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Fifty Sense: Common Sense Ideas for Thriving after 50
Fifty Sense: Common Sense Ideas for Thriving after 50


For a list of gear taken on hikes and canoe treks, go to Gear Lists.

There are more opinions on what to pack than there are backpackers. The most important concept is to do homework and pay attention to the little things. What will make your trip safe and comfortable, yet not too heavy. Ask questions! Ask experienced hikers, hiking groups. Get on a backpacking mail list where you can read and post questions.

I started hiking with over 50 pounds, that was one miserable trip! Being stubborn, I was determined to figure out how to do it right. When I started weighing my gear, I got down to 45 pounds which lasted two trips. Then, I realized if I was going to do this sport, I had to be serious about getting the weight down so I could enjoy the day. As I would backpack, I would write down items I packed but did not need. This sport is hard enough not to be having fun at the same time!

There is only one way to get the weight down; you have to make lists of everything you take for all types of trips and weigh everything. Then, you can analyze continually what to keep and what to leave home. Sometimes, if I am not going to do major miles and have time in camp each night, I will bring a book and a thermarest chair. Most times, I don't want the weight. Only you can decide what you should or should not bring.

Your total dry weight (everything except food and water) should be under 20 pounds. You can expect 2lbs per day for food and carry 4 lbs of water (two quarts) unless it is a very wet area. This is hard work to get down this low!

Grand-ma Soule says simply, "if you need it, take it. If you want it, leave it."


Multi-use - Try to figure out what can be used more than once. My down lightweight jacket is also my pillow. I use a 3/4 Thermarest for sleeping with a sitting pad to be used under my hips and shoulders for extra padding. I then have a sitting pad for breaks while hiking. I put my backpack under my feet for warmth. Bandanas can be used for hundreds of uses, use one for a sternum strap.

Silnylon is the miracle fabric for backpackers. Silnylon is waterproof and lightweight. You can find sacks on lightweight hiking sights. Get different colors to mean different activities. I use light blue for clothing, dark blue for night, purple for emergency, etc. My tent, poncho, and sleeping bag liner are all silnylon.

Stoves - Alcohol stoves can be either hand made, or bought, they weigh next to nothing. Denatured alcohol is easy to find, and every time you use it, your pack weight goes down. You can also use esbit stoves and tablets which are lightweight and can be brought on an airplane. If you want to simmer dinners, look for a titanium stove.

Titanium - lightweight material used in cooking pots, mugs, tent stakes. Expensive, but very durable.

Purifying Water - chemical treatments can weigh very little, and you can find instant lightweight purifiers that are used with a bottle.

Lexan spoons or sporks - get bright orange or red, harder to lose.


Backpacks, sleeping bags and tents are the most important and big ticket items. This is also a very easy place to keep the weight down and still be comfortable if you do your homework. If you don't love these three items, you won't like your trip. Here's some questions to ask yourself and other experienced hikers.

Backpacks - Backpacks have come a long way! You no longer need a 7 pound bag to get good suspension and a comfortable fit. Most people over fifty will need some suspension, and you should think about how much your body can handle. There are some wonderful full suspension packs under 4 pounds, and then you can get to under 2 pounds if you don't need a full suspension pack. This is a good object to rent to figure out how much suspension you need.

Shelter - So many questions need to be answered before you purchase your shelter.Some experienced backpacker swear by tarps for being lightweight. I prefer a tent to get away from the bugs and creep crawlies at night. My tent only weighs 1 pound, and I use my hiking poles for my tent poles. Will you be sleeping with someone or by yourself? Do you want your gear in your shelter? Do you like to be able to sit up? Will you be hiking where there are trees or in the desert? Is a free standing tent worth the extra weight? Many are enjoying shelter hammocks. Remember, every pound used for your shelter means you can't take something else.

Sleeping Bags - If you don't get a good night's sleep, you won't enjoy backpacking. Do you sleep hot or cold? Many say that polyfill sleeping bags are good because if they get wet, there is still warmth, versus down sleeping bags that don't stay warm if wet. I have found that since I sleep cold, I cannot get a polyfill bag to keep me warm. Down sleeping bags are lighter weight, but you must take care not to get them wet. I have never had problems keeping them dry. Do your feet get cold easily? Look for a bag with extra fill at the feet. Can the bag be shaken from the top to the bottom depending on the temperature outside?

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