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Being outdoors with a disability/medical condition

I have a heart condition and have to be aware of cardio/pulmonary symptoms and exposure to pathogens. I manage that by owning lightweight gear that reduces burden on my body, minding temperatures/hydration, and filtering water like a madman. Anyone with similar experiences?

As expected, this topic didn't fit into many categories that were created in the forum. People with medical conditions have a hard time being visible, especially in hobbies that are inherently physical. Since I'm a woman, and that plays a part in my outdoor life as well, I posted in this category.

14 Replies

@isabelmc I agree.  I have a couple of medical conditions that you can't "see" but I have to be careful of.  I am on diuretics so I have to replace fluids frequently along with electrolyets.  At my age there are several herniated discs in my back so I have gone as light as I can.  Most conditions can be worked around and I find that it is helpful to educate my backpacking partners in case of emergency.  

@isabelmc I'm with you all, too. I have a chronic pain illness. It typically doesn't mean needing special gear, fortunately, though last time I bought a day pack I made sure it was very light to be easier on my shoulders. However, it means pacing myself, and going for shorter hikes. So, I tend to hike alone or only with people I'm close with and who know about my condition - I don't go with hiking clubs because either their hikes are too long/intense, or I feel like I'm holding everyone back. 


Hi! YES! Thank you for sharing! I'm in a similar situation to both of you, @isabelmc and @MaryNJ . I have ankylosing spondylitis (AS) as well as CAD (two angioplasties with four stents). Thankfully, the stents are holding up and my doc has cleared me for anything I want to do. My AS is in remission, but I have lots of fused joints (hips, shoulders, and neck) which makes certain things harder than normal.

I'm finding that almost no outdoor gear is designed with mobility issues in mind. In fact, my backpack never fits quite right due to the curvature of my upper back, despite every fitting and adjustment I and the folks at REI have made. I'm settling for "close enough" and "doesn't hurt."

I've also had to make some additions to my backpack to make it usable in the field. Those water bottle pockets on the sides of my backpack? I can't bring my hand back and up far enough to pull the bottle from the pocket, and putting it back in is impossible. So I found a tactical-grade bottle holster and put it on my hip belt. It's awkward, but I can reach it.

I can't turn my head enough or reach over my shoulder enough to find the little loops of the load lifter straps, nor can I hold on to the side straps, so I bought some 3" carabineers, hooked them through the loops, so they're closer and big enough for me to find and hook a couple of fingers through. So I jangle a lot when I'm hiking.

I think there's an opportunity out there for a company to design and make gear that can be easily and safely used by those who want and are able to get outdoors but have various physical limitations.

Have you tried a hydration bladder? Hose comes over the shoulder so you don't have to turn or twist to get water, just grab the hose, bite the bite valve and suck.

Thanks @Halraiser ! Yes; I have a 3l bladder. You're right, the hose works perfectly, clipped to my chest strap with a magnet, it's right where I need it.

But for my training hikes or day hikes, I don't want to have to drain and dry the bladder aftwerward. Also, on longer hikes in some places (my first backcountry hike in Capitol Reef NP), no water is available, and you need to carry LOTS of it. My buddy and I carried 5l each, and used every bit of it in a day and a half. 

And it's nice to have not only the plain water in the bladder, but also have some electrolyte water for hot places.


I too have (same amount ) stents and thought CAD and asthma would be my worries in doing the activities I enjoy. However, it's really my darn nasal allergies that get me down sometimes, since I'm allergic to the wonderful outdoor greenery that I love.  Sometimes the  sinus pressure even takes me down on a work day (dust and barometric pressure changes).  I just got back from camping, which I love more and more each time I get to go.  No problems lifting my kayak on to the roof rack or the lengthy hike on an incline to get to the restroom.  It was the waking up with a stuffy head and very much wanting to start the day with the fam, but too foggy to do more than drink coffee and space out for a while.  This time was a bit easier having taken benadryl before bed, but still needed to have advil when I woke up.  I think supplements for the allergies have helped a bit too, but I should have been more consistent with those over the weekend and possibly taken extra before bed.  Having my husband drive home the first leg helped too.  Someday either the allergy shots will lessen the severity or I will figure out the most effective strategy


@isabelmc yep, here also.  My case is my back/spine, lots of stuff going on.  Have to carry special pain/relaxation meds in the event of an all out spasm, rendering me on the ground unable to move. Fortunately, I can feel it coming on and can take immediate action.  If my back goes out in the wilderness, without meds, I'm screwed.

REI Member Since 1979

Obviously,  Phil, we need a section on lightweight meds for ultralight backpacking.  What is the lightest blood thinner or pain reliever?


Another geezer weighing in - with age comes disabilities of various sorts.  Mine is an arthritic hip (with knees not far behind).  My replacement surgery has been derailed by the current covid-19 crisis but will occur eventually.

Even then, I will be constrained in the kinds of terrain I can traverse.  To some extent, thisis the inevitable result of aging - at some point, you must accept and adjust to limitations on your physical activity.

All n all, I am glad I maintained a vigorous lifestyle in my younger days.  I can see the payoff in some of the conditions with which I am not coping.

All you young'uns out there -keep on truckin!


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@hikermor LOL, just seeing this. Yes and I guess ‘not backpacking’ is not yet an option (thankfully)! I try to design trips I can manage, not sure why I let my friends talk me into a North boundary trail (jasper np) this August, they obviously have more faith in me than I have in myself, again lol, however it gives me a reason to train!

REI Member Since 1979