The Honest Backpacker, A Practical Guide for the Rookie Adventurer over 50, by James and Nicole Klopovic is an encouraging guide to those with the desire, though maybe not the confidence, to get on the trail. Written for older adults, it covers important information that will benefit anyone preparing for a long hike, no matter one’s age. It breaks preparations down into manageable steps and provides guidance on each details: conditioning before a long hike, selecting and using equipment, planning/prepping/cooking /storing food, how to pack, and overall trip planning including contingency plans for when something goes awry.
Written in a conversational tone, the book is engaging and highly practical. Checklists, timelines and appendices can be used to guide planning while appendices provide information on Leave No Trace principles and sample medical forms to keep in your first aid kit.
The book effectively dispels any notion that one can be too old to be adventurous and provides encouraging recommendations on how to prepare oneself physically with a special focus on those with more mature muscles and joints. The authors further point out that learning new skills and sharing established ones with younger generations can help keep one young in both body and mind.
The suggestions were personally tested by the author who also shares anecdotes about time spent on major trails such as the Appalachian and the England Coast to Coast. Benefits cited include the joy of having new experiences and creating a “more interesting you.” The authors indicate that hiking provides the opportunity to learn about yourself and others and to accomplish things you might not have realized were possible.
Though the abovementioned trails are huge accomplishments, these anecdotes are not presented in an intimidating way. In fact, they emphasize going at a comfortable pace, recommending: “Once you begin putting shoe leather on the trail, do everything possible to have a good time and make it memorable, even if it means making a 3-mile day instead of a 10-miler.”
While much of the advice on hiking preparation is fairly standard for people of any age, the book also addresses the unique challenges faced by the over-50 crowd. “Let’s face it, the mature hiker is different from the 20-something, and for that matter the 30- and in many cases the 40-something,” says Klopovic. “It is harder to get out of the sack in the morning, and recovering from a workout or injury takes forever.” Boomers take longer to heal from injury and need to prepare both body and mind. The book includes a detailed plan for those “starting at zero,” those who may be “out of shape, don’t know where to start and may not be certain that a walk in the woods is a good idea.”
The authors acknowledge that it is okay to go for a short walk without weeks of conditioning, but stress that it is important to set realistic expectations. Diet and exercise are important; you need a certain level of fitness to tackle some trails. The book offers a detailed discussion about a healthy diet and offers a number of encouraging suggestions for exercise. The authors emphasize that Boomers especially should focus on flexibility, core and balance first, and then add low/no impact aerobic and low weight/high rep anaerobic exercise.
Throughout, the message is clear: the return on investment is more than saying you have accomplished a hike. Rewards include better health, new friends, and a better understanding of yourself and others, all while getting to enjoy natural beauty. It’s not just a lifestyle change, but more a “lifestyle betterment.”
The Honest Backpacker is a useful book for anyone thinking about hiking. If heeded, the basic advice in the book would certainly have made Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods a very different story.
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