Best Yoga Poses for Hikers and Backpackers

Learn how to use yoga for hiking. Here are the best yoga stretches & poses for hikers to warm up, prevent injuries, and stay pain-free on the trail.

Woman doing a quad stretch on trail before a hike

A regular yoga practice has a lot of great benefits, but one of the biggest benefits I’ve noticed as a yoga instructor is when I’m out on the trail. Yoga has made me a stronger and more confident hiker and backpacker. My practice has also undoubtedly prevented common hiking injuries that many hikers face, like strains and sprains.

I think many people are put off by the thought of yoga because they envision sun salutations, headstands, and chanting at sunrise on the summit of a mountain. But yoga can be something much simpler, like a set of basic stretches that can be done anywhere, even at base camp. In fact, this is my preferred practice!

So if you’re looking for a way to keep your body ache and injury-free, in the post, I share simple yoga poses that you can do before, during, and after your hike. Think of them as a way to help protect your body from the wear and tear of long days out on the trail.

Pre-Hike Yoga Poses

Before I head out on a hike, I like to warm up and stretch my muscles with a few simple poses. Here are some of my favorites to start with:

Cat-Cow

Why it’s great for hikers: Cat-Cow gently stretches your chest and back and brings more flexibility to the spine so you can be more mobile on the trail.

How to do it:

  1. Start on hands and knees in a tabletop position.
  2. Take a deep breath in and lift your chest and chin to look forward into cow pose.
  3. On the exhale, round your back up towards the sky and drop your chin in towards your chest into cat pose.

Low Lunge

Why it’s great for hikers: Low lunge works to open up the hips and quads and is a great pose for building strength in the lower legs.

How to do it:

  1. Step one foot forward in between your hands and lower your back knee down to the floor.
  2. Bend the front knee more and bring your hands up on your hips or stretch your arms overhead if you feel steady.
  3. For a bigger stretch that helps to strengthen your ankles and knees, lift your back knee off the ground into a high lunge.
  4. Hold here for 3 breaths and repeat on the other side.
A woman does a low lunge on a yoga mat in her living room
Low Lunge helps open up the hips, lengthen the quads, and build strength in the lower legs

Standing Wide-Legged Forward Fold

Why it’s great for hikers: Standing wide-legged forward fold stretches your calves and ankles, hamstrings, inner thighs, chest, and shoulders. More flexibility in these areas can help prevent injuries and improve the range of motion when hiking.

How to do it:

  1. From standing, step your feet out wide and stretch your arms out to the side.
  2. Fold forward to touch the floor and grab your ankles or big toes.
  3. Firm the muscles of your quads to protect your hamstrings as you fold all the way forward and gently release your head down.
  4. Optional: add a shoulder stretch by clasping your hands behind your back and reaching your arms overhead.
  5. Hold here for 3 breaths.
A woman does a wide forward fold on her yoga mat at home
Open up your hamstrings with Standing Wide-Legged Forward Fold

Save this post!

Enter your email & I'll send this post to your inbox! You'll also receive my weekly newsletter full of helpful advice for planning your adventures.

Save Post

Yoga Poses To Do During Your Hike

While you’re hiking, the calves, hamstrings, and quadricep muscles are doing most of the work and tend to get really tight. For some people, including me, this can cause pain in the ankles, knees, and/or lower back.

Here are my favorite yoga poses and stretches to do when I’m out on the trail:

Calf Stretch

Why it’s great for hikers: Stretches out calf muscles and opens up ankle joints, helping to prevent cramping and sore feet.

How to do it:

  1. Place the ball of your foot on a rock or anything slightly higher than ground level and draw your heel down toward the ground to stretch your calf muscle.
  2. To intensify this stretch, step the other foot forward and press your back heel down more, leaning forward slightly.
  3. Hold here for 3 breaths and switch sides.
A woman does calf stretches while hiking
Stretching your calves can help prevent cramping and tightness

Thigh Stretch

Why it’s great for hikers: This stretch lengthens the quadricep muscles and releases the lower back, reducing back pain during or after a hike.

How to do it:

  1. Stand on one foot, using a tree for balance if you need and grab the other foot in your hand behind you.
  2. Gently lengthen your knee down towards the ground for a simple quad stretch and stand up tall.
  3. Hold here for 3 breaths and switch sides.
A woman does quad stretches while hiking
Stretch your thigh muscles to prevent hip and lower back pain

Standing Wide-Legged Forward Fold

Why it’s great for hikers: Standing forward fold stretches out the calves, ankles, hamstrings, inner thighs, chest, and shoulders – basically all the muscles you use when hiking!

How to do it:

  1. To stretch your hamstrings, repeat the same pose from before, standing wide-legged forward fold for 3 breaths.
  2. By clasping your hands behind your back you can stretch your shoulders and chest and give your head a gentle shake yes and no to release the muscles of your neck.
A woman does a wide legged forward fold while hiking

Post-Hike Yoga Poses

Post-hike yoga poses should be gentle, restorative, and relaxing. Below are four easy, but effective, stretches I like to do after hitting the trail.

If you’re feeling particularly tight, I recommend grabbing a foam roller, tennis ball, or other self-massage tools to help loosen up those tight muscles.

Downward-Facing Dog

Why it’s great for hikers: Downward dog releases the low back muscles and lengthens the hamstring and calf muscles. Both of these muscle groups tend to be ‘problem’ areas for many hikers.

How to do it:

  1. Start on your hands and knees.
  2. Engage your core and lift your knees up off the mat then slowly press your heels toward the floor.
  3. Drop your chest down through your arms and lift your hips to the sky.
  4. Stay here for five breaths.
woman doing downward dog yoga post on mat
Downward-Facing Dog is one of the most restorative yoga poses

Foot Stretches

Why they’re great for hikers: Foot stretches Loosen up the muscles in your feet and encourage blood flow to your ankle joints, getting you ready for your next hike!

How to do them:

  1. Interlace your fingers in between your toes and slowly rock your hand back and forth for a gentle stretch.
  2. Do this once or twice on each foot.
A woman sitting cross-legged on her yoga mat in her living room
Treat your feet to some post-hike TLC with simple stretches
  1. Then, sit on your shins and curl your toes underneath you for an even bigger stretch in your feet.
  2. Hold here for 3-5 breaths as long as there is no pain in your toes or feet.
  3. If you have a tennis ball, roll it in the arch of your foot for a minute or two on each side.
A woman sits back on her heels on her yoga mat at home
Stretch out the soles of your feet by sitting back on your heels

Low Lunge Thigh Stretch

Why it’s great for hikers: Low lunge thigh stretch relieves tight quads and hip flexors, both of which tend to be tight for hikers.

How to do it:

  1. Stand a few feet away from the wall and fold forward to touch your toes. Do this once or twice on each foot.
  2. Reach your left leg back behind you until it reaches the wall and slide your knee all the way down to the floor.
  3. Place both hands on either side of your right foot and either stay here or bring both hands up to the right knee. The closer your back knee gets to the wall, the deeper the stretch, so do what feels best. If you have sensitive knees, use a blanket or a thick yoga mat for padding.
  4. Inhale and stay here for 3-5 breaths then switch sides.
A woman does a low lunge thigh stretch at home
This deep thigh stretch will help open up your hips and front of your legs

Legs Up the Wall or Couch

Why it’s great for hikers: Inverting your body after a hike helps increase circulation throughout your body. It’s also a really nice way to rest those hardworking legs and feet!

How to do it:

  1. If you have open wall space, bring your legs up against the wall or stack a few pillows on the couch to lift your feet up overhead.
  2. Wherever you are, make sure your hips are all the way up against the wall or couch and allow your arms to relax to the side or grab opposite elbows overhead for a nice stretch in the chest, arms and shoulders.
  3. Hold here for at least one minute, or longer if you like!
A woman lays on a yoga mat on the floor with her legs raised on the couch
Invert your body to increase circulation by raising your legs above your head

FAQs about yoga and hiking

Why is yoga good for hikers?

There are a lot of reasons yoga is great for hikers! Here are four reasons I practice yoga as a hiker and backpacker:

1. Reduce the risk of injury.
As much as I hate to admit it, the aches, pains, and injuries I’ve acquired over a lifetime of being outside don’t always get better when I’m hiking. Sometimes, they can even get worse. Maybe you can relate, but this is a frustrating place to be and as much as I’d love to push through these aches and pains, I know from both education and experience that pushing through isn’t the right way to deal with stress and injuries. Practicing yoga regularly helps keep those aches, pains, and injuries at bay, so I can spend more time outside doing what I love.

2. Build strength
Yoga poses aren’t just simple stretches. They actually help build strength and lengthen muscles, which are both critical for maintaining a healthy range of motion in your body. Yoga has made me stronger, which I’ve noticed translates to the trail.

3. Improve stability and balance
Along with building strength, practicing yoga can also improve stability. As an avid hiker, I know how important stability and balance can be on a trail. Without balance, especially with a heavy pack, we’re prone to falling, rolling ankles, and getting fatigued.

4. Increase flexibility
Lastly, practicing yoga for hiking can greatly increase flexibility, which helps reduce muscle aches and strain on and after a hike.

However, it’s important to also include strength-building poses in addition to stretching poses because too much flexibility without muscle strength can actually lead to injury.

Do I need to stretch every day?

There’s no hard and fast rule for how often you should stretch or do yoga. That being said, if you’re looking to see improvements in strength and flexibility, I do recommend stretching before, during, and after each hike as I’ve outlined above. If you have the time – and motivation – to do more, a regular yoga practice will reap even more benefits!

Can I still do yoga if I’m not flexible?

Yes! For some, the idea of doing yoga or even just stretching is somewhat intimidating if you have “tight” or stiff muscles. One of the biggest arguments that I hear from people against stretching is, “I’m just not flexible!” and my answer to that is, “forget about flexibility”. Everybody is different and it isn’t always the flexibility part that matters. Some are born hyper-flexible, while others are not and many are right in the middle — the key is to find what works best for you.

It’s more important to have a healthy range of motion in your body that allows you to be outside and pain-free for the long term. I don’t know about you, but I am aiming to be that 80-year-old out there crushing it and I’m relying on my yoga practice to help me make it happen.

I assure you that small changes do make a difference and add up over time, so try to make these stretches and yoga poses as routine as brushing your teeth or tossing an extra granola bar in your bag. It can really be that easy.

What is a good yoga app I can use for hiking poses?

I really like the app Down Dog. It does require a paid subscription ($10/month or $60/year) but I love all the different options you can choose for your practice. Set the timer anywhere between 10 and 80 minutes, choose different voices and music for your practice, select the style of yoga you want to practice (like Vinyasa or restorative), and add ‘boosters’ to work on specific muscles like quads or the lower back.

If you want a free yoga resource, Yoga With Adriene has a lot of great free videos.

Are you an experienced yogi or are you just starting out? What are your favorite ways to practice yoga for hiking? Share with us in the comments below!

Pinterest pin for blog post about best hiking poses for hikers and backpackers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 Comments

  1. I also find my yoga practice to be very complimentary to hiking preparation. One thing I would add: I find that balancing postures such as Tree or Warrior Three are very helpful in building strong and flexible feet, ankles and legs. I think these, along with the rest of my yoga practice, definitely help me hike injury-free (I’m in my mid-40’s).

    1. Hey Cindy,
      I’m so glad to hear that! I absolutely agree with you that practicing standing balancing poses like tree and W3 are wonderful for strengthening and stabilizing the lower joints and muscles. There’s nothing like a good yoga practice to keep you healthy and hiking for the long run. Namaste! 🙂

  2. Low lunge is one of the easy beginner’s postures that stretches your hips and groins. This is also the most effective yoga poses for wider hips. However, people who are suffered from a knee injury should avoid this posture.