What Is Adaptive Hiking: Everything You Need To Know

Hiking is a great choice if you’re looking for a new and exciting outdoor activity. Learning to hike often requires lots of gear and more knowledge than the average person has. But with adaptive hiking, anyone can enjoy the outdoors. Adaptive hiking emphasizes the enjoyment of the outdoors, not just the physical and mental health benefits of exercise.

Adaptive hiking starts with the idea that access is the heart of everything. Its potential benefits are so great it’s worth devoting extra time and effort to figure out how to make it work best for you. Adaptive hiking is an approach to outdoor recreation. It’s a philosophy, a way of approaching the outdoors. Whether you’re injured, in pain, or just looking for an active way to spend time in nature, adaptive hiking makes it possible to enjoy the outdoors whenever and wherever you want.

What is Adaptive Hiking?

Adaptive hiking is a way of exploring nature that lets you choose where and how far you hike without conditions limiting your ability. It’s all about making it possible to get outside safely and have fun. It’s not a guidebook but an invitation to connect with your body, mind, and spirit.

Adaptive hiking is an easy and enjoyable way to get started hiking. It takes the guesswork out of planning a successful trip. It helps you prepare for a hike with less effort and provides you with guidance for your trip that’s specific to your needs. Adaptive hiking addresses the challenges of accessibility by providing access to:

Trailheads: Usually requiring an all-terrain vehicle, vans or help from friends or family. Access options include carpooling, sharing vehicles, and trailhead shuttles.

Trail access: Considerations for wheelchairs, strollers, and crutches may be needed to avoid steep grades, uneven trails, and obstacles.

Trail difficulty: The terrain can be hard or soft underfoot or include ramps, stairs, fences, or other structures. The level of ankle or wrist clearance is also important for trail-type.

Navigation: Trails may require frequent changes in directions to avoid areas with limited clearance or width.

Mobility assistance: Considerations for people who use canes, walkers, and other mobility assistance devices.

Hiking gear: A few examples are all-terrain strollers, hand-held canes with tip covers, and tools that aid balance.

Adaptive Hiking vs Hiking

Adaptive hiking is more than just hiking. It uses specific techniques and equipment to make outdoor activities more accessible for people with disabilities. Adaptive hiking is similar to conventional hiking in that it’s about getting outside and enjoying the beauty of nature.

Adaptive hiking is a way of hiking that allows you to do what’s most important to you. It helps you connect with your body, mind, and spirit. The goal is to make it possible to get outside safely and have fun. Adaptive hiking focuses on access, not just the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. It gives you the choice of where and how far you hike, without conditions limiting your ability.

The hiking experience is tailored for everyone and every situation. When hiking, you often need special equipment and more knowledge than the average person has. Adaptive hikers use their equipment, personal knowledge, and specialized “how-to” instructions to make a trip as accessible as possible. With adaptive hiking, anyone can enjoy the outdoors.

Adaptive Hiking: Which Equipment Do You Need?

This will all depend on your condition. There is an array of different equipment out there for you to use.


It is a compact, lightweight piece of equipment that you attach to the back of your wheelchair or scooter and turn into an ATV. They can be used in different ways, from helping you get to a trailhead or providing access up or down steep slopes. They can take the weight off your legs and any body parts that might get injured on the trails, leaving you free to enjoy the terrain.


Generally, it has a wider base than most wheelchairs, making it very stable and good for terrain with bumps such as mud or gravel. These wheelchairs are made for outdoor use, so you might want to select a different type of wheelchair depending on your condition.


Scooters are fast and provide you with an easy alternative to walking. They are used to get to the trailhead and then used as your means of transportation in the woods. If you suffer from any back or spine problems or low muscle tone, the scooter could be a better alternative than a wheelchair. Scooters are also easier to maneuver if your condition allows you to use one, and they help keep you moving when fatigue is an issue, especially on long hikes.

Single and Tandem Recumbent

Single and tandem recumbents are needed to increase the stability of your body. A recumbent is a bike or a scooter that has been modified with a seat that is lower to the ground and can be set in varying positions. They work best for people who suffer from chronic back problems, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, and other joint issues limiting their ability to walk or stand on regular bikes. They are lightweight, making them very easy to carry when commuting or on long hikes.

Tandem Upright

Some people benefit from a tandem bike or a multi-rider recumbent. This is a good option if you have more than one person who wants to go with you on the trail. Also, consider how long your trip will be and whether you will be stopping frequently or not.

Park Explorer

The park explorer is another mobility aid that can provide greater flexibility on the trails. The park explorer is great for people with a limited range of motion, whose weakness makes it difficult to use a manual wheelchair, or who are limited in the amount of time they can tolerate sitting in one place.

It is also particularly well suited to uneven terrain and off-trail travel. A park explorer provides support and stability and a low center of gravity, which makes it easier to maneuver over rough terrain or snow.

Bowhead Reach Adventure Cycle

This is a wheelchair on the back of an ATV. It gives greater access to trails, making it more convenient for people who use wheelchairs for medical reasons or people with physical disabilities that limit their mobility. Besides, you might find a faster trip in the back of this bike.

Is There a Way to Find Special Trails for Adaptive Hiking?

Adaptive hiking trails are trails that are modified or changed for people with disabilities. For example, trails may be marked by color or width, blazes are added to guide the way, or even a special section for wheelchairs.

The most popular form is to “build” a trail around existing natural features. These trails can include accessibility modifications on existing routes through the woods, coastlines, and wilderness areas.

Benefits of Adaptive Hiking

There are all kinds of advantages for adaptive hiking, no matter if you’re new or experienced.

1. Inspiration. Adaptive hiking is an inspiring way to reconnect with the natural world and focus your attention on nature, not on your disability. The outdoors can be one of the most peaceful places for anyone, even those who are disabled.

2. Connecting with nature. Hiking in the great outdoors provides adventure, exercise, fresh air, and sun exposure, which can help you feel healthier overall.

3. Independence. Adaptive hiking gives you the freedom to choose where and how far you want to hike, so it’s a great way to get back into the outdoors after disability or illness has kept you away.

4. Fun. Hiking doesn’t have to be stressful or frustrating. If you want to enjoy the outdoors, adaptive hiking is a fun, safe way to go.

5. Creativity. Adaptive hiking allows you to be creative in figuring out how to make each step easier and safer. The results can be surprising as well as inspiring!

The benefits of adaptive hiking are numerous and are usually directly related to the type of disability and whether you’re using assistive or recreational equipment. For example, if you have an arm or leg injury, you can find different adaptive hiking benefits than someone with a visual impairment.

Safety and Preparing

Safety is paramount for everyone, and getting ready for your trip is one of the most important parts. Adaptive hiking should be approached with the same care and preparation as a conventional hike, using the appropriate equipment for your situation.

1. Your route should be well-planned, and you should make sure to have the necessary supplies before you go, including everything from food and water to sunscreen (further reading: 10 best snacks for hiking in hot weather).

2. It is also important to choose a knowledgeable person who can accompany you on hikes, especially if you have non-visible disabilities. You should also wear your hiking boots or special walking shoes if you have problems with your feet, and make sure that your wheelchair will be able to fit in the back of a vehicle.

3. It’s important always to let friends and family know where you’re going, how long you’ll be there, and when you expect to return.

4. It’s also important to carry identification with you to ensure that if something were to occur while hiking, someone who finds you can easily identify who you are and contact your loved ones.

5. Adaptive hikers should also remember that if they are unable to complete the hike on their own, they should never go beyond their capabilities by attempting any advanced hiking maneuvers without professional help.

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of adaptive hiking is minimal and almost nonexistent. The trail builds around the natural features, so the only real damage done to the environment is through erosion of the land in which it will be hiking. This can be easily controlled with a simple post-hike inspection of the entire trail before anyone leaves.

Of course, you should also do your part during your hike and leave no traces.

What Are the Challenges?

Some of the challenges you may face while hiking are weather, equipment, and physical difficulties.

Weather Difficulties

Weather can be a challenge in any season, but winter is particularly difficult. Inclement weather can make even a short hike dangerous or inaccessible. You should always check the weather forecast before going hiking and ensure you have the proper gear for your trip. Further reading: How to Keep Water from Freezing While Hiking in Winter

Equipment Difficulties

In addition to weather, you should always ensure that your equipment is in good working order before embarking on a trip. If you’re using an assistive device such as a wheelchair or crutches, ensure they’re tuned up and ready to go. You don’t want your equipment to break down on the trail because that could be dangerous or even life-threatening.

If your equipment breaks down, don’t panic! Adaptive hiking doesn’t mean that you need to be superhuman. If you’re falling behind, get someone to help you. If you need rest stops and breaks, be prepared to wait. Stop hiking and call a friend or support crew if you can’t walk without assistance. Having someone around who can help may not always be possible, but knowing how to get help is important and adaptive hiking helps everyone understand how to do it.

Physical Difficulties

Physical difficulties are also common in all types of hiking, but they’re particularly prevalent in adaptive hiking because of assistive devices like wheelchairs and crutches. However, before going out on the trail, you should always check to ensure your equipment is in good working order and know how to use it.

If you’re using a wheelchair, make sure you know where the brakes are, how to use the wheelchair properly, and what to do if the brakes fail. Know when and where to change positions while hiking so that it doesn’t become too uncomfortable for you.

Navigation Difficulties

Hiking is all about reaching your destination; however, getting lost or injured can make hiking very dangerous. There are several ways to be prepared for any situation while hiking, such as getting lost, dealing with an emergency, and backtracking to your car. You should always be prepared before going on the trail, but after the hike is done, you should plan and prepare to avoid getting lost.

Ensure there are easy escape routes ahead of time and know what obstacles lie ahead. It’s always good to bring emergency supplies such as a cell phone, extra clothes, food, and water. Review your plan with someone else who will be on the trip so that they know what to do in an emergency. It’s also a good idea to get a map of the area beforehand to refer to it while you’re hiking and can, in an emergency, tell someone how to get there. Be sure to have detailed maps of the area if something goes wrong and you need to find your way out of there.

Adaptive hiking is a way to get outside and enjoy nature, but it’s also an opportunity to get fit, build strength, find new interests and make friends with people from all walks of life. It’s an opportunity to learn how to manage disabilities so that you can live the type of life that anyone desires independent, able-bodied, and happy.

Last Update: 23. March 2022
About the Author

My name is Thomas, and I love the outdoors. I'm currently living in Germany and I would like to encourage my readers to go outside with this blog. Here you can read more about me.