Why Do My Hands Swell When I Hike: The Ultimate Guide

When hiking, your entire body is doing amazing things, using all your physical and mental strength to get to the end of the hiking trails. Many people expect sore muscles and joint pain during or after a hike. But you might not be familiar with yet another side effect of hiking – the swelling of your hands and fingers.

If your hands swell during a hike, it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you. The swelling usually happens because of excessive perspiration, excessive amounts of water in the body, or even tight jewelry. We can tell you more about why hands and fingers swell and how to prevent that swelling. So, let’s get right into the guide: Why do my hands swell when I hike?

What Are the Reasons Why Your Hands and Fingers Swell During a Hike?

There are several reasons why your hands and fingers may swell during a hike. Even though the swelling is usually not painful, just a bit uncomfortable, you should know what is causing it. That way, you can think about how to stop it.

We want to tell you about the most common swelling causes during hikes. If you suspect any other reason for your swelling, consulting a doctor might be a good idea. But for now, let’s stick to the most common causes of hand and finger swelling.

1. The Unusual Use of Your Body

If you have ever hiked before, you must know that even the most straightforward trails require a higher physical and mental preparedness than regular walks. That means that your body will need more energy and more activity from all the muscles. As a result, the body stirs away from its usual function and starts sending more energy and blood to the muscles.

As your muscles, lungs, and heart use up most of the blood in the body, little of that blood is left for the hands. That lack of blood flow to the hands will result in swelling and discoloration. This unusual body function is normal during activities like hiking, so it should not worry you.

2. A Tight Backpack

Backpacks are a must-have for most hikes, especially the longer ones. Many people tend to overpack, which leads to them carrying a heavy load on their backs during the entire trip. That would be okay if they have quality backpacks that are correctly fitted, but if they don’t have that, some issues may arise.

A poorly fitted backpack can cut the blood flow to your entire arm and cause swelling in the hands. So, it’s a good idea to think about whether your backpack is causing discomfort and if you can do anything to change this.

3. Tight Jewelry

Are you wearing many rings, bracelets, or even a wristwatch with a tight band during your hike? You might not be aware of this, but these things might be causing some of the swellings in your hands.

We already mentioned that hiking by itself can lead to unusual body function and swelling. Combining that with some tight jewelry can lead to even more swelling and some discomfort.

4. Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia is a more severe condition than some of the others mentioned. Namely, Hyponatremia appears when the sodium levels in your blood become so low that the body cannot work properly anymore. This often leads to swelling in the hands, but it can also cause headaches, fatigue, or nausea.

This same condition can appear if you have too much water in your system. Too much water and not enough sodium can quickly make hikers feel drained. So, you must pay attention to the amount of water and sodium you allow to get into your body during exhausting hikes.

What Happens in the Body That Leads to Swelling in Hands and Fingers?

Now that you know some of the common causes of swelling during a hike, we want to tell you more about what happens in the body that makes the swelling occur. Knowing this can help you limit and prevent swelling when you go hiking in the future. So, let’s get right into it.

1. Impaired Blood Flow

Impaired blow flow can happen due to two things.

The former is that you might be carrying a tight piece of jewelry, or your backpack straps may be too tight. Both these things can impair the blow flow to your arms. This is a common problem, especially with beginner hikers who do not know that something like this can cause swelling.

The latter is that you might be carrying too much weight on your shoulders. That will strain your back, shoulder, and neck, but it will also cause problems with the blood flow. You might even experience muscle straining and posture problems because of it. Consider packing your backpack with only the necessary things for your next hike and leaving the other stuff behind.

2. Fluid Build-Up

Fluid build-up is another common problem leading to hand and finger swelling. It’s usually connected to an increase in the centrifugal force in your body. But what does this mean?

When hiking, you might not even be aware that you are moving your hands too much. Having your hands flap around can lead to fluid build-up in the fingertips and swelling in your entire hand.

The same fluid build-up can happen even if you keep your hands still without moving them too much. In both cases, you can help yourself and avoid the swelling by keeping your hand movements in mind and controlling them as much as possible.

3. Sodium Imbalance

As we mentioned before, not having enough sodium in the blood can lead to swelling. The low sodium levels are often paired with excess water in the body. That high level of water in the body dilutes the sodium in the blood and can lead to swelling of the blood cells. The swollen blood cells will lead to swollen hands and fingers.

Is This Swelling Dangerous in Any Way?

Swelling of the hands and fingers is a common problem, especially with hikers. Although it’s rarely dangerous, you should be mindful of the symptoms you are experiencing.

If you are experiencing nothing more than hand swelling, the chances are that there is nothing to worry about. Try to relieve yourself of anything tight, remove the heavy load if you carry any, and drink more electrolyte drinks during the hike.

You should be more worried if you are experiencing other symptoms simultaneously with the swelling. Fatigue, nausea, or confusion can point to a bigger problem. If you experience any of these symptoms and see that the swelling is not going down for an extended time, consider talking to a doctor and doing several tests.

How to Prevent Hands and Fingers from Swelling?

What happens if your hands and fingers swell in the middle of a hike, where you have no one to turn to and no quick access to medical help? You will have to help yourself.

You can only do that if you know some of the few effective ways to avoid hand and finger swelling and save yourself from unnecessary worrying. Here is what you can do to prevent swelling in your hands and fingers.

1. Limit Intake of Water

Hiking, especially on hot summer days, can dehydrate a person quickly. Dehydration is not pleasant at all – it can lead to severe headaches and dizziness. You will try to feel better by drinking more water, but drinking too much can also cause problems. It can lead to overhydration, but it can also cause Hyponatremia.

This is why you need to limit the amount of water you drink during a hike. An adult needs about 0.5 liters of water per hour when hiking, while children need a bit less than that. Keep this rule in mind and try to follow it whenever you hit a hiking trail. No matter what season or weather you are hiking in, following this rule is a good idea.

2. Consume Electrolyte-Rich Drinks

In case of Hyponatremia, or if you feel drained, it’s a good idea to drink an electrolyte-rich drink. There are a ton of great electrolyte drinks that will keep you hydrated and help you keep your sodium levels balanced. In addition, a drink with some lemon juice in it can help you get that much-needed energy boost.

As we mentioned before, you must not overdo it with these drinks. You need about 0.5 liters of the electrolyte drink per hour. It’s a good idea to carry this type of drink and a couple of water bottles during your hike, to have the option to switch between them whenever you want to.

3. Engage Your Hands and Arms

To avoid fluid build-up, impaired blood flow, and an increase in the centrifugal force in your body, you need to be mindful of how much you are moving your hands and how you are moving them. An occasional stretch of your entire arm is recommended, while you can also do hand rotations.

Experienced hikers recommend that you use hiking poles – they can make hiking so much easier while keeping your hands engaged. They help you get to that balance between moving the hands too much and not moving them enough.

Trekking poles come in all shapes and sizes; they are made from various materials and in so many different colors that you will surely be able to find some that you like. When you find the ones you like best, we recommend that you invest in them and use them during all your hikes.

4. Avoid Wearing or Carrying Tight Things

Remember those tight pieces of jewelry we mentioned previously? Why don’t you leave them at home when you go hiking again – that way, they will not cause any swelling with their tightness, and you will not have to worry about possibly losing them on the trail.

Jewelry is not completely necessary during a hike. Still, if you are set on wearing some, make sure that it’s loose enough so that it doesn’t cause any problems. Adjust your wristwatch strap or the bracelets to fit your hand perfectly, and you will be good to go!

Last Update: 03. May 2022
About the Author

My name is Thomas, and I love the outdoors. I'm currently living in Germany and I would like to encourage my readers to go outside with this blog. Here you can read more about me.