Hands Swell When Hiking: Useful Information

Hands Swell When Hiking

Do your hands get swollen when you exercise or just sit around? Or are they even swollen when you wake up in the morning? Hand swelling is a widespread phenomenon in daily life which many people have experienced at least one time, especially backpackers and athletes.

If you love hiking and usually go on hiking trips, you might face this issue more often when your fingers and hands are puffy like sausages. That may not be dangerous but must be a nuisance during your hike. This article will share with you more information about the issue when your hands swell when hiking and how to treat swollen hands.

Why Do My Hands Swell On A Long Hike?

Before learning how to treat swollen hands when hiking, you should know what causes this problem. In general, when hiking, blood flows more to your heart, lungs, and muscles, less to your hands. That’s the reason why hand swelling happens. Besides, there are other causes for the issue occurring on your hike.

I will give you three common reasons that make your hands swell.

#1 – Heat

Heat is the first common cause of swollen hands. Your body cools itself down by pushing warm blood towards the surface of your skin, where it cools down by sweating. On hot and humid days, this process may not work correctly.

Instead of evaporating through your sweat to cool down, fluid accumulates in your hands, causing swelling. Swollen hands are much more likely when the environment and your body temperature rises suddenly. This issue can happen even when you just sit around and don’t do anything.

Therefore, I highly recommend giving your body one or two days to assimilate to the hot weather before hiking, especially if you live in a usually cold region or country.

#2 – The circulatory system

circulatory system

Circulatory is the main reason that makes your hands swell when hiking. Your hands can swell when you exercise. This happens because most of your circulation is going to your heart, lungs, and muscles as a reaction to respond to the increased energy demand of those body parts when you exercise or go hiking.

However, that means there is less circulation to your hands, causing fluid to build up. According to the research of Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit health company in the US, the amount of blood flowing to your hands reduces, they will become cooler. As a result, all blood vessels in your hands will open wider to respond to this phenomenon.

For a long hike or backpacking trip, you usually have to prepare various stuff and put them all in your backpack. The backpack straps and shoulder straps will help to hold your backpack on your shoulder more tightly. But if your backpack is too heavy with so much stuff inside, they may block the blood flow to your hands, which causes hand swelling.

#3 – Sodium

If you wake up in the morning with swollen fingers and hands, you may be overeating salt. Too much salt, more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day, can cause fluid retention in some people. Most water retention is in your feet and legs, but the fluid can build up in your hands when you are lying down all night.

In contrast, when you exercise or hike, hand swelling is caused by the low-sodium concentration in your bloodstream, which is medically called hyponatremia.

If you are not an endurance athlete but an ordinary person doing light daily exercise, it is nothing to worry about. Hikers have to work out continuously intensively for a long time, so they may be sweating so much, especially in hot weather, which means you are losing too much sodium.

If the amount taken in your body is not enough and you drink too much water when hiking, the sodium level in your body will be diluted to an unsafe level after a long time of sweating. It is when hyponatremia occurs, and one of its apparent symptoms is swollen hands.

Since sodium regulates the amount of water distributed evenly to your body’s cells, without enough sodium, most of the extra water then enters your hand’s cells and makes them swell.

For more information , let’s watch a helpful video on:

How To Reduce Swelling In Hands

Once getting to know what causes hand swelling when hiking, I believe that you can all easily find at least a way to treat it yourself. There are many things you can do to contribute to get rid of this issue.

#1 – Remove all bracelets and rings

It is effortless to take all the bracelets and rings off your hands before exercising or hiking, but many hikers forget or ignore that. After hours of working out, your muscles and all your body’s cells get bigger, so your rings or bracelets on your fingers and your wrist, which fit you very well, might become a little bit tight at that time.

Those tight pieces of jewelry can prevent the circulation to your hands, make them swell and even numb. Although you might realize that issue immediately, taking those pieces off after your hands and fingers already got puffy is challenging. Therefore, remember to remove them all before you start hiking because they are redundant in this case.

#2 – Keep well hydrated and take in enough sodium


For those who don’t know, water makes up nearly 70% of the human body and plays an essential role in circulation. Therefore, if you do not drink enough water, the blood can not evenly circulate to all body parts. Furthermore, drinking lots of water helps flush your tissues of toxins.

As I mentioned above, the amount of blood pumped to your heart, lungs, and muscles is more than that to your hands, which increases water retention and causes your hands to swell. So, drinking enough water will help to narrow the gap and reduce this issue.

Cold and healthy beverages can quickly rehydrate you when hiking, but remember to avoid consuming drinks containing alcohol, caffeine, or carbonation. Besides, juicy fruits like watermelon and grapes are helpful to supply water to your bloodstream.


However, just drinking lots of water while hiking is not enough, or that even makes your hands swell worse. Do you find there is a contradiction here? My explanation for this is that you should keep yourself well hydrated and the sodium amount in your body at a safe level simultaneously.

If you take in lots of water while lacking salt, the sodium in your body will be diluted to a lower level, which leads to hyponatremia and causes you swollen hands. However, either too much or too little are all not good. Consuming too much salt can also make some parts of your body swell, including your hands and feet.

Processed foods contain a lot of salt, so try to remove them from your food list, especially before your hike, to prevent salt-induced swelling of your hands.

Train yourself to have a balanced diet every day if you do not want to endure the discomfort of swollen hands regularly when hiking.

If your hands already swell when you are on your hike, I will show you some easy ways to manage them.

Pumping exercise

To do this exercise, make sure that you are elevating your hands above your elbow while your elbow is just about the level of your shoulder. So that it can circulate back to the heart, and the heart can pump everything back out normally.

There are two parts for this exercise; part A is like a fist, and part B is which I like to call a starfish.

For part A, bring your hands up to the elevated position, spread the fingers wide, pump into a fist and then open your hands again. It is genuinely a pumping movement. Pretend you are squeezing a stress ball, and you want to repeat that movement about ten times.

For part B, you’re going to spread the fingers wide as you can then squeeze them all together. Make sure that you are using all five fingers, including the thumb. Repeat part B ten times.

Retrograde massage

Another exercise that can help manage swelling in your hands and fingers when hiking is retrograde massage. It is something you can do yourself. Have a ten-minute break on your hike to massage your hands, and then the uncomfortable feeling might be washed away immediately.

The key with retrograde massage is that it needs to be a light touch, like imagine that your swollen fingers are butterflies’ wings and are petting them. The lymph vessels need a small amount of pressure to move lymph fluid. So, be patient and gentle.

When doing retrograde massage, it does usually help if you use a little bit of lotion or some cream on your fingers to get the glide. The thumb and index finger of your other hand should be in a position of a pincher. You will start at the very tip of the finger, close to the fingernail, and stroke down the sides nicely and gently.

You should do ten strokes on each finger. Keep in mind that just use a very light force as you are petting a butterfly’s wings. I am sure that you can feel the result immediately after doing this massage. It is effortless but effective, and everyone can apply that tip to manage their swollen hands when hiking.

For more information , let’s watch a helpful video on:

Swollen Fingers While Hiking – Is It Safe for Your Health?

There are many causes for hand swelling when hiking, but basically, they are rarely dangerous. This issue might be a nuisance in your hike, and you can choose to manage it or not. However, in the long term, if this problem continuously repeats, it’s time you should care about it.

Or if you find your hand swollen accompanied by other symptoms, I suggest you visit a doctor right away because it might not be just discomfort but a disease requiring treatment.

Swollen Hands – Is It Safe for Your Hiking Performance?

If you are good at standing, I believe that you can still perfectly complete your hike without being affected by swollen hands. But generally, hand swelling while hiking may be damaging to your hike performance. Although that issue does not go with pain or bleeding, you may feel highly uncomfortable.

Your hike is a long journey, which may last many hours or even some days. So, hiking with swollen hands all the time is not a good idea. It would help if you did something to manage that.

Moreover, hiking is an outdoor activity to improve your mental and physical health, but hiking with swollen hands and sausage fingers may make you look unhealthy and not fine at all. This nuisance might make you distract and slow your hiking speed.

When a person has a hurt leg, he can not focus on anything else but this leg. So, your swollen hands will draw all your attention and make your hike less enjoyable. Therefore, if you want to have a perfect hiking performance, try to immediately prevent and treat this issue.

Hands Swell While Hiking Vs. Hands Swell While Walking

Generally, the phenomenon of swollen hands when you walk or hike is quite similar. However, there are still some differences which you should notice about that. I already shared with you information about hand swelling while hiking, and now, let’s see how it is different from that issue when you walk.

Lack of arm motion

A cause of this phenomenon when you walk, which is different from that when you hike, is the lack of arm motion.

Although your legs are the most-used part when you hike, your arms still move as the continuous movement of your body. Some hikers may use trekking poles to support them through rough and challenging trails; it’s when their arm muscles are used at high frequency.

But when you walk, it’s just an easy activity that requires less energy than hiking, and your arms slacken. That lack of arm motion when you walk may cause hand swelling.

Electrolyte imbalance

Hiking and walking are both activities that require endurance. However, hiking is a way to work out, which demands more energy and also makes you sweat more. Meanwhile, for many people, walking is a way to relax and rewind.

Therefore, your hands are more easily swollen when hiking due to the electrolyte imbalance than when you walk. It is necessary that you bring some drinks that contain electrolytes with you when hiking or on backpacking trips, especially in hot weather. Meanwhile, just pure water bottles are enough for a walk.

The seriousness

You may see your hands are swollen worse and more seriously when you hike than when you walk. Although this issue may happen whenever you exercise, you may face this issue more often when you hike than when you walk. So, I suggest you care more about it when you do intensive exercise.

One more note for you, when you hike in parks or forests in Asia or North America, you might come across a plant called poison ivy. If you unintentionally let your swollen hands touch this plant, your skin will itch and turn red. That feeling is very uncomfortable, so be very careful when hiking with swollen hands.


How do I stop my fingers from swelling while hiking?

You can do many valuable ways to prevent your fingers from swelling and manage them when it happens. I also give you some; you can keep them in mind and practice when necessary. But the most helpful way is to have a healthy and balanced diet and life. Care more for your body since every symptom reflects your health condition.

Do all people’s hands swell while hiking?

Not really, but most hikers face this issue during their hike. It is a normal and common phenomenon, and you do not need to worry too much about this, provided that you know how to manage it so that it will not affect your hike and your daily life.

Is hand swell when hiking dangerous?

Generally, it is rarely a danger to your health. You may only find it as a nuisance on your hike. But when it comes to other symptoms like pain, I suggest you visit a doctor for treatment.