We’re all able to connect with the world around us in our own way. Enjoying nature, the great outdoors, is something that we should all do, regardless of our physical abilities. Hiking can be equally enjoyed by sighted as well as blind and low vision individuals. Blind hikers on the trail will be treated to unique pallet of sensory experiences – the smells of trees, the astringent aroma of pine needles, the sweet smell of flowers as well as the sounds of the terrain beneath your feet, the variety of bird calls, the humming of insects and the burble a nearby stream. The hiking experience is sure to please everyone. Here are some important tips for blind and low vision explorers wishing to experience the great outdoors.
- Do the Research. Whether you’re experienced hiker or a newbie, doing some research about the trail and area that you want to hike will certainly help you get prepared. You should check out your local state government parks and recreation website to learn about the various trails and state parks in your area. Some states offer accessible trails. It’s also important to know your trail’s difficulty level. Be realistic and know if you prefer to have an easy or high energy hike and/or how much cardio exercise your able to do. I always find it helpful to ask other hikers about the area and trail experience.
- Get Prepared – just like the old Boy Scout motto says. Be ready for any eventuality like an injury, hitting tree branches, getting lost or inclement weather. Prepare a backpack with a first aid supplies, rain poncho, sunscreen, food, plenty of water and clothing layers in case the temp drops. Additional supplies may include waterproof matches, a knife or multitool, additional battery for your phone, fishing line, additional cash to buy food, and don’t forget your phone. There are brail compasses available, but I always use Sunu Band’s haptic compass to know which direction I’m heading.
- Hiking Buddies or Going Solo — It’s up to you how you prefer to enjoy the outdoors. I aways find it fun hiking with a sighted friend, who at times will guide my experience. I use Sunu Band’s echolocation app to avoid tree branches, bushes and other obstacles along the trail. If you are going solo, it’s alway a good idea to at least inform someone where you’re hiking and when to expect you back. The majority of state parks will have a check in or registration area. State park fees are typically waived for the visually impaired.
- Invest in Some Gear — You should have to worry about ‘breaking the bank’ here. But I would consider purchasing a pair of comfortable hiking boots. A good pair of hiking shoes or boots will provide support, help avoid ankle sprains, provided good traction and keep your feet protected. Consider getting at least one (or pair) of hiking poles. Hiking or walking poles can be used in conjunction with your white cane or can aid in identifying obstacles on the trail. The poles also help keep your balanced when the terrain is rocky or uneven.
- Cane, Guide Dogs or Electronic Travel Aids — Bill Tipton, an avid blind hiker recommends using two canes. One should be used as a support or a hiking pole. The second should be a long cane. Bill shares his cane technique when on the trail. You may consider swapping your tip for a Dakota Disc. This hook style tip is designed to travel over uneven surfaces such as dirt, sand, grass, gravel, snow, etc. Of course, guide dogs make a wonderful companion on the trail. As a low vision hiker, I use the Sunu Band to detect branches and other obstacles on the trail. The Sunu Band compass feature is an excellent navigation tool and its long battery life make it the best tool for the outdoors.
- Keep an ear to the ground — Take the time to listen to the sounds around you. Sounds can provide information about changes in the terrain ahead and will allow you to prepare your footing and next step for what’s ahead. If you’re walking with a buddy or a group, listen actively to any audible changes in the terrain like puddles, sand, gravel etc.
- Have Fun — Allow yourself those moments to ‘take it all in’. Take accessional breaks along the trail to enjoy the scents and sounds of the beauty that surrounds you. Allowing yourself to experience the natural world that’s around you enables you to feel as part of it too.
We’ hope that everyone has the same opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and experience nature to the best of their abilities. Check the short video below to learn how I enjoy hiking with the Sunu Band.