Why Do My Hands Swell When I Hike? [Explained]

Sometimes, hiking can make your body feel strange. It may be the weight you are carrying on your back, the improper shoes, or your uncomfortable clothes that make you feel like that. But sometimes, things happen within your body that can cause that feeling.

I admit that seeing my hands swell up freaked me out when I started hiking. If you have experienced the same thing, do not worry. You are not alone in that sense! But once I started reading and learning more about the causes of swelling, I understood what was happening.

Today, I want to tell you why your hands swell when you hike and how you can stop the swelling. You should always keep in mind these things, so I encourage you to read with the utmost attention!


hike in the nature

Why Do My Hands Swell Up When I Go Hiking? - Possible Reasons

It is not uncommon to suffer swelling in the joints when hiking. Sometimes, it happens because you are climbing to higher altitudes. Other times, there could be things influencing that swelling.

This is nothing to worry about, as you can stop the swelling by doing a few simple things. But before I tell you all about how to control the swelling, I want to tell you more about the things that cause it. So, here are some of the reasons you might be experiencing hand swelling:

Impaired blood flow

The most common cause of hand swelling is impaired blood flow. This cause appears when a hiker carries a heavy load on their back or, rather said, when they have a heavy backpack. What usually happens is that a hiker makes the shoulder straps so tight that it cuts or impairs the blood flow to the hands.

You will see that your hands swell and become darker if you do this. The backpack can also cause you to have sore muscles in the back or hands. It can be pretty uncomfortable to feel pain in your whole upper body, so you should always be careful with your backpack straps.

Sodium imbalance

Sodium imbalance is another thing that can lead to swelling of the joints. If you are on a hiking trail, you have to be careful about your sodium levels and sodium intake.

There is something called hyponatremia, and this condition occurs in people who do not have enough sodium in their bodies. That leads to sodium imbalance and swelling. What usually causes that imbalance is a low level of sodium and too much water in the system.

Still, you should know that this condition is not very common. The people who have it usually have another underlying condition like liver or kidney problems, heart failure, etc. It could be good to seek medical attention if you suspect you have hyponatremia.

Allergic reaction

Allergic reaction is another thing that can cause swelling of the fingers, hands, and other body parts. This is one of the more severe things because some allergic reactions demand that you use a particular medicine. If you have any kind of allergic reaction, you should always seek medical attention immediately!

Some people do not even know they have specific allergies until it becomes too late. On hiking trails, you can sometimes brush upon things like poison ivy, or you may get in contact with an insect.

If you know you have allergies and you suspect you might get a reaction on the hike, you should take the needed medicine and shots. You should be prepared for the worst because a medical crew may not be able to find you on the hiking trail that quickly or easily.

Increased centrifugal force

Another reason you may be experiencing hand swelling is increased centrifugal force in the fingers and hands. This means that you may be moving your hands too much when hiking. By doing that, you are causing fluid retention in the hands and fingers. That can lead to swelling.

The biggest problem occurs in the circulatory system of your body. The body can exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide between the organs, but it cannot remove the remaining fluids. If you do not make your movements as regular as possible, you will worsen the problem.

Some people do not think that the way they move their hands can make a big difference. But when you pair the movement with the high altitude, pressure, and muscle contractions, your hands can quickly get swollen.

hiking in the summer

How Do I Stop My Hands From Swelling When Hiking? - Quick Solutions

As you have seen thus far, several factors can cause swelling in your hands. That can turn your backpacking trip into an absolute nightmare, especially if you do not know the exact cause of the swelling. You may think you need to stop hiking, but you actually need to think about how to prevent the swelling!

There are several simple things that you can do to prevent swelling. If everything goes well, you should spend the trip without swelling problems. So, let’s see what to do to stop your hands from swelling:

Adjust backpack straps

The solution is simple if you feel like your swelling is due to impaired blow flow. You should check the backpack straps and see if they are too tight. Make them tight enough to keep the backpack on your back but not too tight to impair your blood flow.

If you find that your hands and fingers hurt because of the swelling, consider stopping, putting the backpack down for a few minutes, and giving your hands a gentle massage. Once you adjust the straps and massage your hands, they should go back to normal.

It is better to be safe than sorry! Many guides online can help you adjust your straps to perfection. I recommend that you look into them and use them before going on your next trip.

Get electrolyte drinks

Electrolyte imbalance is easy to spot as it has side effects aside from the swelling. If you experience headaches or start blacking out, that is a sign you need more sodium in your system. You also need enough water, so think if you are overhydrated or dehydrated in that particular situation.

To ensure enough salt in your system, you should snack on salty things or drink electrolyte drinks during the hike. Aside from your regular water bottle, consider getting some sports drinks or electrolyte-rich water. These may not be the healthiest things ever, but they will prevent swelling.

I would like to point out that you need to be careful about the number of fluids to drink during hikes. Water retention can also cause certain issues, so be mindful of how much water you drink. Even though electrolyte water and drinks are great, you do not want to overdo it.

Hand exercises

Hand exercises can be great when you are dealing with swelling. From the moment you start hiking, think about your arms and hands. If you feel swelling or numbing, start moving them around.

I recommend that you raise your hands to the sky and keep them like that for a minute. That will allow the fluids to move from the hands to the rest of the body, and that will help reduce swelling.

Another thing you can do is massage both your hands and fingers. Especially when you are on longer hikes, you can forget to think about arm movement, which can cause swollen hands. You should do some exercises like turning your wrists, moving your hands up and down, and other things that make you feel good.

Engage your arms

 Finally, I recommend that you try to keep your arms engaged in a good way. You do not need to do anything special with them; keep them moving with regular movements and a steady pace.

You can always get a hiking pole or two. They will help you during the hike while still keeping your hands engaged. As you are hiking, you will be able to exercise both arms and legs. Any kind of physical activity is good for you, but this is one of the best ways to get a nice toned body.

You can also get yourself a fitness tracker, put it on your arm, and let it measure your calories and your heartbeat. It will keep you occupied and will stop you from thinking about the swelling in any case.


I hope that this guide taught you a lot about why you get swollen fingers and hands when you hike. I went over some of the most common reasons and symptoms, but you might find that other symptoms cause your swelling. There is no need to panic – there is always a way to make things better!

Let me know in the comments below if you have ever had swelling in your hands or fingers during a hiking or trekking trip. Share your tips on dealing with these things and what you have found to work for your body. I would love to read all about it!

Andrew Mullen

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