There’s nothing like a walk for discovering the wonders of nature. On your own, with your partner, with other friends, or as a family, hiking is an activity for all. But to get the most out of hiking, make it as pleasurable as possible and avoid delicate situations, it is vital to be well prepared. Here is some practical advice.
Before you go, make sure you have the appropriate equipment for the type of hike you plan to go on. This is even more important for long walks.
- Your backpack must be comfortable and suited to your body shape. Its volume can range from 10 to 70 litres depending on the needs and duration of hike.
- Your walking boots should be quite rigid and hold the ankles properly, especially if the route is rocky or your backpack heavy.
- Good, thick socks are also important to minimise rubbing and avoid blisters. You can also find lined socks in specialist shops.
- Choose clothes suited to the season, and take several layers so that you can change according to pace, perspiration, weather conditions and altitude.
- Carefully decide how useful every object you add to the backpack is, depending on its weight. Here are a number of essential items:
- A large drinking flask.
- A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen lotion.
- A rain- and windproof item of clothing and a fleece jacket.
- A plastic bag to take your rubbish away.
- A first-aid kit.
- A mobile phone.
- For hikes lasting several days, also plan for camping equipment that is as compact and light as possible.
- To make it easier on your back to carry loads, you can use a single-wheel hiking trailer attached to a harness that fits over your shoulders and back.
- Prepare a picnic if you will need a meal and take some dried fruit, biscuits, chocolate or energy bars to boost your energy levels along the way.
- If you can afford it, a small portable GPS device can be useful on poorly waymarked or very isolated footpaths. Otherwise a compass is always invaluable.
- A telescopic walking stick can be very useful to make walking up and down steep slopes easier.
- If the hike is lasting several days, check the reliability of all the equipment, and predict what repairs may be needed.
As well as all the equipment to prepare, there are a number of other things to think about and do before you can set off.
- Avoid going on your own, especially in risk areas such as high mountains.
- Plan your route according to the season, the weather report, and the physical condition of the hiker/s. Do not overestimate how much you can manage in order to complete the route or the stage before nightfall. Do not hesitate to ask for advice from local organisations.
- Get a detailed map of the area and highlight the route on it.
- Stock up on slow-release sugars the day before by eating rice or pasta for dinner.
- If possible, let a friend or a family member know that you are leaving for a hike, and give them an idea of your route and estimated return time. This can be helpful in case of problems. It might also be an idea to inform the local police station. Make sure you call whoever you warned on your return or in case of a delay so they don’t worry.
- Check the weather report just before departure. Avoid setting off in the mountains when the weather is unsettled, because storms there can be particularly violent and dangerous. Keep in mind that weather forecasting is far from an accurate science, and that the weather can change very quickly.
To make your hike as enjoyable as possible, there are certain details you need to pay attention to during the walk. Here is some advice to get the most out of it once you have set off:
- Load your backpack carefully for optimal comfort: heavy objects should be placed close to your back, frequently used objects should be kept at your fingertips, and straps should be neither too tight nor too loose. Use the waist belt so that part of the load rests on your pelvis.
- Drink fluids little and often. You must drink before being thirsty. This helps avoid cramps and tiredness.
- While you walk, eating fast-release sugar snacks (chocolate, dried fruit, energy bars) will keep your energy levels up and avoid low blood sugar.
- Follow the waymarking and avoid leaving the beaten track. Regularly check your position on the map because some waymarks can fade over time.
- Do not hesitate to turn back if you feel lost or if the weather suddenly becomes threatening.
- In case of an unexpected storm in the mountains, quickly go back down as low as possible. Stay away from isolated trees and wet rock faces. Also check that no metal object is sticking out of your bag.
- Wait to have your picnic until you have finished your ascent because setting off again is often more difficult after lunch. Besides, it is more pleasant to eat at the summit because it generally offers the most beautiful view.
- Pick up all your rubbish after your stop and bring it back with you in a plastic bag.
- Always act respectfully in the areas you go through and think of the inhabitants, flora and fauna.
- If you are taking a dog with you, it must be kept on a leash in inhabited areas and risk areas (cliffs, game, etc.)
- During the hunting season, ask a hunter about what behaviour you should adopt. They can generally advise you on how to continue your hike in the best conditions, with the maximum safety and without disturbing the hunting process.
- Although the descent is usually faster than the ascent, it is nevertheless tiring, especially for the legs. Breaks are also advisable on the way down.