Need help getting back on the trail

Posted by: Hobblit

Need help getting back on the trail - 05/31/13 05:14 PM

Hello there, young-at-heart folks,

I have a couple of obstacles to backpacking and could use your suggestions.

I'm 61, very active my whole life until injury in my 50s led to arthritis in my hips and lower back. I'm sure my doctor would tell me not to backpack but I'm very aware of the quickly passing years and don't want to just curl up and die prematurely.

My gear is medium weight. Total pack weight for a 3- to 4-day trip is 32 to 35 lbs. I had an idea to hire a young sherpa to carry 10 lbs of my gear. A pack weight of 22 lbs would be much more manageable, wouldn't it? So how does one find a sherpa? I'm serious about this.

For those of you with back problems, what do you consider a reasonable daily distance? If you could only go five miles would you think it was worth the trouble?

Second problem: I can't find anyone to backpack with. I've advertized on Craigslist for two years. I have zero replies to ads that mention my gender and age. I slept in the woods alone for many years but I've now become fearful of the big coywolves in the Northeast. I don't feel safe alone anymore. Does anyone share those feelings?

Bottom line, as I've grown older I've lost physical ability and people my age don't seem to want to do much in the outdoors.

One thing I feel averse to is joining a group. It's an adaptation for me to do a trip with just one other person. I don't want to be out there with five or ten people.

I would like to hear how others overcome these age-related changes to continue backpacking in some way, shape, or form.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 05/31/13 06:16 PM

I would go to a good physical therapist and set up an exercise program that works with to help your arthritis. Exercise should include bending, stretching, as well as walking. I have mild arthritis and moving a lot actually makes it better and for me, the pack actually feels good - may be the gentle pressure on the lower back. When you can walk 5-miles a day at home then put on your pack and carry at first 10 pounds, then 15, then 20. 32-35 pounds for a 3-4 day trip is not moderate weight, but heavy. Get your base weight down to 18-20 pounds and then keep food at 1.5-2.0 pounds per day.

Depending on the severity of your arthritis, you may or may not be able to backpack. Also work with your doctor on medications. I would go to a sports-medicine doctor who deals with arthritis in athletes. When I was in my late 30's my regular doctor said I needed to give up activity - I went to a sports medicine arthritis specialist, and she had a whole different take on it. I can control my arthritis quite well with Advil. However, my arthritis is mild and come and go - not continuous. I am really affected by pressure changes and weather.

I like to go solo because nobody is pushing me to do more than my body can take. Some days I can go far and just about beat everyone else on the trail; other days I barely make it 4 miles!
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 05/31/13 06:25 PM

Forgot to mention- if you are not at your ideal body weight, start reducing your eating. Again, go to a nutritionist if you are not sure how to do this and stay healthy. I have never had a weight problem so I always forget this.

I would also start doing a lot of car camping. That way you can get used to sleeping on the ground and living on the ground. Getting in and out of a small backpacking tent when stiff is interesting! Anyway, there are a lot of camping "kinks" to work out (no pun intended) that will make it easier once you actually go backpacking.

Posted by: Pika

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 05/31/13 06:44 PM

There are several serious backpackers on this forum who are past 75 and still going strong. One is planning to hike the Appalachian Trail soon (IIRC) and another is a regular visitor to the Wind River Range in Wyoming: perhaps they will add a. note here too. I'm another of the 75+ gang and I'm planning a re-hike of the John Muir Trail this summer.

I think that I can speak for all of us about aches and pains and other age-related issues and their impact on hiking: mostly it's not all that bad. One of the people I mentioned is a cancer survivor (I believe) and I had to recover after being hit by a car while bicycling in 2010. You just have to adjust your expectations to the reality of aging and deal with specific issues. Finding hiking partners gets more difficult as one gets older; not all seniors share this madness.

Good luck with finding a Sherpa. Most people struggle enough carrying gear for one but carrying it for two would be tough. Have you considered using a burro or llama? I believe there are outfitters that will rent pack stock to qualified people.
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 05/31/13 07:50 PM

Not sure I can help a lot - I'm 63, and have made some accomodations, mostly by throwing money at gear, as I've gotten older. However, I never quit going out, so I'm not coming up with ideas about how to re-start.

It seems that hiring a sherpa is at direct odds with your desire not to find a hiking companion (wouldn't the sherpa be a de facto companion?) Also, how much would you have to pay one? It might be enough that, after a few trips, you could have bought that lighter weight gear.

A couple of "out there" ideas: Would you have any interest in packing with a llama? Other than asking the question, I can't provide any information about that - but that's what Google is for, right? Also, if living on the ground aggravates your arthritis, you might investigate using a hammock instead of a tent. Not only might it be more comfortable for sleeping, but my hiking friends who use them also sit in them like a chair when hanging out at camp.

Coywolves, hmmm....I hike in Ohio and Indiana a lot, and we often hear coyotes or coydogs howling, but since there are no wolves around here, we don't get any coywolf crossbreeds. I usually don't get too concerned, though I did have a few moments' pause one night when one band just east of me returned the howls of the pack just west of me. I'm not too worried about them, but, yes, the howling certainly gets my attention and postpones sleep at times.

As far as mileage, yes, 5 miles is worth it. For me, nowadays, it's not about piling up miles. It's about getting out there, feeling comfortably tired (but not wrung-out exhausted) at the end of the day, and enjoying the night settling down around me, or the morning brightening as I'm eating breakfast. Lately, I've taken more and more to using the 7-mile loops at either end of a 35 mile metropark backpack trail to do an overnight hike, just because it requires only a 30-minute drive. It's not truly remote, but it's a pleasant woods, and the nearby traffic and city noises are never more than a hum in the background. In winter, they disappear entirely.

I've got some specific, idiosyncratic ideas about gear and aging, but I'll send you a private mail rather than take up forum space. Look for the little flashing letter at the top of your page, and click on it.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 06/01/13 12:46 AM

Another over 75 backpacker here.

Start slowly and work up gradually. You need to develop muscles to support your joints, and exercise to increase the range of motion of those joints. The physical therapy is an excellent idea. Don't expect to get up Mt. Everest this year--maybe the year after next? Don't expect high mileage anyway--my limit is 5-6 miles per day, but that doesn't keep me from getting out and enjoying myself!

If your physician thinks that arthritis means you should limit your activity, it's time to find another physician!

Read the articles on the home page of this site, left-hand column. on reducing backpack weight, paying special attention to the 27-pound, seven-day gear list. If it weren't for those, I would no longer be backpacking!

If, like me, you are pressure sensitive, get an insulated inflatable sleeping pad. There are lots of different styles around; try them in the store. Whatever you buy and take home, spend several nights on the floor with it until you're sure it's comfortable for you--take it back if it isn't. A hammock is also a possibility if you don't camp above timberline.
Posted by: JPete

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 06/02/13 09:50 AM

Hobblit,

I'm another one of the over-75 crowd, and I too have a couple of challenges, but I keep at it and still enjoy. Yes, for me, five miles is very much worth it. I recently did a one mile trip (in rough terrain) and I was so delighted I was almost in tears.

My most serious challenge is a chronic leukemia that comes back to visit now and again. Actually, the real problem is the high-dose prednisone and chemotherapy that is used to beat it back into remission. Prednisone reduces muscle strength, and both the leukemia and the chemotherapy tire one out very deeply. I use a trainer, who is also sometimes my hiking partner, and he is pretty effective. You might consider that approach.

Yes, I'm also a bit less comfortable alone in the woods at night than I used to be, but not that much. We have real wolves here (Eastern Ontario) and I've had the experience Glen describes (being in the middle) but we've had very few attacks on people historically, so I mostly enjoy the howling. People pay to go on wolf howl tours near here.

My other thoughts are seconds to the above. Lose whatever weight you can. If you feel you are overweight, start walking daily, and watch the food. A 32-35 pound pack can be reduced substantially using modern materials. Mine, for three days, two nights is about 12-14 pounds. I weigh about six or eight pounds more than I did when I got out of the US Navy in 1957. Were these things not the case, I would simply not be able to continue backpacking.

Hang in there. I don't know if I can get it back enough (and a long enough remission) but if all goes well, I am one of those mentioned above who is considering an AT through hike (my third) in a couple of years (when I'm 80). I admit though that if I do it will be with my (relatively) new child bride and trophy wife supporting me with an RV. Incidentally, we did a bit of our courting along the AT when I did it last time. She met me at various points, and I would take a day or two off the trail.

So again, yes you can. Yes it's work, some of it hard, and you have to do it daily, but with today's materials and medicines, you can do it. Another thought. get and read the fun book, Younger Next Year. Have at it.





Posted by: Wasatch

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 10/25/14 05:29 AM

Hi, Hobbit.

I'm in my '60s.
Would have given up backpacking until I switched from tents to hammocks.

So much easier when not on the hard ground at night. Actually it is more comfortable then our waterbed at home!

However, you need trees!
And cold weather clothes because the air circulates underneath, much chillier than a tent.

EDIT: And a big fly for privacy. I no longer use a tent, and sold all mine.

Posted by: CaveMan

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 03/07/15 05:10 PM

Originally Posted By Wasatch
Hi, Hobbit.

I'm in my '60s.
Would have given up backpacking until I switched from tents to hammocks.

So much easier when not on the hard ground at night. Actually it is more comfortable then our waterbed at home!

However, you need trees!
And cold weather clothes because the air circulates underneath, much chillier than a tent.

EDIT: And a big fly for privacy. I no longer use a tent, and sold all mine.


I totally agree get off the ground,you feel 90% better in the morning and when you are around camp cos you can relax and rest I mean really relax in a hammock. I am older and would backpack with ya,and I know others that I have met on fourms that are in the same position.Now I am out in 0* weather packing.
Posted by: bobito9

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 03/11/15 11:39 PM

Wow, a lot of great answers and inspiring stories! I don't have a huge amount to offer, and I'm a mere 56, but I, too, have had an assortment of physical ailments, arthritic and otherwise, kicking in. I think stretching and moving the various parts of the body are essential to improving blood flow, promoting healing, and compensating for arthritis, as other have suggested. I personally am a fan of yoga, but I came to my senses and started taking what they call "senior restorative yoga". If done correctly, it is much gentler and easy on the body, with all the benefits of yoga still there. None of the potential strains you get from trying to do vigorous yoga with someone 25 yrs younger than you! And for what it's worth, yoga people are nice people, very welcoming, and maybe someone there would like to backpack, too!
And regarding distance: anything that gets you any distance at all from roads and electricity is totally worth it!
Happy trails!
Posted by: D Lee

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 08/13/15 06:23 PM

I too find a good inflatable foam mattress significant. If you haven't checked the newer models out, do so. Skip the tent and use a tarp. Don't count on covering miles every day. I take along a good magnifying glass and small pair of binoculars and spend more time observing nature. I have never been one for taking pleasure reading on hiking trips - till I got older. Now I enjoy it. I spend more time on camp chores; for instance, where campfires are appropriate (and I spend more time in lower elevation timber country roadless areas now than rock and ice high elevation Wilderness) I cook more complex meals over a campfire, just like old timers of previous generations.

I live and hike in country with black and grizzly bears cougar and wolves. I carry a generous bottle of bear spray and am careful with food, don't sleep near the kitchen, etc. but the animals don't seem to bother me much. I sleep hard, maybe because I don't hear so well anymore.

I do have one problem, calcium deposits where the tendon connects to my heal on both feet. Pain is significant. I do therapy, but am wondering about horse liniment. Any suggestions?
Posted by: EMT Dave

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 12/30/16 09:16 PM

I am currently 64 and most of what I struggle with is trying to get my pack weight down to a more manageable level. I project New England from June through October.
My boot weight is good and I am moving increasingly toward trail shoes with some kind of light camp shoe as backup.
Tent? In bug weather that could be an issue as the lightest tent I have is like 5+ lbs. I have a couple of ultralights at 3 lbs. or so.
I am undecided about a stove as I am used to the liquid fuel stoves at like a pound and a half or so, but maybe something like a solo stove might get the weight down by another half pound. But then, I will need a paste fire starter.
I have a crappy duck down bag that is suitable only for really warm weather, but in summer it should not be an issue.
I am not sure how much more I can do as I have no use for ultralight packs.
I am still stuck at like 30 to 34 lbs. for a long weekend. If I am going to do much, it will need to be more like 24 lbs. (My food is at least 2 lbs. per day.)
Distance? I find people much younger than me struggle to do more than 10 miles a day on the Long Trail. Even on the AT, most of the folk I meet hover around that number. I would love to think I could get up to 15 miles a day, but unless I can get my gear weight down and train more, I suspect I am SOL.
Posted by: Lonerock

Re: Need help getting back on the trail - 01/05/17 02:15 PM

As you get older it becomes a greater battle between pack weight and comfort. It's important to reduce pack weight to make it easier on your body while hiking yet it's also important to sleep and eat good plus be comfortsble in various weather conditions. In the past my standard pack weight was 40-45 lbs but now into my 70s I'm experimenting with a lighter sleeping bag and pack, among other things. One of the big problems is food. I take freeze dried dinners but breakfast/lunch/snacks add much to the weight. There's no one right answer since each individual is different. My usual objective is to find a nice destination, such as a lake or creek, within a 5 mi range that has some dayhike opportinities and stay there 3 or 4 nights. Most of my trips have been solo over the years and the love of being out there almost eleminates any fears I have. If you go alone, especially at our age, I would recommend you carry a Personal Locator Beacon of some kind. I also recommend bear spray if you're concerned about animals.
I too have had back problems (herniated disc/arthritis) but through exercises it's been almost eleminated as a problem.