When friends or acquaintances return, they have the greatest stories to tell. “I was able to escape from the daily grind completely”, “I have never felt so relaxed” and “nature is so beautiful” are exclamations that make you green with envy. Not to mention the pictures they then show you! At that moment you make a decision: on my next vacation I am going hiking too! But…what do you need to take into consideration when going on your first walking holiday?
A walk along the Oeschinensee
A hike, or even a complete walking holiday, has many advantages. The biggest advantage is that walking is free. We love that, of course. Besides that, almost everyone has the ability to walk and everyone can choose his or her own ability level and speed. Finally, it’s healthy and although it sounds tiring, you’ll return home feeling more relaxed than when you left!
Hiking through the French Vaucluse at Suzette
Once you’ve decided that walking might be the thing for you, you suddenly have loads of questions. Where should you go and where and how will you sleep? What should you eat and what will you pack in your backpack? To avoid being thrown in at the deep end when going on a (slightly longer) hike, we offer you some tips. Read the answers to the six most important questions you should ask yourself before going on a hike below.
What do you actually want to do? Do you want to walk along an easy path or through some hills? Or maybe you want to head into the mountains? These are questions only you can answer. However, if it’s your first time, take it easy. Hiking can be quite challenging so don’t plan to go on a long walk through steep mountains when you’re inexperienced!
Next, if you go on a multi-day trip, you’ll have to decide whether you want to sleep in a bed or go camping. There are plenty of options if you choose a bed, such as hotels, mountain cabins and Airbnb. If you go camping, you can opt to stay at campsites or camp out in the wild. Camping is often a cooler, purer way of experiencing nature, but don’t underestimate the amount of hassle involved when the weather is bad and of course the extra gear (tent, sleeping bag, cooking implements) you have to carry in your backpack.
Spending the night with an Italian farming family in their mountain cabin
Choosing a general location is easy. Whether you stay in your own country or travel further abroad by car or even airplane, you can always find a nice hiking area. But then what? How do you decide on walking paths, routes, overnight stays and eating possibilities?
Planning these things ahead is a good idea. Checking Google only takes a minute, but don’t forget to also check books containing information about the hike or hiking area you want to visit. The Cicerone hiking guides are really useful when preparing your trek or hike in advance.
The hiking areas themselves will also have last minute information available. You can buy walking maps of surrounding areas at hotels, cabins and campsites and many towns will have a Tourist Information Office. Always ask for tips and experiences from locals: nobody knows a hiking area better than they do!
When selecting a location the same applies: where you choose to walk depends on your physical ability and experience. Does mountain hiking sound fantastic, but you have never walked in the mountains? Start with a walk through the hills of the Ardennes, Wales or the Black Forest!
Rocky surroundings in Switzerland
Steep cliffs at Angels Landing in Zion National Park
Climbing a volcano during the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand
It’s important to decide whether you want to walk in summer, spring, fall or even winter. Each season has advantages and disadvantages. Spring and summer offer the highest chance of good weather (in Europe), but it may already be too hot in the south. The fall colors in forest areas make the fall season a favorite walking season, especially among avid photographers. But even winter offers plenty of opportunities for walking, with snow hikes in north and central Europe as well as pleasant walking paths in areas with warmer climates. Bear in mind that the days are much shorter in winter than in summer and although the low sun makes for beautiful pictures, shorter days won’t always benefit your range of action or your mood.
Enjoying the views over the high Italian mountains after a long walk
“Who with”, to be precise. Would you prefer to go it alone, take a friend or even join a group? Again, there are pros and cons to each of these options. Walking is an ideal solo activity, because you can go at your own pace and decide when you stop for a rest. Do you want to take a bit more time to take that perfect picture? Nobody will be pushing you to move on. On the other hand, it can be boring on your own and sharing such a cool experience with someone else is often much more fun.
Maybe you should go with someone after all, but don’t underestimate the importance of choosing the right travel partner. Hiking with someone who’s physically much stronger or weaker than you is not a good idea. Having to wait for someone all the time or feeling rushed can be demoralizing. You’ll also need to get along well to go on a long hike together. Not everything on your hike will go according to plan and you’re likely to take it out on your walking buddy….
If you go with a larger group, reaching general consensus can take time. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so a group won’t get any further than its slower walkers can manage. When going on a hike with a group, don’t just think of covering distance, focus on having fun!
Fresh lunch from a supermarket in Switzerland
For how long?
Will you lace up your hiking boots for just a day or would you prefer to be away from home for a longer period of time? In the latter situation: will you choose one location and make daytrips from there or will you go on a trek and walk from point A to point B over the course of several days?
A longer walk is nice because you can see more of a particular area when you have more days to spend. But be warned: your legs might be tired after a few days of walking, and climbing a mountain with a serious muscle ache can be daunting! You’ll also have to eat more, drink more and pack more clothes, which makes things heavier.
A walk along the Jungfrau in Switzerland
What do you need?
This is the most important question you should ask yourself at the beginning of a hike. What you need during a walk or walking holiday depends a great deal on what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. If you’re walking the Pieterpad (Netherlands) during the summer vacation you won’t need to pack snowshoes. When you go to Switzerland in spring or fall, leave your swimsuit at home and pack an extra hat instead!
The following applies to all walkers: bring things that you find comfortable. The fit of the three most important components for walking (walking shoes, walking socks and backpack) can vary immensely. Take plenty of time at an outdoor gear shop to fit and test them and try them out a few times after buying them.
Of course what you bring along depends on your answers to the previous questions. If you plan to cook your own food, you’ll need a gas burner. If you plan to camp, you’ll have to bring your tent and sleeping bag. If you’re going to a cold area, you’ll need to pack your gloves and hat. And we haven’t even mentioned the differences in weight (very important for hikers who carry everything on their back), quality (are you going to be using your gear more than once?) and of course price (not everyone can afford the same).
Camping in the Swiss forests
Not completely convinced that a walking holiday is worth your while? See how incredibly beautiful trekking through the Alps with a tent is in this video.
Hiking the Alps 2015Colin en ik waren het er al snel over eens: er is maar één woord om een wandeltocht door de Alpen te beschrijven: onbeschrijflijk.
De Alpine Pass Crossing leidde ons vanuit Meiringen door mistige ravijnen, langs steile afgronden en over glooiende Alpenweiden naar Kandersteg, en dat alles in de schaduw van de hoogste Europese pieken. Kamperen deden we alleen waar we het mooi vonden, het liefst zo ver mogelijk van de bewoonde wereld. Wassen deden we in ijskoude beekjes, zwemmen in kraakheldere bergmeren. Koken ging op één klein pitje, en toch smaakte eten nog nooit zo lekker. Natuurlijk deden de benen soms zeer, maar het uitzicht maakte dat meer dan goed. Niks overtreft namelijk het gevoel van voldoening dat je krijgt wanneer je na vier uur zweten op 2840 meter uitkijkt over het adembenemende Zwitserse berglandschap.
Zie hieronder in vijf minuten hoe on-ge-loof-lijk mooi het is om met een tentje door de Alpen te trekken.