The Best Ankle Brace For Hiking and Backpacking
My ankles have been weak for 20 years. Both of them. My left ankle got hammered when I had the bright idea to try long jump in high school. In the first track meet of the year I took off down the track at a full sprint and leapt into the air. I heard official yell 'scratch' and went back into the lineup to await my second jump. After coming down the track again at a full sprint, I was ready to unleash the biggest jump ever seen at Helena High School. Unfortunately, when jumping off my left foot it buckled under me and I fell screaming into the sand pit. That jump put an end to my short lived high school track career, and created problems I will deal with for the rest of my life. I ran into more ankle problems in college, where I routinely sprained both ankles every single time I tried to play basketball without using dual ankle braces. At one point I sprained one so severely that the doctor said "We will x-ray it, but its probably pointless since it looks broken". Fortunately, it didn't end up being broken.
Fast forward ten years and I was still taking athletic tape with me backpacking in case I tweaked an ankle. After a few years of not needing the tape, I quit taking it with me. In 2018 I was backpacking with some friends off-trail in the Beartooth Mountains. We hiked 4k of vertical up and over a pass to find a lake that was rumored to have golden trout. We had to navigate a steep snowfield to get down to the lake. After a day of fishing, we turned in for the night. Everyone was a little nervous about having to climb the steep snowfield in the morning. Our plan was to eat breakfast and fish some more while we waited for the snow field to soften up. On the way to the base of the snowfield, my ankle gave out while crossing a boulder field. My friends heard my ankle pop and turned around as I fell to the ground in pain. I hobbled over to a small creek filled with runoff ice water and iced my foot for a few minutes, wondering how I was going to make it out. One of my friends noticed I had some duct tape and electrical tape wrapped around my fly rod case. I had taken that tape with me for years to use for repairs but had never needed it. I needed it now! After wrapping my ankle with the tape, we commenced boot packing one by one up the snowfield, kicking in steps as we went. It took me twice as long as the others but I finally made it out. After spending the night at a neighboring lake, we hiked out the final six miles to the truck. The tape saved me several more times as my weakened ankle attempted to buckle again. Upon arriving home, I unwrapped the tape to reveal a severely bruised ankle.
The following week I went in for a physical therapy session. My therapist told me that my arches were so high that my feet and ankles were extremely susceptible to rolling. He said that even if I had surgery to tighten up ligaments, the foot would likely just roll again and I would be right back at square one. It was at that point I decided I would never go out on a trail again without taping or using a brace on my ankles - both of them.
As I had another 5-6 day backpacking trip lined up in less than a month, I immediately began researching an ankle brace that would work with my hiking boots. I settled on the ASO brace. After I received it, I wore it to work to help stabilize and reduce swelling. The brace broke in immediately and was comfortable from the onset. After a few painful weeks of hobbling around, I decided to go ahead with my trip. I was a little nervous but decided I would only go as far in a day as my body would allow. On day one, I only made it 3.5 miles before I had to call it a day. It was very frustrating to be in a tent taking a nap by noon! The second day I left early and went slow. After reaching my destination lake, I settled in for a few days of fishing and rest. Ultimately, I was able to complete a twenty mile loop with about half of the mileage off trail in rough terrain. The brace kept me going over boulder fields and loose gravel. My body gained strength as the trip continued. On the final day, I day hiked a mile up into a glacier carved valley to check out some new lakes, and then turned around for the hike out. The final day ended up being nine miles, a length I had never envisioned being possible when I was hobbling down the trail on day one. The best part was the brace was extremely comfortable; After twenty miles I didn't even have a hot spot, let alone a blister.
Fast forward two years - I have been using the ASO ankle brace now on both ankles, still without any hot spots or blisters. They have protected both ankles from countless sprains and turns. Many times my ankles have started to turn on a rock or root, only to be saved by the brace. The mishaps still hurt, but they leave me still able to walk instead of writhing in pain on the ground like before. In hundreds of miles of hiking and backpacking with the brace, I have only truly turned my ankle once with the brace. In that instance, I was walking around my truck after hiking and stepped in a hole covered with grass.
The ASO brace is superior to other braces I have tried. Other braces use only laces, which can break or the metal eyelets can strip out. The ASO design has two methods of stabilization. First, you lace the brace to tighten it. Then you wrap the strips around in a figure eight pattern, much like you would with athletic tape. Finally, you lock everything down with the Velcro strap. The ASO brace is made of lightweight and durable CoolFlex material. That being said, you still need to wash it every few days on the trail to keep it smelling fresh. It dries out overnight if you hang it properly.
With two decades of ankle problems behind me (and dozens of sprains), take my word for it. The ASO ankle brace is amazing! I will be using my two ASO braces on every single trip going forward.
Shop ASO Ankle Brace - Check price on Amazon
Note that some ankle injuries can be avoided with proper strengthening exercises. It was my opinion and the opinion of my therapist that braces would be the best solution to keep me healthy out on the trail. Braces are not meant to take the place of good common sense while on the trail. If you are trying strengthening exercises, consider taking a brace with you in your pack in case you have an incident. Be prepared out there!
Here are a few products that might help mitigate injury and keep you from needing a brace down the road.
Wobble Cusion - Check current price on Amazon
Resistance Bands - Check current price on Amazon