Hiking / Travel

6 Hiking and Gear Tips for Petite Hikers

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“I didn’t know packs came in extra small!” exclaimed a frustrated hiker chick as she revealed to me her bruised hips from carrying a pack that obviously was too big for her.

“I’m stepping more on my pant hem than on the trail!” said a short hiker as she examined the muddy mess that was the bottom of her pants.

Hikers come in all shapes and sizes. Just because you have short legs or a petite body doesn’t mean you can’t be a great hiker. Being petite means you have a small frame. At 5’1″, I consider myself petite. When I first started backpacking, it took me awhile to find things that had the perfect fit, whether it be a backpack or some hiking pants.

I learned everything I know on this subject from experience. Going hiking and backpacking often or doing a thru-hike is the only way to figure out what works best for you. These little helpful recommendations listed below come from years of experience and trial and error.

For Gear

Gear is not always catered for petite hikers. However more and more options seem to be available nowadays for the vertically challenged.

1. Shop in the “Kids” Section

  • If you’re on a budget, the “Kids” section is a great place to look for clothing, especially shirts, socks, gloves, and jackets. Do keep in mind however that not all clothes will fit adult curves. So kid’s pants might not fit a woman’s hips, while a kid’s shirt might not fit a man’s chest.

2. Choose the Right Pants

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  • I do not hike in traditional hiking pants. I actually started out hiking in yoga pants because hiking pants were either too ugly or too long.
  • My recommendations for pants for petite hikers are:
    • pants that “cinch” at the ankle
    • ‘Skinny’ hiking pants that taper at the ankle (pictured above)
    • Capris
    • Fitted yoga or running pants

3. Find the Right Pack

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  • The right pack is crucial for having a great time while backpacking. Therefore I highly recommend trying on a pack at your local outfitter to determine your true size.
  • For me, size XS is perfect. I have exclusively used Gregory’s extra small women’s packs for the past five years.
  • Now, when it comes to finding a pack however, aim for a liter between 45-55 for backpacking. Do not go any bigger, because you are not a big person! The bigger the pack you get, the more you are likely to overload it.
  • Do NOT get a kid’s pack. Kid’s packs are designed for kid bodies. The Gregory XS women’s packs I have used are catered to a women’s body with more cushion in the hips.

To Improve Hiking Skills

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Now just because you have small legs does not mean you will be a slow hiker. I actually am faster than most women, and a lot faster than a person that has never done a thru-hike before. These are my tips on how I gained speed while hiking.

4. Work on Your Stride

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  • When you widen your stride, you increase your speed. However expanding your stride is a process. If you force a big stride on yourself too soon, you may face injury. The best way to gain a bigger stride is to be more aware of it, but please know your limits. When you’re not hiking, I recommend doing yin yoga to open up the hips.

5. Speed Up When Terrain is Easy

petite hiker in alaska

  • Now speeding up on an uphill can be downright exhausting. However if you seem to be straggling along on the trail, and need to get to the trailhead, campsite or town at a certain time, the best way to gain speed is on the easy and flat terrain. If you notice that the terrain is flat, pick up your speed.

6. Boulder / Scramble According to Your Ability and Body

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  • Short people are great at scrambling and bouldering! I do want to stress that you should always choose a route that you are comfortable with and a route that your body can handle. Too many times have I seen inexperienced hikers just mindlessly take the route of their much taller hiking partner. To put it simply, a route for a 5-foot person is different than a route that is best for someone that is 6-feet tall.

Are you a petite hiker? Leave your gear and hiking tips in the comments below!

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