7 Ways Hiking Is Like Planning For Retirement

Last week, I “helped” a newly retired friend.

He’s preparing for a 5 month hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,663 mile trek he’ll be starting in April.  To help get him in shape for the marathon hike, I suggested we take a long day hike while I was at our cabin in the North Georiga mountains for a bit of vacation.  He accepted the invitation, and last week he came up to the cabin for the “training hike”.

We had perfect weather, and enjoyed each other’s company during our 13 mile hike along the Benton MacKaye Trail in the Cohutta Wilderness Area.  The picture up above is the two of us at the beginning of the hike (I’m the old guy pointing to the Cohutta sign – I can assure you we didn’t look nearly as lively by the end of our 13 mile walk). The picture below is my friend, a man soon to be attempting to walk from Mexico to Canada!  (By the way, he also posted a guest article on this site about his early retirement)


7 Ways Hiking Is Like Planning For Retirement

As I thought about our hike in the days following, some parallels came to mind between hiking and planning for retirement.  I’ve had fun thinking about the analogy, it’s surprising how many parallels there are in the two seemingly dissimilar events:

1. Both Have Ups & Downs

Up and Down

Hiking:  At the start of our hike, we hit a 900 foot climb within the first mile.  It was a brutal way to begin a 13 mile hike. Throughout the hike, we had many ups and downs as we followed the ridgeline trail along the Appalachian Mountain range.  We endured the ups, enjoyed the downs, and made it to our destination.

Retirement: In retirement planning, we also face many ups and downs.  Uphill challenges include things like; health care issues, aging parents, changes in plans, stock market declines, college expenses, etc.  Downhill opportunities include things like; getting a raise or promotion, a child getting a job and contributing toward their expenses, a strong stock market, gas price declines.  We endure the ups, enjoy the downs, and hopefully make it successfully to our destination of retirement.

2. Preparation Is Required


Hiking: The night before our hike, my friend and I studied maps of trails in the area.  We wanted to find something hard enough to train our bodies, but easiest enough for two old guys to do without having heart attacks.  After choosing a “point to point” hike (not a loop, but “in” at one place and “out” at another), we realized we had some logistical planning to do.  Thanks to our loving wives, we were able to drop a car at the “end” of the hike, and get a ride from our wives (who followed us when we “dropped” our car at the exit point) to the “beginning” of the hike.

Retirement: In retirement planning, preparation is key.  HAVE A PLAN, but be prepared to change.  Don’t set off on your hike toward retirement without understanding your financial situation, your spending needs, the income you can generate in retirement, and what you’ll spend your time on after you retire.  Track your net worth, and insure it’s on the right trajectory.  Plan with your spouse, and together insure you’ve made the arrangements to insure a successful retirement.

3. The Proper Gear Is Required

Hiking boots

Hiking: My friend told an interesting story while we were together. 3 years ago he hiked the Appalachian Trail (yes, he made it from Georgia to Maine!).   In planning for the hike, and throughout the first 2 weeks, he said the majority of discussions among hikers was all about the gear.  Weight weight weight.  Obsessive focus to reduce weight.  After 2 weeks, no one talks about gear as much, and all of the focus becomes an obsession with food.  I guess walking 20 miles a day does that to a body.  Regardless, you can’t walk 2,000+ miles without the right gear.  From boots to hiking poles to backpacks to tents to stoves….having the right gear can make the journey much more tolerable.

Retirement: In retirement planning, there are also many tools.  From how we allocate our assets, to understanding how different financial products serve different purposes, it’s really all just an understand of the tools we can use for our journey.  Annuities may generate a lifelong income stream, but you need equities to keep up with inflation.  Don’t forget the stability offered from fixed income investments.  Use retirement calculators to project your path.  Use these tools to insure your money lasts through retirement.  Having the right gear can make the journey to retirement much more tolerable.


4.  Some Have A Heavier Burden


Hiking: For the training hike, my friend intentionally carried 35 pounds on his back.  While it sounds sadistic, the reality is that he wanted to simulate the actual conditions he would endure on the walk to Canada.  As much as I may have struggled up the big hills, I realized he had it significantly worse given the weight he was carrying on his back. Regardless, we both made it through the hike, and successfully reached our destination.

Retirement: In life, some folks have a heavier burden than others.  Some make a lot of money, others make less.  Some face challenges with illness, job loss, family issues and the other myriad options which can weigh us down.  Regardless, with adequate planning, all can make it through the journey of retirement planning, and successfully reach our destination.

5. Sometimes It Hurts


Hiking: Imagine getting up wherever you are at this moment and spontaneously walking 13 miles.  It’s a long way, especially when you consider the elevation gained and lost as you trek up and down the mountains.  By mile 11 or so, the knees feel it, the feet feel it, the back feels the weight of the pack.

Retirement: In retirement planning, sometimes it hurts.  You have to continually make savings decisions that delay gratification. Perhaps there’s something you want to buy, but decide to not purchase it.  Sometimes theres a gift you’d like to give, but can’t.  Balancing the long term priority of retirement savings against the short term goal of living is an ongoing lesson in sacrifice, and sacrifice can hurt.  As Dave Ramsey says:

If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else. Dave Ramsey Click To Tweet

Make the sacrifice.  You can’t stop time.

6. Rest Is Required Along The Way


Hiking: At mile one, climbing a 900 foot hill isn’t easy.  We had to stop a few times to catch our breath.  Half way through the hike, we sat down and ate lunch (picture above, stylish hat thanks to skin cancer which I had carved out of my forehead a year ago. Yeah, it’s tough getting old).  Every few miles, we’d stop to take a mini-break, drink some water, eat a snack.  You can’t easily walk 13 miles without stopping.  So, you rest.

Retirement: In retirement planning, you can’t commit 100% effort non-stop to the retirement effort.  Sometimes, you need to rest.  For my family, this “resting from retirement planning” meant we prioritized vacations, and took some fantastic trips over the past few decades.  Life has to be lived both in the moment (rest) and longer term (retirement planning).  Have a balance.  Don’t over-work yourself.  Take all of your vacation. You can’t easily invest for retirement for 30+ years without stopping occassionally to catch your breath.

7. It Ain’t Over When It’s Over


Hiking: After about 6 hours of hiking in the Appalachians, you’re glad when it’s over.  Except it’s not over.  We reached the end of the trail, our final destination, but life went on.  We got in the car, drove home, took showers.  The next morning we woke up, and our friends returned to their home.  A few days later, I returned to work.  Tonight, after a full day of meetings, I’m sitting in my hotel room typing this blog (by the way, I LOVE writing this blog, I hope you enjoy reading it!).  Life Goes On.

Retirement: In retirement planning, we must remember achieving retirement is not the end.  It’s a new beginning.  A new chapter.  Make sure your retirement planning doesn’t just focus on the financial numbers, but thinks about what your life will be post-retirement.  Work as much on your bucket list as you do on your spreadsheets. Don’t make the mistake that many do and fail to plan, resulting in a retirement that’s depressing.   Think about what you really, really want to accomplish before you die.   Define for yourself your purpose.  Life is different, but Life Goes On.


Hiking, like retirement planning, is a great adventure.  Grab a hold of your retirement planning.  Enjoy the process. Rest along the way, and make a plan for the hills that you’ll climb along the path.  Endure the occasional pain, bear your burden.  Live like no one else. Educate yourself on the tools available to help on your journey.  In the end, with adequate preparation, you’ll have a great journey.

By the way, if you’re interested in finding some great hiking trails near you, check out the Top 55 Long Distance Hiking Trails in the USA.  Then, get out there and hike!

Happy Trails.



  1. Fritz, I saw your mind churning while we hiked however didn’t realize this would be the results. Great article and I love how you pull simularaties between hiking and retirement. Likewise I did a comparison between “Long Distance Hiking and climbing Mt Everest”. Surprising less people complete a long distance hike than complete Mt Everest. I would imagine there would be some good anology there to retirement as well i.e. Retirement isn’t something you can do in 2 weeks … Thanks for the time at the cabin, you guys are awesome!!!

    1. Kirk – SURPRISE! Glad you enjoyed the write up of our little adventure. Good idea on the analogy of Mt. Everest, I enjoy thinking of analogies and weaving them into my blog! Hope you can provide some updates during your hike for The Retirement Manifesto reading community!!

  2. Great article! It was very refreshing to read and interesting too. I love anologies and it was a very good comparison. However…(just for humor) what happened to the “after the hike” photos. I was looking forward to seeing them.

    Thank you, sir for writing the article. It was well written.

    1. Matt, thanks for your comment. I was too fried at the end of the hike to think about getting an “after” picture! Coulda Shoulda Woulda… Smiles.

  3. Loved these analogies!!! Your pieces are so enjoyable to read and provoke deeper thought and action toward making retirement live up to what we dream it will be.

  4. Fritz,
    Thanks for the wonderful analogy with hiking and retirement. I have been retired for 8 years but always enjoy reading ideas for me to continue enjoying my retirement.


  5. I recently came across your FB page and have started to follow. I like your comparisons of hiking with retirement planning. In April/May of 2015, we walked 350 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. As I read this post I found myself comparing some of your thoughts to our walk on the Camino and you’re pretty much spot on.

    We talk a lot about travel and redefining retirement on our site, so I look forward to following your thoughts about the same.

    1. Patti, I’m truly honored to have an international following! Thanks for joining The Retirement Manifesto Team, and congratulations on completing the “holy trek” of Camimo de Santiago! Ironically, I talked to a European friend just last night about that exact hike at a global meeting I’m currently attending!! One big, happy world!

  6. That’s a nice article. My wife and I are avid day hikers and I enjoyed the clever and appropriate analogy which you artfully delivered. I just retired slightly early at 60 last month and am enjoying much lower stress and a more flexible life. I realize now that what made it possible were the seven steps you outlined above. We had ups and downs, preparation, studied and applied the right “gear”, were blessed with a light load , were willing to suffer some pain of not having things we didn’t need or couldn’t afford, and had rest and good times and now it is so far from over. We are financially independent and my wonderful wife of 38 years and I are spending even more time together. I have an entertaining and intellectually complex part time retirement career that works my brain and social skills. Life is good and I hope we meet on a trail someday Fritz. Steve from Arkansas

  7. Love this article Fritz! As someone who is on his way to FI (although 8 years away) and wants to hike the PCT someday, I love the similarities you list. Life is not perfect, and things happen that change your ‘plan’ whether for the good or the bad. I hope to get to FI at 60, and am doing my best to do what I need to do, but there will be things out of my control that I will need to adjust to. Same with the PCT bucketlist, I would love to hike it someday, but I know there will need lots of planning done before I get there. Looking forward to the journey. Keep up the great work with your blog. You are making a difference in peoples lives, more than you know.

  8. I just love this article! Hiking in North Georgia is one of our favorite things to do. We use Ellijay as our base camp and love exploring new areas. We recently tried mountain biking for the first time around Carters Lake which was a blast for begginers. We are settling into our post-corporate life and hope to have more time for adventures like this! After reading this, I want to strap on my boots and get up there!

    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. JC, wow, we’re almost neighbors! Ellijay is a great place, and I have Carters Lake on my list of places to hit in the near future. Checked out your blog, love the concept of someone making their 50’s “Their Decade”. I appreciate you stopping by, maybe we’ll see you in the N. GA mountains some day!

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