What Is Sidehilling? Essential Tips for Hunters

Every backcountry hunter knows that even with all of the gear and prep, it's you versus nature once you’re in the mountains. 

At MTNTOUGH, we believe that it's a battle for the mind as much as for the muscles, which is why our training programs push your body and mind to their absolute limits — to prepare you for any challenge that comes your way. 

Created with functional fitness top of mind, MTNTOUGH’s programs are for anyone with the grit and determination to push themselves to the next level. We want you to reach your full potential. Whether you’re training for the backcountry, the frontlines, or any other extreme terrain, you’ll need mental toughness and skill for mission success. On most occasions, sidehilling is a necessary component, which is why we’re tackling that topic today. So what does it entail?

Sidehilling refers to the technique of moving laterally across a steep slope. It requires peak strength and endurance while maintaining a steady balance, agility and footing to reduce the risk of sliding or falling — all essential skills for hunters, hikers, and mountain athletes. 

Sidehilling sounds more technical than it is. Basically, it's moving sideways on a slope instead of straight up or down.

A simple definition that’s far from simple in practice. it’s tougher than you think, which is why trekking poles are a must-have. 

It will test your balance, strength, and endurance; the cornerstones of any training prep for the wilderness. Getting the hang of sidehilling and building the muscle strength, endurance, and memory for it can make all the difference.

Below, we'll get into the thick of sidehilling. We'll cover why it's important, the tough stuff you might face and how to sidehill properly on different types of terrain.

Sidehilling while Backcountry Hunting and Hiking

If you've ever headed into the backcountry for hunting or hiking, you might be more familiar with sidehilling than you realize. 

Even if the term is unfamiliar, your natural instincts likely guide you to move sideways on a steep slope, especially in challenging situations. However, sometimes, your brain can steer you in the wrong direction, driving you to choose the seemingly shorter, linear path up or down a steep incline.

It's a mind-body dichotomy that's happening subconsciously since your body has a mind of its own. And while your mind might try to convince you that the quickest way is more efficient, your body intuitively leans towards the path of least resistance. 

Whichever side wins can make all the difference in how much gas you’re left with in the tank. Yet, there's more to it than simply deciding to zig-zag up a hill. If you want to make it for the long haul, you need to completely understand the concept. Start by understanding the inherent challenges.

The Challenges of Sidehilling in the Backcountry

Sidehilling can be brutal, especially when you do it incorrectly. That’s where you hit extreme inefficiency in energy consumed to your output. 

But even nailing your form with perfection, it's going to test your strength, endurance and anything else that measures your physical and mental toughness. Here's the crux:

  • Balancing Act: You're navigating uneven terrain sideways. Every step is a delicate play of weight and balance — one misstep can send you tumbling.
  • Firm Footing: Staying firmly grounded is no small feat. The wild isn't known for its flat, even surfaces. It's on you to find a steady foothold amidst the chaos.
  • Terrain Troubles: Traversing challenging landscapes, which is a common feature of sidehilling, requires agility and adaptability.

Terrains and Sidehilling

Different terrains offer different sidehilling challenges. It’s important to understand this so you can tailor your strategy accordingly. In fact, that’s half the battle won before you even begin.

  • Soft Soil: Soft ground can seem inviting, but it might shift under your weight. Your move? Use your body weight strategically for a secure foothold.
  • Jagged Rocks: Rocky terrain is tricky and needs careful navigation. Go for flat-footed steps to maximize contact and stability.
  • Loose Gravel: On a gravel path, a deeper heel dig can offer better traction and prevent sliding.

Assessing Slope and Angle

It's a no-brainer: the steeper the slope, the harder it is to maintain balance. Before you write off all steep slopes, there's more to consider. Yes, steep equals tough, but sometimes the specifics could surprise you.

  • Gravelly Slope: On a steep, gravel-filled path, lean slightly uphill, using your uphill foot for grip.
    Muddy Terrains: Soft, muddy slopes can be treacherous. Use your trekking poles to distribute weight and provide extra stability.
  • Rocky Slopes: On rocky terrain, place your foot flatly to maintain balance. It's all about being adaptable when necessary.

If the angle is too sharp and the surface unstable, your best action might be finding another way around; however, every steep slope doesn't need to send you packing. Your approach to a slope will make or break your sidehilling journey.

In general, keep your center of gravity low and aim to maintain three points of contact with the ground when possible. 

You can do this by using your trekking poles for balance. This will distribute your weight evenly and aid recovery in the event of a slip.

Remember, sidehilling is a test of endurance, not speed. There's no medal waiting for you at the top. It's about making consistent progress, not rushing to the finish.

Make sure that you take breaks, hydrate, and reassess your path regularly. Let your body guide you. This isn't a race against the wild, it's about becoming one with it.

Why Is Sidehilling Important in Hunting?

In hunting, sidehilling is vital for effectively traversing inclines. This strategy allows hunters to safely navigate steep terrains, promoting energy conservation. Moreover, it enhances stealth, critical when stalking prey in uneven landscapes.

In other words, it's a strategy that is woven into the very fabric of hunting. It's not just about navigation; it's about stealth, safety, and broadening your hunting landscape.

  • Energy Conservation: In the backcountry, every bit of energy saved counts. Sidehilling allows hunters to push through slopes safely and effectively, conserving energy for those long hunting days.
  • Enhanced Stealth: You're moving horizontally across a slope, nearly invisible to your prey. That's the stealth advantage sidehilling brings, which can tip the scales between success and eating tag soup.
  • Safety Assurance: Just like handling your weapon correctly, sidehilling is a fundamental safety skill. It ensures stability on the unpredictable, steep terrains, and can reduce the risk of injurious falls.

By moving laterally across the terrain, you can reach remote areas that are usually overlooked. This expanded range not only heightens your chances of finding game, but also offers an unparalleled outdoor experience — leading you off the trodden path right into the heart of the wilderness.

It bears repeating: sidehilling isn't merely a physical feat — it's a mental battle, too.

Possessing the skills and stamina to master any terrain results in an indomitable confidence. Every MTNTOUGH program is built with purpose to take you one step further in boosting your physical and mental toughness to crush the mountains today and into the future, improving not just your hunting success, but also your safety and overall experience.

3 Tips on Sidehilling Success When Hunting

We know it's tough, so who better to walk you through it than MTNTOUGH? Let's talk brass tacks and discuss three tips that are surefire ways to master the craft of sidehilling.

1. Mastering Your Balance on a Sidehill: 

When you're duking it out with gravity at an angle, the spotlight has to be on balance. At the foundation of balance is your physical prep.

That's a given. To further increase your balance, it's a matter of body position and having the right equipment for the job. 

  • Regular practice is crucial to hone your perception of movement and spatial orientation, effectively enhancing your sidehilling capabilities.
  • Trekking poles are indispensable here, offering third (and sometimes fourth) points of contact, stabilizing your movements. 
  • A slight lean into the hill is essential. Avoid overcompensating — it could upset your equilibrium and intensify the challenge. 

2. Your Feet and Sidehilling: 

Each step is a calculated move. Careful and precise placement of your feet is everything. Whether you're stepping on a rock, grass or compact snow, your footfalls should be deliberate and evenly distributed across your foot, not favoring the inside or outside edge.

Of course, your hunting boots play an incredibly important role in this as well. For instance, if the shank on your boots is too soft, you'll probably feel ankle pain during or after a day of sidehilling. However, if you're wearing stiff boots (stiff shank or insert), they'll help prevent rolling of your feet and ankles. 

With the right boots, you can also make quick adjustments to your laces for different angles and terrains, which is an effective way to keep you more comfortable and prevent your foot or ankle moving.

3. Preparing Your Body: 

Sidehilling is an intensive workout in itself, necessitating physical readiness and mental toughness. Incorporate lunges, squats and single-leg balance drills in your regular workout regime to build strength and stability. 

Not only will these exercises condition your body for the strain of sidehilling, but they will also train your mind for inevitable exhaustion, strengthening your mental resilience. Remember, your body follows where your mind leads — that's why mental toughness is the unsung hero for all backcountry hunters.

MTNTOUGH offers a range of specialized training programs tailored to the unique demands of mountain athletes and hunters. For those just beginning their journey, the MTNTOUGH Gym Foundation is an excellent starting point, designed to lay a solid foundation for backcountry performance in just 8 weeks. 

For more advanced athletes or those looking to hone specific skills just for hunting, check out the entire series of hunting fitness training. Developed by elite hunters, renowned physical trainers, and military fitness experts (Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, etc), the series offers in-depth, function-specific training you’ll need in the wilderness.

Incorporating these programs into your routine ensures that you're not only physically prepared for sidehilling but also mentally resilient for the challenges the mountains present.

Master the Mountain: Sidehilling in Review

Navigating a sidehill: it's not just a skill. It's your X-factor and your advantage. It can get you to those challenging hunting grounds that others might not reach and gives you a unique perspective. This is the core of MTNTOUGH: championing the hard work that takes you to the next level for the long haul. 

Remember the insights from our deep dive into this strategy, where three elements stand out in achieving sidehill success: mastering balance, harnessing the power of your feet and prepping for demanding terrains. 

And it's not all physical. Mental toughness is a major player, which is one way that MTNTOUGH training programs really come into play: delivering a full-package fitness program for mountain athletes that challenge you both physically and mentally..

The best part is you can try every single program and workout at no cost with the MTNTOUGH 14-day free trial. So whether you want to focus on the physical aspect of training for sidehills, or you want to solely work through mental toughness training, you have unfettered access for two weeks.

The hunt is not just about the kill, but also the journey, the climb, the challenge and the triumph over the wild. And mastering slopes? That's a vital part of any backcountry adventure. It's not simple and it shouldn't be. It's a test, a rite of passage for every backcountry hunter. MTNTOUGH equips you with the skills needed to face these mountainous challenges with confidence. 

By choosing to embrace this challenge, you're not just becoming a better hunter. You're becoming a more resilient individual. Develop your skills, transform your hunting experience and conquer the backcountry.