Beginner’s guide for hiking and trekking
Over the years, I have been constantly asked about how one can start hiking or trekking. There are many who want to start somewhere and get into hiking and/ or trekking but do not know where to start. Having trekked in the Himalayas and done the Everest Base Camp, I thought I should pen down some of the things that can boost or help people in starting their journey towards their first step into hiking and trekking.
Read my post Why I started to hike? to know more about my hiking journey.
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Hiking vs. Trekking
Before getting any further into the post, I would first like to talk about the difference between hiking and trekking. In India, trekking and hiking are referred to as trekking whereas in Australia, trekking and hiking are referred to as hiking. The words are used interchangeably but they mean different things.
- Trekking is an outdoor and long walking activity that involves walking for multiple days on a path or a trail whereas hiking is also an outdoor walking activity but is only for a day or two. Most people love day hikes.
- Trekking comprises of hiking and outdoor camping whereas hiking does not involve much of camping.
- Both the activities test the physical fitness of a person but trekking is more strenuous than hiking.
Gear required for hiking and trekking
The number one and mandatory gear that one needs is a good pair of hiking/ trekking shoes. Having a comfortable and sturdy shoes makes a lot of difference. The best way to buy a right hiking/ trekking shoes is by making sure it fits correctly (some hikers suggest buying half or one size bigger than the feet size).
Ensure to use the shoes on a few hikes before attempting for trekking.
For a very long time, I used the pair from Kathmandu (Model Max NGX), that supported me for more than 1000 kilometres. I hiked to the Everest Base Camp, Inca trail to Machu Picchu, Six foot track, Seven bridges walk, Bloody long walk and the Cradle mountain (twice) in those shoes. They were amazing and I had to change my shoes because they wore out after the many kilometres.
The hiking shoes has to be replaced based on the kilometres and the period one has used. And hence I changed my hiking shoes too. I now have a pair from Decathlon (Model NDY M SHARK) and have been using it ever since. I have not had much of chance to use them for higher altitude hikes. But I have used them on the 10 days hike in Meghalaya, Light to Light and the Snowies Hut to Hut walks from then on.
Wearing appropriate and comfortable clothing is the next important thing for hiking and trekking. Being prepared for any kind of season and making sure the clothes do not create any hassle such as rashes is crucial during the treks especially as they are multiple days. I usually wear dry fit wear and layer up. By layering up clothes one can be ready for any kind of weather.
Even though not mandatory, it is advisable to take hiking/ trekking poles. The poles make sure that the knees are protected and do not take all the burden of ascending and descending, especially while climbing or getting down the rocks and the steps.
Water bottle/ bladder
Staying hydrated throughout the hike or a trek is again another major thing. And hence taking the right amount of water in the water bottle or a water bladder is the key. I usually only carry a reusable water bottle and drink from it. But the water bottle gets hard when you are in a group as people usually sip water from their water bladder in the backpack and keep walking without much of breaks.
If you cannot carry sufficient water for the entire time, make sure to carry water purifier tablets so you can collect water from streams or creeks and purify it before drinking the water.
Day/ Hiking pack
A day or a hiking pack is required to make sure all the things such as water bottle, sunscreen, cap and glasses are placed inside securely. Holding these in the hands can be frustrating and sometimes can be dangerous while trying to balance in some of the trails.
First aid kit
I feel first aid kit must be part of any activity, including hiking and trekking. Keeping the unexpired basic medicines and bandages are very useful on the trails. I carry a small pack of first aid kit at all times. In Australia, it is advisable to carry snake bandages as well. These medicines and bandages do not require prescription from the doctors and are easily available at pharmacies.
Download Emergency Plus app on your phone, so you can be prepared to provide your location details in case of emergencies.
A cap, shades, sunscreen, torch (headlamp is better), light raincoat and snacks for hiking or trekking is as important as others. I usually keep some amount of chocolates for my hike for instant energy. I have seen other hikers get energy bars and raw carrots to snack on. Some also carry energy drinks to get the instant boost of energy.
For trekking, it requires a lot more preparation as we would need to carry food and camping gear including the sleeping bag, cooking gas. Trekking involves multiple days and it is also necessary to have a good hiking backpack to carry the things required.
How to start the hiking/ trekking journey?
I would suggest starting with day hikes and then slowly graduating into trekking. This way the stamina and the appetite for trekking builds up. There are plenty of hiking groups on the Meetup website where one can RSVP to a hike organised by someone else and just turn up. Some groups charge a minimal amount of AUD 5 per person for organising and leading a walk.
Get your gear
The first step towards the hiking and trekking journey is by getting the gear required. I have mentioned the gear required in the previous section, so start off by getting the right gear. It need not be expensive but something that you can start off with.
Start short distances
As someone said “It is better to take small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward”, it is better to start off with short distances. There are plenty of trails that are suitable for beginners and it is better to start small and short. I would suggest doing at least 5 kilometres hike.
Note: The 5 kilometres hike on streets and flat surfaces is very different to 5 kilometres hike in bushes.
Go with a group
Even though I am an advocate of solo travels, I always find going with a group of people is a lot of fun during the hikes and treks. Also, it is safer to have at least one travel buddy to be prepared for any unforeseen or uncalled situations. Having a group of people with the same goal as hiking can also play in being a huge motivational factor. I started my journey into hiking with strangers that I met on meetup website and I then created my own hiking group with a small set of friends to continue my hiking.
Familiarise with the trail
Before attempting any trail, it is better to be prepared about it. Familiarise by reading various hiking websites and blogs. They provide great deal of information. I especially focus on grading and the distance. And these two pieces of information help in mentally prepping the trail that you would be hiking.
Be consistent and keep hiking
“Consistent is the key” and I cannot stress enough as to how valuable consistency is. Regularly going on the hikes and treks will build up the stamina required and eventually trails become easier. I have been hiking for many years and I still struggle sometimes with consistency because of various reasons. But I have definitely learned that the more I do, the more I enjoy and have fun.
Hiking and trekking are the best way to walk among the nature and become fit at the same time. I love hiking and I try to hike as much as possible, at least over the weekends and I would love for all of us to take our first step towards hiking.
Do you have any more tips that you can add? Let me know in the comments below.