Meet my stepmom, Nora. She’s loved hiking all her life and has dreamed about hiking the Appalachian Trail since she was in her 20s. Now, at the age of 60, she is ready to get serious about backpacking and turn her dream into reality. Check out Nora’s gear list and our gear recommendations for older hikers below.
Nora grew up on the Jersey shore but regularly went day hiking on the AT in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She was fascinated by the trail from an early age. She told me, “I would hike around the Delaware Water Gap and be entranced with the idea that I could just head south and walk to Georgia.”
Nora is planning to section hike the AT over the next 10 years, with a goal of completing the trail by her 70th birthday. She is hopeful that she can begin tackling her 2,190-mile trek this May, depending on the state of the pandemic at that time.
Gear Considerations for Older Hikers
Whatever 2021 has in store for the thru-hiking community, we knew it was high time to start talking gear. Helping Nora—who is approaching thru-hiking from a very different place than me—select items that would fit her individual preferences and priorities proved to be an interesting exercise. Throughout our gear chats, I noticed a few themes that I think are reflected in her gear list in progress:
- Comfort is a higher priority. I think many 50+ hikers would agree that they find the ease and comfort of, say, an internal frame pack and a freestanding tent with side entrances worth the extra ounces. It’s a careful balancing act to make sure you don’t end up with too much weight on your hips and knees, but making these concessions in the name of comfort can help older backpackers to better enjoy their hikes.
- A more generous budget, perhaps? Of course, this isn’t true for all 50+ hikers, but if you’ve spent 40 years working and saving, you may be better able to invest in quality ultralight gear. If your gear is on the heavier side (see above), being able to spend the extra $100 for the item that weighs five ounces less can really lighten your load. And once you’ve made those investments, backpacking can be a pretty cheap way to spend your retirement.
- Health and safety considerations are paramount. Some older hikers, for example, might choose to carry extra ibuprofen for aches and pains, or chewable aspirin if they are at higher risk of having a heart attack. Some, like Nora, may have extra equipment they need to carry with them—more on that below.
Appalachian Trail Gear List for an Older Hiker
Older hikers may find that their gear lists aren’t dramatically different from younger hikers’ lists. Still, as noted above, balancing weight savings with comfort and safety may be a higher priority for older hikers. This is how Nora’s kit is shaping up so far:
The 3.5 lb Elephant in Her Pack
One of the reasons Nora is planning to tackle the AT over a longer time frame is because she has to carry a larger burden than most other hikers: she has severe sleep apnea and must carry a travel CPAP machine that weighs in at almost 3.5 lbs including the battery.
Because she has this extra weight quite literally on her shoulders, Nora is paying extra close attention to the weight of every other item in her pack while also being smart about choosing gear that is suited to beginning backpackers.
Nora chose the Exos/Eja pack as it seems to offer the best compromise. It is fairly light compared to most internal frame packs, but still delivers the support and padding she will need to carry heavier loads in comfort. If she follows the wise advice of her stepdaughter, she will cut the pack weight further by ditching the brain. She also liked that it came without hip belt pockets, as she’s planning to use a fanny pack to carry her phone, snacks, and other essentials.
This tent is already so popular with thru-hikers that it was an easy choice. Nora chose the Copper Spur over the Fly Creek because she feels the easier-to-use side entrances are worth a few extra ounces. She also likes having the option to set up the side awnings when desired.
I was nervous about a beginner hiker carrying a quilt right off the bat, but we ultimately agreed it was the right choice for her. Nora doesn’t move around very much in her sleep and she is mostly going to plan her LASHes around milder weather, so even if she does experience drafts, it usually won’t be on bitterly cold nights. Therefore, we thought the weight savings made this quilt the right choice. (The fact that I have this quilt myself and am in love with it may have influenced her decision slightly.)
Nora is a side sleeper who is nervous about sliding off her sleeping pad in the middle of the night, so this Big Agnes pad is a perfect choice. It’s thick enough to provide sufficient padding on her hips, while the wider baffles on the sides will help keep her cradled in the center of the pad all night.
Cooking & Water
Nora isn’t big on cooking and would consider going stoveless, but isn’t ready to give up on the idea of hot coffee in the mornings and at least having the option to fix herself a warm and comforting dinner after a long day of hiking. This stove is light but sturdy and incorporates a self-ignition switch for ease of use.
The Vargo BOT is also my cooking vessel of choice. I recommended it to her because I could see Nora getting into the convenience of cold soaking for some meals, but she would still want to have a pot for that morning cuppa joe. The BOT is the best of both worlds.
It’s strong, it’s light, enough said.
Right now this is the reservoir Nora is planning to use simply because she already has it—it came included with a Gregory daypack she purchased.
With the inline adapter kit, it will be easy for Nora to filter water straight into her reservoir without having to remove it from her pack.
Because they are just so much easier to use with the Sawyer Squeeze.
Nora is going with pants for tick protection, and she loves the comfort of the stretchy waistband on these.
I recommended she look at getting a wool shirt for its moisture-wicking and odor-resisting qualities; Nora liked this one for its seamless design to help prevent chafing.
It’s a pricey rain jacket, but at less than six ounces, she feels it’s worth it. It’s proven itself to be surprisingly strong, having already survived being rubbed across granite and snagged on branches without developing holes. Nora also loves the raised pockets, which can be accessed easily even when you’re wearing a hip belt.
This rain kilt weighs practically nothing and breathes better than rain pants.
These are the shoes Nora is currently wearing on day hikes. She finds that many boots and trail runners irritate her ankles, and has found relief from this model’s “ankle-friendly asymmetrical collar.”
This wool-blend top is comfortable and surprisingly warm considering it only weighs 5.6 ounces.
Perfect for sleeping in when colder overnight temperatures are in the forecast.
Other Gear Considerations for Older Hikers
These items are often carried by thru-hikers of all ages, but can be especially important for those of retirement age:
- Trekking poles to protect the knees and improve balance on uneven terrain. Nora uses the Leki Cressida Cor-Tec Trekking Poles.
- A satellite communicator with an SOS button like the Garmin InReach to call for help in an emergency (and to message nervous family members on your hike to let them know you’re okay).
- A knee brace or patella strap for hikers with arthritis, or anyone who wants extra support and stabilization for the knee.
- Compression socks and sleeves are also a common accessory for 50+ hikers because they support blood flow and can help prevent blood clots and the formation of spider veins.
- A high CRI headlamp such as the Nitecore NU25 – this type of light is easier on the eyes, especially for reading and other up-close tasks.
- An ultralight camp chair. Even the lightest camp chairs will add a pound to your base weight, but some older hikers may find it worthwhile to carry a chair for the extra comfort in camp at night.
We still have some more work to do on her gear list, but Nora is excited about how it’s coming together. I, for one, can’t wait to take her on shakedown hikes and follow along as she realizes this lifelong dream.
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