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You're Never Too Old to Hike: Trail Tips for Seniors

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You’re never too _______ to  ________.
There are countless ways to fill in the blanks. You’re never too slow to run. You’re never too heavy to do yoga. You’re never too weak to lift weights.
And you’re never too old to start hiking.
To the contrary, hiking is one of the most beneficial activities for seniors. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, men and women aged 65 and older who walked more than four hours per week were shown to have a reduced risk of heart disease than those who walked just one hour or less per week.
And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, and strength training activities at least two days per week. Aerobic activity can be classified as anything that gets your heart rate up—and that includes brisk walking and hiking.
Jim Klopovic discovered backpacking after retirement and immediately fell in love. From the Appalachian Trail to the coasts of England, his adventures have led him to explore some of the world’s most beautiful locales, while also improving his physical health and connecting him with nature.
Along with his daughter Nicole, Klopovic wrote “The Honest Backpacker: A Practical Guide for the Rookie Adventurer over 50to inspire other baby boomers (and people of all ages) “to stay active, take the road less traveled and experience the wonders of the trail.”
Above all, Klopovic believes that the key to happiness lies in nature, and that by venturing into the great outdoors, seniors can remain vigorous and capable of living their golden years to the fullest.

Getting Started With the Essentials

One of the best things about hiking is that you don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy hiking equipment and apparel to start reaping the life-enriching benefits of the trail. Klopovic recommends starting with these basic essentials, from the ground up.
  • Foot gear: Make sure your hiking shoes are durable, comfortable, lightweight and made from a wicking material that will keep moisture away from your feet. On long hikes, a dry foot is a happy foot. Not only can moisture be uncomfortable, it can also cause blisters. If you purchase new shoes or boots for hiking, be sure to break them in before heading out on an extended hike far from home. If you already have a good pair of athletic shoes, you can start with those.
  • Hiking poles: Although it’s not a requirement, some older adults prefer to hike with trekking poles to help ease the strain on the back and knees. “Get a good pair and learn to use them—that is, be able ‘to have a conversation with them,’” Klopovic  recommends. “Use them until they become unconscious extensions of your arms.”
  • Hip pack: A comfortable hip pack provides a convenient way to carry essentials you may need on the trail, including water, healthy snacks, first-aid items and perhaps a map, compass or phone.
  • Broad-brimmed hat: Sun protection is smart at any age, but especially for older adults. Klopovic stresses the importance of staying well-covered with a broad-brimmed hat. “Some put a bandana on their head under the hat, so it falls over the neck,” he adds. A baseball cap will also suffice if you don’t have a broad-brimmed hat yet.

Setting Realistic Goals

While there’s no such thing as “too old to hike,” let’s face it: Our bodies change as we age. With all else being equal, most people in their 60s, 70s or 80s most likely won’t have the same strength or stamina as someone in their 20s (with some exceptions, of course). To hike successfully through your golden years, the key is to strive for goals that are suited to your body’s capabilities.
“Your overall goal should be to be vital and vigorous well into your 90s,” Klopovic says. “You want to be good at life, make memories and friends, have fun and make a difference.”
When setting a hiking goal, it should feel challenging and maybe a tiny bit scary, but it shouldn’t send you into a state of near-panic or serious self-doubt. For instance, if you’re new to hiking, completing the Appalachian Trail is probably too lofty a goal to tackle. It’s best to start slowly with an easy or moderate trail—it’s a lot easier on the psyche to ramp up the difficulty level than it is to admit defeat and scale back down from a harder hike.
Northwest Hiker offers this handy hike difficulty calculator to help you determine the toughness of a course. Enter the length of the hike and the total elevation gain (the steeper the incline, the harder it will be) and the calculator will rate the hike from easy to extreme, with varying levels of difficulty in between.

Keeping It Simple

At its core, hiking is a delightfully simple and undemanding activity. To keep it from getting complicated, Klopovic uses what he calls an S3 formula: simple, suitable, sustainable.
  • Simplicity: “Keep things to their basic elements,” he says. “Get the basic gear mentioned and gradually take longer walks on increasingly demanding trails. Hopefully you will be blessed with many accessible nature trails just outside your door.”
  • Suitability: Successful senior hikers should choose age-appropriate challenges. “It is a great thing to grow old gradually and gracefully,” Klopovic says. “It does not take extremes to be conditioned and healthy.”
  • Sustainability: “Look to the future,” he says. “It is best to tackle things that can be done for a lifetime. Hiking can be done by just about anyone for as long as they like. Stick with it and you will begin to crave it.” 

Safety Tips for Senior Hikers

To ensure an enjoyable and injury-free experience on the trail, senior hikers should adhere to these safety tips:
  1. Clear it with the doc. As with any new exercise program, it’s best to check with your doctor before striking out on the trail for the first time.
  2. Beat the heat. If you’re hiking in a warm climate, stick to early mornings or late afternoons to reduce the risk of overheating. (However, don’t start so late that you run the risk of hiking in the dark, which increases the risk of falls and other emergencies.)
  3. Always hike with a buddy. The best-case scenario is to bring along a companion. If you must hike alone, be sure to share your course with a family member or friend, and check in with them when you’ve safely completed it.
  4. Start with stretching. Stretch before hiking to loosen up your muscles, which helps prevent injury.
  5. Don’t push the pace. Start out at your normal walking pace. If it feels easy, gradually increase your speed to a point where you’re breathing slightly heavier but aren’t overexerting yourself. Take breaks as needed for rest and hydration.
  6. Stay hydrated and fueled. Bring plenty of water (at least two liters) and energy-boosting snacks, such as a protein bar, granola or almonds.
  7. Plan for emergencies. Pack a first-aid kit, safety whistle, trail map or compass and—if reception is available—your cell phone. In case of blisters or an unplanned trek through water, you might want to bring along a spare pair of socks.
It’s never too late to connect with nature while improving your fitness. With smart planning and precautions, hikers of all ages can discover the physical benefits, mental rewards and spiritual wonders of the trail.

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Loved the difficulty calculator link. I’m able to figure out multi day hikes and plan timing accordingly. Report
GRANNYOF05 4/13/2020
Thanks Report
PATRICIA-CR 2/19/2020
I love hiking! Great article. Report
MUSICNUT 12/23/2019
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
RO2BENT 12/7/2019
Keep moving forward Report
KOALA_BEAR 9/28/2019
This article assumes that one is already walking regularly & don't live in the flat parts of the country.
We have both some hilly & mountainous regions near my home. I have done a little hiking but it's not my favorite pastime. Okay for vacations & variety tho' w/ balance an issue for older folks, I say you should only go w/ Dr's okay & with companion who knows first aid. Stay on well marked paths or trails & if you hike in w/ stuff, carry out all you garbage. Report
MAREE1953 8/23/2019
I love that husband invited me to accompany him hiking the MO bluffs along the Mississippi River as he scouts the Conservation Areas prior to hunting season. A challenge! I will try that link that measures difficulty. Report
TERMITEMOM 7/29/2019
One of the best articles I have read recently! Report
Beware of cliffs--they can appear suddenly, and are deadly. Also, try not to rely on any guardrails or chains to lean on or rest your weight on, as these are often very old and untrustworthy. Having hiking poles and a good tread on your shoe would be the safest bet. You might even want to avoid the trails on very rainy days, when it's muddy and slick in places. Whatever you do, don't walk near the edge! Report
PATRICIA-CR 7/27/2019
I'm planning on hiking up until my 90's! Report
Some helpful information Report
Thanks. I'd like to do some hikes and this info will help Report
Dearly Beloved and I walk and hike all over. Report
I like hiking! Report
We walk or hike miderate trails every few days esoecially on vacation. But I never thought of a whistle. Report
I've just now lost enough weight that I can begin walking / hiking again, and I'm so looking forward to these cooler temps and a trail hike, not just in the neighborhood! Report
Thanks! Report
Great tips! I feel like I can do this one! Report
I do what I want now I'm a senior, for as long as I can. Report
We try to do a little hiking when out camping. We enjoy walking and visiting with others. Thanks for a good article. Report
GREAT Report
Great article! Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Great info Report
Excellent recommendations! Report
Thanks Report
Great tips. Love hiking, but it gets more challenging as I get older. Report
If hiking in a national park be sure to talk to a ranger before you set out especially if you have asthma or are diabetic. The rangers can let you know if you're at risk for problems on the trail. Never assume an easy rated trail us easy for you. Always have a plan and a back up plan. If you're having problems most hikers will be glad to assist you or alert rangers if theres a problem. Always be mindful of where you are at. Report
Went hiking today and used some of this.....great stuff...thanks again Report
Great ideas Report
thanks Report
I hike every few days....great ideas...thanks Report
Great tips! Report
Good information! Report
thanks Report
Let’s get hiking! Report
Thanks! for sharing great advice Report
Thank you for excellent advice. Report
Thanks Report
Thanks. Report
Great tips I going hiking in Colorado;s Rocky MT park on on favorite trail we need to watch for the open spaces in the trail caused by water. and check for a line up of people behind you and step aside to let then pass you. picture at the view point is always fun and important to share with Spark friends at home cheering to the finish i would have had a hard with one hike with out my cheer leaders . they are very important piece of the journey. Report
A whistle is a great idea that has been used for a couple hundred years. Never needs batteries and well-known signal.
If I can hike with a quad cane, anybody can. Report
Great idea about the safety whistle! Report
Good article and don't forget to check for ticks when returning home! I went hiking last week and ended up with 2 deer ticks on me! Yikes!
Another tip maybe, take pics on your phone of the trail head sign and some along the way once in a while. That way if something happens to you and they find your phone at least it's somewhere to start looking! Report
Great article! Report
Love hiking, but it's been years with health issues. Excellent info. Thanks for the tips. Hope to begin again this year. Report
Dearly Beloved and I are out ever chance we get! Report