Everyone should do some research before trying a new physical activity – and prepping for a hike is no different. For asthmatics, failing to prepare properly for a hike can have results ranging from mildly unpleasant to catastrophic.
Be prepared, but don’t be so nervous that you don’t go out at all – walking is a natural exercise for us. Most of us have been doing it since we were very young.
That said, in all of my posts I am only speaking from my own experience dealing with lifelong chronic severe asthma, and the methods I have come up with to enable me to be very physically active in spite of it.
I am NOT a licensed medical practitioner, and if you have any medical issues or doubts about your abilities, please consult your medical advisor before starting any kind of new physical activity or diet. Now that I’ve made my lawyers happy – let’s get on with it!
3-Steps To Successful Hiking with Asthma
- Identify and Defend Against Your Triggers
- Compare Your Fitness Level to Hike Specs
- Carry Water and Meds on the Trail
1. Identify Your Triggers
If you have been asthmatic for some years (and are not in denial) you have probably figured out what your most troublesome triggers or allergens are. I have been asthmatic since I was a toddler, so I have had plenty of time to figure it out. Everyone has different triggers and different severity of response to each trigger.
A list of common asthma triggers (including but not limited to):
- Exercise or stress
- Smoke – cigarette and fire smoke
- Air Pollution – smog, car exhaust, other air pollution
- Cold dry air
- Sulfites in food
- Pollen, Mold and Dust
- Insect bites and stings
- Common cold or sinus infection
How to Defend Against Triggers on the Hike
If you know you will encounter something that is normally a trigger for you, you can pre-medicate (i.e. use an inhaler before the hike, take medication for a cold). For any air-borne allergens, pollutants or cold air, you can cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or mask to filter and warm the air before it gets to your lungs. Spray your clothing with insecticide to keep bugs away and prevent bites.
2. Compare YOUR FITNESS LEVEL To Hike Specs
If you think you may not be fit enough for the hike you want to do, you can give yourself a homemade fitness test to see where you stand.
Determining Your Natural Pace
If you have signed up for a group hike, there should be a pace (in mph) and length of hike in the description. If you are going out on your own, you can set your own pace, but you should still have some idea how fast you walk so you can estimate how long it will take for you to get back. (This is especially important if you are trying to get back to the trailhead by a certain time or before dark.)
The easiest way to determine your current natural pace is to go out and walk a mile, and time it. If you walk a mile in 30 minutes, then your pace is 2 miles per hour. If you can do a mile in 15 minutes, then your pace is 4 miles per hour and so on. You could use this same method walking a mile indoors on a treadmill.
Note that you will go more slowly on unpaved trails in the woods, going up and down hills with roots and rocks, etc than you will on a paved surface or treadmill. So allow for those differences when calculating your current pace.
Hike Length – Can you go the distance?
If you have been going to the gym (or chasing kids) and are reasonably fit, you should be able to walk a few miles at a moderate pace (2.5-3mph) with no issues. You may want to go on a couple of these moderate hikes and see how you do before you look at a longer or faster-paced hike.
If you have not been moving around at all and get winded walking to the mailbox, you may want to do some training first indoors on a treadmill where you can get immediate attention for a problem. Start slowly and work your way to 3mph.
After you are strong enough to walk a few miles on a treadmill without issues, you can hit the trail with confidence!
3. Carry Water and Meds on the Trail
It is important for all hikers, especially asthmatics, to carry water and first aid and medications on the trail.
Hiking is athletic and you will lose some water to sweat, even in cooler weather.
Everyone needs to stay hydrated, and asthmatics need to keep any mucus in their lungs thinned out. How much water you should carry will vary depending on how hot the weather is, how long your hike is, and if you can refill your bottles along the way. I usually carry at least (4) 16oz water bottles in a pack, except for very short (3 miles or less) hikes where one water bottle is enough.
Everyone should carry bandages, antibiotic ointment, and an anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine on hikes. Asthmatics should also carry their fast-acting rescue inhalers, tablets or other oral meds (discus), and emergency epinephrine, such as an Epi-pen. Carry enough to see you through the timeframe you will be out, and then some extra for good measure. It is also a good idea to carry a cell phone (even if signal is spotty) for emergency contact.
If You Have Trouble on the Trail
If you find yourself wheezing and struggling on the trail, drink some water, take some extra meds, and take a break to catch your breath every once in a while.
You can also slow your pace, and do compression breathing if you are in real trouble, or ask another hiker for help. As a last resort, call the Ranger or 911 from your cell phone if you have service.
Always keep in mind that however far you hike, (unless you are hiking a loop) you have to hike back that far again to return to the trailhead. Only you can determine what is too much, and when you need to turn back.
Don’t be afraid to bail out if you need to and come back another day. The trail will still be there, ready when you are.
Please leave comments below. Let me know if this post has been helpful for you, and what your experience has been so far in hiking with asthma. If you have any other questions or comments please leave them below and I will respond as quickly as I can.
Thanks for stopping by – see you next time! LJ