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Hiking Strap /Toestrap tension

GBR Team sailor and European Champion Micky Beckett has written this article for us...

"The most under-rated control line on your ILCA/Laser, is your hiking strap/toestrap adjustment system. I’ve seen all kinds of systems that don’t really work and a handful that just about do. What a working system can offer you is real controlover your boat and an ability to transfer power from your kinetics through the boat into straight line speed.

So, let’s get down to it, how tight or loose should your toestrap be?

Unfortunately the answer isn’t neat and tidy, it’s all very circumstantial. The tension you want will depend on how tall you are and how strong your ankle fibres are, what leg of the course you’re on, how windy it is and possibly the sea state.

Let’s go through these factors one by one:

  1. How tall are you?

Broadly speaking, the taller you are the tighter you want your toestrap, with anyone above the 6’2 mark probably wanting a very tight toestrap nearly all the time. For everyone else a good adjustable toestrap system is essential. People who come in at 5’6 or less need a lot of slack in their toestrap so they can still generate adequate righting moment. A nice rule of thumb is that the gunnel of the boat should be half way between the back of your knee joint and bottom of your bum. A looser toestrap will cause your knee joint to be too close to the gunnel and visa-versa with a tight one. If you’re not sure, get a friend to snap a photo of you doing your finest few seconds of hiking!

  1. Do you have ankles made of steel?

Even I don’t. I’ve raced against people with really tight toestraps and tried to copy this thinking it would be a good idea, but it just wasn’t for me – it gave me really bad ankle pain and pins & needles after tacking. This is not how it should be! Realistically the longest you may be on one tack for is 10 minutes, by the end of which your ankles (not to mention quads, abs and hip flexors) will be crying out for relief, that’s okay, but don’t ignore too much pain. If you’re losing any sensations in your feet then loosen off the strap. Equally if the top of your shins are getting sore from curling your toes then you could consider going tighter.

  1. Where are you on the course?
  • Upwind is where you need the most righting moment, and dependent on your height as mentioned previously a looser strap may be required.
  • On the reaches what you need is some righting moment and a lot of control – you need to be able to sit up and move your weight into the boat fast, this is to keep the boat quick and flat and avoid rolling to windward, for this a system you can tighten up as you go around the windward mark is very useful.
  • Downwind if you’re in the habit of hooking your back leg around the toestrap you will feel more locked in if the toestrap is bar tight.
  1. The breeze and the sea state?

Anything above 14kt and you want the maximum leverage available, this means your body being as far out the boat as possible, but hips not low and getting hit by waves. If you can’t hold your body up then consider tightening your toestrap. As the breeze drops from ‘maximum power conditions’ this is where it gets interesting. A tight toestrap can be really beneficial when it’s ‘marginal power’ conditions, when you’re sat up hiking.

Over-flattening the boat (rolling the boat to windward) can be costly, but if your strap is tight then you can be locked in, able to do kinetics and effectively transfer power from your upper body through the boat, without the risk of over-flattening the boat. Also when there’s a big swell, such that at the top of the wave there is a lot more power than the bottom, a tight toestrap can be really beneficial when the lull and the trough come along, so you can stay in control of the heel of the boat at all times.

A compromise will be needed in really gusty conditions – for example how tight to go on a 5 – 15 knot day? Something to maybe discuss with others!

 Ultimately it’s always a trade-off between righting moment vs control. Insufficient righting moment can be particularly punishing when lane holding in breeze, but the added control of a tighter strap can have huge benefits. It’s never worth maintaining a posture or position that punishes your joints, hiking is painful but that pain should be reserved for your muscles.

It took me years to reach the point I’m at in the photo. I’m a long way out the boat – I’ve got plenty of leverage, but I’ve also got high hips so my body is well clear of the water and I can exert very powerful kinetics through the boat. Toestrap tension will determine what hiking position you can achieve, I highly recommend spending some time considering different tensions and experimenting. Photos taken outside the boat are incredibly valuable to compare what you feel with what’s actually going on."


GBR Team sailor and European Champion Micky Beckett is sponsored by Southeast Sailboats.  Southeast Sailboats new hiking strap adjustment system may be just what you need to get this under-rated control line under control!