Common Sense Hiking—Boomers and Beyond

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By Honor Booth
By Honor Booth

At 54, I have probably not “matured” so much as just “aged.”  In any case, getting older colors the way I approach my daily life.  I sacrifice to pay unconscionably high health insurance premiums every month.  I sold my two motorcycles last year to raise capital for my new business.  When discussing a possible move to Kentucky with my husband, I make my feelings clear – I want to move into the house I’m going to die in.  He just nods.

While at first glance this attitude shift might seem a bit morbid, I tend to think of it as a healthy, realistic attitude about out changing situation.  While we still like to have as much fun as possible, we are simply more likely to need medical care at this age.  And the excitement of riding a motorcycle wore off (at least for me) a long time ago.  As for Kentucky – I want to spend as much time as possible with my amazing nieces before they transform into teenagers. And I just never want to move again; it wasn’t fun when I was 20, and it’s not fun now.

One advantage of getting older – most of my stupidity and arrogance has been replaced by experience and good sense.  That’s why I don’t mind hiking with people my own age, or older; they are less likely to misjudge their capabilities or make some other error in judgment that might endanger the group.  But there are other dangers somewhat unique to middle-aged and senior hikers that should be acknowledged:

  1. Don’t hike alone.  This is a good rule for everyone, but particularly for older folks.  If you get lost or have a medical emergency, your situation is more likely to deteriorate quickly.  Hike with friends, or join a senior group.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids.  Seniors are at a particular risk of dehydration when exercising.  Because symptoms are not obvious, prevent problems by drinking more than you think you need – before, during, and after a hike.  Start early, before it gets hot, and use sunscreen.  Rest in the shade whenever possible.
  3. Use mobility aids.  Have you seen those cool trekking poles?  Get a pair; these devices can reduce your risk or falling, and keep weight off bad joints.
  4. Plan ahead.  Allow yourself plenty of time for the hike you have chosen, and make sure to choose appropriate terrain.  If you have mobility issues, choose a flat trail or paved walking path.  Your heart won’t know the difference; according to one study, seniors who walk at least four hours per week reduce their risk of hospitalization after cardiac events.  And, as one doctor said, everyone will eventually have a cardiac event (something to think about).
  5. Embrace technology.  This is the polar opposite of my typical “soapbox” rant, but unlike people under 40, who have become overly dependent on their various devices, a senior may have sort of a “love-hate” relationship with their cell phone.  If you have a phone, bring it with you; in an emergency you may be able to get out a call or text for help (haven’t learned how to text yet?  Have your kids show you).  You can even use the screen as a signaling device.  Don’t throw away your compass or whistle, but many stranded hikers have been saved by cell phones.  Feeling brave?  Buy a GPS.
  6. Personalize your “essentials” list.  If you take medications, for example, bring a list of your medications, or the medications themselves; a smart hiker takes extra food and water, so a few extra pills makes sense, just in case you get home late.
  7. Don’t forget all the usual precautions that all hikers should take.  Let someone know where you’ll be going, and when you expect to be back.  Dress for the worst weather you might encounter, and use layers.  Take extra clothing, including socks.  Good, comfortable shoes are vital.  And don’t forget the gear that will most likely help you in an emergency – whistle, flashlight, fire starter, and survival blanket.

Honor currently juggles her career as a bodyguard with the development of her new company—PACK6. PACK6, which offers compact kits of essential hiking gear, was launched after Honor’s brother disappeared in the backcountry of Yosemite.  She hopes that her online contributions as an author will help more people to be prepared when they hike.

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