Hiking can be a very healthy hobby for seniors to enjoy for a variety of reasons. Not only is it a great way to improve your fitness, but it can also be fun and exhilarating to explore different trails. Whether you’re with loved ones or finding solace in nature alone, there’s a lot to be gained from hiking. But if you’re just getting started or haven’t hiked in a long time, it may seem like a daunting activity. With the right preparation and the right tips, though, almost anyone can hike!
The Essential Senior Pre-Hiking Safety Checks
While hiking can be fun and safe, that can change in a second, with a bad slip or change in weather. That’s why it’s important that you take these safety checks seriously. They may seem obvious or overly cautious, but they can keep you out of danger and enjoying hiking for years to come.
In our previous post that highlights how healthy hiking can be, we discussed one of its strengths — it’s scalability of difficulty. A hike can be a smooth, even-sloped walk or something more akin to mountain climbing. While this can make hiking great for seniors of all fitness levels, it makes it important to know your fitness level and the difficulty of a hike prior to setting off on it. For more information on how to figure out the difficulty of a trail, check out our “Why Seniors Should Go Hiking” post to learn a helpful equation. Once you know trails’ difficulty levels, you can gauge which paths are right for you.
It’s important to remember that, when you’re hiking, you’re sharing the area with the wildlife that call it home. Usually, this entails birds, insects, and other small animals, but that’s not always the case. Depending on the trail, you may encounter bears, mountain lions, or rattlesnakes, to name only a few animals that you should be wary of. We recommend checking the National Park Service active alerts page to see if there are any warnings (animal or otherwise) at the park you’re interested in visiting. Researching your hike for expected wildlife is also wise, especially if you’re not hiking a national park.
In the days leading up to the hike, check the weather to make sure going out is still a viable option or if you should push back your hike. While a warm, sunny day may seem ideal for a hike, excessive heat can be a real concern. Sudden inclement storms can also be dangerous if you’re stuck on the hike without protection.
Discussing your plans of action with your doctor is of our most common pieces of advice for anything, and for good reason. Before starting a new senior hobby, exercise, or diet, you should always check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough for it. This is doubly true for hiking. Before going on any hike, it’s a good idea to meet with your doctor to make sure that it’s safe for you.
Preparing for the Hike
Once you’ve done your safety checks and you know you’re good to go, it’s time to prepare to go hiking. Preparing is as important as completing the safety checks, because there are always going to be some health risks while hiking.
Decide How Long You Want to Be Out & What to Pack
Are you going outside for a few hours, a single day, or an overnight camping trip? Your decision can drastically change what you need to pack and prepare for. For example, if you’re only doing a two-hour hike, you won’t need to pack as much supplies — maybe just some sunscreen, bug spray, a few water bottles, and a snack if you’d like. On the other hand, if you’re camping overnight, you’ll need to pack a tent, food, more water, a sleeping bag, etc. What you need to pack may also change depending on where and when you’re hiking, since some trails may not allow for camping or some seasons may be cooler or have different obstacles than others.
Plan and Research as Much as You Can
Next, you’ll want to plan and research the trail you’re taking. The more you know, the better, since this can help prevent surprises on the trail. If it’s a national or state park, you can visit it’s official website to learn more about the trail. Unofficial or private trails don’t always have their own site, but you may be able to find online reviews on sites like TripAdvisor.com or AllTrails.com. You can also read reports and experiences of other hikers who hiked that particular location by using Google. Unofficial or private trails need the most research, since they may not have the same upkeep, safety regulations, or staffing as national parks.
Have a Way to Contact Others
Most importantly, when you’re packing your gear for the hike, make sure you have a way to contact friends or family in case of an emergency. Someone should always be aware of where you’re hiking, as well. These two key pieces of advice weren’t followed by Aron Ralston (of 127 Hours, the movie). His ordeal exemplifies the need for a way to call for help. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged before heading out and consider taking extra battery packs to charge it again if needed!
On the Trail
Once you’re on the trail, there are a few things you can do to prevent accidents and make your hike as fun as possible!
Rest Before You Think You Need To
Rest more often than you think you need to while hiking. If you’re hiking for exercise, this may seem counterintuitive, but resting can be important for fitness. Not only can it help you sustain a good pace throughout the hike, it can prevent you from becoming too tired in the case of an emergency.
By the same token, you should also hydrate often. It’s easy to become dehydrated when you’re hiking, making proper hydration essential to trail safety. Make sure to pack a good supply of water. You should also be on the lookout for signs of dehydration so you can start rehydrating at the earliest warning. While you’re on the trail, keep an eye out for places you can get clean water, like a water fountain or a visitor center, in case you run out before heading home.
Listen to Your Body
Piggybacking off the previous two entries, it’s important that you don’t push yourself too hard while hiking. Getting good exercise while hiking is inevitable, especially if your style of hiking more closely resembles mountain climbing. But, you still need to be safe, so it’s important to know your body’s limits. Overworking or overtraining your body can have disastrous effects and makes you more likely to hurt yourself. In the moment, you may feel like you’re getting extra-fit by hiking over just one more hill, even though your body is crying out for a break, but you’re likely doing more harm than good. Listening to your body and stopping when your body needs to stop is one of the best things you can do to prevent injuries.
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Hiking is a fun way to exercise without it ever feeling like a workout. It’s also a great way to spend a day in nature, which can have amazing mental health benefits. But, being prepared and safe while you hike is the best way to reap the benefits that it can offer. With these tips in tow, you’re well on your way to hiking your way to better health!