Some of the most breathtaking places on Earth are best explored on foot, just because there are no roads, only hiking paths. Patagonia, Inca Trail, Yosemite, Mordor… ahem, I mean Tongariro trail in New Zealand, where it was filmed – unless you have funds for a helicopter trip, seeing them on foot is your only option. However, if you’ve never been hiking before, spending several days in the wild can be scary. Our editor Kate has spent a lot of her younger days in nature and will now give you tips on how to get ready for a hike.
Build up Your Stamina
If you have a sedentary work and don’t frequent the gym, chances are your legs are not in a great condition. Weak muscles can really be a problem on a trip that involves covering significant distances, so try to get back in shape in advance. You don’t need a gym card, just walk! Start with a relaxing 20 minutes per day and try to gradually increase the time. When you feel ready, find a local hiking club and join their day-long weekend trips. Try to get to the point where you can do at least 12 km per day without getting exhausted.
It’s a nice idea to also stop using the elevator and climb the stairs by yourself. Besides, don’t forget to learn a couple of stretches that will save your muscles at the end of a tiring day. Always remember to be kind to your body and don’t overtax yourself.
Get a Good Backpack
I can’t overstate how vital a proper backpack is for feeling comfortable in the wild. A backpack can be all the difference between a pleasant walk and hell on Earth. So take your time choosing a good one! First, think of what you need to carry. If it’s just your personal belongings, 30 liters can be enough and will prevent you from taking unnecessary stuff. In case you need to also carry a tent, a sleeping bag and a share of food, you might want to go up to 60 liters. Don’t take bigger backpacks, they are for people with a lot of specialized equipment that you’re not likely to have on your first hike.
Your backpack must have a wide padded belt that fits your hips, as you don’t want to leave all the weight on your shoulders. In good sports shops, assistants will load a backpack for you so that you can test how it fits you. Try to go for tough, waterproof material or at least make sure a backpack is equipped with a fitting waterproof cape.
Choose Quality Gear
It would be ideal to wear specialized mountaineering clothes, but let’s face it, you probably don’t have the money to buy this expensive stuff for just one trip. So just choose comfortable sports clothes that are light and will keep you warm and dry in any weather conditions. Don’t forget a windproof jacket and a headband to cover your ears if you’re heading for the mountains! Yep, even in summer, it’s much colder on big heights.
Unlike clothes, boots may be worth investing in. Normal sports sneakers are not fit for rough terrain, they can be slippery and don’t provide enough heel support. Mountain boots, on the other hand, guarantee you a good grounding, protect your ankles from twisting and your fingers from loose stones. I’m a fan of soles with the yellow Vibram label on them. They don’t slip even on wet slimy stones!
Prepare for Emergencies
A good guide will have first aid and emergency training and a medical kit. If you are hiking without a guide, though, make sure that at least two of your group know the basics. Take the responsibility yourself and encourage another member to join you. After all, in case you need a reanimation, you don’t want to be the only one to know how to perform it. First aid is a literally life-saving skill that can be acquired for free, as a lot of hospitals provide public first aid courses. Call your doctor and ask what your options are. Your doctor can also help you put together a medical kit and will write the necessary prescriptions.
I hope you also understand the importance of a good insurance that covers your evacuation by helicopter and hospital costs. Check twice that it says “hiking covered” and ask your agent in case something is unclear. Finally, remember that there are never too many band aids when you’re doing a lot of walking!