Fall. It is definitely one of my favorite times of the year, as flowers give way to mushrooms and colorful leaf displays. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Autumn is an unpredictable time so its important to be prepared and shift our hiking habits to meet the changes in weather. Hikers with mobility considerations can absolutely still enjoy the beauty out there, with a few precautions. Here are some fall hiking tips for the disabled hiker.
Watch your footing. Fall means wet trails and leaves. Your favorite trail that was a dry, steady hike in summer can turn into a patchwork of mud, decaying leaves, and slick surfaces. If you don’t normally hike with a pole, now is a good time to consider doing so. They can help you maintain your balance if you slip, test the depth of muddy spots, and cross a wet area safely. Be aware of potential ice patches, even early in the season.
Know the tread and corridor. Tread refers to the surface of the trail – is it soil and rocks, boardwalk, sand? This will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of footing. Watch out for boardwalks and bridges which can be very slippery. The corridor refers to everything around and above the trail. It is helpful to know what kind of trees surround the trail: alders and other deciduous trees mean a lot of leaves, cedars means boggy areas. This information isn’t always easy to find, but photos can give you an idea.
Prepare for weather changes. You could easily start a hike in the sun and end it in cold rain. Weather predictions are not always reliable, and you may encounter many microclimates on your hike. Wear or carry layers with you. You should have a base layer that wicks sweat, a middle layer to provide insulation, and an outer layer to protect you from rain and wind.
Keep in mind that dense forests are damper than surrounding areas and you lose daylight earlier and faster in the forest or in a valley. Trees produce a lot of humidity, and when combined with your own sweat plus a bit of rain, you can get very wet very quickly.
Here are a few suggestions for what to wear on a rainy average elevation hike.
If you can use synthetic clothing
lightweight polyester long underwear and top, a fleece jacket and hiking pants, and rain jacket and pants. Make sure your rain gear has vents, or it will trap your sweat. Wear heavier clothing for colder, rainier conditions.
If you can use natural clothing
silk layer, topped with a wool layer, and/or a down layer. Suede or leather can be waterproof, but they’re heavy to hike with. There are many other natural options out there, but avoid using pure cotton as it traps sweat.
I still kinda hate layering, but it has helped me moderate my body temperature better on hikes, which is something I struggle with. Try some different things and see what works for you.
Check your footwear. If you’ve been slack on maintaining your boots through the summer (What? That’s just me?), now’s the time to condition and waterproof them again. Make sure the insoles and threads are still intact and strong, and the outer soles still have good traction. If you’re a sandals-and-runners hiker, a decent pair of hiking boots are better protection. That said, it can be really difficult to find comfortable footwear if you wear orthotics or have feet that are formed differently than the commercial average, so wear what is comfortable for you.
Thick hiking socks, preferably wool or polyester, provide extra cushion and warmth.
General hiking safety tips apply as well.
- Tell someone where you’re going,
- check the weather,
- choose a destination that matches your ability and limits,
- keep an eye on your surroundings,
- carry the Ten Essentials plus your essentials (extra medication, ace bandages, emergency ice packs, etc.)
It is a good idea to call ahead to a Ranger Station or nearby resort to check conditions. They can often answer questions specific to your needs. You can also check local hiking websites or Facebook groups for reports.
I hope these hiking tips inspire you to get outdoors this fall. Some people will tell you that you need all of these things plus more gear to be a safe hiker, but that can be a major barrier to getting outdoors. You know your abilities better than anyone else; make reasonable decisions, try different things, and reach out to other hikers for ideas. You are welcome to contact Disabled Hikers with questions.