How To Easily Conquer Getting Up Those Hills

If you hike regularly, you will have no doubt come across at least one decent hill in your time out on the trail.

Some hikers love them, while others absolutely hate them. Especially the hills that seem like they go on forever.

For a long time, I used to dread them.

The thought of staring up at a long, steep hill was something I didn’t look forward to but was something I obviously had to conquer if I was to continue hiking.

And conquer hills I did with a simple little trick.

It was during a hike with my nephew out in the RJ Hamer Arboretum in Olinda where I came up with the idea.

Chances are others do it as well, so it’s probably not all that special.

conquer hills

Anyway, for those of you who are familiar with the Arboretum, there is a fairly steep hill on Mathias Road that leads you back up to Woolrich Lookout.

I don’t believe the track has a name but it’s fairly well-formed as it is a fairly direct way to get back to the main car park.

So, my nephew and I were struggling big time because we were trying to do the hill all in one effort.

After having an extended break, I looked up, picked out a tree nearby, and said ‘right, let’s go to that tree there and stop for a minute, and then pick out another tree a bit further along and do the same thing again’.

Funnily enough, it worked!

Instead of trying to smash out the whole thing in one go, we broke it down into small sections so it was much easier to manage mentally.

It didn’t seem that hard when we looked at it that way and we were able to make it back to the car without feeling mentally exhausted.

So, from now on, whenever you come to a ridiculously steep hill that you have to ascend, pick out a tree, hike to it, and stop for a rest.

Trust me – it makes so much easier!

But that’s my way on how to conquer hills. If you have your own way of tackling them, I would love to hear all about it in the comments section below.

19 Responses
  1. Grant Buchan

    I liken hill walking to driving a vehicle or bike riding. You need to select the correct gear. So I try to maintain the same pace but take smaller steps; the engine speed is constant but being in a lower gear won’t stall it. The same works for going downhill in that I can maintain better control without skidding. Works for me anyway.

    1. John Feeney

      I really like that approach, Grant, and your analogy is spot on. As you mention, the key to it is pace. With my way of doing it, I’m not busting a nut to get to that spot that I have marked out for a rest spot. I know I’ll get there if I eliminate the stress of time and pace out of it. By taking my time, and knowing I get a small reward at each stop, it makes it so much easier.

      Thanks a million for taking the time to read and comment on the article. I really appreciate it.

  2. Shelley

    I seriously dread the hills. I tend to lengthen my stride and try to maintain a steady pace and that seems to help. I stop when needed and don’t put too much pressure on myself as I will get up there eventually. There really isn’t any choice as you are kinda committed once you are out there. I find the use of Two hiking poles on the hills helps also. I see a significant hill, my second pole comes out of the pack.

    1. John Feeney

      Hey Shelley. Thanks for taking the time to read the article and share your opinion. I really appreciate it.

      Similar to Grant, the theme with you seems to be pace. You’re right – there is no need to walk quickly as you know you’re going to get there anyway.

      And two poles definitely help!!!

  3. I do a lot of walking and I have found not looking up at where you have to go helps, I concentrate on about 10 feet ahead of me. I also take slightly smaller steps keeping my posture upright so I don’t waste energy. Generally I try to relax and to breath and enjoy my surroundings with in the 10 feet around me. Great way to pick up on those smaller flowers such as orchids on the track.

    1. John Feeney

      Hi Maryanne! Thanks for taking the time to have a read and respond to the article. I really appreciate it. If hills are something to you really hate, I think your strategy would definitely help take your mind off of it. Particularly, if there are small flowers or interesting wildlife about.

  4. jaq

    I dread hills and tend to avoid them BUT if confronted by one:
    I usually slow my pace and keep my head down, looking probably 5 feet in front and around. When I do look up, if the top looks too far away and I’m panting I’ll stop for a rest. If I’m not panting I’ll keep going

    I like these other options though so will give them a try
    Poles are difinitely a help. I borrowed some for a long hike once and I liked them on the flat too – must get some:)

    1. John Feeney

      Great way of tackling those dreaded hills, Jaq! Did you find that using hiking poles on the flats helped you pick up a bit of speed?

  5. Janet

    I did the 6 foot track from Katoomba to Janolene caves and day 2 on a quided trip stole my confidence on my hill skills lol. I am now learning that I can walk up hills just as well as anyone else when given the time to choose my pace. No it’s not a race I’m the little (148 cm) carriage that said “I know I can” I have to take 2 steps to everyone else’s 1. I’ve found my rhythm.

    1. John Feeney

      Exactly – it’s not a race. In fact, hiking, in general, isn’t a race. I love your mentality with this, Janet. Thank you so much for reading the blog. I appreciate it.

  6. JP

    Let your breathing govern your pace. The trick is to never get out of breath on a hill. Start the hill, slow down as your breathing gets heavier until you’ve got it under control. That way, your legs never get O2 starved. The reason the legs burn is that they’ve got no O2… Unless it’s a steep monster, then a combination of the pick a tree method and the breathing pace method is recommended.
    Oh… poles… poles are awesome.

    1. John Feeney

      Thanks for your response, JP, and for putting a science angle on it. Really appreciate it. I’ll try your method next time I face a monster hill.


  7. Sophia

    When I was 5 I lived in Greece for a while and one of my clearest memories is watching the elderly ladies walking up the hills of the village, sometimes balancing loads of produce on their heads.
    As mentioned earlier, pace is the key but the other thing I learnt when I returned as an adult is the zig zag formation. The walk up, but on an angle. So you’re not taking on the hill by going ‘up’, you’re going ‘across’ it rather. I love a hill but struggle severely! Once I leant to apply the criss-cross/zig zag/diagonal walk up, it changed everything for me! That said, it serves no purpose on a goats track, but anything wide enough to allow at least three steps ‘across’, works. Oh and poles!!

  8. Erika

    When training for hikes, my strength is in hill and stair climbing. For some unknown reason, I seem to find that extra something when going uphill. My pace fastens, I get a rush and I go. I am motivated by reaching the top and always look to the top, not down. Can I add, that my arms play a huge factor in climbing a hill. Just as a sprinter relies on their arms for acceleration, so do the arms help to stabilise our core which enables the hips and legs to work more efficiently. Try it next time you’re training hills. Obviously when your actually out on a hike, you’re not going to swing those trekking poles back and forth with massive force, but you can definitely make those arms work for you. You’re also going to stop and smell the roses. Most of my friends aren’t like me and don’t eat hills for breakfast, so I am definitely going to pass this tip on to them. I have no doubt they will find it very useful. Thank you ?

    1. John Feeney

      Thanks a million for taking the time to read and respond to this blog, Erika. I really appreciate it. You’re correct in saying that swinging your arms does help with momentum and almost propels you forward that little bit more. Which is probably why using hiking poles while hiking allows you to pick up a yard or two of pace.


  9. As much as I bang on about hating hills, I secretly like them (going up, hate going down) A hike would be boring without them!
    Two things work for me. One is the same method you use John; pick out a tree and head for it, take s break, repeat.
    The second takes some serious mind control. I look at the ground a few feet in front and visualise it being flat. Sounds weird but if you can allow your mind to change what you think you’re seeing, it can work! You’ll still puff but you’ll cope better psychologically.

    I always say that everyone can climb hard hills. As long as they go at their own pace. Who cares how long it takes!

  10. Jody

    Breaking up the neverending stairs climbing out of the blue mountains was the only thing I could do. I had to stop myself looking up sometimes. Alot times I work say to myself to have a break in 10 or 15 minutes. I think no matter how you break up the task/challenge it all helps. Like the old adage, how do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time!

    1. John Feeney

      Hey Jody! Yep that’s the most efficient way to knock it. We’re huge believers that hiking is mostly mental and a little physical, and so if you can give your mind a leg up, then we reckon you’ll be able to get through most things – including those tricky, steep hills!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. Means the world.


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