If you are an avid walker or day hiker, backpacking is a great way to turn that passion into a full-blown adventure. And there’s no better time to try something new than during retirement.
In fact, studies show that being outdoors is highly beneficial to everyone and especially to older adults. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service website, being outside increases life expectancy, improves sleep quality, and reduces stress. A 2008 Journal of Aging and Health study found that for people over 70, simply getting out of the house everyday predicts long-term functional and health benefits.
Ready to head for the hills? We say go for it!
Here are some ways to safely try backpacking for the first time.
Take a class or use a guide. As a novice backpacker, consider starting with a class, joining a local backpacking club, or backpacking with a guide. Most national parks have guides for hire who will design an ideal trip for you. The outdoor recreation retailer, REI has a comprehensive intro backpacking blog series, so you can learn the basics.
Go easy. One of the most important decisions for your inaugural backpack adventure is trip selection: the shorter, the better. Go for just one night. Pick an easy hike that is less than 5 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation. For most hikers, that mileage will only take a couple hours to do, so you can spend the rest of the day enjoying your destination. Popular backpacking trails are found at U.S. national forests and national parks, or you can look for local nature preserves that allow overnight camping.
Take care of your feet. You’ll need all-terrain trail shoes or lightweight hiking boots. Nothing ruins a backpacking trip faster than blisters. Skip the online shopping and head straight to a store staffed by outdoor enthusiasts to be fitted. Once you’ve found the right pair, break them in by wearing them on your walks or day hikes.
Go as light as possible. A light pack is key to a more enjoyable hike, yet you need to make sure you have the essentials. Overpacking is a rookie mistake. For your first trip, borrow gear from friends or rent equipment from REI, Arrive Outdoors, Outdoor Geek, or local college rec centers. Here is a sample packing list for a one-night trip.
Know how to set up and use all your equipment before you leave. That includes setting up your tent, and knowing how to work your stove and water filtration system.
Plan a trip that matches your physical capabilities. Know that adding elevation, altitude, and a full pack will increase the intensity of the trip. Mimic the trip locally with a day hike that is similar in distance and elevation. You can have fun by weighing down your pack with an elaborate picnic – something you won’t be able to enjoy in the backcountry.
If sleeping on the ground in a tent seems like too much, you can enjoy a similar outdoor experience with hut-to-hut treks or a more high-end experience with inn-to-inn walking tours.
Hut-to-hut trekking is backpacking that involves staying in huts, instead of tents, on mountain trails. Generally, the huts have cots/bunks, a stove, toilets, and depending on the location, they provide meals. You typically hike between 5 to 8 miles each day and carry a much lighter pack without a tent, sleeping pads, stove, or fuel. Popular hut-to-hut destinations are Yosemite high sierra camps, Colorado’s hut system, the Appalachian Trail, Italy’s Dolomites rifugios, and the Mont Blanc Massif Trail.
Inn-to-inn walking tours:
Inn-to-inn walking tours involve day walks between overnight inns. Luggage transportation is provided by tour operators, so your bags are there when you arrive each night. The inns have private rooms, comfy beds, hot showers, high-quality dining, and other amenities. All you carry is a daypack with water, food, clothing layers, and a credit card, should you stumble upon a place to grab a bite or have a drink. Some popular inn-to-inn walking tours are the Cotswolds in England, Camino de Santiago in Spain, and Kumano Kodō in Japan.
Have a blast!
Throughout the “Active You” section of this blog, we will introduce you to ideas on staying active and learning new things.
oooh – hut to hut and inn to inn sound awesome!