The idea of doing a multiday hike can seem a bit daunting at first and I remember feeling very overwhelmed the first time. Although it is true that there are many things to take into account, it really helped me to remind myself “it’s only walking, how hard can it be?!”.
As some of you might know I didn’t properly prepare my first long distance hike and although it was great, it could have been so much better. There are a few things you should get sorted out before setting off on your hiking adventure and even though I know most of these I still go through all of them each time I set out.
Know your gear
Make sure you know your gear before you leave. That might seem like an obvious one, but I have met numerous people doing a hike and struggling to set up their tent those first few nights. Believe me, when you arrive at camp after a long day of hiking you just want to set up as quickly as possible and start relaxing.
It can also mean changing plans to ensure you are safe on the trail. Don’t only know how it works, but also what the limits of your gear are. I started off with fairly cheap gear and I would advise any new hiker to do the same. But of course that also means that the limits of my gear are different than that of high-end stuff. That in itself is no problem. It just means you need to know what you can do with it and what you can’t. If, for example, you own a cheap sleeping bag that has a comfort rating up to 10°C then that is fine, but that does mean you won’t go winter camping in the snow with it.
Knowing your gear will make your life easier and give you more self confidence. I don’t mind cold weather, because I am 100% sure that my sleeping system works and will keep me warm at night. Or I don’t panic when it starts raining, because I know my essential gear is in an extra drybag.
Another big one is your boots. I promise you: you NEED to break them in. I didn’t the first time and oh my did my feet suffer. Try to do several day hikes in your boots before departing on a multiday trip. Your feet will be grateful.
Even if you know your gear and have been using it for years, do a test run at home. Check if you still have all the pegs for your tent, the battery of your headlight is charged, your rain gear needs to be impregnated, …
Know the trail
Of course you can’t really know a trail before you start hiking it, but it’s a good idea to read up before leaving. Visit websites, read guide books, visit blogs, … whatever you can do to get to know as much about the trail as possible. It will help you estimate what gear you’ll need, where to stop for the night and will limit unpleasant surprises.
Some things I usually look up before leaving:
- What is the weather like?
Don’t only check the weather the week prior to your departure, but have a look at what the weather is generally like at a certain time of year. Especially if it is in a country you’re not familiar with. Sometimes it can be unexpectedly cold, even during summer.
- At what time does it get dark at night?
If you are hiking in Northern Scandinavia in summer it might not get dark at all, but in winter it might get dark at 3pm. Make sure to take this into account when planning your distances per day.
- Are you allowed to camp anywhere?
If not, are there camping places you can use along your route?
- Is there cell phone reception on trail?
- Is it a popular trail?
Are you likely to meet other hikers on trail? For me personally it makes a big difference if I will meet other people on trail or not. I like it both ways, but I do like to have an idea of what to expect before I leave.
- Is there a way to quit the trail sooner if needed?
Have a look for ‘escape routes’ if needed. Maybe there is a certain point of no return or a point where you can cut your hike short if needed.
- Is there a way to get food and water along the trail?
- What is the terrain like?
Is the terrain fairly flat or will you encounter steep hills? Is the track mainly asphalt, gravel or dirt road?
Whether you are a seasoned hiker or a novice, knowing your own limits and listening to your body is crucial on a multiday hike. If you overdo yourself on day one I can promise you that day two and three won’t be pleasant. Hiking will make you push your body to its limit, but there is no sense in disregarding that limit and go over and beyond. Sometimes it is better to call it a day rather than to push through. To know when to stop or when your body can take an extra kilometer or two, you need to know your body. You need to know what signals to notice and be able to distinguish between some pain and hurting yourself. For me the only way to get to know my body, unfortunately, is to push it to its limits.