Why you’re never too old to try backpacking: 8 essential tips for your first trip – TravelAwaits | Gmx Pharm

My love for backpacking started when I was a teenager. Unlike a day hike, backpacking offered adventure as you pack everything you need to spend a night or more in the forest on your back and sleep the night under the stars next to a stream, a rushing waterfall or on a rocky cliff spend. the sounds of nature that surround you.

Over the years, life got in my way and there never seemed to be enough time to get away, pushing my love of backpacking into the background. Now that I’m retired I have time and want to try again. Trouble is, I’m not that sprightly teenager anymore. My knees pop, break and hurt. My back is no longer flexible. But the trail is calling.

Backpacking is an excellent way to feel rejuvenated, take you to landscapes and nature that only a hiking trail can provide, and even challenge you. It can be as simple as spending a night on a trail at a local state park where they offer backcountry camping, to something truly challenging like hiking the entire Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine.

One thing is for sure, it’s a fun, rewarding, and satisfying sport to enjoy in our 50s and well into our golden years.

MJ Eberhart (aka Nimblewill Nomad) became the oldest man to complete the Appalachian Trail in 2001

(Image credit: Joe Cuhaj)

Aren’t you convinced you’re never too old for a backpack? Well, a good friend of mine, MJ Eberhart (better known by his hiking name Nimblewill Nomad), recently completed the AT hike from Alabama to Maine at the age of 83, making him the oldest man to have done so.

Here are eight tips to help you get started on your own journey.

Man stands on rock overlooking rolling hills.
“One of the joys of backpacking – breathtaking views.”
(Image credit: Joe Cuhaj)

1. The joy of backpacking over 50

Besides exploring the great outdoors, there are many other benefits associated with backpacking:

  • Being physically active is good for the body and mind.
  • It improves your cardiovascular health.
  • Builds strong muscles.
  • Increases cognitive function.
  • It is therapeutic and allows you to get away from it all and immerse yourself in nature.
  • Build confidence in yourself and your abilities.

2. Get in shape

Before you lace up those boots and set foot on the trail, get to know your body and your physical condition, and don’t sugarcoat it. Be honest with yourself. Do you have knee or back pain? Are you slightly overweight? How’s your stamina?

Always start your adventure with your personal doctor. Tell them what you’re up to and find out about your physical condition. Be sure to ask their advice to prepare your body for the adventures ahead.

3. Start with the basics

If you’ve never done a day hike before, start by walking in your neighborhood and gradually increase your distance.

When you’re ready to do something more challenging, take a stroll to the nearest park or state park and enjoy day hikes of varying difficulty. Again, start with easy trails and work your way up to the more difficult ones, but be sure to go on hikes that spur you on with something interesting, like a waterfall, a panoramic view, or a story.

From there, it’s time to do some easy overnight hiking. Build up in the same way for longer stays in the forest. But before you can do that overnight, you’ll need to get some basic gear and a little more planning.

4. Gear Basics

Remember that you will carry everything you need on your back. A lot of people give up backpacking after their first trip because they literally have everything with them – cast iron skillets, big four-person tents, radios, you name it. It’s not good and is usually the end of their backpacking adventures.

The idea is to find a balance between being easy to pack and still being comfortable. There’s a science to buying the right gear for your adventure – tents, sleeping bags, groceries, etc. The American Hiking Society is one of the best sources for learning the intricacies of choosing the best backpacking gear and your first backpacking trip Travel pleasant and comfortable.

There are a few essential things that you really need to focus on. The first is water, a backpacker’s best friend and worst enemy.

It’s a hiker’s best friend because it’s important to drink enough water on a hike to stay hydrated and healthy. It is their worst enemy because it is very heavy to carry.

A good rule of thumb is to drink half a liter of water for every hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. Increase or decrease the amount depending on the difficulty of the hike and the outside temperature. Be sure to add electrolytes to your water to help keep you hydrated.

Do not drink from any water source along the way without first purifying it either through a filter or with chemicals. Waterborne diseases like Giardia are no laughing matter. While it’s treatable and rarely fatal, the physical strain it puts on your body is no fun.

Talk to your local outfitter about water filters for your backpack or water bottle. The magazine for backpackers, Backpacker Magazineconducts an annual review of the latest filters, which will also help you make the right choice.

Always carry basic communication tools with you – a mobile phone and a GPS device. Cell phones are fine up to a point, but you’re never sure if you have a signal or not, and of course the batteries die.

Never use your phone as a GPS device. Again, the lack of signal is the problem and can leave you stranded in the backcountry. It also drains batteries quickly. Opt for a GPS device instead. Prices start at $100 for the basic Garmin GPS Map 64ST.

Even with a good GPS device (and learning how to use it) there is one more thing you should learn before your big adventure…

5. Learn orienteering

A GPS is good, but you can still lose signal or run out of batteries. It’s a good idea to learn orienteering – using a traditional map and compass. Oh, and be sure to take them with you on your hike.

National topographic maps for the entire country are available online from the US Geological Survey and from local outfitters who can teach you the art of orienteering or direct you to someone who can teach you.

Campers stand around campfire.
Author Joe gets ready for a night on the trail with friends around the campfire.
(Image credit: Joe Cuhaj)

6. Make informed decisions about your trek

As you can see, planning is everything for a successful backpacking trip. But there’s more to it than just the gear you wear.

Of course you want to make your backpacking trip unforgettable and experience everything that nature has to offer, but you have to know your limits.

Good hiking guides and maps provide information about the level of difficulty of a hiking trail. But this is all subjective and usually based on the author’s experience and condition, which may not match yours.

With a good trail guide like those found on AllTrails or an app, you can look at the map and associated elevation gain to get a feel for the type of rock climbing you’re aiming for on the hike you’re planning to do. lets in

Also consider the length of the hike. Sure, the average person can run 2 or 2.5 mph on flat ground, but add in climbing ridges and mountains and traversing streams and if you’re not in top shape your speed will drop significantly and a shorter overnight hike can be ok.

Locate water sources along the trail before setting off. Are there many streams and springs where you can filter water? That helps lighten the load but still pack a lot. You never know when this water source will run dry.

7. Be weatherproof

Check the weather before heading out. If severe storms are forecast, don’t risk it.

Hikers go over a wooden bridge into the forest.
“Take a day hike with your gear to try it out before going on an overnight backpacking trip.”
(Image credit: Joe Cuhaj)

8. Last tips before you head out

Never hike alone. I have a lot of backpacking friends who are traveling alone, but that’s not a good idea. Emergencies happen along the way and having someone with you can mean the difference between life and death.

Pack a first aid kit and know how to use it.

Wherever you go, let others know your plans—when you’ll be at the trailhead, what route you’ll take on the trail, where you’ll spend the night, and when you can expect to return home.

Before spending your first night, consider a test hike with your gear. Load up your backpack with whatever you want to take with you and take a day hike through a local park or state park. Walk a distance. Is the backpack comfortable or too heavy? Take out the gear and try it out to make sure it works and that it’s not too difficult to operate on the trail.

And with that, you’re ready to lace up your boots, strap on your backpack, grab your hiking poles, and set out on your first backpacking trip. Happy trails!

For more information on camping, see these articles:

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