Asthmatics Hike! A 3-Step Plan for Success

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.

my fiver year old walked this same trail. relax.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
  1. Identify and Defend Against Your Triggers
  2. Compare Your Fitness Level to Hike Specs
  3. 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):

Smoky trees in forest fire
Don’t hike in smoky conditions.
  • 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.

bumblebee on orange flower
Bee prepared to treat insect 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.)

Queen Anne's Lace blossom against bright blue sky
Pollen is a common allergen that can be treated with anti-histamines.

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.

Stay Hydrated

Hiking is athletic and you will lose some water to sweat, even in cooler weather.

Public water fountain in Chamonix France.
You may be able to refill your bottles along the trail.

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.

Trail Medications

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.

Man sitting down looking at French Alp peaks.
Taking a break on the Lac Blanc trail in the French Alps.

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

Why Right Now is the Best Time to Start Hiking

When I first discovered recreational hiking, I was working at a fulltime tech job, was a single parent of a toddler with few babysitters available, and my closest family was 1500 miles away.  Of necessity, most of my activities (outside of work) included the company of my Mini-Me, and hiking was no exception.

Hiking at Hanging Rock State Park with Peanut!

When she was old enough, we were able to visit a lot of State Parks, and go on unpaved trails with more varied terrain.  She loved the adventure, seeing new things, and being an intrepid explorer with her Mama! Before that, I would carry her in a backpack or push her in a stroller on paved trails.

Hiking Is Ideal for Busy People

Hiking was and still is an ideal activity for me because it is healthy, inexpensive, and something I could do with my child or on my own whenever I had some free time.  Unlike the local softball league, you don’t need to hang around waiting for the rest of the team to show up to get started – you just go when and where you want at your own pace for whatever time you have available.

You don’t need to wait until :

  • Your kids grow up,
  • You can afford special equipment, or
  • You are in amazing physical shape.

Just throw on your tennies, put the kid(s) in some sort of carrying or rolling device and go for it!   If you don’t have kids to wrangle, it’s even easier.

Hike Where You Live

Fortunately, I live in a place where a big beautiful forest is practically outside my front door, so I am able to spend less time in the car and more time on the trails – a big plus when hauling kids.

View down the river at Eno State Park.

But you don’t need a forest – any park with trails or paths will do.  Greenways and long stretches of sidewalk along neighborhood streets will work, too.  I have even walked laps around school running tracks if there was nothing else available.

Do some research and identify places where you could walk at least 3 miles without driving more than 15 minutes.  Be creative!

No time? Be a hiking opportunist:
  • Do you have a lunch hour at work and it’s gorgeous outside?  Ditch the pumps for some trail runners and walk a mile or two before you need to get back.
  • Do you arrive at the after school care pickup an hour before the deadline? Take a walk before picking up the kids while you can go at your own pace with your arms free.
  • Do you sit in rush hour traffic on the way home? Find a trail close to your workplace and hike instead of sitting in stop-and-crawl traffic. You may get home at almost the same time.

Whatever you do, do something.  Identify what you can do now, and do it.  Don’t wait for the “perfect” time:  Identify your opportunities – as small as they may be right now – and take them!

They say the longest journey begins with a single step, and that is literally true for every hike and your hiking journey.  Why not take that first step today?

Tell Me About Your Journey

I love being active hiking on my own, or with like-minded people – and I hope my posts will inspire you to give it a try, too!  Whether or not you have any kids to bring along, or any sort of ongoing health issues, hiking is a great way to simultaneously see the world and improve your own health.

Please leave comments below and let me know what opportunity you took to start hiking, and how it went for you.  If you have any other questions or comments please also leave them below and I will respond as quickly as I can.

I have been hiking for fun regularly for almost 20 years now, and have been leading hikes in a local hiking group since 2009, in local and regional parks.  I also take hiking trips all over the world, and will use my blog to share what I find out there – which might give you some ideas about where you could visit in your own travels.   For more about me, please see my About page:  http://idratherwalk.com/welcome-to-id-rather-walk/

Thanks for stopping by – see you next time!  LJ