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Is backpacking only for the young!
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Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Is backpacking only for the young! on 10/02/2013 11:36:12 MDT Print View

My wife and I just returned from a two-week trip to Colorado. We hiked and backpacked in the Aspen (Maroon Bells) area and in the mountains around Dillon/Silverthorne (our plan to spend two weeks in Rocky Mountain National Park was derailed by extensive flooding and park closures, no problems at all where we went).

We were on the trail almost every day, and spent six days backpacking. We are both about to turn 60 years old and were quite surprised that the overwhelming majority of people on the trail were under 30, with just a few maybe in their 50's...we didn't come across anyone older than us. And I don't think we saw anyone over half our age going in for an overnight trip.

To top it off, at one backcountry lake some young whippersnapper even congratulated us on getting there!

What's going on...has the over-30 crowd given up on backpacking? I know there are a number of folks on BPL that are our age or older, but we seem to be an almost insignificant minority!

What happened...?

Andrew Stow
(AndyS) - F - MLife

Locale: Midwest USA
Leisure time? on 10/02/2013 11:40:04 MDT Print View

I'm a bit over 40, and would like to get out way more than I do. Under 30 could be underemployed or taking a year off after college. Over 60 may be retired. The rest of us, you're more likely to see June to August when the kids are off school.

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
lost of geezers in the Sierra on 10/02/2013 11:47:19 MDT Print View

I see lots of older people backpacking in the Sierra... many over 60 and some over 70...

In fact, I'm often surprised how many I see out backpacking...

Bill D

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Is backpacking only for the young! on 10/02/2013 11:49:25 MDT Print View

Nah, we older folk are out there. We just stay away from places young people frequent.... :-)

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Is backpacking only for the young! on 10/02/2013 11:51:11 MDT Print View

Is backpacking only for the young? Nope. I see lots of older folk on the trails in the Cascades and there are some seniors groups that are doing day hikes. I'll leave those 25-30 mile per day trips to the young, but the rest is mine. Use it or lose it!

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
Nope... on 10/02/2013 12:02:11 MDT Print View

We're both over 60 now, and have logged about 700 miles in the last five years...

And we've also seen plenty of other folks our age on the trail!

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
"Is backpacking only for the young!" on 10/02/2013 12:12:08 MDT Print View

I'm 40 and can tell you I'd be out there a lot more but for my job and critters to take care of at home.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Is backpacking only for the young! on 10/02/2013 12:12:48 MDT Print View

20-somethings have health, time, and lack the finances to take other kinds of vacations. Many "working-age" people have limited vacation and there are kids, work, and school schedules to juggle. And they have more money to do non-BPing trips.

A lot of Americans, by their 60s and 70s, aren't in shape to do a BPing trip. Although I've had my butt kicked on snow slopes and the Whitney Trail by 80-year-olds.

>"some young whippersnapper even congratulated us on getting there"

The last time I hiked up Half Dome, on a lark, I decided to count how many people half my age I hiked past before any hiked past me. The answer was "all of them", I lost count at 150. Age & treachery beat youth & beauty every time. I'm assuming you uttered the words "whippersnapper" to him.

Colin Fletcher ("The Man Who Walked Through Time", "The Complete Walker", etc) was a high mileage hiker his entire 85 years. Mowed down by an SUV at age 80, his remarkable recovery was attributed to a lifetime of exercise.

I do notice a trend, though, among many 20-somethings to do a vigorous day (hiking, mountain biking, skiing, etc) and the some other activit(ies) the rest of the week/weekend more now than 30-40 years ago.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: "Is backpacking only for the young!" on 10/02/2013 12:14:11 MDT Print View

I'm 43 and I did the JMT with my good friend who is 62. We passed (and were passed by) tons and tons of geezers. Probably just as many as the kiddos.

Maybe it's a Colorado thing?

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
Depends on the day/place on 10/02/2013 12:34:30 MDT Print View

In Southern Arizona (admittedly a retirement mecca), the grey foxes are all over the mountains, hiking, biking, backpacking, etc.

The eastern Sierras are FULL of AARP'ers backpacking -- all the time! On my short loop (60 miles) this summer, at least half the people were over 40 and the oldest folks we talked with were in their mid/late 70s. The latter weren't doing 20 mile days, but they were out there with big smiles!

We are planning a JMT thru hike next summer, doing 10-15 miles/day; my husband will be a month away from turning 70 then. Good luck keeping up with him. Very few people do. :~)

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Age of backpackers on 10/02/2013 14:42:33 MDT Print View

I think David states it correctly. Folks in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are tied down in too many places. When I was with an organization that organized one-week backcountry service trips we studied why we weren't getting many volunteers in those age ranges and the responses bore out that observation. Can't take a week off work, need to save vacation time for my family, got to visit the in-laws, and so on. Not everyone in his or her 60s and 70s is in shape to keep backpacking but those who are simply have more free time than the generation behind them.

I took an introductory ski mountaineering class last January with plenty of skinning, bootpacking, digging, and slogging. Our instructor, age 80, wasn't even breathing hard at the end of an exhausting day. Wasn't there a guide who climbed the Matterhorn at 88? Just a question of keeping in shape.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Age of backpackers on 10/02/2013 14:53:10 MDT Print View

Not backpacking per se....
Three years ago while backpacking and hiking in Switzerland we saw plenty of aged hikers trekking up steep, craggy mountains.
On trains it was not unusual to see groups of ladies in their 70's, trekking poles and packs, heading to the mountains. Probably better than their counterparts driving Mercedes to do some wine tasting. Same for older men, bowed legs and all.

Richard Cullip
(RichardCullip) - M

Locale: San Diego County
Re: Is backpacking only for the young! on 10/02/2013 15:03:06 MDT Print View

I hope not. I did a lot of backpacking (Mineral King area) in my 20's but then marriage, work and family got in the way. Not very many trips until recently. I'm back into it now that I'm retired. Can't yet do the miles nor elevation change I used to but, thanks to the newer ultralight gear, I'm back into the Sierra high country. I'm turning 62 in early Nov and I hope to have a couple of more decades of backpacking left in my older body.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Is backpacking only for the young! on 10/02/2013 15:51:34 MDT Print View

I'm 26 and its like pulling teeth to get anyone my age to go backpacking with me. Most of them don't backpack in the first place, my "outdoorsy" friends are all into the "exciting" things like mountain biking and climbing.
More often than not its the folks my parents' age or older who are willing to hit the trail with me. I'm fine with that, I don't like a lot of people my age anyway :D
Same goes with the trail maintenance I do. The bulk of the volunteers are people who have kids my age. I'm leading a construction event this weekend and I'm going to be the youngest person there.


Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Is backpacking only for the young on 10/02/2013 18:24:04 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the responses and counter-examples. I'm resting easier now that it appears that our Colorado experience the past two weeks was somewhat anomalous.

I too, about to turn 60, am hoping for a couple of decades-worth of hiking and backpacking (and kayaking).

Now if I could only find a way to retire and not be poverty-stricken...

John Klinepeter
(johnzotk) - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies, USA
Older backpackers on 10/02/2013 18:47:27 MDT Print View

One of my backpacking buddies was 81 (I could be off by a year) when he finally quit packing two years ago. This year in the Wind River Mtns. I ran into an 87 year old backpacker. He was at the front of a group of five along with the youngest, a thirty-something. The others in the group were 65+ and trailed the leaders by 15 minutes. They were on day six of a seven day trip.

About 35 years ago when I was in my late twenties one of my best day-hiking buddies was in his mid 70's and I could barely put some distance between the two of us if I made an heroic effort.

John Vance
(Servingko) - F

Locale: Intermountain West
Young backpackers? on 10/02/2013 18:59:59 MDT Print View

I marvel at how few young backpackers I run into on the trail. At 52 I am one of the younger but do admit I spend my time backpacking between Labor Day and Memorial Day to avoid summer crowds and bugs. Rarely do I cross paths with anyone much younger than myself and most are in their sixty's or seventy's. A few weeks ago I ran into an 84 year old carrying a pack he estimated at 45-50lbs and had been out for 5 days with 7 more to go. Even more impressive was that we met him just shy of Knapsack Col in the Titcomb Basin coming down from the west side wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe. He simply said " you can't be too careful at my age."

I will be very disappointed if I am not still going strong at least until I am 75. I didn't get to finish the CDT back in 1984 only getting to Rocky Mountain Nat't Park before leaving the trail on a south bound trip. I will most likely not get a chance to complete it until after 65. That will still leave the AT if I am going for the triple crown and I would like to get to Patagonia and many other places as well.

Get out and enjoy a flexible schedule!!!

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Young backpackers? on 10/02/2013 20:52:55 MDT Print View

"I will be very disappointed if I am not still going strong at least until I am 75."

Stay active and you'll have no problem. I did a trip in the Sierra with BPL's Tom Kirchner two summers ago and I had to hump to keep up with him, including going up and over Shepherds Pass on day 1 and continuing on down the trail a ways. And if I remember correctly, he was about 96 or something like that then..... :-)

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: Young backpackers? on 10/02/2013 21:43:31 MDT Print View

I'll second Tom's prowess in the hills.

As soon as we hit the Sierra together last summer, it was like watching a fish return to water. I could see it in his energy.

He led over Shepherd's Pass in 90+ degree temps. I'd be a liar if I didn't say I had a few "Oh $hit, this guy's not going to slow down" moments until I hit my stride.

Sadly, the majority of people in my life that are over 60 are not in such good shape. For most, backpacking would be extremely uncomfortable- if not impossible. It's not age, it's poor lifestyle choices leading up to that age.

Desert Dweller

Locale: Wild Wild West
Is backpacking only for the young? on 10/02/2013 22:13:29 MDT Print View

I read somewhere that if one keeps up the active life that endurance actually improves with age. Many of the above observations seem to substantiate that. Living in AZ I see mostly older folks hiking, maybe not to the highest elevations here or the most steep trails but lots of elders enjoying the canyons and TONS of older birders and volunteers in outdoor occupations like visitor centers and guided hikes. I met an 80 year old in Ramsey Canyon a few months ago, his enthusiasm was really refreshing and he was carrying a good sized pack and using poles, going up a very tough hill, had the biggest grin on his face, obviously having the time of his life.