Hiking is for all Abilities

Article from Disabled Sports USA

The beauty of hiking is that it is for all abilities. Opportunities for accessible trails as well as more challenging routes can be found in every corner of America.

June 01, 2018

Joseph Reddy, a manual wheelchair user, enjoys the South Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon

Looking for a way to get out and enjoy nature? Get a friend and take a hike!

No matter whether you live in a city or the mountains, if you’re new to physical activity or a seasoned athlete, if it’s sunny or raining, you can get outside and take a hike with friends and family. Hiking allows you to explore the world around you and keep in shape without having to learn a whole new set of skills.

“The beauty of hiking is that it is for all abilities. There isn’t a person with a disability that we couldn’t take out on a hike,” said Lauren Kyllo, CTRS and program manager at Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA.

“You’re simply going for a walk or roll whether it’s a gravel trail by a river or a backcountry excursion. Anyone who has an interest can get out.”

Hiking’s other advantage is being able to enjoy the activity with family and friends. “Socially, you’re able to talk while hiking, so you’re able to improve friendships and strengthen social skills as well as just being challenged physically,” Kyllo said.

For those who use a wheelchair or other mobility assistance device, most of the websites that provide trail data and trail guides also provide information on accessibility.

Edward Crane writes: “I love traveling to Muir Woods where I can experience pure joy and fun with my canine partner. This park is accessible and that makes all the difference in the world for me to enjoy this beautiful outside environment in lovely California.”

Edward Crane writes: “I love traveling to Muir Woods where I can experience pure joy and fun with my canine partner. This park is accessible and that makes all the difference in the world for me to enjoy this beautiful outside environment in lovely California.”

Finding the right trailhead

If you are new to hiking, the first question you might have is where is the nearest trail? The answer will depend on the hike you’re looking for.

Inexperienced hikers, those looking for something a bit less challenging, or those lucky enough to live in a place that invests in trail infrastructure could find their nearest trail around the corner at the local park. Those looking for a longer hike to challenge their endurance levels might look to a nearby state or national park. A quick Google search will usually bring up a number of hiking trails in your area.

Wheelchair users can find paved or hard-packed dirt trails and utilize their everyday chair. Another option is an off-roading chair, which has bigger tires with more traction that will help a wheelchair user get across bumpier trails more independently.

For athletes who may be unable to walk or push themselves in a chair along the trail, another option might be a Trailrider. Designed a bit like a rickshaw, the Trailrider has the hiker sit in a seat with two poles extending in front which are used to help pull the athlete on the trail.

For those walking a trail, trekking poles are another essential item to have that provide balance and stability. Hiking poles can be adjustable and also have built-in shock absorption and are helpful for going down hills and other activities.
Whatever trail you choose, know what to expect on the trail, such as the difficulty level, the surface, how well it is marked, and whether there will be water stops.

Enjoying the amazing view from the South Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon

Enjoying the amazing view from the South Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon

Hiking gear

Not sure what gear you need? “Hiking for some people feels a bit more accessible financially in terms of gear,” Kyllo said. For neighborhood walks, your basic walking shoe may be all you need. But unpaved trails require a sturdier shoe with good arch support and a heavy sole. Hiking boots give good support to the ankles and have a tread to help with grip. Socks are important to avoid blisters and amputees may want to have an extra pair of prosthetic socks to use as volume changes. Before you start, you may want to discuss your options with your orthotist or prosthetist.

Longer walks or walks where you won’t be able to easily access your vehicle or shelter call for weather-appropriate clothing. Bring warmer clothing or extra layers in case you are changing elevations or in case it turns cool, and bring a poncho or other rain gear if the weather is changeable. Even for shorter walks, bring a backpack with sunscreen (no matter what the season), enough water to keep you hydrated, and food to maintain your calorie intake.

Be safe

“It’s best to have a partner if it’s your first time out on a trail,” Kyllo said. “As you get more comfortable, you can start challenging yourself to go alone and to try harder trails. Bring a charged cell phone in case of emergency and always let someone know where you’re going and what time you should be done.” For longer hikes, recommended items also include a flashlight, map, sunglasses, matches, and a whistle.

Ready to hit the trail? For adaptive hikers who might want to try hiking with a group or for insights on the local trails, Kyllo recommends getting in contact with your local Disabled Sports USA chapter or adaptive sports club that provides hiking trips. They can provide valuable information on hiking and you can join one of their guided hikes to make your first outing a success!

Find a Disabled Sports chapter near you

To find the location of a Disabled Sports USA chapter with a hiking program near you, visit www.disabledsportsusa.org/location-map