The Rest Step: an essential technique for any mountain climb

Our concise video for How to do The Rest Step.  It's a simple technique, but it is easy to get wrong.  Make sure you're doing this technique correctly to save as much energy as possible on your climb.

The Rest Step is a fundamental technique for any mountaineering pursuit.

From simple hikes to standing on top of Mount Everest, the rest step is the most important skill you can employ to reduce energy output and improve your chances of success. For long, endurance based climbing and ski mountaineering objectives  It is essential for efficient movement on terrain with any sort of incline. 

Watch the video, then review the principles described below.  Hit us up with any questions: info@blackbirdguides.com

Climber's tackling Pisco Oeste using the Rest Step in Peru's Cordillera Blanca range.

Perfect terrain for the rest step! Here climber's put the rest step to use tackling Pisco Oeste in Peru's Cordillera Blanca range. Photo: Zeb Blais / Blackbird Mountain Guides.

Principles of the Rest Step:

  1. The idea is that you rest for a split second each step.  This tiny energy savings may not seem like much in your first ten steps, but after hours of ascending you will notice the difference between Rest Stepping and walking normally.
  2. The Rest Step can be used on inclined terrain, and works best on moderate to steep hiking or "mountaineering" terrain. Here we are considering hiking / mountaineering terrain to be terrain where you are standing upright, hiking or climbing primarily with your legs. If you are hunched over or on terrain that is steep enough to require continuous use of your hands for upward movement, then you won't be able to use the Rest Step.
  3. The Rest Step CANNOT be used on on flat terrain or descents.
  4. The rest step links resting positions with a quick movement of the legs.  It's not just slow walking!  It's fast walking with defined rest periods in between steps.
  5. The Rest Step is different than normal walking!  With the rest step, instead of carrying your momentum as you walk, your stride is broken down into alternating resting positions. 
  6. Your skeleton bears the weight of your body and your pack.  Position your body to rest on your locked out (straight and plumb) downhill leg.  Your uphill leg is bent and rests on your uphill foot, but bears no weight.  It simply provides an additional point of balance while the weight remains on the locked downhill leg.
  7. Each time you step, your new foot placement must be solid.  If it is not, when you go to step up on it you will slip.
  8. Body Position is critical.  Your must keep your body standing tall, straight upright so that all of your weight rests on the locked downhill leg (have I said this enough yet?).  If your posture is slouched, you will weight your uphill leg and that will engage your leg muscles, costing you precious energy.  Likewise, if you lean on your trekking poles or ice axe, you will engage your arms, shoulders and/or core and take a toll on your energy reserves.

 

A climber putting the Rest Step to use on Mount Shasta. The Rest Step is a technique that saves a tiny amount of energy every time you step.  Over the course of a long climb this really ads up!

The Rest Step is a technique that saves a tiny amount of energy every time you step.  Over the course of a long climb this really ads up! Photo: Zeb Blais / Blackbird Mountain Guides.

How To Rest Step

  1. Begin on a moderate to steep slope in a resting position (with one leg straight and the other bent uphill from it). 
  2. As you settle into this position, make sure that your uphill foot (on your bent leg) is planted in a solid position.  It should not sink into the snow, slip off a rock or root, slide on gravel, etc when you step up.  It will take some experience with different types of terrain to be confident with this, but be  aware of where and how you place that upper foot and it will become easier with experience.
  3. Take the step!  This is a quick movement.  Many people get this part of the rest step wrong by simply moving slowly from one rest to the next.  The step part is ALWAYS quick.  You vary the pace at which you ascend by making the rest period longer or shorter in between movements.  Step up by extending your uphill leg so that it is straight while simultaneously bringing your previous downhill foot up and placing it in front of you to create a solid platform.  In snow this will mean kicking into the surface to cut a platform and sometimes stomping the snow down a bit if the snow is soft.
  4. Now you should be in your new rest position, with your new downhill leg locked out straight and your new uphill foot positioned on a good platform. No weight should be on your arms or uphill foot.
  5. You can check yourself with the Karate Kid Test (I just thought of this now, but think it makes perfect sense!): 
    1. Lift your arms and your uphill foot at the same time.
    2. If you had to shift your body position significantly to do this, you failed.  You are putting too much weight on your arms and uphill leg.
    3. If you can do this without shifting your body significantly, Success!  You're rest stepping like a champ!
  6. Pause in this new position for a split second before repeating the process.
  7. Repeat 10,000-250,000 times or until you reach the summit.  Congrats you're on top and you feel great!

4 comments

  • Lets ski! Great content and photos!

    kim yamauchi
  • Amazing stuff! 250k times

    Mark
  • All bout those rest steps

    Coby
  • wow these people have to balls doing this i would never

    Michael DeFren

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