There are few better ways to see some of the world’s most stunning natural wonders than exploring them on your own two feet. While those new to walking holidays might imagine hiking dozens or even hundreds of miles to be an enormous chore, a hiking trip can be exceptionally relaxing and rewarding when approached in the right way. It largely comes down to knowing your limits and preparing yourself for the trail ahead.
1 – Spend on Hiking Boots
Undoubtedly the most common problem that hikers face is blisters on their feet and other problems related to their footwear. Your footwear is by far the most important consideration for any hike, and you shouldn’t make the mistake of setting too tight a budget. Take great care in choosing footwear that is suitable for the hiking you intend to do: there are boots designed for mountaineering, everyday hiking and off-trail hiking. For best results, go for full-grain leather boots, since they tend to be much more durable than their synthetic or partially synthetic counterparts. You should also make sure that they have comfortable EVA or polyurethane insoles.
2 – Bring Plenty of Clothing
Hiking typically involves exploring off the beaten track, sometimes far away from any civilisation. Particularly if you’re planning a mountain hike, it is imperative that you prepare for almost any kind of weather. With conditions that tend to be very unpredictable, the last thing you need is to find yourself underdressed or overdressed when you’re miles away from any town or village. A lightweight raincoat is an absolute must, and if you are hiking in the summer months, or at any time of year in high altitudes, a wide-brimmed hat is also essential for minimising the risk of sunburn.
3 – Pack Light
While you certainly cannot afford to set off without suitable clothing, packing light is also of utmost importance. Although you probably won’t have to carry your own bags on some of the longer, organised trails around the world, it is still essential to pack only what you need, leaving room for a few other lightweight accessories such as cameras and other such items. Choose a suitable bag, and be prepared to pay out a bit of money. You’ll need something made from water-resistant material (or you can buy a cover for it), provides multiple compartments, and most importantly, provides an internal frame for supporting your back.
4 – Don’t Forget Sunscreen
A lot of hiking takes place in mountainous areas at relatively high altitudes, in which case sunscreen is very important. No matter what time of year it is, the thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes allows harmful UV rays to penetrate far more than they do at sea level, and sunburn is a common problem as a result. Even just spending an hour outside without sunscreen can cause problems. Always wear a stronger factor than you think you might need, and make sure that you stock as much as you’ll need for the trip. If you’re not travelling at high altitudes, you should still bring sun protection as well, even if the danger doesn’t seem as great.
5 – Stock Up with Water
Water is the lifeblood of any physical activity, and hiking is no exception. Before setting out, always stock up with as much water as you can comfortably carry: you’ll be amazed by just how quickly it gets used up. For most hikers, the whole point of hiking is to get out into the wild, and this often involves hiking for a whole day or more before reaching any kind of civilisation. While in most mountain areas, you’ll be able to find plenty of streams with fresh water that’s perfect for drinking, you should always bring enough so that you don’t need to rely on finding any along the way. For added convenience, purchase a hiking water bladder with a hose for your backpack.
6 – Start the Day with a Big Meal
Food provides you with energy, something that you’ll need in great abundance if you plan to spend the day hiking. While many people don’t have much of an appetite as soon as they get up in the morning, it is important that you eat a big, hearty meal before setting off. Most hikers recommend that you start the day with a large, healthy meal of fruits, vegetables, eggs, wholegrain cereals or lean meat. Be sure to bring some suitable food to have during your hike as well, and you should plan for a small snack break every couple of hours. Lighter snacks, such as fresh fruits and wholegrain cereal bars tend to be ideal, but fatty foods should be avoided.
If you’re planning a big hiking trip, yet you have never done such a thing before, you’ll need to take extra steps to prepare yourself. By building up your stamina over a period of a month or two, you’ll have a far easier time of it when it comes to the main event. Most importantly, make sure that you get accustomed to your hiking footwear: never set out on a big hike wearing new shoes for the first time. Some general frequent exercise is also strongly advisable, and you should spend up to an hour three to four times per week working out. Maintaining a well-balanced diet will also help you to get in shape.
8 – Take a Friend
For some people, hiking is a refreshing activity to undertake alone, but particularly if you are going abroad to a new country with a view to hiking extensively, you’ll be better equipped to get yourself out of any unforeseen problems if you bring a friend. Alternatively, if you’re a more sociable type, you may consider going with a hiking group, as is the case with any organised trip. However, be aware, that if you go with a group, you will need to keep the pace of the slowest hikers so that you don’t risk losing them. If you travel as a pair, you’ll get the best of both worlds, and have someone to share your experiences with and help out in case of an emergency.
9 – Don’t Rush
Most lovers of the outdoors consider hiking to be a relaxing activity more than a physical challenge. Although some love the thought of pushing themselves to the limits, hiking doesn’t have to be particularly strenuous. By maintaining a leisurely pace, you’ll be able to take in the scenery around you. At the same time, you must know when to stop, not least because the conditions can change very quickly in many places, as can your own physical abilities. Know your limits and set realistic goals for yourself so that you don’t end up running into trouble when you’re miles away from anywhere.
10 – Respect Nature
Respecting the natural world around you is perhaps the most important tip of all. While you might be steadfastly determined to hike along a specific trail on a certain day, always check the weather forecast before setting off, and don’t be afraid to turn back if things aren’t looking good. Depending on where you’re going, you may also need to take other potential dangers of the wilds into account, such as bears, wild boars and other predators. Always do your research before setting off, and make sure that you go fully prepared for any eventuality. Finally, stick to designated trails, unless you are a very experienced hiker and you know exactly what you’re doing.
www.walkingandhiking.co.uk is an excellent reference full of invaluable advice from experienced walkers