the size of an Aarn would drive me nuts, partially for the above reason, but also because I imagine things would start feeling awfully claustrophobic (like I was swimming in packs). I’m not sold on the Aarn thing one bit.

    I imagine that walking even a relatively mild canyon like this would become a staggering and stumbling disaster without being able to see your feet for many many miles; half these rocks shift the second you touch them.

     

     

    #3668752
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    ^^
    Ah, but that is open country.


    The rocks are slippery too.

    Cheers

    #3668755
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    I kinda doubt most people look at their feet, except in more precarious terrain. Most probably have a visual of what is immediately ahead, although more subconsciously than deliberate.

    I used to have a tendency to look further ahead and around me to just enjoy the moments. As I get older, I pay more attention to the terrain immediately in front of me, as trips and falls aren’t a good thing at my age. But I’m not looking at foot placement most of the time.

    #3668771
    Arthur
    BPL Member

    @art-r

    This reminds me of two other sports.  In mountain biking, if you look at your tires, its too late.  In downhill skiing, if you look at your skis, it’s too late.  You have to look ahead and trust your brain will direct your body to make the right move. I do violate this when moving very, very slow, like crossing a fast moving stream. Each foot placement is confirmed.

    Similar is treking poles.  When i first started using them, I looked where each one was placed each time. That got old real quick and i realized that was not necessary 99% of the time.

    #3668911
    Geoff Caplan
    BPL Member

    @geoffcaplan

    Locale: Lake District, Cumbria

    Perhaps it’s my advancing age – but while I’m looking a few paces ahead 99.99% of the time, there are occasions on a steep and tricky descent where I do find I’m looking directly at my foot placement, especially when it’s slippy and the placement is sketchy.

    It seems to me that the brain is sending a message saying “sorry – didn’t compute – need a second opinion”.

    Usually happens when I’m tired and having to make a conscious effort to concentrate.

    #3668915
    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member

    @rcaffin

    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    It seems to me that the brain is sending a message saying “sorry – didn’t compute – need a second opinion”.
    Exactly.

    Limestone country: you are looking at your footfall ALL the time.

    Cheers

    #3668919
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    There are some places I watch where I step.

     

    And especially when hiking through fields of Jumping Cholla, which are worse than rattlesnakes. The little pieces that fall off the cacti can easily be kicked up by your shoe and ends up attached to your leg (I almost always wear shorts). The spines are like itty bitty fishhooks and are most difficult to remove. They actually evolved to hitch-hike on passing people or animals. When they are finally dislodged and fall to the ground, they can grow a new plant where they fall.

    #3668924
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    On descents especially in rough, rocky terrain I’m definitely looking ‘at my feet’, which as others have said means, ‘in the vicinity of my feet’. Even on the good trails of the Sierra it’s common for each step, or several steps, to involve an abrupt two or three plus foot drop or gain. Especially going over passes the trail can be very rutted. I can’t imagine not using my eyes to aid in traversing these stretches. As for negotiating off trail talus slopes–yeah of course I look about my feet.

    #3669176
    M B
    BPL Member

    @livingontheroad

    I look one or two feet in front of them usually…. To see where to place them.

     

    I have walked into several trees that were fallen across the trail about head height…. Looking downward my hat hides it from peripheral vision.

     

    Happened 2x on the CT.  Knocked me on my arse both times.  Broke tooth once.

     

    Of course, when running in neighborhood….i close eyes, almost fallen asleep before…..I’ve been known to run into mailboxes and parked cars….

     

    #3669192
    Brad P
    BPL Member

    @brawndo

    Here in VA, many of the trails are so rocky that if you’re not looking down, you will eventually be falling down.

    On trails that are less rocky, you can look around much more.

    #3669193
    matthew k
    Moderator

    @matthewkphx

    In the Sierra and here in the Sonoran desert I have to watch the trail more than I like. It’s always refreshing to hit a smooth stretch where I can pay less attention to the trail.

    #3669197
    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member

    @kbabione

    Locale: Pennsylvania

    Doing most of my backpacking in PA I look down, but not necessarily at my feet, anytime the trail is rocky.  I’ll have to pay more attention the next time I’m out to see where it is that I actually look, but I think it’s a couple of feet ahead.

    On a recent trip walking on a very rocky ridge I was concentrating on my foot placement and walked right into the end of a tree that had toppled over and was jutting out 5’9″ above the trail.  I ripped open my forehead and was lucky (by about an inch) that I didn’t take out an eye.  Scary stuff…

    #3669384
    PaulW
    BPL Member

    @peweg8

    Locale: Western Colorado

    Thanks to everyone who chimed in. Much appreciated.

    #3669807
    AK Granola
    BPL Member

    @granolagirlak

    I thought about this on my day hike yesterday, off trail. Terrain varied from a short bit on slippery boardwalk over tundra bog, then off trail through willow and dwarf birch, then in rocky tundra, then talus. Up and down steep hills. I tried briefly looking directly at my feet and quickly realized I never do that; it actually puts the neck in a terrible position for walking. I’m looking anywhere from 5 feet or so ahead, to 15-20 feet ahead, depending on what is under my feet. If it wobbles or I’m likely to wobble, with a loose rock or tussock, then I’m looking more closely. If it’s pretty steady short alpine tundra, I’m looking more at the landscape around me, with short glances ahead. It’s funny how you don’t really think about this at all; you just go. Then there’s talus…

    Regardless, it is all easier with less weight on the back, the front, and the feet.

     

    #3669819
    Greg Mihalik
    Spectator

    @greg23

    Locale: Colorado

    “Seeing” is not a direct path from your eye to your perception. The world you perceive is the world presented to you by your brain, after significant “post-processing”.

    YouTube video

    Similarly, even though your eyes can see objects, the brain doesn’t always deliver the image to your “perception” because of stroke, neurological issues, priorities, etc. But the brain will still process that information and guide your actions –

    The video [below] shows a [blind] patient due bilateral strokes to his visual cortex. However, when allowed to navigate a hallway filled with impediments, the patient successfully does so without running into them — demonstrating intact navigation in a patient with blindsight.”

    YouTube video

    I believe that looking ahead and consciously letting your brain take over utilizes these same “subconscious” pathways.

    #3670224
    Geoff Caplan
    BPL Member

    @geoffcaplan

    Locale: Lake District, Cumbria

    I was playing with this last night when doing a tricky descent in the dusk.

    What I noticed was that my feet were just about visible at the edge of my peripheral vision, even when I was looking ahead.

    I tried blocking that vision and noticed that I felt a little less confident and balanced. So I think  peripheral vision may play a role, but probably a minor one even in poor light conditions.

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