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Camping or Backpacking with an injury or a disability. What to know...

Michael aka Mac

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Michael aka Mac

Well if you are reading this, chances are you are one of the ~ approximately 41 million civilians  (13 % of USA population) or the ~ 1.7 million military Veterans that are physically disabled.  

Let me begin by saying you are not alone... What you need is information, specific gear, and the knowledge that yes,  it can be achieved. 

On 15 May 2006, after 40 days of climbing, Mark Inglis was the 1st  double amputee to reach the summit of Mount Everest.  As of last year, Inglis marks 1 of the ~6,014 different individuals to climb to the summit.

I am not saying that this means that you too can climb to the summit of MT. Everest, nor am I suggesting you try. But if a double amputee has the ability to reach the summit of Everest,  just imagine how many far less physical demanding activities / adventures that you have been avoiding/missing out of, due to your debilitating  injury. 

Technology has come a long way over the years;  tents, sleeping bags, you name it have ultralightweight options, and new innovations have been imagined and created to assist us with tasks that we just cannot do alone due to our limitations.

People with Bad Backs:  Whether it is too hard for you to get that close to the ground on a regular mattress pad, or if the nights sleep, or there lack of due to back pain is the issue, there are alternatives.

  For those that have a hard time getting down and up from a sleeping pad due to it being so close to the ground, here are some options.

 1) A collapsible folding cot: These are not lightweight and not for backpacking, but for campsite camping this raises you considerably higher off the ground  then any sleeping pad, and you can even use a sleeping pad or  air mattress pad on top of them.

2) Inflatable mattress: These can be anywhere form 5-12 inches  off the ground, and come with a variety of different methods to inflate.

3) Hammocks:  A sure way to get you far off the ground, these lightweight hanging "tents" are high off the ground and all you have to do is sit as if your sitting down on the chair.

People that cannot carry a lot of weight: With so many ultralightweight options for all the gear out there,  this problem is the easiest to address, though possibly the most expensive.

Nearly every gear out there has an ultralightweight version of them.  The lighter it gets the more expensive. Season close outs at stores  help a little, as they are reducing their prices to get ready for next years new items.

Some items  like tents and sleeping bags and winter Jackets, one can shed a lot of weight right at the start. The run of the mill 0 degree bag may be weighing up to 10 lbs. more then its down counterpart. Buying the ultra lightweight versions of gear, and only bring bear necessities, have knocked down over 20 lbs. off a persons backpack.

Switching from fuel based stoves to titanium wood burning stoves will shed some lbs.

A hammock weighs a few lbs. less then a tent and mattress pad

People that have problems being in the sun: There are sun reflecting hiking umbrellas that protect you from the harmful UV radiation, that may interact with your illness or the  medication you are taking.  There are clothing, hats, and of course sunglasses that have UV protection.  Adding a UV visor, Sun reflecting umbrella, UV protected clothing and glasses will prevent your body from reacting to the suns harmful rays.

People with Arthritis: Having Arthritis in your hands  can make doing daily tasks a chore in the outdoors. There are numerous equipment that have larger handles, grips, knobs, etc. that allow you to more easily grip and hold the item.  in your google search add ergonomic handles or grips. Attaching a larger pull to your zippers, makes opening and closing sleeping bags, tents, jackets , backpacks, etc. easier for your hands.

Vision issues: Our eyes, especially when we get older, have a hard time reading a lot of the instructions or labels  on items. Trying to read the compass or gps, or even your watch may be difficult.

 Most smart phones have a built in Accessibility app. This app zooms in on your cell phones screen all info by tapping  screen a few times  and can even be zoomed in further. Downloading a GPS app & a Compass app while using the Accessibility feature will save you from having to carry a GPS and a compass or spare batteries. This will not only allow you to easily read your phones compass and GPS, but it will also lighten your load. 

Blue Blocker Sunglasses seem to help a lot of people with vision problems as well.

Those with bad ankles, knees and elbows: A support brace is very effective at supporting your knees, ankles and elbows. Easy to put on easy to take of and the benefits and pain relief form wearing them, well its  a no brainer

Also using pain relief gel or lotion on the areas and taking Aleve will also reduce your pain. Hand warmers can be of use here too,  although more designed to keep you hands warm in winter, these warmers  can be placed around your knees, ankles,  elbow or shoulder to sooth your muscles

Making a helping hand: For those of you that either like to go in the outdoors  solo, or that cannot find someone that has the same days off then you have, but also have an injury or physical disability that makes doing certain tasks hard solo, this is my advice:

As a computer and electronic technician that ran solo jobs, there were numerous times that I needed a second hand to do a task.  Instead of giving up citing it is a "two man job", i would create something on the fly that would circumvent the need for a second person. Whether it was making something to hold an item or object in place, or rigging a pulley system for lifting, I was always able to conjure up a way to do the task at hand.

In camping,  I find having carabiners, paracord and a climbers pulley solved a lot of problems for me in situations where a 2nd person would be helpful.  rigging a pole from opposite directions is a way to secure it in place, now you don't need someone to hold the pole for you.

A DIY conveyor line with a pulley rig allowed me to lift wood and other heavy objects with the fraction of the force needed to outright lift it. 

Duct tape is also another useful thing to have around.  It is great to temporarily hold something in place, or to temporarily attach something together while you do the actual connecting.

There is more to come:  If any of Trailgroove's readers has a specific question about how to camp with a particular type  injury or disability, feel free to ask a me a question.  Life isn't over  having a disability, it just requires a change on how you do and approach things.

If this was helpful to anyone , please give it a thumbs  up so I knw  to write more articles like this or add content to existing threads.

about the author

Michael aka Mac, (his Trail name, short for MacGyver), is a Survivalist and outdoor enthusiast with over 40 years of experience in the great outdoors. His background is in engineering & physics and he brings this knowledge into his gear inventions and outdoor experiences.  Now Michael aka Mac, when he is not in the wilderness, spends his free time as a Freelance gear reviewer of outdoor gear & gadgets, an outdoor Blogger, professional outdoor survival writer, and teacher of outdoor non combat survival skills.

Edited by Michael aka Mac
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Hi Michael

Good for you for encouraging people of all ability levels to get outdoors. My wife and I have hiked with a variety of ailments, and seen others successfully cope with far more serious issues. The rewards always outweigh the challenges. 

But one thing I missed in your article is the simple expedient of asking someone to help. It's an option that should always be considered...and is rewarding both for those being helped, as well as those who are helping!

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Michael aka Mac

Balzaccom,  i posted this back on Dec 3 of last year   686 views,  when Xmas came and passed,  I was the only person that had donated anything.   Asking for help is simple, getting it it seems is nearly impossible... 

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Hi Michael 

I wasn't suggesting that you should ask people to help, but that people who need help to get out into the backcountry should not be afraid to ask for that help from others.  We regularly take other folks on trips, at least once a year, and provide most, if not all of the gear, as well as advice, encouragement...and on the trail support.  

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Michael aka Mac

I totally agree with you Balzaccom,  it just seems that people in this generation are not like previous generations.  For example, recently a woman was sexually attacked on a train for over 30 mins with people not only not intervening, but taking photos and videos.

There are a few organizations out there that tailor to those with disabilities, but the problem lies with lack of funds, equipment, & personnel. 

The fact is though,  many are afraid to ask for help, and others have their pride holding them back.  It as if they lose face asking for help, or a loss of dignity, sadly they could not be more mistaken.  There is nothing more courageous and human in my book then realizing one cannot do something alone and verbalizes  this. To be able to realize one's own limitations and asking for help to me, is not only being self aware, but being smart. 

In college, i was part of a program called SHARE,  i think it no longer exists. It was a group of technicians, soon to be engineers and programmers,  that turned old, broken electronics and computer type equipment into useful inventions to aid those with disabilities. 

One of the projects that I was working solo on was with an old apple computer that I was turning into a text to voice app.  It was using a breath tube switch for someone that is paralyzed so that by inhaling or exhaling they could simulate the left click and right click of a mouse using their breathing and exhaling.  The program itself was a series of columns of different words and word comps, nouns, verbs, adj, etc.  and by breathing and exhaling one could switch between the columns and chose a given word to speak, so that the paralyzed mute individual could interact with people again. ( closely resembles to the one Professor  Stephen Hawkins used)

This program I was in  is one of the reasons why I wrote this thread.  There have been so many miraculous innovations created over the past 30 years to assist those with debilitating injuries and disabilities.

I am currently working on setting up a smart home and designing it as if it were  to be used for someone that is physically disabled .  Using wifi, bluetooth, and linking cell phone technology, stand alone electronics, and computer software, I have been able to control Tvs, lights, intercoms, audio devices, and make phone calls or do ordering/purchasing,  all of these actions  by merely speaking.

IN my current configuration that I have set up,  I could walk in to any room of my Condo and play music, or TV, turn up or down the volume or mute, change channel or play a particular song, I could order takeout or buy something like batteries and have it shipped  to me just by verbally asking.  If someone were to fall in my home,  all they would have to do is say "call Ambulance" and they would be immediately connected to a 911 phone operator.

You could even ask to lookup a company or persons phone number, ask for weather forecast, current: day, time,  and date.  or ask for calculations to be done, or conversions, ie how many teaspoons in a table spoon,  and the answer would be given verbally back to you.  I esp like the timers, stop watches, alarms, verbal calendar and reminder features, which can assist people with memory issues.

Edited by Michael aka Mac
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