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Sore Calves After Hiking: How To Treat & Avoid 2023 

Do you want to avoid having sore calves after hiking? I bet most of you have experienced the muscle fatigue and aches that usually come with a well-deserved hike up the mountains.

It makes you wonder if hiking is really for you if it’s such a painful experience as it may take you days to recover. Don’t worry if this sounds like you.

Tasha, an adventurer enthusiast, has got your back (and your calves!).

In this guide, you can expect details on the leading causes of calf pain after hiking, ways to prevent it, and remedies to set you up for an enjoyable hike.

These are all the things I wished someone had shared with me when I first started hiking 15 years ago. So, let’s get to it, folks!

How To Treat & Avoid Sore Calves After Hiking

Tip 1: Know Your Ability

Tip 2: Plan Your Route

Tip 3: Hydrate Every Chance

Tip 4: Fuel Your Body With Nutrition

Tip 5: Stretches That Help (pre, during, and post hikes)

Tip 6: Carry The Right Gear

Tip 7: Guidance On Footwear

Tip 8: Learn Right Hiking Techniques

Tip 9: Pack Pain Relief Medications/ Creams

Tip 10: Grab A Companion

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Some of the links here are affiliate links, and I may earn if you click on them, AT NO EXTRA cost to you. I hope you find the information here useful! Thanks.

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What Causes Tight And Sore Calves After Hiking 

In the absence of trauma, calf pain and tightness can be common in hikers and usually happens in the soleus muscle (in the lower part of your calf). 

This muscle attaches to your heel bone and forms part of the Achilles tendon. It is mainly active during activities like walking, jumping, or running. 

1. Build Up Of Lactic Acid

During a hike, there may not be enough oxygen to break down your blood sugar, glucose, and glycogen, especially in your calves. 

Any person that has pushed themselves slightly above their usual activity level has felt that ‘burn.’

That burn, also known as lactic acid, is a vital component in the body as it aids in concentration during exercise but can also cause calf muscle pain after hiking. 

That can undoubtedly put a damper on your exciting hike up that mountain. 

Other side effects from too much lactic acid build-up range from rapid breathing to nausea and stomach pain.

2. Not Stretching Enough

Another reason you have sore calves from hiking and struggle to move is the lack of stretching before, during, and after a hike. 

So, what exactly does stretching do for your body? 

Well, it loosens up your muscles and tendons, which will be under significant pressure. It helps to increase blood flow and range of motion, improving overall endurance as you embark on your journey.

Many people (including me!) disregard the benefits stretching provides. This is despite the fact that it only takes a few minutes because we often get complacent, but it always comes back to bite us in the end.

3. Overexertion 

The definition of overexertion is when you push yourself beyond your capability. 

In an activity like hiking, it’s easy to underestimate the trail, weather conditions, and hiking techniques required. 

While you may love a good hike like me, it doesn’t always mean you can sign up for weekly hikes without first training to improve your stamina and endurance. 

Just like any other sport, muscle conditioning is essential here

You want to take things slow and not rush into anything strenuous. Trust me; you would like to avoid calf pain while hiking at all costs.

You may never know when overexertion will hit you and, in some cases, cause a complete standstill to your beloved hobby, hiking.

4. Your Current Physical Condition

Everyone’s body is built differently, and so is everyone’s exposure to fitness. 

That said, you need to be aware if you have to take special precautions before hiking. If your doctor has advised you to steer clear of hiking, please listen to their advice.

You could risk a life-threatening injury, putting you in a dangerous position when you are in the middle of nowhere on a trail. You cannot assume that medical professionals will be able to reach you on time.

This is why it’s important not to push yourself beyond your limitations so that you do not suffer from super sore calves after hiking.

5. Injury

You might need to assess whether it’s a common muscular ache around your calves or something more severe like an injury.

Take note that some injuries could be pre-existing and are further exacerbated by your current hiking adventure.

Seeking a medical professional who can advise you accordingly and work on a treatment plan together.

How To Prevent Sore Calves When Hiking 

Tip 1: Know Your Ability

It might seem tempting to copy other people’s hiking feats from social media. But overdoing it can worsen your hiking calf pain even more.

For example, suppose you already suffer from bouts of knee/ leg pain. 

You may need to come to terms with the reality that you won’t just be leaving the hike with sore calves but possibly debilitating muscular aches that can last for weeks. 

So always be your advocate, even if others may want to push themselves during a hike!

Tip 2: Plan Your Route

Another way to prevent hiking pain from your calf is to plan your hiking trail. Look up reviews from previous hiking enthusiasts, such as on TripAdvisor, who have shared their tips and tricks for climbing that particular route.

Arm yourself with a GPS Tracker to ensure you stay on the trail even if your cell phone battery dies or there is no cell coverage.

Don’t forget to also take into consideration the weather forecast. A simple route on a bright sunny day may be beginner friendly. 

However, unpredictable weather changes can put even the most experienced hikers at risk.

Consider packing a hiking raincoat and some sunblock to ensure you are not caught red-handed during those instances!

Tip 3: Hydrate Every Chance 

It is easy to forget how dehydrated you can become when you are pumped with adrenaline while hiking. This can significantly impair your muscle performance. 

Dehydration also doesn’t allow the brain to function at an optimum level leading to poor judgment calls, which can cost you your life if not monitored.

On average, adults must drink at least two cups of water for every hour of hiking. 

So get a lightweight hydration pack for your next adventure, so you have no excuse not to drink up.

Tip 4: Fuel Your Body With Nutrition

The best foods you want to eat before and during a hike is one that gives you a  good boost of energy instead of weighing you down. 

Instead of those sugary snacks and fatty food, consider foods with complex carbohydrates and protein. It can help you last beyond the hike as well as help you repair those sore calf muscles.

Some food you may want to consider bringing along:

  • Fresh fruits (bananas, apples, oranges, etc.)
  • Mixed nuts
  • Dates 
  • Cold pasta salad
  • Tuna/ chicken sandwiches

For more nutritional options, check out 27 Day Hike Lunch Ideas. It even has options for those of you who are vegetarian!

Tip 5: Stretches That Help (pre, during, and post hikes) 

I remember being so excited at the foot of Mount Kinabalu that I just wanted to start my hike without stretching. 

Thankfully, I had a dear friend who cautioned me against it. 

The 10 minutes I took to stretch out my sore calf muscles after hiking proved to be an absolute lifesaver going up those 4095 meters.

Consider reaching your hiking destination a little earlier than expected. So you can squeeze in the following stretches, which are suitable for both before and during your hikes. 

Standing Quadriceps Stretch

Focus Area: Quadriceps, hip flexors

Step 1: Stand tall with shoulder width apart. Try to grab your right foot and pull it towards your butt using your right hand. 

Step 2: Tuck your tailbone and make sure your knee points straight down to the floor. 

Step 3: Try to hold for at least 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.

Straight-Leg Calf Stretch

Focus Area: Calves, hip flexors

Step 1: Stand tall with shoulder width apart. Extend your right leg straight back. Place your heel flat on the ground.

Step 2: Gently push your body forward from your pelvic area. The front knee should be directly over your ankle. 

Step 3: Try to hold for at least 30 seconds. Switch the legs up and repeat.

Half Split Stretch

Focus Area: Calves, Hamstrings

Step 1: Kneel with your right knee directly under your right hip. Your leg should be fully extended in front of your body. Your left foot should be flexed during this time.

Step 2: Feel the stretch in the back of your left thigh as you walk your hands along your left leg. 

Step 3: Fold the torso over the left leg. Bending your knee will help deepen the stretch in your calves.

Step 4: Hold for at least 30 seconds. Switch the legs up and repeat.

Don’t forget to perform these stretches again as you rest during your hiking break. You may want to add some basic shoulder rolls and leg swings to get the blood and oxygen moving in your joints.

Check out 13 Best Post Hike Stretches That Really Work once you have completed your hike to prevent sore legs after hiking.

Tip 6: Carry The Right Gear

While packing extra food and extra gear is essential, there might be cases where you might be carrying too much, and this can put a strain on your poor calves.

The Essential Female Backpacking List provides excellent guidance on which hiking gear to pack. 

This way, you never have to be saddled with a heavy backpack, and it greatly prevents you from having calf pain after hiking downhill.

Tip 7: Guidance On Footwear

 Purchasing the proper footwear boils down to two crucial elements which are:

  • Comfort

Your shoe has to fit your toes and legs comfortably. Avoid borrowing as ill-fitted shoes can cause you a lot of misery. There are many reasonably priced options for hiking shoes that you will be spoilt for choice.

Another simple way to help blood flow to your legs and reduce soreness is to consider using compression socks during your hikes.

  • Support

The type of footwear you choose should also depend on the hike itself. For example, I wasn’t prepared for how rainy Mount Kinabalu would be. I ended up losing a toenail, thanks to improper footwear.

So, choose one that goes the distance with features such as adequate ankle support for river passing or rubber soles that helps you walk across muddy terrain and prevent calf pain from hiking.            

Tip 8: Learn Right Hiking Techniques

Most people underestimate how challenging hiking is because they assume it’s just like walking, a skill most people already possess. 

But rather than going up a steep slope upwards, you may want to consider the zig-zagging technique to decrease the gradient on those steps.

Honestly, I wasn’t aware that hiking downwards would be much more challenging than hiking upwards. The strain on your knee and calves can be brutal when not done right.

Ascending and descending during a hike with good techniques allow you to move faster without exerting extra physical and mental effort, and soon, sore muscles after hiking will be a thing of the past.

Tip 9: Pack Pain Relief Medications/ Creams 

Check with your doctor on which painkiller to bring along on your hikes to help relieve calf pain. These pain relievers can work anytime from 4 to 12 hours once applied.

There are also fast-acting sprays that can reduce sore calves after walking uphill or sore calves after walking downstairs, which you can easily pack in your hiking bag for use anytime. 

Tip 10: Grab A Companion

Let’s admit it, hikes are always more fun with a friend or loved one. It can boost your morale during those more challenging ascents. 

More importantly, they can remind you to do your stretches when you are caught up with the hike. This person can even serve as an ad hoc masseuse if you happen to be writhing in pain and need those pain-relieving massages.

But, let’s not forget that they can also be your lifeline during an emergency, especially if you cannot move after getting sore calves after walking for so long.

How To Relieve Sore Muscles After Hiking

1. Ensure Active Recovery

One remedy for having leg pain from walking too much is to do light exercises which can range from any of the following:

  • walking
  • swimming
  • yoga
  • light stretching

Ensuring active recovery prevents the build-up of lactic acid, boosts your blood circulation, and helps remove toxins. These light workouts can help you focus on different muscle groups to ensure optimum health.

2. Easy Home Treatments

If the pain seems manageable when you arrive home, you may want to consider any of the following methods to help relieve the pain:

  • Rest  – If the pain is severe, consider taking a break from any form of physical activity and rest as much as possible.
  • Ice – Apply ice packs for 20 mins to the area every few hours. Do this for the next 3 days to aid in muscle recovery.
  • Compression – Get compression socks or wrap the area with elastic bandages to keep the swelling down.
  • Elevation – Gravity can help move the fluids out of the area and towards the rest of your body. Keep your legs raised for at least 20 minutes every few hours.
  • Soak – Put a few tablespoons of Epsom salt into a bucket/ shower tub filled with warm water and soak your calves for at least 20 minutes. Repeat as required over the next few days.
  • Massage – A handheld massage gun can also help to provide instant relief by giving comfort to your deep tissues and reducing some of the lactic acid build-ups. 

You may also want to consider getting a light stretch or massage from a foam roller to increase muscle flexibility so that it helps you recover faster.

3. Seek Medical Help

If you are in extreme leg pain after hiking, speak to a healthcare professional, as prolonged/ severe pain may indicate something more serious. 

You may also need medical care if you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Blisters, sores/ open wounds on your calf area
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Cold sweat

FAQs on Sore Calves After Hiking

Is It Normal To Be Sore After A Hike?

Yes, it is normal to be sore after a hike, if you have been doing a lot of ascending and descending trekking. Any part of your body from the hips down is fair game for soreness if you jump into more demanding hikes than you’re used to. 

It’s important to acclimatize your body before any strenuous physical activity.

Does Hiking Work Your Calves?

Yes, the muscles worked during hiking are the quadriceps, calves, glutes, hamstrings, abs, and hip muscles. If you want to work your arms and build your upper body strength, consider using trekking poles during your hikes. 

This can turn into a full-body workout that significantly improves your cardiovascular health.

What Helps Sore Calves After Hiking?

Foam rolling is another way to help alleviate muscle knots and improves overall discomfort when it comes to your calf. It can also boost your blood circulation around the area and encourage better lymphatic flow. 

It is perfectly safe for someone to do this daily, before or after a hike up the woods.

Conclusion

Now, time to say goodbye to sore calves after hiking using the guide above! Always treat your body like a temple by ensuring you have made adequate preparations before you venture on your trail. 

Remember, only you will know your limits – not anyone else.

I hope you enjoyed the recommended tips as you rekindle your love of the great outdoors.

Let me know in the comments below if any of these solutions have worked for you. Or maybe you have other topics/ questions you’d like to see on the blog that could benefit the hiking community. 

I’d love to hear from you!

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