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Monday, April 18, 2022

Hiking Near and Far Over 60

Exploring the great outdoors on foot is an activity that can be enjoyed by practically all older adults, anywhere you live!  

There is a major movement to get outside now that the worst of the pandemic is over (fingers crossed!). Americans missed spending time in the great outdoors, and for good reason. The American Psychological Association reports that “from a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.” That’s an impressive list! 

Hiking, which is nothing more than walking in a natural area, is one of the simplest activities for seniors to take up. The US has more than 10,366 state parks and 423 national park sites to explore, not counting community parks and trails. You can hike alone or in a group. It does not cost a thing to get started if you have comfortable shoes on your feet and clothing appropriate for the weather. 

Hiking on a Shoestring Budget

You may find yourself yearning for hiking gear that you just cannot afford. Never fear, we have some tips and tricks for you. If you are unable to borrow or rent (snowshoes, for example), there are plenty more avenues to try:
  • Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Savers are three major thrift stores to try. You can also check out your local consignment stores, especially if you live in an “outdoorsy” area.
  • Craigslist will expand your local search, and it is free to use. 
  • GearTrade has exclusively used outdoor gear, including clothing.
  • eBay features new and used items from a worldwide market. Find your best deals when items are in an auction so you can bid on them.
  • Steep and Cheap is the sale arm of the outdoor giant Peruse nothing but new gear at some great discount prices.

All About Ticks

There is perhaps nothing more unpleasant than returning from a hike to find a tick crawling across your arm or up your neck! Whenever you hiking on a brushy trail, through tall grass, or on a trail where branches are above or next to you, ticks have an opportunity to catch a ride. Some carry Lyme disease, which makes it even more important to guard against these pests. 

Wear long sleeves, long pants, and high socks in areas where ticks are present. You should also apply insect repellent to any exposed areas (it does not hurt to spray a little on socks or clothing for good measure). When you return home, shower or bathe within two hours and do a quick check for ticks. They are quite small, so if you see the little black or brown specks, the CDC recommends using “clean, fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible” and to “pull upward with steady, even pressure.” Afterward, wash the area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol or soap. Don’t forget to wash your hair for good measure. 

For more tips on keeping ticks away, visit here.

If you have never enjoyed hiking before, or at least not recently, you may have questions. What should I wear? How can I tell how difficult a trail is? What trails are near to me? We are here to answer those questions and many more! 

Getting Started

Seniors, especially those with health conditions, should consult their doctor before beginning any exercise program. Remember that the point of hiking is to enjoy the scenery and fresh air while getting exercise. You will gradually increase your speed naturally as you become more fit.

You do not need a bunch of fancy-schmancy gear to head down your first trail. A pair of tennis shoes is just fine, along with clothing appropriate for the season, sunscreen, possibly insect repellant, and a water bottle. Take a photo of the map at the trailhead for reference, and you can be on your way! Go as far as you are comfortable, and remember that you will have to turn around and come back just as far. 

If you want to learn a lot about gear (and a whole lot more!) in a single place, head over to your local REI Co-op store, or poke around REI’s online store. A part of the outdoor scene since 1938, their motto is, “A life outdoors is a life well-lived.” They know clothing, gear, how to get where you want to go, and what to do once you are there.

If you need advice on what to get, choose “expert advice” at the bottom of the REI home page. They also offer classes, guided local hikes, and exciting adventures if you are so inclined. What could be better? Become a member for $20 and get 10% back annually on all regular price items you have bought to spend at your favorite store: REI!


Once you have gotten a few hikes under your belt, you may be ready to start adding some gear to take longer hikes, to have more comfortable options, and so on. Start by considering some clothing upgrades, beginning with your feet. You can shell out big bucks for hiking shoes, and if you are planning to spend in just one area, taking care of your feet is the most important. Do not neglect to get some good socks. Merino wool blends (some nylon will make them last longer) are excellent for wicking moisture away and performing well in all temperatures, but some people prefer polyester (however, they will smell more!). 

Moving upward, you could invest in a pair of hiking pants with zip-off legs. You may think that these look dorky at first, but you will be grateful for the option to make an easy change from long pants to shorts and vice versa as the weather warms or cools. They should be made of a quick-dry, lightweight fabric. Check for a comfortable waistband and lots of pockets. Continuing up, a long sleeved, quick-dry shirt is a good choice for comfort and performance. The sleeves will protect against sun and insects, as well as providing a little warmth if the wind picks up. Choose polyester or merino wool according to your preference.

Top the look off with a hat or visor to keep the sun at bay. Desert hats have a fabric skirt down the back for maximum neck protection. Include polarized sunglasses and your eyeballs will appreciate it. 

Day Packs

The next thing you will hanker after is a good daypack. “Good” means that it has padded shoulder straps, hip and chest belts, and a pouch to carry a bladder for water. Packs come in different lengths to fit your back (many are adjustable) and conform to all body shapes. They also come in different sizes, designated by the amount of packing space each contains. Look for one that has a pocket for a bladder, which is a plastic two or three-liter pouch for water with a tube that comes out and extends within easy reach. A bite valve on the end makes water available at your fingertips whenever you want it without risking spillage. A good pack can last 15 or 20 years, so prepare to try on several and spend a little extra for the one that fits you best. 

Trekking Poles

You may want to have a pair of trekking poles, which are nothing more than lightweight, adjustable metal poles to steady you on downhill slopes or uneven terrain. They can come in handy, especially on muddy trails, but remember that they are a recent convention and you can always go primitive with a free walking stick fashioned from a downed branch.

Trail Apps

Now that you’re looking spiffy — or not, because other hikers don’t care what you wear — you will want to expand your repertoire of places to go. You can start by searching online for local hikes, but it sure is handy to have the trail right on your smartphone. Not only can you access that information via app, but you can browse recent reviews: Is it still snowy? Can I go halfway and get a view of the waterfall? What is a good time to go to avoid crowds? Is that a marmot or a groundhog? These are some of the best apps for hikers:

Finding a Hiking Buddy

Once you have graduated from circling the lake at your local park, it is a very good idea to find someone to hike with. That person could be your spouse or an adventurous friend, but if you need a hiking partner, you may have to be proactive. Start by telling your friends — on the pickleball court, where you volunteer, in your book club — that you are looking for a hiking friend. Check out local MeetUp groups; there may even be one near you for older adults or beginner hikers. Do a search for local hiking clubs, too. 

Hiking is great exercise and a fun way to explore. Whether you keep it local, start exploring your state, or even expand across the country, you will add lots of memories and likely friends too.