Hiking through the golden years of life is a great outdoor activity, but there are a few considerations for backpacking when you are older that you should know.
Are you worried about being "too old" for a backpacking trip? Do you want a simple stroll around your neighborhood but don't know where to get started? Before you head out for a hike, there are several things that you need to know, especially when you are older.
From planning for the hike to preparing your body, you need to get ready for the backpacking trip before it starts. And as you hike, you need to take care of yourself by staying hydrated and listening to your body. But your considerations for backpacking do not end with the hike.
Many people often think of hiking as an activity that only young and sprightly people can try, but in reality, hiking makes a great hobby that people of all ages can carry out. Moreover, since you are primarily in control of how much effort you put into hiking, it is one of the very few activities that you can start at any age. However, you need to keep in mind certain considerations for backpacking when you are older.
After extensive research and collaboration with experienced senior backpackers, we have compiled a guide with some valuable insights that cover all the considerations for backpacking when you are older.
Key Considerations For Backpacking - Before the Backpacking Trip
Your age should never be a limiting factor, but when you are older, you just can't pick up your backpack and start the trip. There are several things that you need to keep in mind before you hit the trail so that your trip is not physically or mentally challenging.
Get in Condition Before You Start Your Trip
For almost all sports or physical activities, it is crucial that your body is in proper condition, and that's also the case with hiking.
If you are a senior citizen with a sedentary lifestyle, you need to start working on your body to get it moving, so you are prepared for the strenuous hike. Remember, you don’t want to set out on a five-mile hike if you haven’t worked up to that distance. Without adequate prework, you will injure yourself and might be a liability to others on the trail.
As a senior hiker, you need to start conditioning your body so you can develop your pace and your fitness level improves so you can cover the distance conveniently while enjoying the hike.
Do Your Research
So you have decided to go hiking but do you know the trail?
Hiking trails can be categorized into different groups based on difficulty levels. The three common categorizations are easy, moderate, and challenging.
Before you choose a trail for your backpacking trip, it is good to do your research and choose a track that aligns with your fitness level. If your fitness level is moderate, you should opt for an easy or moderately challenging trip as choosing a challenging trail may be longer or have steep elevations that can be strenuous for you.
Carry a Topographical Map
Electronic maps are great. They are readily available, and you can easily download them on your cell phone; however, it is never a good idea to solely rely on electronic maps as electronics may fail and batteries may die.
Fortunately, there is an alternative that most people don't consider using these days, and that is a paper map. Make sure you always carry a paper map along with any electronic device that you are using for navigation. With a paper map handy, you keep from getting lost as you know where you are.
Check the Weather Forecast
Before you head out for any backpacking adventure, make sure you always check the weather forecast. It's not only highly recommended, but we deem it mandatory for many instances as changes in temperatures can affect older hikers and travelers tremendously.
Excessively high temperatures can lead to severe dehydration and result in heatstroke, whereas lower temperatures can be equally dangerous and can lead to hypothermia. Similarly, a recent snowfall, rain, thunderstorm, flood, or lightning can affect your trail and your ability to hike on it.
Therefore, before you start your backpacking trip, it is critical for you to check the weather and plan your backpacking trip accordingly.
Invest in Proper Shoes and Gear
Backpacking trips often involve long walks and hikes along uneven trails. And since you are on your foot most of the time, you should invest in proper shoes and backpacking gear.
It's best that you go for trail shoes as they have a different sole that offers protection against stone bruises. Moreover, they fit properly and support your foot against problems such as twisted ankles, which can take a long time to recover, especially when you are older.
Apart from the shoes, you also need to invest in backpacking essentials such as a tent and a sleeping bag. If you are an older backpacker, make sure you choose brands that offer good quality and comfort at an affordable price.
Over time, as people age, their bodies tend to weaken, and their ability to carry a load diminishes. Therefore, one of the key considerations for backpacking when you are older, is packing light.
Packing light starts with the investment in a lightweight backpack. Any backpack that weighs over 2.5 pounds might become really heavy when fully loaded, so make sure you choose a lightweight backpack. Moreover, also opt for lightweight flashlights. Instead of investing in super heavy flashlights, you can go for lighter ones. Furthermore, leave behind everything that is bulky, and you don't need it on the trip.
Some of the essentials that you need to have for your backpack trip include.
- A tent,
- Sleeping bag,
- Kitchen supplies and food,
- Stove and fuel,
- First aid and any other medications that you take regularly, and
- Water bottles.
Depending on the terrain and your ability to carry the load, you can pack your backpack. However, we recommend it to be below 15 pounds.
Don’t Forget Your Medications
If you are on regular medications, you need to get in touch with your healthcare practitioner and inform them about your increasing physical activity before you head out for the trip.
If you are taking pain-relieving medications, you might have to modify the dose to accommodate for the changing physical activity that can intensify the pain. Moreover, also check with your healthcare practitioner about the diuretic effects of any medication that you are taking as it can significantly increase your risk of dehydration, especially during the warm months of the year.
So before you head out for your next backpacking trip, don't forget to get in touch with your doctor.
Key Considerations For Backpacking – During the Backpacking Trip
Once you have prepared your body, completed your research about the trail and the weather, adequately packed your bag, and consulted your doctor, it's time to hit the trail.
However, there are several considerations that you need to keep in mind for backpacking, especially when you are older.
Don’t Hike Alone
Perhaps the most important thing that you can do for yourself is to avoid going on a backpacking trip alone. You might want to enjoy the peace and serenity of nature on your own, but the problem when you are older is that anything that can happen on the trip is likely to have more severe consequences for you. A simple problem such as a twisted ankle can turn out to be a major problem for senior citizens. Similarly, you can easily get dehydrated during the trip, and sometimes, getting dehydrated quickly can even be life-threatening.
Moreover, extensive physical exertion can also lead to medical situations that, if not treated in time, can be exacerbated manifold.
A better alternative is to rely on the buddy system when hiking or backpacking, especially if you are a hiker over 50. Remember, there is always a little more safety in numbers. Apart from health concerns, a backpacking trip can bring several safety concerns, including attacks from wild animals such as bears and lions. These animals are less likely to attack a group of hikers, but an alone backpacker may turn out to be an easy meal for any of these wild animals.
So the bottom line is don’t hike alone.
Be Sure to Have a Communication Device
Now that you know that backpacking in a group makes a safer alternative, there is something more to enhance your safety, and that is a communication device. Make sure that someone in your group has some type of communication device that can be of help in case of any emergency. While you might not expect to have an emergency, certain things are beyond your control. Some people may break down in the middle of the hike, and the only way out is a rescue. But you can't get rescued in time if you don't have a communication device.
Depending on where you are backpacking, you can find three different means of communication which include cell phones, GPS, and satellite phones.
Cell phones make a convenient choice, especially when you are within the range of a cell phone tower, but you may not get any cell phone signal on certain trails. Moreover, cell phone batteries may die out, which is why it is great to have alternative forms of communication such as GPS or satellite phones.
GPS-enabled devices connect directly with satellites, and some of them have one-way email capability, which allows you to get help whenever you need it.
Lastly, satellite phones allow you access to two-way communication. But if you are investing in a satellite phone, know that you will have to purchase minutes for the phone to work. Moreover, these minutes expire, so you don't have to buy too many minutes. Furthermore, it is important for you to carry a list of emergency numbers and not rely solely on your phone's memory, as phone batteries may die.
But here is a problem with satellite phones. They are old push-button phones, and not many young backpackers would know how to use them, so if you are carrying a satellite phone for your backpacking trip, you need to ensure that someone else in the group also knows how to use it.
You don’t have to be the only one who knows how to make an emergency call using a satellite phone.
Trekking Poles Are a Must-Have
When you hit the trail, trekking poles are a must-have. And you don’t only need to have them but you should also use them because they can prevent you from several problems.
Many older individuals have trouble balancing their bodies, and even when you are someone who doesn't have balance issues, trails can be uneven, which is why it is always recommended to use trekking poles. They offer great support and keep you upright, especially when the terrain is uneven or when there are water crossings.
Moreover, the use of trekking poles helps take off pressure from your knees and allows you to conveniently walk on an uneven surface.
Furthermore, having a trekking pole also facilitates you as you steep downhills. Trekking poles serve as breaks for an easy descent. And they also provide you with adequate support when you need help going uphill.
Trekking poles are surely a plus, and there’s no reason why anyone, especially older backpackers, shouldn’t use them.
Keep Yourself Hydrated
When you are on a backpacking trip, you are more likely to sweat regardless of the weather. But then you would already know that, right? But things are different when you are older. Older individuals are more likely to get dehydrated than younger hikers, and there are several reasons for that. As you age, there are changes in body chemistry that leave older adults with less fluid in their bodies. Moreover, seniors are more likely to take pain-relieving medications or other medications for chronic health conditions that can substantially increase their risk for dehydration. So given that seniors already have conditions that make fluid retention a problem for older hikers, you must watch out for signs of dehydration before it gets serious. Some of the symptoms of dehydration to watch for include muscle cramps, fatigue, and headaches.
As a recommendation, you should consider a third of your body weight and drink that many ounces of fluid every day. So if you weigh 165 pounds, you should drink at least 55 ounces of water every day but remember these numbers are for normal, everyday circumstances. Of course, when you are on a backpacking trip, you tend to lose a lot more fluid, so you need to replace it by keeping yourself hydrated.
But as you sweat on the trail, your body not only loses water but also loses electrolytes. Since the human body is complicated and there needs to be a delicate balance of water and electrolytes, you can try adding electrolyte tablets to your water bottle. Adding electrolyte tablets or powder will help you replace lost potassium, sodium, and magnesium and will also help you stay hydrated.
Get Enough Energy
When you are on a backpacking trip, know that you are on your foot most of the time on demanding trails, and hiking is one of the few physical activities that can burn a load of calories. So just like you have to replace lost fluid to maintain balance in your body, you also need to replace lost calories so you can get enough energy that can keep you going.
And if you are wondering what to eat on the trail, you can eat anything that you want. But make sure you opt for healthy, high-calorie food that's packed with nutrients such as nuts and seeds, protein bars, and dried fruit. Remember, you need food that has good nutritional value and provides the fuel you need to keep going, so make a wise choice.
Apply Lots of Sunscreens
A great share of damage from sun exposure to your skin occurs when you are young. But that doesn't mean your older, thinner skin is not susceptible to harmful UV rays. Extensive exposure to sunlight makes your skin more susceptible to the harmful UV rays of the sun. Therefore, it is integral that you take adequate measures to protect your skin, such as using a broad-spectrum sunscreen. A water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen (that protects against both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of 30 or higher is a must-have on your backpacking trip. Moreover, you can also keep a wide-brimmed hat for better protection against the damaging rays of the sun.
Keep a Check on the Weather
While we recommend checking the weather forecast before you start your backpacking trip, that's not the only thing that you need to do. As you start your backpacking trip, you also need to be vigilant about the weather. In case the weather starts getting warmer or cooler, you need to take adequate measures as bodies with a half-century of wear need a lot more time to recover from weather changes.
Avoid Going Off-Trail
If you are on a backpacking trip, you would have researched the trail and how challenging it is but one of the critical considerations for backpacking when you are older is that you should avoid going off-trail.
While many adventurers would love to go off-trail and enjoy the wilderness of the woods, sometimes off-trail adventures can bring a few surprises of the unfortunate kind. Therefore, it is never a good idea to spend nights in the woods with unfamiliar terrain.
Listen to Your Body
The most critical consideration for backpacking when you are older, especially when heading out in the summer heat, is that you should listen to your body. When your body is telling you to slow down, you should slow down, and when it tells you to stop, you need to stop. Continuing to ignore your body's signs can lead to severe consequences. So if you feel a cramp coming on, do not push yourself and continue walking. Instead, immediately stop and drink some water. Moreover, if you have been hiking for quite some time, there may be an electrolyte imbalance in the body that you can correct using a potassium tablet with water or by eating a banana.
You must watch out for warning signs such as excessive sweating, shortness of breath, or fatigue, which indicate that you need to stop and take a break. Make sure you find yourself a shaded place to sit for a while and take some time to figure out what your body needs before you continue with your backpacking trip.
Sit in the shade and take a minute to figure out what’s going on and how to nip it in the bud.
Key Considerations For Backpacking – Following the Backpacking Trip
If you keep in mind the above-mentioned considerations for backpacking when you are older, you are likely to have a wonderful trip, but ending the trip doesn't mean there's no more work to do. There are still a few considerations that you should keep in mind so you can quickly and easily resume your everyday life following a backpacking trip.
Stretch After a Hike
Your body has worked really hard on the trip, and it needs some time and some effort from you so it can wind down effectively. One of the best things that you can do to yourself following a backpacking trip is to devote some time to stretching. You can spend at least 15 minutes stretching different body parts to lengthen and relax your muscles following an extensive workout.
You can stretch your muscles on the day you return from the trip and continue to do so for the next two to three days and take note of how you feel a few minutes later.
You are welcome.
Rely on Vitamin I
If you are an older adult with chronic health conditions such as lower back pain or arthritis, you would know how post-trip pain feels. Aching joints and sore muscles can affect your everyday life following the trip, and that's when you need to resort to vitamin I, as in ibuprofen. The anti-inflammatory medicine will help relieve pain in your aching joints and muscles and allow you to resume your everyday activities conveniently.
Moreover, along with ibuprofen, continue to stay hydrated, eat well and rest as your sore muscles are still working to recover.
Use Joint Support
Sometimes your aching joints may need a little extra support following a backpacking trip, and that's when you need to wear a brace or an athletic bandage to provide extra support to your joints following a hike.
Take Care of Your Backpacking Gear
Once your body recovers following a backpacking trip, make sure you take good care of your backpacking gear. Once you return from your backpacking adventure, adequately clean, dry, and store your gear. After all, there will be many more backpacking trips that you need to go for in the future.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks