Adaptive Hiking – What Is It and How to Plan Adaptive Hikes?

A woman hiking on a forest trail.

We guess you’d agree if we were to say everyone has the right to enjoy some fantastic natural landscapes every once in a while. Also, we’ll take another guess and say you’d agree hiking is an activity meant to be consumed by all members of our global society. If our presumptions are true, you’re going to enjoy today’s article!

Let’s ask you a question! Have you ever heard of an activity called adaptive hiking? Of course, you’ve heard about hiking (who hasn’t?), but what’s the deal with the adjective? Needless to say, you’ll find your answer in the text below.

Adaptive hiking is an activity that enables folks with adaptive needs to enjoy hiking trails just like anyone else. It’s mostly done with the help of personal assistants and/or various adaptive equipment. When you’re planning an adaptive hike, make sure you learn everything there’s to know about the trail and the needs of all participants. 

There’s more from where that came from! Keep on reading to find out just what we’ve prepared for you today!

Table of Contents

What is adaptive hiking?

Okay, we all know hiking’s downright addictive, but what do we mean by adaptive hiking? Here’s your typical definition: adaptive hiking is an activity that allows folks with disabilities to enjoy trails through improvising techniques. These techniques often include PA (personal assistance) and/or adaptive equipment (wheelchairs, powerchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, etc., or whatever works best for a certain individual). All in all: adaptive hiking is all about fulfilling the dream of everyone having the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, regardless of their ability to move around freely.

Science tells us hiking lowers blood pressure and boosts serotonin levels. Just spending quality time surrounded by friends and amazing natural scenery is enough to get us high on life. That being said, there’s no reason why anyone should miss out on enjoying the outdoors. We’ve got the right technology (+ the much-needed will) to make it happen! In other words: hiking’s no more an exclusive activity.

Also, keep in mind that the benefits of hiking activities stay with us much longer than a certain tour lasts. Luckily, with adaptive hiking techniques – everyone is able to enjoy the post-hike, smile-inducing, I’m-so-hungry-I-could-eat-a-horse mood.

Other advantages of adaptive hiking

Here we’ll list some of the other, less-obvious advantages of adaptive hiking:

  • It increases self-esteem in persons with adaptive needs. Every collective activity is beneficial.
  • The activity boosts team spirit in each member of the group. The trail’s a great place to form social bonds.
  • Adaptive hiking allows persons without adaptive needs to feel what’s it like to live with certain issues.
  • It provides a way for persons with adaptive needs to challenge themselves. 

Now that we’ve gone through the introductory part, it’s time we see how should one organize an adaptive hiking group. We’ll show you what to pay attention to while making a plan, and how to deal with certain issues on the hiking trail itself.

Woman in a wheelchair, enjoying the natural scenery.

How to plan adaptive hikes? (and other info)

Okay, so how does one plan adaptive hikes? What’s to be taken into consideration? We’ll try to give you a thorough answer to both questions.

It’s a bit tricky (and it’s not)

Whether you’re planning a group hike with folks with disabilities or a one-on-one kind of adventure, knowing how to pick an accessible hike can be a bit tricky. You’ll need to consider a lot of details. Still, with the right info and some proper planning, you’ll be totally fine! Don’t be afraid to ask the person with adaptive needs exactly what specifics to think about when planning a hike.

You’ll learn this after you’re done but planning a hike with people who have adaptive needs isn’t so much different from organizing a hike with anyone else. You just need to figure out what each member of the hiking crew is capable of. Also, you’ll need to take note of their endurance levels. Once you’ve got the info, it’s time you find a hike that matches those preferences.

Access to the trail (issues with parking)

Before you even got to the trail-picking part, one of the crucial aspects to consider is what access to the trail looks like. In other words: parking can be a major issue. For instance, a person in a wheelchair might have trouble getting out of the car if the vehicles are parked too tightly. Now, this doesn’t mean you should avoid popular trails (with cramped parking lots). You’ll just need to pick out your starting point more carefully. All in all: the trail itself might suit your group, but if you can’t get to it – you might want to try out another option.

What’s the current state of the hiking trail?

You’ll want to get as much info as you can about the current state of the trail you’ve selected. For instance, maybe the trail eroded a bit over time and isn’t wheelchair-accessible anymore (although it was at the time it was built). Also, accessible doesn’t necessarily have to mean paved, because natural surface hiking trails can be also accessible for wheelchairs. Needless to say, there are many folks with disabilities who can hike technical singletrack without much hassle.

Talking to the participants

Before you start getting ready for a hike (this should’ve gone at the top), it’s necessary you inquire about each hiker’s specific needs. You’ll want to interview an individual hiker as much as you can. Here are the best starting questions:

  • Would you tell me a bit about yourself?
  • What’s your story? 
  • Have you ever hiked in the past?
  • Is there anything you’ll need for the hike in order for it to be successful? 

Once the answers arrive, please don’t try to discount what the participants say (even if you think they’re wrong or are overlooking certain points). They’ve certainly given it a lot of thought. That’s why there’s a chance you might be the one that’s wrong. The key is just to be tolerant & sincere.

Obtain some extra information

Of course, if you’re curious about a broader range of disabilities & needs, you can consider asking your local adaptive sports community or a disability support group just so you could see if there’s a way you can help out doing some volunteer work. They’ll be more than glad to give you any info you might inquire about.

Tips on the vocabulary you’ll use

First thing first, never use the word “handicapped”. It’s outdated and can be pretty offensive to some folks, even if you had the most naive intention. Syntagms like “person with a disability” or “person with adaptive needs” are fat better options. Oh, and when you’re talking about parking issues, use “accessible parking” (or “ADA parking”). Lastly, try not to use the adjective “normal” (normal this or normal that), as we can all agree that’s pretty subjective.

How to make the whole experience more positive?

There are a couple of things you can do to make the experience more satisfying for each group member. As we’ve already said, never assume you somehow know better. In other words: just be the person everyone wants to go hiking with (a good hiking-trail soul).

Also, try to not act (or even – feel) frustrated by something that a person with adaptive needs has absolutely no control over. It might seem like that same something is frustrating for them, but they’re used to living with it each day of the year. You don’t have to add up to that frustration by highlighting issues they’ve very well aware of.

How to approach the group pacing?

You’ll need to follow the advice associated with any group activity: if the plan’s to stay together, then stay united. Still, if some folks have an objective that requires them to hike at a faster pace than the rest of the group, just make sure everyone’s informed about it. To sum it up: ensure good communication between the members of the hiking party and never leave anyone behind.

Always keep in mind (adaptive) hiking’s not a competitive activity. There’s no need to rush things. When you rush it, you make things a bit more dangerous for each group member.

Adaptive hiking – what is it and how to plan adaptive hikes? (a summary)

Alright, so we’re getting near the end margins of this text. It’s time we go through everything we’ve learned today once more.

As we’ve said, adaptive hiking is an activity that makes the outdoors enjoyable for everyone, regardless of their ability to move their bodies freely. If you’re planning this type of group activity (it may also be a one-on-one kind of hike), it’s important you learn everything you can about the trail you’re interested in. For instance, you’ll want to know what’s the current state of it? Also, are there any issues concerning accessible parking? Communicate with team members about their needs and other necessities.

Once you’re out there on the hiking trail, try not to rush things. Make sure everyone knows if someone’s objective is to keep a faster pace. Never should you leave anyone behind or something similar. Lastly, consider the vocabulary you’ll be using and avoid saying something that might sound offensive (even though folks with adaptive needs aren’t so touchy).

That’s about it, dear folks! For more hiking-related articles and tips, visit this page.

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