Going for a hike may seem daunting, but for wheelchair riders, the numerous physical and mental benefits of hiking are a powerful motivator. Staying active and exercising regularly are key components to maintaining physical health, but hiking goes beyond the simple benefits of exercise.
There is abundant scientific proof that outdoor hiking and increased time in nature decreases stress and depression, while simultaneously, increasing creativity and happiness.
As if that’s not enough motivation to get out on the trail, there’s also the America the Beautiful Access Pass, otherwise known as the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, a free lifetime pass available to US citizens (or permanent residents of the US) who have been medically determined to have a disability. (Get yours here.)
With that in mind, we’ve pulled together five key tips to make it easier for wheelchair riders to get outdoors and out on the trail.
Take away the fear of the unknown by arming yourself with detailed information about the trails in your area. Thanks to the information age, it’s now possible to scout the accessibility of the trails in your area before you ever leave the house. Most parks, especially at the State and Federal level, provide information about which trails are fully ADA-accessible on their website. Often, the information provided will even describe the surface texture of the trail, as well as difficulty level and incline.
Even when the official websites for trails fall short, there are additional online resources being created all the time to share experiences and information regarding trail accessibility, like Traillink.com, AmericanTrails.org, and this state by state guide to accessible trails.
2. Invite Friends to Go Wheelchair Hiking
Hikes are a great group activity, especially on beautiful spring days. Not only will it be fun to have someone to chat with along the way, it will also keep you motivated; it’s a lot harder to bail on plans if you know someone is counting on you.
Make sure you invite a friend who is on the same page about the type of hike you want to take.
If you’re envisioning a leisurely afternoon enjoying the outdoors, it’s probably not a good idea to invite the friend of yours who considers every outdoor trek a chance for an endurance trial. This friend should also be someone you’re very comfortable with, especially the first few times you hit the trail, in case you do need to traverse any unexpected terrain.
3. Get the Right Hiking Gear
Going on a hike is possible for everyone – regardless of mobility level – with the help of the right equipment. There are lots of different types of equipment that’s useful out on the trail. The GRIT Freedom Chair, comes with mountain bike tires, so it’s a great option for riders hoping to test out trails of more varied difficulty.
The Freedom Chair’s levers use the biceps and pecs to propel, as opposed to the shoulder muscles that are used with a pushrim, which means it’s also a great option for riders hoping to build up their arm strength.
The Trailrider is another good option for anyone with more limited arm movement. Created specifically for accessing the wilderness and affectionately described as “a cross between a wheelbarrow and a rickshaw” the Trailrider has one wheel, and is be propelled with the help of friends acting as “sherpas” in front and behind.
Not sure what type of off road chair is right for you? This guide offers a basic overview on everything out there.
When it comes to gear, it’s also important to remember the basics: you should always bring along a hat, sunscreen, bug spray, and an extra long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt, just in case.
4. Bring Snacks & Stay Hydrated
Even if you’re only planning a short hike, it’s important to bring a water bottle and a snack. Your body works hard on a hike, so it’s important to give yourself the fuel you need. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, oranges, apples, and beef jerky are all good snack options – just make sure you bring a combination that includes protein and carbohydrates. Snacks are important, but bringing water is crucial. Even short bursts of exercise require lots of water: a good guideline is drinking 6-12 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes.
Remember, it’s important to start hydrating before – not during – a hike, so your body is prepped and ready. Experts recommend drinking at least 16 ounces or water prior to leaving the house.
5. Search for Groups in Your Area that Organize Hikes
Participating in group hikes planned by local organizations is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people in your community. In addition to events and activities planned by private adaptive sports organizations, State Programs often provide additional opportunities.
For example, our friends in Massachusetts at the Department of Recreation and Conservation has a Universal Access Program and recently purchased a fleet of GRIT Freedom Chairs in order to start a new adaptive hiking program for park goers.
So what are you waiting for? Get out and enjoy life around you in an accessible state park today!
Download Discovering: Accessible US Travel Guide for Wheelchair Users
These accessible travel suggestions are part of the Get Out & Enjoy Life [GOEL] program that is a joint educational initiative between Wheel:Life, a global community of wheelchair users, and SPORTS ‘N SPOKES magazine, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
More than 70,000 wheelchair users from 108 countries took part in Wheel:Life resources in 2014.
You’ll find that each chapter of this book provides easily-accessible destinations that are fun and engaging for friends who use wheelchairs. Discovering is an easy, encouraging read that will help you explore all kinds of travel destinations and family fun spots, whether you are new to using a wheelchair or a seasoned pro.
Please note that not every state in the US is featured in this travel guide, just the ones that we have included in our GOEL program to date.