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Exercise Advice for Aging Hikers

Over the Hill Hikers

What can older hikers do to help offset the stiffness, aches, and pains that come with getting older so that they can continue hiking into their late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. That’s the question that a reader sent me last week. She writes:

[quote]I am in my late 50’s and my partner is 64. We have completed (and loved) several multi-day walks over the past 20 years but are becoming stiffer in the joints as we age. We are planning a challenging 5-day hike in New Zealand early next year and wonder how best to prepare to avert any physical discomfort. While we will continue our usual gym routines and regular walking, the age factor / aches and pains / stiffness are becoming an issue. We want to continue our hiking for as long as possible, so any suggestions appreciated.[/quote]

This issue has been on my mind as well, since I’m now approaching my mid-50’s. I reckon I have about 15-20 years of backpacking left which explains my fervor in doing as much as I can while I’m still reasonably “robust”.

What advice would you give us?

56 comments

  1. I have read in Wilderness magazine of a man in his 70’s who is still keenly hiking and doing multi-day trips, and he just takes a 10 minute break every hour. He says he doesn’t get any aches and pains

  2. Twenty years ago, I thought I had ten good years of backpacking left. A decade ago, I thought I had ten good years of backpacking left. Now, at 63, I hope I have ten good years of backpacking left. I’ll be having major back surgery tomorrow, which will be a good step toward securing the health needed for the many steps involved in the next ten years of backpacking. If I don’t get the surgery, I’m done. After rehab, which will include lots of walking, I plan on embarking on my next decade of backpacking.

    As I get older, I think I hike smarter. I carry a third to half the weight I did before and don’t lack for anything I need. I also use PacerPoles, which takes some of the load off my knees and also adds my arms to propulsion, which helps me keep a steady pace uphill. I’ve also lost about the equivalent of my pack’s weight off my body, which is another plus.

    • It’s good to hear that you’re doing well, Grandpa!
      Good luck with the surgery tomorrow.
      (From another Grandpa)
      :-)

      • I’m doing amazingly well for someone who had a knife stuck in his back yesterday. I think they removed that yellow streak. I’ve made many laps of the floor today and I’ll get to escape for home tomorrow. I noticed as I was pushing my walker that I had no sciatic pain for the first-time in months. I call it my psychotic nerve because it makes me want to kill something! My lower back is sore but it’s no worse than the everyday pain I have there. I think this surgery will do what was intended.

  3. Maintain a year round physical conditioning program. If you get lax and then just try to get in shape again after months off before going on next trip, the body will scream and curse at you for being a slug muffin. It gets harder the older you get to maintain reasonable fitness and you should expect pain and stiffness as you get older. If you do not have serious medical problems or injuries, the pain and stiffness should not stop you but remember to eat with nutrition in mind and of course hydration is just as important if not more so as you age.

  4. Stay active year round, do something to push yourself every couple of weeks (I walk 3-5 miles daily, and climb a mountain or take a long hike every other week). I’ve added yoga, which helps with stretching and balance. I’m going to try Tai Chi soon for the balance benefits. Exercise with weights can help, but can also exacerbate joint aches. Poles and lightening the pack (while keeping essential gear) help too. I’ve gotten used to the aches, heated seats are my best friend on the ride home!

  5. I’m 66 and still enjoy day hikes ranging from 12 to 18 miles. Hike year round, pay attention to your knees and wear braces if necessary. Vary your hiking terrain and use hiking poles especially on the downhills. I normally get out for a hike about once a week. On other days I stay in shape by walking 4 to 5 miles a day and doing light weight lifting a couple of days a week for upper body strength. I take one full rest day each week.

  6. There is no such thing as old age. It is just the rest of the world trying to catch up by cheating, eh? I agree with the others. Exercise all year, at least three times per week for about 2 hours. Accept the 20-25 mile days of the past are gone. Keep it light and simple so as to not tax the brain power. Avoid doctors, they can make you real sick.

  7. Keeping the first couple of days on a backpacking trip relatively short and easy is sound advice that I still seem to ignore – and that can lead to trouble later in the trip. Your reader could modify her 5 day hike in NZ by extending the schedule to a slightly more manageable 6 or 7 day trip (shorter days on the trail) – but they would need to consider the extra pack weight that involves.

    For me, it’s also about keeping the motivation and desire alive to get out and hike. That means aiming to hike new trails, visit new locations, or re-discover some old favourites. Even bringing along a new item of gear to test or trying out a new activity (e.g. fishing) can sometimes mean the difference between sitting in the coffee shop or hitting the trail. It’s basically about getting out regularly.

  8. At 65, I qualify as being on the down hill side of the trail of life. I have a history of knee issues that includes arthroscopy of both knees. Just as the surgeon predicted, osteoarthritis has set in that includes joint narrowing in the right knee. After my 2014 Sierra hike, I was having considerable discomfort so he ordered physical therapy. Bingo! I just completed my 2015 Sierra hike with no issues. I no longer do any exercise that involves impact to the joints or extreme cardiovascular discomfort, so my routine involves the use of elastic bands, a foam roller, and 5 miles of walking a day done by walking to and from work. The therapist designed the routine to strengthen the hips, not the knees and encouraged me to incorporate exercise into the daily routine as much as possible, and eat, drink and live life with moderation.

  9. Stretching is very important the older you get. I usually take a small length of nylon strap, actually a hammock tree strap, and stretch each day after hiking. IT band, quads, gluts, hamstrings, back and calves are all important.

  10. All excellent advice above – as a hiker in my 50’s I’ll add the following: Pay attention to your diet, supplement as needed. Seek advice/treatment from an alternative medicine professional on herbal supplements, acupuncture, etc which can really help keep your body in balance. Take up Qi Gong, Tai Chi or Yoga to help keep the body working as a unit. And keep taking that next step.

  11. Totally agree with all of the above. At 66, I know that if I had the self-discipline to maintain year-round conditioning, stretch daily, eat drink and live with moderation, and start each week-long trip with a few easy days, I’d have fewer aches and pains. What hasn’t been mentioned yet is the fact that we each age and deteriorate in our own unique ways. There will be aging issues that only you face, and for which you have to devise your own solutions. For me, it’s a childhood injury that, after causing no problems for decades, now requires shoe modifications, custom orthotics, and preventive foot taping. Your mileage WILL vary, and your ability to hike into the sunset will depend on your ability to adapt and overcome.

  12. Aside from keeping in reasonable shape, I think an earlier poster nailed when he said “hike smarter.” Keep your load light, pay attention to good hiking style, and aim to have fun when you are out there.

  13. I have found that losing a little weight has weight a huge impact on my energy level and overall fitness. I started eating a LOT of raw vegetables and fruit this year instead of carbs. I’m also adding some stretching back to my routine and more core work in the gym.

  14. “Stretching”, by Bob Anderson is excellent: http://www.amazon.com/Stretching-Anniversary-Edition-Bob-Anderson/dp/0936070463 I recommend reading the first section on how to stretch safely first — even if you’ve been doing it for years you may pick up something new. After you’ve read it once you’ll never have to read it again. Same thing for each of the stretches in the various routines. Take a minute to read his description of how to perform each stretch in the routine — even if it seems obvious. At least do the 5-7 minute “Morning Stretches” routine every day. He has lots of different routines for before & after every sports activity you can think of, and also very good stretches for those of us who work at computers. Deep tissue work on the ilio-tibial bands (ITB, or IT band) on top of a foam roller is excellent — especially if you have knee issues (also roll 45 degrees forward to get the quad septum, and all the way forward for the quads. Try the gluts, too). Do it maybe every couple of days or so; every day is probably too much. If your neighbors don’t hear you screaming you’re not doing it right :-) That applies to foam roller only — never to stretches or strengthening exercises. Strengthening the gluts is another good way to protect the knees — there is a strong correlation between weak gluts and knee issues. Philip, please feel free to edit this next part out, but I’m also going to take this opportunity to plug my “back-massage” tool, the MA Roller: http://www.themaroller.com It’s like deep-tissue work for the paraspinal muscles, using your own body weight on top of a rock maple roller. It was originally designed by a Chinese medical student more than 45 years ago. He said it works along some major acupuncture meridians, promoting energy flow. It does work out the kinks and promotes deep relaxation. It’s not meant for serious back/spinal issues.

    • I was hoping you’d weigh in :-)

    • I love my foam roller and use it regularly in conjunction with more traditional stretching.

    • I use a foam roller, too, to massage the ITB. In a pinch, a tennis ball will do. After 3 knee surgeries and two foot surgeries (recovering from second one now),I can say that strengthening the glutes, hips and core are essential to hiking with better balance andwith less knee pain and fewer accidents. Prior to foot surgery, I was standing with one foot on a step plank at 16 inches high while the other leg’s knee was raised to hip height. My arm on the side of my standing foot was raised in a fist, elbow parallel with shoulder. The other arm, next to the raised leg, held a 15 pound kettlebell straight down-no movement. So I would step onto the raised plank and assume that position and try to hold for as long as I could, then step down and then step up with the other leg, and repeat. It really helped to “engage the glutes, hips and core”, as my trainer would say. It also helps to spend extra time on core work if you are going to have major surgery. Recovery is faster in my experience. As a 65-year old, I think I’ve got at least 20 years left for hiking. Philip, I’ll bet ypu have thirty years in you, as long as “curling toes” don’t develop into rigid hammer toes.

  15. BTW, if I had to pick out the one most important set of strengthening exercises to do, it wouldn’t be legs, it would be core.

  16. My wife and I are in our sixties. What works for us: use hiking poles, patiently adjust and readjust your footwear, don’t be reluctant to take a zero day, and don’t sleep on the ground.

    • “..don’t sleep on the ground”. Do you mean don’t sleep without a foam or air pad? I sleep on a Thermarest pad and now at age 60, when I wake up – I feel like I fell down a flight of stairs. Sore all over. I now sleep on a Big Agnes inflatable air pad and it has made all the difference in how I feel in the morning. It’s wonderful.

  17. It is amazing how important core strength is for hikers yet so few people focus on it. A plank is a great exercise for core strength and can be done anywhere.

  18. Okay, one last post. (maybe) For those with knee issues or who want to prevent knee issues an often overlooked area for exercise is strengthening the hips, knees and ankles. All there of these work together to provide stability to the knee joint. After injuring my knees backpacking I spent six months in PT focusing on strengthening these joints and I continue to do those exercises today at the gym. IT has really helped out in preventing knee pain when I hike.

  19. I am 68 and am finding some health issues cropping up that tend to limit the normal abilities that you always took for granted. Fifty years of running, some in the old army boot in the military that had little arch protection has ruined my feet so that I rely on superfeet (which are much better than my medical orthotics). Stopped running, but still walk 3 miles a day up every hill I can find in the neighborhood and on weekend hikes. Just finished the 8 mile Observation Point hike on a trip to Zion National Park, about 2 miles of uphill switchbacks and the same down at 100 degrees heat. Went through 6 bottles of water and my thighs were screaming when I finished at the bottom of the 2200 foot elevation. I was pretty well shot at that point, and fondly remember the time that I would still be raring to go. Yes. age does slow you down, but you can’t afford to sit in the rocker on your front porch or you won’t get up.

  20. NEVER stop moving.

  21. I spent my youth working heavy construction and doing expeditionary mountaineering. Between the heavy work and heavy loads (80+ pounds) in the mountains, my 66 year-old knees and back have seen better days. That said, I just completed a 60-mile 8-day 20,000′ gain/loss Sierra backpack in SEKI. My strategy: keep the base pack weight low, design the route to hike fewer miles per day (10 miles or less per day), use trekking poles, lightweight footwear and knee braces, and train before the big trip. I also ride a recumbent trike, which yields excellent conditioning with low impact. The Evolution Loop was a challenge for me, but with care I know that I can still enjoy years of great backpacking.

  22. I would recommend looking at Jen Mitol’s blog backpackerPT (http://backpackerpt.com/).

    She has some very informative posts regarding back pain, knee pain, and weak ankles.

    • I looked her post, too. It is interesting that she is a physical therapist. You are right. She has some excellent observations on problem areas.

  23. I just returned from doing 10 miles on our local Green Belt Path which I use when not on the Trail. So what is the question for us Old Guys? The day before yesterday I did 6 miles, day before that I did 10 miles.. I alternate days and miles. Path is not flat and level but follows the natural Terrain. In fact the last mile to the car Parking lot is all up hill at a 20% grade and ends on top of the hill… On my days off the Trail I cut the Lawn with a Push Mower, which takes 170 passes to cut the Front an Back and some is uphill and of course downhill. I have housework to do, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, washing the floors, doing launday, flipping mattresses so I am always active. I rarely sit around except at Night and do not have TV, instead I read a lot especially the Classics which I get from the Easton Press… Soon our Green Belt Trail will encompass our little town and will be a 16 mile circle and I am so looking forward doing the full 16 every other day or so when I am not out in the Forests and Fields…… Do I ache, a little bit in my upper thighs. Cramps? Nope, Sore feet? Nope. I wear the proper shoes for my feet which meanst that they fit properly…. Am I a bit tired,,no more than I was when I was 25 when I did 20 mile Trail days on Weekends or for a full week during the summer on vacation. 10 in the morning, rest, lunch, nap, Pack up, hike another 10 for night camp… The Secret is not stopping your walking activity and alternating your miles and alternating your days.. Supplements I take? NONE! That is until about 3 months ago when my Doctor recommended that I start taking a Joint Supplement as a Pre-Caution since X-Rays and an MRI did not show any Cartilage or Bone Erosion in the joint nor any other damage and I take a One-A-Day Men’s formula Vitamin and ensure there is NO IRON in the pill.. When Backpacking I wear a soft brace on my left knee when going down hill due to the damage done to the knee in about 1988 when a Club hiker knocked me flying from behind and I popped out the knee cap. The Cartilage on the sides of the knee never fully recovered their strength nor full recovery as in like new from the damage done to them when they were stretched out to the maximum in the fall….. I do go a little slower today, doing a 20 minute mile with a CamelBak pack on the back with 2 liters of water, snacks, first aid kit, and poncho, instead of 17-18 mile when I was younger. With a Backpack on out on the trail I might stretch to a 30 – 40 minute pace per mile due to sight seeing and all. I no longer have to race to get to where I am going and then race back again in time to get to work on time. On the Green Belt Trail I wear NB 609’s on the Feet, with Nylon and cotton Socks on the Hiking Trail Danners Gore-Tex Hikers with Smart Wool. Nothing really special…..

  24. At 61 I walk 15 min every morning and aft, avoid elevators, drink lots of water, cut, split and stack our wood, trim 3 ponds, hand mow etc etc. In other words I do the small stuff, stay physically active and do not watch TV or get addicted to a phone. And i take ibuprofen before and after my hikes if they warrant it. Oh and I still rock climb and lead 5.4, trad routes. :)

  25. All this exercise is very bad for your health and happiness.

    A canny hiker requires expensive dark Belgian chocolate, red wine, and strong cheddar & marmalade sandwiches. Therein lies happiness. When happy, plot a good route through countryside you love. Even if you don’t walk that particular route, you will have had fun visualising each day and imagining the camping spots, sunsets and sunrises.

    As for the actual walking? Keep it smart. Little and often. Then, a month before the big one, eat more chocolate and drink more wine.
    You can get fit on the trail, and your knees won’t be worn out.
    :-)

  26. At 65, I’ve found that the best conditioning for walking with a pack is, well, walking with a pack. (I can’t claim that as entirely original: I began backpacking with Colin Fletcher – or at least his original Complete Walker – as my mentor, and I simply adopted his advice.) I’m an admitted, and unabashed, recreational backpacker, so high-mileage days are not on my menu – I usually shoot for 8-10 miles a day, depending on terrain; I consider 12 or more to be “high-mileage.”

    I have, of course, added a few modifiers over the years: adopt the lightweight hiking style (I’m currently at 14 pounds for a weekend, including food, fuel and a liter of water), use hiking poles, eat minimalist meals (not small, just simple and dehydrated, which uses a minimal kitchen, and try to stay close to my ideal body weight – always a work in progress.

    This means that, when I go walk a mile or two after work, I take my fully-packed pack with me (including food, water and gear), and carry it. It also means that I try to take weekend trips in a local park or state forest at least once a month, with two full hiking days. I tend to start slowly, strolling along while everything settles into place, then picking up the pace. Poles really do take a lot of stress off you knees, and a light pack with a good suspension that fits well keeps a lot of stress off your hips and shoulders. Again, a slower hiking speed (maybe 1.5 miles per hour, tops) means you hike more gently, which seems to leave me less sore at the end of the day.

    One other trick is a camp chair. I’ve grown to like the MSR Compack Chair kit with my full-length Neoair XLite makes for a great “chaise-lounge” chair in camp, deployed full length (with the long part sticking out the hole so it fully supports your legs). But wait, you say – I thought you were hiking light? Ah, I reply: my chair and pad form the suspension of my frameless pack (Granite Gear Virga 2), so I can rationalize that it really isn’t a luxury – it’s just another use for something I use all day.

    I find that a chair allows me to rest my back, and that I don’t have to keep any tension on my legs to make it balance. I fully relax, and find that, as a result, I sleep more comfortably and soundly, which means I recover better and have more energy and less stiffness the next morning.

    Probably not very scientific, and there’s probably plenty of holes in the theory, but it seems to have worked for me; I’m still hiking after 35 years, with no real intention or reason to stop any time soon.

  27. If I had to pick one exercise routine only: T’ai Chi. Amazing host of benefits for mind and body — the list is very long. Excellent for young and old(er).

  28. I’m 62 and have been backpacking since I was 8. All points are well taken, but Glenn hit the proverbial nail on the head; you get in shape to backpack by backpacking. There is a substantial body of research which indicates that the most effective way to get in shape and master any skill (and backpacking is a skill) is to perform the skill. Simple yes, but it applies to all sports. You don’t become a better basketball player by running laps. You become a better basketball player by running while dribbling, catching, passing and shooting the ball. You can run and improve your cardiovascular conditioning, you can improve your core strength, you can build up the muscles surrounding your knees and all of these are definitely going to help, but you need to hike and carry that loaded pack on an uneven trail to maximize your backpacking experience. The more you can get out and do that, the better.

    Good luck Grandpa on the back surgery. I had major back surgery three years ago and I’m back at 100% with lots of stretching and strength training (core) over a period of many months.

    • Dave, I agree with you up to a point. Of course, you can’t get better at hitting fastballs, for example, without practicing hitting fastballs. That much is true.

      However, sport-specific training never meant that athletes should only concentrate on performing activities required during the performance of their sport. That would lead to decreased performance and overuse injuries. Virtually every professional athlete spends a good deal of time in the gym and with trainers performing exercises and drills that complement and enhance their sports skills by stretching, strengthening — overall and specific muscle groups, improving agility and reaction times, and generally preparing their bodies for grueling days of practice and competition. Most also cross-train in order to improve fitness and prevent overuse injuries.

      I think that’s what we’re talking about here. While your point is very well-taken, I think you’re preaching to the choir, so to speak. I don’t think most of the people on this thread are deconditioned newbies . . . just the opposite. I think the majority have been hiking a good many years and are suffering from wear-and-tear.

      • Yonah, I agree with your comments. Cross-training and participating in other activities are definitely beneficial to overall well-being and health. At any age, we should be doing those activities. I don’t mean to diminish the benefits at all, but to stress the importance of actually hiking and backpacking to prepare.

        This continues to be a very pertinent and beneficial discussion. Earlier this month I assisted on a commercial trip with participants ranging in age from 50 to 70. Though some were in better shape than others, all of them did fine on the trip and all of them prepared using various forms of cross-training along with hiking and backpacking.

  29. I started backpacking 2 years ago with a JMT hike at the age of 61. Though I spent 6 months in the gym and on local trails trying to go from retired couch potato to conditioned hiker, I ended up with a repetitive stress knee injury that forced an extraction from the wilderness after descending Mather Pass, 150-plus miles into the southbound hike. I now go to the gym three times weekly, concentrating on strengthening muscles to support knees as well 30-minute elliptical trainer sessions with hills for cardiovascular conditioning. Weekly yoga classes have improved core strength, balance and flexibility. This year I added more upper body work at the gym, machines and a few free weight exercises. Hiking 4-5 miles three times weekly year round on local trails with hills (no mountains in Mississippi) helps keep me ready for the trail. A 163-mile AT section hike last summer and this summer’s hut-to-hut hike through the Whites resulted in only minor occasional knee pain. Thanks, Yonah, for the suggestions for IT band which has been smoldering since a 10K walk/run early this summer.

  30. Much good info in this thread. The only thing I’d be tempted to add is one of the findings in Dan Buettner’s Blue Zone studies … build physical activity into the many incidental activities in your lifestyle

  31. What a great question, and I’m excited by the comments. Being 61 and looking forward to retiring and having more time for the outdoors I’m encouraged to hear from all the folks in my age group that are so energetic and positive. My ideas about how to stay able to do the things I dream of are 1) Keeping my weight under control, as I love chocolate and donuts. 2) Keeping up a varied exercise routine that works all the muscle groups in their turn, 3) Interleaving aerobic exercise with the strength training (I have heel trouble so I don’t run, but the elliptical is a terrific low impact aerobic conditioner), 4) Especially important is a comprehensive stretching routine after every workout. A short yoga session as part of a training session is very effective, 5) Including exercises that improve balance and a lot of basic core strength are vital. And I seriously subscribe to the theory that the best way to be in shape for a particular activity is to actually do it, as I have seen mentioned several time in these comments. I am fortunate to work where I have access to personal trainers for free and I have learned a great deal from them. It’s amazing what 6th year PT doctoral students know and can teach you about your body and how to take care of it.

  32. TwoYellowDogs.Terri

    Thank you ALL for taking time to post comments… I backpacked in younger days–have not been on a BP trip in over 8 yrs; I am literally heart-broken and dying to get back out into the wilderness. Most of my life I stayed super active, always had a desk job, but the last 12 yrs I let my job consume long hours and most of my life. I’ve had foot surgeries, hip replacement and spinal surgery. Finally decided to quit the rat race-just made a plan and quit my job, retiring at 53; now 3 yrs into retirement and post-4 yrs past last surgery, still struggling–still in pain (although no longer take narcotic-prescription pain pills).

    Much of the advice here I ultimately am aware of (I was a part-time fitness instructor 15+ yrs ago for over 10 yrs). Seeing all the *right* info consolidated into these comments is very helpful–so very kind of everyone to post such positive advice. I think stretching is now my first priority… I believe that will help a lot with the pain I experience. Second is consistency with exercise/stretching/strengthening regimen. And the obvious (that appeared in several comments), get out and DO IT, do the ‘exercise/sport’ that you want as part of your life (add in manageable chunks, increase duration/distance/pack-weight over time).

    Thanks for all the info and inspiration.

  33. Gee. I just turned 78 and climbed Mt Washington with my grandson last week. I felt better as the hike progressed and believe my condition is a result of doing a hilly walk of 3 miles every day.. I try to do one major hike of about 6 hours every week. On hikes I take a “walking break” after every hour. I use two treking poles and a variety of hiking footware. The heavyest thing in my pack in 2liters of water in a hydration system. 40 years of cycling also contributed to legs that are still strong enough to do the things I love

  34. I am 54 and have had 4 spinal surgeries over the last 20 years – 3 of them fusions. Lot’s of stretching keeps me limber enough to keep hiking. I hike weekly and still do multi-day trips. There are many days when my pain makes me want to stay home. But that would only make me feel worse. Never give in, never stop moving. Our greatest limitations are self-imposed.

  35. Hiking and climbing is great therapy for aging. The biggest problem that I’ve noticed is that it is easier to get out of shape, easier to get injured, harder and longer to get back. Hike at least once a week of 8+ miles and a few 1000 feet elevation gain. Keep the activity going during the week with a few bike rides of 10+ miles, and a trip to the rock gym or some yoga. But, whatever you do ease into it, and buid up slowly. You may remember doing a certain hike in record time without any experience years ago, but as you age you have to train. Above all, don’t worry about others, and just enjoy yourself.

  36. I am 61 soon to be 62. I had back surgery last December( Laser Spine) and went on my first hike of the season in May. While I was recovering, I walked a ton at the local mall since it was winer here in Minnesota. I think just keeping active with walking and doing stretches before a hike and after really do help. I agree with Ranchez on never stop moving. I have watch my mother over the years lose movement because she doesn’t move. I do not want to get like her……

  37. My 64th birthday is 8 days away- I’ve been a backpacker and hiker for 49 years. Not about to give it up yet! Lots of good ideas here. One thing which has really helped me is to sleep in a hammock- when I get up I feel better than when I’ve slept in a bed and much better than when I’ve slept on the ground.

  38. I am 60. Most people think I’m younger. I still have an “AT Thru-Hike” dream. I have all my gear ready. The last scenario was it looked like I was going to be laid-off. I was going to put everything in a storage unit and get a bus to GA. Didn’t get laid off so that plan is out. Now I am maintaining my fitness with the hope of a retirement trip. The oldest person I personally know that did it was 63. I read about a 69 year old Lady that did it. Occasionally I think I’m foolish, and should sell the gear to a younger person. Just not ready to give up the dream yet. I have had back surgery, a minor stroke, and arthritis. I hike regularly with groups that I don’t dare tell my age or issues. As long as I keep going I have no problem. Frequent rest breaks are more of a hurt than a help. I wear high quality boots for the support and stiffness. I walk daily pay attention to good nutrition and look for challenging hikes on the weekends. Columns like this are great fuel for inspiration.

    • TwoYellowDogs.Terri

      Keep the dream. Don’t let it go–don’t sell you equip! YOU WILL get there. I have a dream too–mine is the PCT–my family thinks I’m foolish; I refuse to give up my dream (even though I don’t get to share it with anyone). Columns like this help me realize I can get there; planning, training, dreaming…

  39. Besides what others have said about lightening the load, both by losing weight and carrying less weight, and staying in shape year-round versus “training” for a trip, I suggest cross-training and high-intensity interval training. High intensity intervals – short bursts of effort followed by resting for a similar length of time – can be done in whatever sport or activity you choose – running, biking, calisthenics, swimming, even walking – and provide a lot of bang for the buck. Routines that take just minutes have been shown to provide the same strength and endurance benefits as much longer workouts at easy or moderate effort. The New York Times has written about a number of high-intensity interval studies and workouts the past few years. Some of the intervals within workouts are as short as 20 seconds. You can read about the studies and the workouts in the Times’ health section. I’m 65 and my wife is 54, and we do one of those workouts, the Scientific 7-Minute Workout, after a half-hour of yoga. In the spirit of full disclosure, we call it the 7-Minute Calisthenics Drill from Hell, but it gets the job done.

  40. Seventy seven and still going strong! I live in New Zealand and our tracks are quite different from many in the US except the “Great Walks” which are modified for tourists with little experience. Train for your hike for 6 weeks, Five days of 1 to 2 hrs on medium to rough tracks where footwork is required and carry a 10 lb load. One day of 5 to 6 hours and 6 to 8 miles with 15 lbs; this is a good way to test gear and food, have a couple of 20 mins breaks with snacks and a drink and one 1 hr stop with a meal that requires some heating. Get used to heat, cold and wet, sometimes you will get all three in one day.
    In NZ you will be stopping in a hut with bunks and heating mostly so a tent is not required but a light tarp can be a God send if waiting on flooded river crossings in the rain. Cooking is no problem a small canister stove (MSR Pocket Rocket) or a Trangia is fine, Soda pop stoves are frowned upon in huts as a fire risk.
    Last but not least hiking in NZ is known as “Tramping” and distances are quoted in kilometers. Track distances are given in hours for the average tramper I allow an extra hour for moderate grade an 2 or 3 for hard. Please consider hiring a locator beacon if you are tramping alone as opposed to an organised group.
    A fair idea of a wilderness track of 5/6 days is “The Hollyford” in Fiordland. Check out YouTube.

  41. Another consideration for those visiting New Zealand should be foot wear. I firmly believe that good boots are an essential for much of our tracks, routes and trails as they are often rough, steep and very hard on footwear. I have had a medium priced boot destroyed on a six day tramp; continuously wet, many river crossings and knee deep mud on Stuart Island did the dirty. On the other hand the “Great Walks” are a walk in the Park by comparison and shoes are fine.

    • My granddaughter hiked on long weekends as a geoscience exchange student in New Zealand, mostly hiking on the South Island. During the University of Canterbury’s 3 week spring break she and five friends did a weeklong hike ( or tramp) including a 30 kilometer trek one day (18 miles) between huts. The terrain is much different than what is hiked on the East Coast of the US, according to her, and jagged volcanic surfaces could be a challenge. She thought the hut system was sophisticated and provided a great place to stay overnight. They did not bring tents, which garanteed that they would get in a lengthy hike from hut to hut. Now that she is home, she would love to return to New Zealand. Good for you, Tony, to be 77 and still going strong! i plan to do the same.

  42. I’m type 2 diabetic and 63. I did a certain amount of backpacking in my 40’s and as a young adult, Adirondacks, GMC Long Trail northern section and in the Eastern Townships Canada (Sentier de l’Estrie.) I’m road cycling to keep my legs and lungs strong and my diabetes is very well controlled. I long to do the whole Long Trail, but a bit creeped out. I get a lot of encouragement/inspiration from reading seniors doing this. Whether the LT, AT or JMT…. lots to be gleaned from.

  43. I’ll be 70 this fall. I can’t hike as far or as long as I once could, but I do keep going. First trick is to have good genes. Next, exercise a lot and regularly, aerobic and weights. Get out year round. I’ve always believed in backpacking at your own pace. It’s even more important now.

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