71 year-old Barbara Allen describes her hike along the Appalachian Trail
How to Hike As an Older Person
No matter how fit you are, your muscles weaken rapidly past the age of sixty. Chasing after a young hiker with a giant pack will lead to exhaustion and injury. Be smart and train in advance to make your trek a great experience. Remember that you are never too old to learn and adapt.
Preparing in Advance
Substitute heavy pack items.A heavy pack can damage your spine, make walking more difficult, and drain your energy. Aim to fit everything into a 45 liter (12 gallon) pack weighing no more than 8 kg (18 lbs), not counting water.
- Instead of walk guides and maps, use a smartphone with books and a working GPS system installed. Walk guides are thick books and maps will tire your arms after extending them for a long period of time.
- Replace a heavy camera with a smartphone or a small digital camera.
- Coordinate with other hikers in the group so you don't bring extra materials. If possible, ask a younger person to carry some of your water for you.
Exercise beforehand.'Training' for the walk is a good way to prepare yourself for what is to come. If you rarely exercise, it's a good idea to spend three months training. If you are already in shape, you may only need a shorter training period to strengthen your legs. Try one of the following exercises, ideally five or six days a week:
- Put on a heavy pack, about 15 kg (33 lb). Walk for at least one hour, preferably on a path involving plenty of stairs.
- If you don't have time for the walk, instead jog for at least thirty minutes at a slow and steady pace, raising a good sweat. Donotwear a pack while jogging, as it may cause injury.
Lose weight if necessary.Your muscles are not as strong or fast as they were when you were younger, so they are subject to injury when overloaded. Extra weight will tax your muscles and increase your risk of heat stroke and other injuries. This is the hardest step in preparation for your walk, but it is very rewarding. Not only will it give you more strength for your hike, it can also assist with other weight-related problems.
Prepare for terrain and weather conditions.Read a hiking guide for the area you'll be traveling to. You may need special equipment if you expect snow, water crossings, or other difficult terrain.
- Don't forget to pack appropriate hiking clothes. If the weather is variable, dress in layers. The lowest layer should be fabric that wicks moisture away from your skin.
- If you haven't trekked in a long time, talk to more experienced hikers. They can help you choose gear, pack in a way that keeps your clothes dry, and offer other invaluable advice.
Plan your accommodation.For multi-day hikes, arrange places to stay in advance when possible. Tents and bedding are very heavy to carry around all day, so only camp if you are fit and confident in your abilities. If you can find places that provide cooking equipment, you can save even more weight.
- Many regions have made it illegal to camp, as fires, toilets, or litter can destroy the surrounding area.
Break the hike into stages.Check your map and mark the rest spots on today's hike. Be honest about how far you can walk without a break, and how far you can go in one day.
- When hiking in mountainous terrain, take a break at least every 14–19 km (9–12 miles) on the ascent. On the way down, descend no more than 900 meters (3000 ft) of altitude before resting.
Walk in the light.Expect to spend about eight hours on the move each day, including stops for morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea. Plan to arrive at the night's stop with enough time to wash yourself, eat, drink and change into evening clothes to stop for the night.
Take your time.Even if your pack is light and you feel you can travel faster, travel at an average of 1.5 miles per hour to avoid straining yourself. This may sound slow, but most hiking requires a lot of ascent and descent, which is a lot harder than walking flatland.
- Avoid the 'red-zone'. These are very steep climbing stairs that can radically raise your heart rate to dangerous measures. Go to all extents to stay in the safe, guided paths.
Take recovery days.If you're hiking for more than five days in a row, take a recovery day once a week. Take it easy, wash and dry your clothes, and introduce yourself to the locals. Your body needs time to rest.
- If you're bored and feeling ready for more, you can spend the day on a gentle local hike. A day without a heavy pack will still make a big difference.
- If you are going somewhere without cell phone reception, find another method of contacting loved ones and emergency services. You may need to hire a professional guide with a satellite phone.
Video: Met Papi, Grannie, Old Goat & El-Camino Appalachian Trail Hikers!
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