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Hiking safety and survival affect all hikers and backpackers. However, hikers over 50 must be aware of additional safety concerns. Although we don’t like to admit it, old geezers generally have more health-related issues than younger hikers.
Here are 21 simple survival tips for hikers over 50. I have personally experienced each and every one of them over the past fifty-plus years. Familiarize yourself with these safety issues before embarking on new hiking and backpacking adventures.
I wish I could truthfully say the Geez has seen it all. But I learn something new on almost every hike I take. Hopefully, my experience will shed light on hiking issues you may have to deal with as a hiker over 50.
Hikers Over 50 Never Hike Alone
Don’t hike alone. Just don’t do it!
Always use the buddy system when hiking or backpacking, especially as a hiker over 50. There is safety in numbers. Wilderness trekking brings about a myriad of safety concerns. Should something unforeseen happen, a fellow hiker can summon help.
First and foremost are health issues. Our balance isn’t what it used to be. Bones become more brittle. Fitness levels decline. Medical issues plague us. You need someone in your corner when and if something goes wrong.
In addition, there is safety in groups. For example, wild animals such as bears and mountain lions are less likely to approach a group of hikers. The Geez always makes sure he isn’t the only one on the trail. Nobody wants to be an easy meal for one of these critters!
Senior Hikers Always Carry a Communications Device
Always have someone in your group carry some sort of communication device in case of a medical emergency.
You never expect to have an emergency, but stuff happens. I had to be helicoptered out of the Grand Canyon last year because my right knee gave out.
We were twenty miles from the trailhead carrying 45-pound packs. I could barely walk and had to use my poles as crutches. Therefore, hiking was out of the question.
Were it not for the satellite phone we were carrying, I probably would have literally died on the trail. There was no way I could have carried out the water that was necessary for survival. Thankfully, with today’s technology, medical help is always available.
Depending on where you are hiking or backpacking, three different means of communication are available.
The 3 Different Types Of On The Trail Communication Devices
First, on the list are cell phones. However, cell phones are only good if you are within range of a cell phone tower.
They would have been useless to me in the Grand Canyon because there was no cell signal. But many hikes are within cell phone range. Check where you are planning to hike to see if cell phones are an option.
GPS-enabled devices are next on the list. These connect directly with satellites.
Some have one-way email capability. Others have distress signaling capability to alert first responders to an emergency. This is similar to a 911 telephone call without any voice communication.
Finally, carrying a satellite phone in the remote backcountry is available for two-way communication.
You can buy GPS-enabled units or they may be rented for individual trips. Keep in mind that you must purchase minutes for the phone to work and the minutes expire, so you don’t want to buy too many.
Also, carry a list of emergency numbers that you can dial should an emergency arise. Satellite phones remind me of old dial-up or push buttons phones. We used them in our younger days before we became senior hikers. Most importantly, there is no autosave for numbers.
Tip: when calling out on a satellite phone you have to use the country code along with your area code and phone number. Here in the USA, the country code is +1.
On a side note, if you are carrying a satellite phone, make sure someone else in the group knows how to use it. You don’t want to be the only one who knows how to make a call in an emergency.
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Get in Condition Before You Hit The Trail
As with any sport, being in proper condition is a must. Most importantly, it is mandatory if you are a hiker over 50.
Seniors become more sedentary with age. Don’t you find that it takes longer to do things that you have done all your life because you have to stop and rest or sit for a while? Therefore, you don’t want to set out on a ten-mile hike if you haven’t worked up to that distance. Not only can you injure yourself, but you can become a liability to others on the trail.
Hiking, as a hiker over 50, is different from going to the gym and working out.
Hiking uses different muscle groups and is of much longer duration. A ten-mile hike, even on a level trail, will take three to four hours. When is the last time you worked out in the gym for four hours?
As a senior hiker, start by taking short conditioning hikes on semi-level trails. Hike at your own pace so that you don’t overdo it. As your fitness level improves you can increase the distance covered. As with distance, elevation gain on the trail is critical. A five-mile hike on a semi-level trail is quite different from a five-mile hike with a 2,000-foot elevation gain.
Not only does trail steepness provide a cardio workout, but you will use different leg muscles on the incline. Descending steep inclines places additional stress on your legs and joints.
Plan and Research The Trail
Hiking trails are categorized by hiking difficulty. The three common designations are easy, moderate, and strenuous.
Before considering any hike on an unknown trail, it is good to research the difficulty. For example, if your fitness level is moderate you may not want to attempt a strenuous hike.
Easy hikes are just that. That is, they are easy to hike as a hiker over 50 and do not require a high level of physical fitness. The hiking trails are predominately level. Trail lengths are short, averaging less than three miles. The Geez has taken his young grandkids on easy day hikes. They love it! Children enjoy the outdoors just as much as we old geezers.
Moderate hiking trails are generally longer and may have moderate elevation gains. Hiking uphill is more difficult. Therefore senior hikers must increase their fitness level to go the extra distance and/or elevation gains.
Finally, strenuous hikes may tax a seniors’ hiking ability. Trails can have steep inclines. Rocks and boulders are often on the trail. These require extra leg and arm strength to navigate over. Stream crossing may require fording swift water, crossing on narrow logs, or hopping across rocks.
Each requires a balance that as we age may be diminished.
Carrying a Topographical Map Could Save Your Life
Electronic trail maps are wonderful, are readily available, and can be downloaded onto your cell phone. Similarly, stand-alone GPS units with trail maps can be purchased at most sporting goods stores.
Don’t rely solely on electronic maps. Electronics fail. Batteries die. Always carry a paper map in addition to your electronic device just in case.
Younger hikers will be amazed at your ability to read a paper map! It seems to be a lost art these days. That is to say, younger hikers have grown up relying almost exclusively on electronic maps. As a result, most don’t know how to read a paper map.
You can unfold topographic maps and spread them out flat. They give you a visual overview of the surrounding area. Elevation contours help identify trail landmarks.
You keep from getting lost by knowing where you are. Hikers over 50 can easily become disoriented. In addition, think about how difficult it is now just to find your car in a parking lot. It was not hard in our younger days!
Don’t Be Foolish: Check the Weather Days Before You Hike
Before heading out on any backpacking or hiking adventure, always check the weather forecast. This is not only advisable but mandatory in many instances.
Changes in temperature can affect hikers over 50. Heat can cause dehydration and sunstroke. Also, cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia. Fifty-degree temperature swings can take place in as little as 4 or 5 hours. Above all, at the start of the hike, don’t be fooled by the weather. Moreover, a change in temperature can cause rain to turn into snow.
Trails are next to impossible to distinguish from the surrounding countryside when blanketed with a fresh coat of powder. Most importantly, it is not just hikers over 50 that can become lost. Unbelievably, even experienced hikers can become lost in the wilderness when everything turns white.
Similarly, thunderstorms create an additional hazard due to lightning. Lightning does not discriminate based on age. Likewise, senior hikers are just as likely to be hit by lightning as younger hikers. Most importantly, rethink hiking in thunderstorms. You don’t want to become a statistic.
Some of the most beautiful hikes are the slot canyons in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Because of flash flooding, weather thirty and forty miles away must be looked at. Rainwater rushing through one of these slot canyons from miles and miles away can be life-threatening.
In short, don’t take a chance drowning on a perfectly sunny day. A slot canyon can be flooded by rain that is not even in the area.
Always, check the weather before you hike!
It’s Their Environment: Maintain Respect for Wildlife
Wild animals are often encountered while hiking and backpacking in the wilderness. Nature is home to bears, mountain lions, wild boars, venomous snakes, scorpions, poisonous spiders, and ticks, just to mention a few.
Taking certain precautions when hiking in the wilderness is mandatory for your safety.
As the old saying goes, there is safety in numbers. Moreover, bears and larger predators are less likely to approach a group than a lone individual hiker. In other words, don’t be a target to predators. As I advised before never hike alone!
Make noise when hiking through densely forested areas. Often, noise is all that is needed to scare off critters. Use your hiking poles to knock together to alert wildlife in the area. In addition, carry on conversations with fellow hikers in louder voices.
Carry bear spray if traveling through wilderness areas frequented by bears. Bear spray is similar to pepper spray. But it sprays much further. Bear spray is available at many sporting goods stores.
Constantly be on the lookout for snakes on the trail. Rattlesnakes and others blend in with the surrounding landscape and are hard to see. Again, use your hiking poles as the first line of defense against snakes. You can toss a snake off the trail by using one of your poles.
Snakes, scorpions, and spiders migrate toward the warmth of a sweaty boot at night. You definitely don’t want an unwelcome surprise the next morning when you put on your boots. A good way to get your heart pumping first thing in the morning!
Let Others Know About Any Medical Issues
If you carry prescription medications such as epinephrine or nitroglycerine pills, advise others in your group. If you become incapacitated, they are useless if no one knows about them or how to use them.
I recently completed a twelve-mile hike with a gal who was a hiker over 50 who had had a major heart attack. She carries nitroglycerine tables everywhere she goes. She made sure we knew about them and where they were located just in case.
The other thing to consider is common courtesy. Medical issues happen and can be dealt with. However, preventable medical issues are altogether different.
Our hiking group had a fellow hiker who wears a knee brace leave it in his car. His knee gave out on him seven miles into the hike. Our return trip to the trailhead took four times as long. This placed an undue burden on the rest of our hiking group.
Be considerate and respectful of others you are hiking with!
As A Hiker Over 50 Check With Your Doctor Before Hiking
Adults over 50 are more likely to be treated for a variety of medical conditions. It is imperative that you get clearance from your doctor before undertaking strenuous hiking or backpacking adventures.
Health-related issues that are normally manageable at home can be magnified when hiking.
The Geez normally has no issues with hiking, although I’m slower than I used to be. However, I just experienced my 3rd issue with acute altitude sickness. Each time it has happened after reaching 9,500 feet in elevation. However, this time I was so dizzy I thought I was going to pass out. I immediately scheduled a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription for altitude sickness medication.
Finally, ask your doctor if any of your prescription medications have a diuretic effect.
You lose water through heavy breathing and sweating while hiking. Diuretics cause you to lose additional water through urination.
This can place you in a potentially life-threatening position. My hiking buddy Steve takes diuretics for a heart condition. However, he does not take them when hiking because of his personal experience with dehydration.
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Hikers Over 50 Be Mindful Of Your Body
Hiking places added stress on various parts of the body. Because, by the time you reach the senior age milestone, you don’t have as much muscle strength. Your blood circulation and lung capacity may be diminished; arthritis and normal wear and tear may have weakened your joints. In addition, diabetes, heart, and other medical conditions may be a factor. Consequently, you must take steps to lessen the chance of injury by being aware of this.
1. Wear properly fitting hiking shoes or boots.
Hiking trails are typically uneven with lots of obstacles. Trail shoes have different soles. Lug soles provide extra traction on loose soil and rocks. In addition, the thicker soles offer protection against stone bruises.
Hiking shoes that properly support the foot help prevent twisted ankles. Moreover, twisted ankles are painful and take a long time to heal. they make it hard to walk, let alone hike, and they keep you off the trail for a while. No fun in that!
2. Hiking trails with elevation gains place additional stress on the knees.
Steep inclines and declines can take a toll on a hiker over 50 knees. Cartilage wears out the older we get. I know from experience. I had to be helicoptered out of the Grand Canyon because of a knee injury.
Now I always wear a knee brace when I hike. It helps keep the knee in alignment and provides additional support to my weakened joint. A hinged knee brace offers cheap protection against further injury.
3. A properly fitting daypack or backpack can diminish the level of discomfort.
Hikers over 50 can often experience back pain.
Carrying a daypack or backpack is a must on longer hikes. Look for padded hip belts and shoulder straps for evenly distributing the weight of the pack. REI is excellent at fitting your pack to you.
But, make sure and stay clear of discount packs. They generally lack the comfort level and padding of name-brand equipment. Bad or improperly fitting equipment can actually worsen the problem.
4. Protect yourself from the elements.
The sun can be brutal in the summer. Brimmed hats, sun gloves, long pants, and SPF-50 long-sleeve shirts protect against sunburn. Sun-damaged skin can lead to melanoma. It is a good idea to use sunscreen protection on uncovered parts of the body.
A trip to emergency with second-degree burns on my legs after hiking Mt Whitney was a painful reminder to never forget to use sunscreen.
The risk of glaucoma and macular degeneration can be cause for concern for hikers over 50. Make sure to check with your eye professional before hiking if you have been diagnosed with either condition. Most importantly, lessen the risk of additional injury by following his recommendations.
In addition, wear protective polarized sunglasses when hiking. Above all, know that damaging UV rays do not just come directly from the sun. UV reflections bounce off water, rocks, and sand. Just like your skin, your eyes can get sunburned.
Photokeratitis is a result of prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. As a result, it can cause a burning sensation and blurred vision.
5. Nighttime temperatures can drop dramatically, even in the summer.
Senior hikers experience the cold to a much greater degree than younger hikers. In other words, blood circulation problems are often blamed as a result of medical conditions as well as just plain old age. Isn’t it the pits, just when we are retired and enjoying life, we get all these age-related things we have to worry about?
Nevertheless, just wear layered clothing, excess body heat is lost through uncovered hands and head. Therefore, invest in warm gloves, a wool beanie cap, and a good down jacket.
Stay warm at night when backpacking. Always carry a sleeping bag with a thermal rating of 10 to 20 degrees lower than the expected nighttime temperature.
And a sleeping bag liner for hikers over 50 can effectively provide 5 to 15 degrees of additional warmth. In worst-case situations, wear additional clothing and jackets inside your sleeping bag. You can even buy down booties or use wool socks to keep your toes warm.
Hikers Over 50 Learn How To Safely Cross Streams [Video]
Crossing streams is challenging even for seasoned hikers and backpackers. Senior hikers have the added concern of balance. As old geezers age, our balance isn’t what it used to be. Moreover, hikers over 50 have to take extra caution when crossing swollen streams.
Search for narrow areas that can be crossed more easily. Often rocks in the stream bed can be used to hop across without getting wet. And trees frequently fall across streams making a wooden bridge with which to safely cross.
Look for these both upstream and downstream. Meanwhile, extend your hiking poles to their maximum length and use them to help maintain balance.
If you must cross a stream by hiking through the water, put on water shoes before crossing. Water shoes provide additional traction on wet, slippery rocks and stream beds and can be an extremely useful piece of equipment for hikers over 50.
Certainly, changing into water shoes before crossing streams keeps your hiking boots dry. Wet hiking boots can cause foot-related injuries such as blisters.
Most importantly, hiking poles are essential for stream crossings. In reality, they can save your life when crossing swollen rivers and creeks.
The Geez knows firsthand how hiking poles probably saved his life while crossing Woods Creek in Kings Canyon National Park. The water level in Woods Creek was thigh-deep due to the melting snowpack.
Consequently, the pressure generated by the rushing water was at the limit for safe water crossings. I was pushed off balance in the middle of the creek while carrying a 40-pound backpack.
It was only due to a quick realignment of my poles that I did not fall back and get swept away in this rushing water. In short, I don’t know if I could have recovered had I fallen.
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Are You Hiking With Diabetes
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 100 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes or prediabetes. The percentage of adults with diabetes increases with age and hikers over 50 are no exception.
Among seniors over the age of 65, over 25% are diagnosed with the disease. As a senior adult with diabetes or prediabetes, your doctor has probably recommended that exercise be added to your treatment plan.
Any form of exercise can greatly help with managing blood glucose levels. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate metabolism for up to 24 hours afterward.
For those prone to hypoglycemia, hiking is less likely to drastically change blood glucose levels. It is actually a recommended exercise activity for many diabetic individuals. See the diabetes council recommendations here.
Hiking can become dangerous or even life-threatening if you’re not prepared to handle your diabetes on the trail. Even for short hikes, the caloric requirements needed in combination with direct sun exposure can trigger an episode of hypoglycemia.
Without carrying sufficient water, emergency snacks, and medication, the symptoms can quickly escalate and turn into a survival situation. Therefore, it is always a good idea to be slightly over-prepared for any type of hiking activity.
Hiking increases the risk of experiencing hypoglycemia during exercise activities. Type 1 diabetic individuals and type 2 diabetic individuals who require insulin medication have a higher risk of hypoglycemia.
But that does not mean as a hiker over 50 you cannot hike. The most important thing to do is to talk to your doctor about managing diabetes.
In summary, strategies can be implemented to avoid and/or treat hypoglycemia when you hike.
Take Steps To Reduce Your Risk Of Heatstroke
While hiking, hikers over 50 are more prone to heatstroke. Seniors generally have a more difficult time maintaining body temperature.
Strenuous hiking raises the body’s core temperature. If you are not able to dissipate the heat through sweating, heatstroke can occur. When heat stroke happens, your body temperature rises rapidly, you actually lose the ability to sweat, and you are unable to cool down.
Senior hikers can reduce the possibility of heatstroke by following these basic rules.
First, wear appropriate clothing for the weather. For example, shade is almost nonexistent in the Grand Canyon. Not only is it hot when hiking but the sun beating down on you is relentless. I wore long pants, a long-sleeve SPF-50 sun shirt, fingerless cotton sun gloves, and a wide brim hat when hiking the Royal Arch Loop Trail in the Grand Canyon.
In addition, plan on hiking in the cool of the morning rather than the heat of the afternoon. Not only is the temperature less but the radiant heat from the sun is less.
Finally, hiking is not a race to the finish line. Hikers over 50 need to hike at their own pace. This will lessen the chance of becoming overheated.
Don’t Get Dehydrated Drink Water Even If You Are Not Thirsty
As you age, your body’s fluid reserves become smaller. Your ability to conserve water is reduced. In addition, your sense of thirst becomes less acute. It is imperative that you continually drink fluids while hiking to maintain proper hydration.
Most importantly, don’t be fooled by a lack of thirst. Drink anyway.
As a general rule of thumb, you need to drink about a half-liter of water every hour while hiking. However, the amount you need to drink must be adjusted in hot weather or on strenuous hikes. Water is lost through sweating and breathing.
You may end up needing to drink a liter of water or more per hour if breathing heavily and sweating profusely. Most importantly as a hiker over 50, and as a result of seasonality or your trail itinerary, you may need to replenish your water supply when hiking or backpacking.
Always check for the availability of water on the trail. Desert hikes may have a limited or nonexistent water supply. Streams may be dry. Most importantly, make sure you carry enough water with you in your daypack or backpack.
Know the symptoms of dehydration so that they don’t become life-threatening.
One of the earliest symptoms is a headache. In addition, look at the color of your urine. If it is dark and you have or are getting a headache, there is a good chance that dehydration is a factor. You can read about the symptoms here.
Failing to rehydrate immediately can trigger ever-increasing health issues.
Body temperature, both hyperthermia (ie.: heat stroke) and hypothermia (ie: low body temperature) can be affected by dehydration. During a compromised state, disorientation, loss of appetite, nausea, and dizziness can occur. Don’t wait!
Survival 101: Hikers Over 50 Add Electrolytes To Your Water
Water alone is often insufficient to keep you properly hydrated.
When you sweat you lose electrolytes. The human body is a complex organism. The balance between water and electrolytes must be maintained. Sweating flushes out salts and adversely affects your body’s ability to regulate liquids. As a result, you must replace lost sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium in addition to water to stay properly hydrated.
Adding electrolyte tablets or powder to your hydration reservoir is one way to do this.
How do I know? I drank three liters of water on the first day of backpacking Rae Lakes Loop in Sequoia National Park. I had a splitting headache and was completely exhausted after eight miles of hiking. As a result, we were forced to stop and set up camp.
The second and subsequent days on the hike made all the difference in the world. I had no headache and was able to hike without total exhaustion.
The difference was mixing electrolyte powder in my hydration reservoir. Scientific? Probably not. Real-world experience? Definitely!
Temporarily Discontinue Diuretic Medications
Are you aware that taking diuretic medications can lead to dehydration while hiking? Seniors often are prescribed a host of medications for various health reasons.
In addition to treating underlying medical conditions, many of these medicines also exhibit diuretic effects. Diuretics eliminate excess water from the body through urination. The combination of profuse sweating, rapid breathing, and diuretic medicine when hiking creates an unhealthy trifecta.
That is to say, dehydration can set in without warning. In summary, too much water is eliminated from the body too quickly.
I saw firsthand the devastating result of a fellow hiker over 50 taking diuretics and hiking. This occurred recently while backpacking to Garfield Grove in Sequoia National Park on a steady uphill trail in 90-degree weather.
Barely an hour into the hike, John collapsed and tumbled down a thirty-foot ravine. He was incoherent and what he said didn’t make any sense.
It took well over an hour for him to recover enough just to climb out of the ravine up to the trail. Fortunately, nothing was broken, only scrapes and bruises. But, as a result, he could not continue and had to turn around and go home.
Above all, as a hiker over 50, check with your doctor before hiking. Make sure one of the side effects of your prescribed medicine isn’t a diuretic.
To summarize, taking diuretic medications when hiking or backpacking could put you in a life-threatening situation. Severe dehydration is a real possibility.
Senior Hikers Always, Always, Always Filter Water
When the Geez started hiking as a teenager at YMCA camp, we drank right out of the streams in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Heck, even when I started backpacking back in the early 1970s, I never filtered water.
My parents hosted a foreign exchange student from Switzerland and she could not get over the fact that we drank right from the streams. She said the water in Switzerland was not safe to drink without filtering.
Today it is no longer safe to drink water that has not been filtered or boiled. Micro-organisms, such as the Giardia parasite, are commonplace as a result of fecal matter from pack animals, cattle grazing, and the sheer number of hikers and backpackers.
The sad reality of age is you become more susceptible to disease and infection than when younger.
The Giardia parasites in untreated water can cause you to become sick within a couple of days.
Giardia symptoms include violent diarrhea, excess gas, stomach or abdominal cramps, upset stomach, and nausea. Resulting in dehydration and nutritional loss may need immediate treatment.
I’m going to say it again, hikers over 50 ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS filter your water!
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Take Precautions When Hiking at Higher Elevations
Hiking and backpacking destinations run the gamut of coastal trails, desert canyons, and mountaintop adventures. Trekking adventures take place at all elevations. But did you know that you don’t have to climb Mount Everest to get altitude sickness?
For example, you can get the first stage of altitude sickness called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) above 8,000 feet. At higher altitudes, barometric pressure is less so there is less oxygen in the surrounding air. As a result, your body must adjust to the decrease in air pressure, and this takes time.
Hiking above 8,000 feet can cause you to develop uncomfortable or even dangerous symptoms from the change in altitude.
The Geez has been hiking for over 50 years in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and never once got altitude sickness until this year. It happened on the Rae Lakes Loop trail in Kings Canyon National Park at approximately 9,500 feet elevation.
I had a tremendous headache, was dizzy, and had difficulty breathing. Hiking as little as 100 yards required me to rest in order for me to catch my breath. Fortunately, we scheduled a zero-day at Rae Lakes. So, I was able to recover the following day.
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The guideline for altitude sickness prevention is to gain no more than 1,000 feet in elevation per day. This hike required an 8,000 feet elevation gain in three days. Needless to say, I exceeded the recommendation.
Hikers over 50 must be proactive when hiking at higher elevations. If you have experienced high-altitude sickness in the past and are planning to hike again at higher altitudes, consider contacting your doctor about taking a prescription drug. The ones commonly used are acetazolamide and the corticosteroid drug dexamethasone.
However, keep in mind, that these drugs do not prevent the more serious forms of altitude sickness at higher elevations.
For example, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a buildup of fluid in the lungs that can be very dangerous. In addition, High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is the most severe form of altitude sickness and happens when there’s fluid in the brain. Both require medical intervention. Take a look at this guide.
Wear a Knee Brace Even If You Don’t Need One
I took my car into the auto shop for alignment the other day. They said my ball joints were worn out and had to be replaced before they could align the front end. The mechanic sounded a lot like my doctor. Parts are wearing out! I wish I could trade my body in like you trade a car in. I’d get the fastest model – haha.
After my Grand Canyon accident, my orthopedist said my knee joint was worn out. The cartilage was shot. That is not what this old geezer wanted to hear!
Fortunately, I did not need surgery. But he did prescribe an off-loading knee brace. It is the best piece of hiking equipment. It’s even better than ice cream and I really love ice cream!
Senior hikers must consider the additional stress placed on joints. Properly fitting hiking boots are worn to protect the feet and ankles. But knee injury can occur even if you don’t normally have joint issues.
Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage are stressed in ways your body is not used to. Hiking downhill, carrying extra weight in a backpack, scrambling over rocks, and traversing uneven slopes all place additional stress on your knees.
I have been on many hikes with my hiking buddy Steve over the past three years. He always wears a hinged knee brace, but not because he needs to. In short, Steve says it makes him think twice before doing something stupid while hiking.
Great advice for us aging hikers! Some of us think we are still in our twenties – right?
Take a tip from the Geez and look into purchasing one if you are at all concerned. I always hike with my knee brace now. It is cheap protection.
Hiking Poles Serve Three Major Functions
First, hikers over 50 generally don’t have the balance they once had. Therefore it is much easier to lose balance and fall while hiking. That is due in part to trails being uneven and obstacle-ridden. Hip fractures, broken bones, and ankle sprains happen more frequently as we age. Hiking poles provide an added layer of protection.
Moreover, senior hikers do not have the body strength of younger hikers. According to a Harvard study, after age 30 we lose approximately 3 to 5% muscle mass with each passing decade.
Hiking uphill requires leg strength which has lessened with age. Hiking poles are often needed to help pull and push your way up steep trail sections.
This is especially true when climbing over boulders. For example, stepping up 6 inches to clear a tree root or boulder is generally no problem. But clearing a 16-inch boulder requires a lot more leg strength.
Also, hiking poles help to break your forward momentum when descending steep trails. hikers over 50 can often have joint-related medical issues. Using hiking poles to break forward momentum lessens the impact and stress placed on muscles, tendons, ligaments, and especially the knees.
Is it time for a new set of poles? But, how do you know which ones to purchase? Take a look at my post on how to choose the right hiking poles.
A little-known but useful tip is to use hiking poles to protect you from wild animals. For instance, raising hiking poles above your head and waving them back and forth when encountering bears make you look larger than life.
In addition, hikers often encounter poisonous snakes such as rattlesnakes. Extending hiking poles away from your body allows an additional three to four feet separation between you and the snake. We have even used our poles to safely fling snakes off the trail.
Lastly, hiking poles are essential for stream crossings. They can actually save your life when crossing swollen rivers and creeks. The Geez knows firsthand how hiking poles probably saved his life while crossing Woods Creek in Kings Canyon National Park.
I was pushed off balance in the middle of the creek while carrying a 40-pound backpack. It was only due to quick thinking and a quick realignment of my trekking poles that I did not fall backward.
In short, I would have been swept away by the rushing water. Consequently, hiking poles are not a luxury but a necessity when hiking, especially for older hikers.
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Not The Time To Diet: Eat High Calorie, Nutrient-Dense Foods
A common problem among seniors is a loss of appetite. Therefore, eating enough food is hard to do when hiking and backpacking. As we age, the body’s ability to regulate many functions becomes impaired. Metabolism is one of these functions. Appetite is affected accordingly.
This often leads to problems with energy levels. Strenuous exercise burns lots of calories. Seniors become fatigued more easily because of a lack of caloric input. You become weak from lack of food. Therefore both stamina and strength suffer.
Medical conditions can also affect appetite. In addition, appetite can become compromised by medicines taken for treating medical conditions.
Senior hikers typically will have more age-related diseases. These can include diabetes, heart, pulmonary, kidney, liver, and others. Therefore, seniors who are on various medications for a host of chronic diseases need to be aware that loss of appetite may be one of the side effects.
Not all conditions affecting appetite are physical ailments. Emotional states such as grief and depression can also compromise the appetite. Senior hikers need to be aware of this and plan accordingly.
Nutrient-dense, high-calorie foods must be eaten when appetite is compromised.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that a 154-pound person burns 370 calories per hour of hiking. But this estimate can be significantly higher on strenuous trails or when carrying a heavy backpack. This means you must eat more to maintain energy levels. I have to force myself to eat when backpacking because I am just not that hungry.
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In conclusion, improper nutrition and eating too few calories lead to poor hiking outcomes. When energy levels are depleted, older hikers are much more likely to get hurt.
So, hikers over 50 have more issues to deal with on the trail than when we were younger. Is hiking still an awesome way to combat some of the physical aspects of aging? You betcha!
Hike safely, your survival depends on it. But most of all, explore the beauty and adventures being outdoors has to offer.
Life is short, get out and enjoy!