The FUNdamentals of Hiking for Seniors

Don’t just sit around the campsite! Hiking for seniors is more than doable for everyone. Just follow the 10 FUNdamentals.

Notice I’m posting this on the first day of the New Year for a reason.

Have you heard of First Day Hikes?

First Day Hikes is part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors. On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes are organized in all 50 states. Children and adults all across America participate in First Day Hikes getting their hearts pumping and enjoying the beauty of a state park. Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country.

As we visit with those we meet across the country in campgrounds, rallies, and camping meetups, we are amazed at how many RVers—especially seniors—are not hikers. And we think the first day of the year is a good time to start.

Some think it’s too challenging, too strenuous, needs too much-specialized equipment, and not enjoyable.

But, they are wrong.

Unless you have a serious underlying health issue, hiking for seniors is for everyone—no matter your age, experience, fitness level, or gear.

Hiking will so enhance your enjoyment of the RV Lifestyle, nature, the geographic area you are visiting, and your relationship with your camping partner that you will be instantly hooked.

So let’s break it down a bit and talk about what you need gear-wise, how to get started, and what advice you should follow.

But, make no mistake hiking is indeed for everyone at every age.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. What is different about hiking for seniors?

Hiking is for everyone.

It’s just walking and exploring outdoors. That’s the simplest definition I can offer.

There’s no set speed you have to hike, no distance required to be counted as a hike, and you don’t have to dress a certain way.

2. How is the best way to start hiking for seniors?

Begin by taking walks around the campground or RV park. Then explore further afield.

Get proper hiking footwear. You don’t need huge, expensive, and heavy boots. Today’s hiking boots are as comfortable as shoes. Wear them on your neighborhood walks, or around the campground when you are camping.

Then start to venture out on trails.

Hiking to Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Best hiking for seniors gear

There is some basic gear that will make your hike more enjoyable like that good pair of hiking boots.

You’ll want a hat to keep the sun from frying your brains (just kidding), a day pack, a water bottle, comfortable clothes, and maybe some hiking poles for extra stability on uneven ground.

A compass is also a good thing to carry with you. Many cell phones have them built-in as apps and that is nice. But there may not be cell coverage in the area you are hiking or your battery may run out of juice. So get, learn how to use it, and bring a compass along on your hikes.

And if you are hiking in bear country, every person in your hiking party should carry bear spray.

Want an RV resource and information on hiking in bear country?

Hiking Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. How far should you hike?

If you are a total newbie and in reasonably good shape and can easily handle those neighborhood walkabouts I talked about earlier, a good wilderness hike to begin with is two two-mile round trip if the terrain is rough and hilly, maybe even less.

Eventually, a moderate distance for most beginners is three to four miles out and back.

Hiking is not speed walking. I consider it a nature stroll. You want to take your time. Look around. Take a lot of photos. Observe God’s creation in all its glory. Learn things. Breathe deeply. Listen.

Hiking Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Use a map

If you are in a wilderness area, you really want to have a map that clearly shows your route.

At most state parks and national parks, hiking trails are marked in brochures and printed maps available from the ranger station.

There are lots of books available for popular areas listing the different trails. The alltrails.com app is a must-have for finding great hikes in the various locations you visit.

You can even Google something like “best hikes near me” and get lots of suggestions.

But the whole point of a map is to know where you are going and how to get back plus a general understanding of landmarks, the terrain, and what you will be seeing.

Hiking Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Tell someone where you are going

In case of an emergency, you want someone to know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Consider sending a text or an email to a friend or relative.

You can say something like: “Greetings from Arches. Wish you were with us! We are going to Double O Arch in the Devils Garden section. It’s only a little over four miles round trip and has some beautiful scenery. I just wanted to let you know! We should be back by 4 pm. I’ll send you a photo when we return.”

By the way, if you do visit Arches, Double O Arch is a great hike. It’s 4.1 miles roundtrip but because you spend the first part climbing it’s officially classified as moderate in difficulty.

Double O Arch is the second largest arch within the Devils Garden area—after Landscape Arch of course. As the name implies, there are two arches here, one large, with a span of 71 feet, stacked atop a much smaller arch with a 21-foot span. Both are part of the same sandstone fin. Double O Arch is located at the far end of the Devils Garden Primitive Loop, 1.93 miles past the Devils Garden trailhead and parking lot at the north end of the Arches Entrance Road. Past Landscape, the trail becomes much more rugged and challenging.

Something else to do: Leave a note in the vehicle you used to drive to the trailhead or back in the RV if you set off from camp. Jot down the date and time, where you are going, the route or trail, and when you expect to be back.

7. Carry a day pack

For short hikes, a day pack is all you need.

You should bring a cell phone with you. Naturally, it should be fully charged. There are inexpensive cases and solar chargers that easily fit in a small pack. And even if cell coverage in the wilderness you are hiking is spotty, the phone is still useful. You can download and store maps on it, use the flashlight, and take photos.

Also, carry a small, dedicated flashlight in your day pack.

Other items we bring include rain ponchos, basic first aid kit, whistle for signaling, water bottle, insect repellant, and sunscreen.

For short hikes, you very well may not need all that. But being prepared just in case always makes good sense.

Be ware of the cholla! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Know the weather

Before setting out on any hike, be aware of the predicted weather conditions you are likely to encounter.

Excess heat and humidity, predicted storms, flash flood conditions, wind, and wildfire potentials are all factors you need to be aware of and take into consideration as you plan your hike.

If it’s expected to be hot, get an early start. Know what time sunset is and give yourself plenty of time to get back before dark.

9. Stick to the trail

The leading reason why hikers get lost is that they decide to go off-trail. So don’t. Besides easily getting disoriented, hiking off-trail damages the landscape.

Hidden obstacles off-trail can trip you up and falls are the leading cause of injuries to hikers. Besides, the trails are there for a reason. They are the best route through the area and almost always offer the best views. So stay on them.

10. Leave no trace

As the signs say, leave nothing but footprints.

But don’t take anything out with you, either—except your trash and photos.

Most public lands prohibit picking wildflowers or removing trees and shrubs.

Lately, we’ve seen notices on some of our hikes asking people not to make rock piles.

The idea is to keep public lands as wild and undisturbed as possible.

There’s a Leave No Trace movement that lists a code of conduct that responsible campers and hikers should follow.

Where will your next hike be?

Worth Pondering…

To me, old age is always ten years older than I am.

—John Burroughs

Leave No Trace 7 Principles

Before you head into the great outdoors, embrace the practices highlighted below

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace provide an easily understood framework of how to properly behave and act while in nature. Whether you’re hiking, camping, kayaking, wildlife viewing, photographing, or anything else, the 7 Principles apply to pretty much all outdoor recreation.

Every individual principle tackles a specific subject, offering in-depth information to limit the impact of your activity.

I personally live by these Principles and I encourage everyone who visits state parks, national parks, county and regional parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, or other protected areas to adhere to them. They greatly help to ensure that wild (and less wild) landscapes will be there for the enjoyment of future generations, too.

Observing wildlife at Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Plan ahead and prepare

Adequate trip planning and preparation helps backcountry travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land. Poor planning often results in unhappy hikers and campers and damage to natural and cultural resources.

Rangers often tell stories of campers they have encountered who because of poor planning and unexpected conditions degrade backcountry resources and put themselves at risk.

The basics:

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use
  • Visit in small groups; split larger parties into smaller groups

More information about planning and preparation

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces

The goal of traveling outdoors is to move through natural areas while avoiding damage to the land or waterways. Understanding how travel causes impacts is necessary to accomplish this goal.

Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development of undesirable trails.

The basics:

  • Durable surfaces include established trails, campsites, rock, gravel, and dry grasses or snow
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams
  • Good campsites are found, not made; altering a site is not necessary
  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites

More information about traveling and camping on durable surfaces

Keeping a clean campsite while camping at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Dispose of waste properly

The waste humans create while enjoying outdoor spaces can have severe impacts if not disposed of properly. It is crucial to anticipate the types of waste you will need to dispose of and know the proper techniques for disposing of each type of waste in the area you are visiting. Leave No Trace encourages outdoor enthusiasts to consider the impacts they leave behind which will undoubtedly affect other people, water, and wildlife.

Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease, and maximize the rate of decomposition.

For other waste, pack it in, pack it out is a familiar mantra to seasoned wildland visitors. Any user of recreation lands has a responsibility to clean up before he or she leaves. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled food. Pack out all trash and garbage.

The basics:

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled food. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Burning trash is never recommended.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Bury toilet paper deep in a cathole or pack the toilet paper out along with hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter dishwater.

More information about proper waste disposal

Leave petrified wood for others to enjoy (Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Leave what you find

Leave areas as you find them. Do not dig trenches for tents or construct lean-tos, tables, chairs, or other rudimentary improvements. If you clear an area of surface rocks, twigs, or pine cones replace these items before leaving.

Avoid hammering nails into trees for hanging things, hacking at them with hatchets and saws, or tying tent guy lines to trunks—thus girdling the tree. Carving initials into trees is unacceptable.

Natural objects of beauty or interest such as antlers, petrified wood, or colored rocks add to the mood of the backcountry and should be left so others can experience a sense of discovery. In national parks and many other protected places, it is illegal to remove natural objects.

The basics:

  • Preserve the past: Observe cultural or historic structures and artifacts but do not touch them
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches

More information about leaving objects and living things as you find them

Use firepits carefully © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Minimize campfire impacts

Fires vs. Stoves: The use of campfires, once a necessity for cooking and warmth is steeped in history and tradition. Some people would not think of camping without a campfire. Campfire building is also an important skill for every camper.

Yet, the natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and an increasing demand for firewood. The development of lightweight efficient camp stoves has encouraged a shift away from the traditional fire for cooking.

Stoves have become essential equipment for minimum-impact camping. They are fast, and flexible and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition—and they Leave No Trace.

The basics:

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts on the environment; use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light
  • Use established fire rings, pans, or mound fires where fires are permitted
  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, and then scatter cool ashes

More information about minimizing campfire impacts

Observe wildlife from a distance (pronghorns at Custer State Park, South Dakota) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Respect wildlife

Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a better look. Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee.

Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife so keep your group small. If you have a larger group, divide it into smaller groups if possible to minimize your impacts.

Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed, or force animals to flee. (One exception is in black bear or grizzly bear country where it is good to make a little noise so as not to startle the bears.) Do not touch, get close to, feed, or pick up wild animals.

The basics:

  • Observe wildlife from a distance; do not follow or approach them
  • Never feed animals; feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers
  • Control pets at all times or leave them at home
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter

More information about respecting wildlife

Yield to others on the trail (Catalina State Park (Arizona) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Be considerate of other visitors

One of the most important components of outdoor ethics is to maintain courtesy toward others. It helps everyone enjoy their outdoor experience. Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets, and damaged surroundings detract from the natural appeal of the outdoors. Being considerate of others ensures everyone can enjoy nature no matter how they interact with it.

The basics:

  • Respect others and protect the quality of their experience
  • Be courteous; yield to other users on the trail
  • Greet riders and ask which side of the trail to move to when encountering pack stock
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and others
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail; avoid loud voices and noises

More information about sharing nature with other visitors

Worth Pondering…

Please leave only your footprints.