Just before I awkwardly scrambled over that stuff. Just before I awkwardly scrambled over that stuff. This was taken just before I awkwardly scrambled over that stuff. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

What indigenous Amazonians taught me about hiking

Learn how to walk across logs, deal with mud and go downhill without falling.

I hiked a lot in the Amazon rainforest a few weeks ago, and indigenous folks there taught me some useful tricks. Whether you’re planning on hiking through the Ecuadorian jungle or the Israel National Trail, the lessons I learned could be useful to anyone traversing an unusual environment.

Crossing rivers

hiking across a logThey're doing it wrong. (Photo: Aleks Kend/Shutterstock)

If you come upon a river and need to walk over a log, do not, I repeat, do not try to walk across it like you'd walk down a sidewalk. Walking straight forward makes it way too easy to tip to the right or left and fall into the river, at which point everyone will totally laugh at you.

Instead, turn to the side and shuffle like a crab across the log. That way, instead of making your feet into a flimsy line, they form a square, a much stronger shape since you need three points to create a stable plane. Not that the math of it matters. Just take my word for it.


Dealing with mud

boots for hiking through the jungleMake sure the bottoms have some serious gripping ability. (Photo: austrian photographer/Shutterstock)

Hiking boots are wonderful. They're light, they're comfortable and they grab the ground better than almost any other kind of footwear, from sneakers to wacky fancy shoes. But weirdly enough, hiking boots aren't always the best boots for hiking.

If you're in a really wet area – a rainforest, to throw out a completely random example – hiking boots are going to get soaked and slip whenever you inevitably end up sinking up to your knee in mud or falling off a slippery log into a river.

That's why knee-high rubber boots, like the ones in the photo above, are the footwear of choice for people living in the rainforest. You want to get a pair with hiking boot-like bottoms (regular rainboots don't work so well, as I discovered).


Going down dry hills

Climbing "Slaves' Hill" – an extensive copper smelting site dated to the 10th c. BCE in TimnaAn extensive copper smelting site dated to the 10th c. BCE in Israel's Timna Valley. (Photo: Erez Ben-Yosef and CTV Project)

If you're going down a hill with a lot of loose plants, rocks and dirt, walking carefully doesn't help as much as you'd think. It's too hard to tell which ground is solid and which could slip away at the slightest touch, causing you to fall down, at which point everyone will totally laugh at you.

If you can't beat them, join them, by which I mean, slip down the hill. Shuffle down the hill, taking tiny, fast steps. Intentionally slip all along the way, almost like you're surfing. That way, when the ground moves away beneath you, you'll already be on your next step, and you can use the momentum to keep moving forward.


Going down wet hills

Hiking along the Appalachian Trail will grant you this waterfall view in the Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.Hiking along the Appalachian Trail will grant you this waterfall view in the Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. (Photo: D L Ayers/Shutterstock)

If you're walking down a really muddy hill, you might discover that it's incredibly easy to slip and fall in the mud, at which point everyone will really, totally laugh at you. Also, you could fall down a mountain.

So instead of doing that, forget the heel-toe way you normally walk. Instead, make it all about the heel: dig your heels into the mud as you make your way down. It feels strange at first, almost like walking on stilts, but it works.

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