An Expert Offers Advice On Getting Started

Here are the "Ten Essentials": Gear you will need for a hike. Credit: Steve Hines
Here are the “Ten Essentials”: Gear you will need for a hike.
Credit: Steve Hines

Hiking is a great fitness activity for seniors. Whether you are an Alpine or Nordic skier, hiking can keep you in shape to enjoy the slopes or trails this coming winter. Hiking is enjoyed on many levels from simple day hikes in your local woods or conservation lands to classic mountain hikes in our national parks.

Whether you’re an experienced hiker with many trails and summits behind you or you’re new to it,  a few basics make it more enjoyable and safe.

On every hike, when you are away from roads and people always pack the “Ten Essentials”  in your 15-to 20-liter day pack.  The “Ten” are:

Essential Item  Comment
1. Map Contour maps are best. Maps with trails labeled are even better.
2. Compass Know how to orient the map, take a bearing and follow it, triangulate to find your position. Classes are available online and through your local outdoor club. Until you’re familiar with map and compass, keep to well-marked trails.
3. Sunglasses and Sunscreen Prescription sunglasses are great, especially at altitude where the UVs are strong. Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your ears and the back of your neck!
4. Extra Clothing Avoid cotton clothing except for desert hiking. Wool and synthetics are best. Take along a waterproof rain jacket and pants. A light fleece jacket or shirt should be adequate. A light wool or fleece hat and gloves/mittens will help if you are going to higher altitudes where weather is very changeable. And, always bring dry socks.
5. Headlamp/Flashlight Small high intensity lights and lamps keep your pack weight down. A light will be helpful if you are late in coming back from your hike.
6. First-aid Kit This kit should also include bug “dope” and any medications you require i.e. heart, blood pressure, diabetes meds.  Bandaids for blisters might also be helpful.
7. Fire-starter Waxed tinder sticks or tinder balls are available at your local camping store or outfitter. You can make your own using a few simple steps.  Just click here for instructions.  If you don’t think a fire-starter is necessary, read Jack London’s “To Build A Fire”.
8. Matches Waterproof matches are good, but a lighter works even when wet. Butane lighters may now work as well at high altitudes.
9. Knife Your handy Swiss army knife is best. No need for a big sheath knife unless you plan on cutting saplings for a shelter.
10. Water and Extra Food Out for just a day? Take lunch and some snacks or energy bars.   Water is crucial. It’s easy to get dehydrated as we get older. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to sip water.  Drink frequently!


Here's a 12-15 liter day pack you will need for your stuff.  It should weigh about 12 lbs. Credit: Steve Hines
Here’s a 12-15 liter day pack you will need for your stuff. It should weigh about 10-12 lbs.
Credit: Steve Hines

Other items also come in handy. Some people like a walking staff or trekking pole(s). (See “Try Nordic Hiking” article in Bringing a cap or wide brim sunhat is a good idea. If hiking with friends, a camera adds to the fun. All tallied, your hiking day pack should weigh in at no more then 10-12 pounds.

When I hiked with my kids and they began to gripe about all the stuff in their packs I would tell them, “The only way to make sure you won’t need something, is to have it with you.”

Start slow on level ground hikes. Then, as you feel stronger make your hikes longer and on rolling terrain. When you’re ready, plan a mountain ascent. But always, before beginning a new exercise routine, check with your doctor to make sure your heart is healthy enough for hiking.



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