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ADHD Lessons from the Appalachian Trail

Hiking through the wilderness for four days tested my ADHD-management skills in a million ways, a new challenge was around every bend.

I just got back from an amazing four-day backpacking trip. As I reflect on the long weekend and its preparations, it occurs to me that backpacking just might be the perfect fitness activity for adults with ADHD. There’s literally something new to look at around every bend. And it provides all sorts of opportunities to practice our ADHD-management skills, such as…

Planning Ahead

I worked really hard to manage my ADHD last week. I used my timer and did a pretty good job of staying on task so I could get everything done before I left. It was exhausting, but I accomplished everything on my to-do list by Friday evening. But then I realized that I still had to plan for the trip!

Good thing I have a standard packing list to make the job easier. Don’t want to be out there without a crucial piece of gear, like dry socks or the camp stove — those freeze dried meals are pretty awful if you don’t add boiling water. The packing list made it easier, but it would have been even better had I started planning on Thursday so I could have had the laundry finished (my favorite synthetic shirt was in the hamper) and done the last-minute grocery shopping (how could we have run out of granola bars already?!) I ended up staying up until 1:30 AM, which made for a late start the next day.

[Free Resource: Master Packing List for Adults with ADHD]


You get cardio and strength training (climbing rocky inclines wearing a heavy pack on your back is going to build muscle) at the same time. And exercising in nature is way more appealing than the gym.

Bottom Lining

When you have to carry everything you need for four days on your back, it’s important to pack light. Picking out the bare essentials is a little like choosing your words carefully. Minimize. What’s the most impact you can make with the least amount of stuff, or the smallest number of words?

Risk Assessment

Think about it. If you jump off a boulder and break your leg, how is the ambulance going to reach you here?

[Impulsivity, Explained]


When you’re living out of a pack for four days, it’s frustrating to have to unpack everything every time you’re looking for something. And your rain gear needs to be easily accessible or ALL your gear will get soaked if you have to pull everything else out to get to it.

Clearing Your Mind

Walking is a form of meditation and does wonders for those racing thoughts. No point in thinking about the stressors of home — there’s absolutely nothing you can do about them out there in the wilderness. Be in the present. Focus on the trees, the crisp air, your own breathing, the sound of your boots hitting the trail. Get out of your head for a while.

I get better at it every time I go, which is further evidence that backpacking is great for improving those executive functioning skills.

I’m already looking forward to the next trip. What’s the weather supposed to be like this weekend?

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