More than just a sporting activity, hiking offers many advantages whether it is to keep in shape, recharge your batteries, enjoy nature, see beautiful landscapes or share good times with friends. But its success depends above all on its good preparation. Discover in 7 concrete points how to organize it well.
Whatever its duration (one-day walk or trekking), a hike must be prepared meticulously. This includes taking into account the people with whom we will share these moments, the acquisition and preparation of equipment, the planning of the itinerary, the organization of accommodation, food and water, and respect for the safety of the group. It is necessary to think about each aspect of the project, anticipate problems and plan for all scenarios, including the unexpected! We suggest that you review these different points with practical advice.
Helpful tips to get started
Set the outline and the objective of the hike
To properly prepare for your hike, start by giving yourself a specific objective: what is the goal of this hike, what objectives will you need to have achieved to be satisfied on the way back? For example, is your goal to see beautiful landscapes, to recharge your batteries, to climb a given peak or to share strong moments with friends? The place, the duration and the people with whom you will go must of course be determined according to this objective. If one is looking for relaxation, likes to take the time to stop to take pictures, chat and have a good time with friends while the others are looking to break a speed record, the group may not work well! It is good to know this before venturing out for several days together…
Ask yourself the right questions and answer them
Then ask yourself all the questions about your itinerary: the route, the difficulties, where you will sleep, what you will eat, the clothes you will wear, the hazards you will probably face (weather, incidents, delays) and how you are going to deal with it, etc. We introduce many of these questions in this article. You must have answers to all questions before you leave, even if the solutions offered are not all ideal.
Make a list of materials and practical information
Now that you have a specific objective and concrete points following all the questions raised above, make a list of everything you will take away. This list will serve you for your future hikes and can be supplemented with experience. Also list the points of curiosity to see, therefore to plan in your itinerary, the places of accommodation, the water points, etc. The following sections will help you prepare this list.
Prepare yourself physically
Whether it’s a one-day walk or a multi-day trek, you need to prepare yourself physically. You may be walking 20 km a day with a 10 to 15 kg bag on your back and that takes some practice.
Walk at least once a week to train or maintain your training. You must work on your endurance by practicing activities such as cycling, jogging, swimming or of course walking and by adopting an appropriate diet.
Also remember to warm up well before the activity and to practice stretching on your return, after the shower or before going to bed.
Ask your doctor for advice before setting off, especially if you’re over 40 or aren’t used to hiking or playing sports. Hiking is a cardio-training sports activity, it solicits the cardiovascular system.
The group: know the people with whom you hike
Get to know the band
If you are the organizer of the hike, you must know the group you are going with. It is important to know each person’s physical condition, experience, age, possible health problems (phobias, allergies, medical treatment, etc.) but also what he or she expects from the hike. Are there children, fragile people or people requiring special attention? The itinerary envisaged must be adapted to the abilities of the group. It is also important that the physical condition of each is more or less homogeneous, otherwise the whole group will be slowed down by the less trained.
Avoid going on several days with people you have never hiked with before, even if you know them well. Perhaps you could organize a walk for a few hours to get to know each other and see how you function together.
The size of the group is also important and must be taken into account in the management of the hike. The larger the group, the more likely it is to face incidents and delays (multiplication of the risk of injury, delays related to fatigue, difficulties related to living in a group, etc.).
Clarify everyone’s role
Ask who does what and make sure it will work. Should there be a leader and who will he be? Will this be suitable for everyone? Who takes care of the organisation, the purchases, the transport? Clarify everyone’s role before departure. Each hiker must know his responsibilities but also those of others. Make sure that everyone has the knowledge they need (technical and practical aspects, safety, etc.) and that they are ready to assume their role.
Clarify joint costs (transport, accommodation, equipment, food, etc.): who books, who pays, who keeps the equipment, who carries it?
Agree on the purpose of the hike
Make sure the purpose of the hike is clear to everyone. Do we leave to have fun, get some fresh air, find calm, do a job (studies, reporting, sampling, learning for example), for health reasons or even to take up a challenge? Are they all going for the same goal and agreeing to planned activities that may not fit with that goal? Be clear about the goal of the outing and put in place the necessary actions to achieve this goal.
The equipment is essential for a successful hike. It must be complete, in good condition, reliable and therefore transportable without superfluity. Once all the cases have been gathered, ask yourself the question for each case: do I really need to win? Is there a reason for me to win?
Take only what is strictly necessary, ie what you are really going to use or could use (plan B). Here is a list of essential things to take with you (the list is not exhaustive and will have to be adapted according to the type of hike, the constraints, etc.).
They must be comfortable. To buy them, try them at the end of the day, when your feet are a little swollen or after walking for an hour in town. Test them with a pair of hiking socks similar to the ones you will wear to reproduce the same conditions as during your outing.
Current shoes are lightweight, waterproof and made from waterproof breathable fabric. They advantageously replace leather shoes, also waterproof, certainly solid and almost eternal, but heavier, long to dry and more demanding in terms of maintenance. Not to mention that they need to be softened by a few hours of walking to adapt well to your foot.
Don’t leave with new shoes, you might regret it! Walk with it several times before setting off for a whole day. Also provide spare laces.
Bring flip flops, crocs or sandals to walk around the lodge or around after the walk.
Current hiking socks are thin and light. They wick away perspiration. Avoid acrylic. Opt for wool or cotton and polyester socks.
They must be breathable and waterproof. Adopt the 3-layer system:
- 1 layer close to the body (adjusted to marry it well) which serves to evacuate perspiration. It must be made of synthetic fibers or Merino wool. Avoid cotton which retains perspiration and keeps you wet!
- 1 thermal intermediate layer that keeps you warm (fleece jacket for example)
- 1 outer layer to deal with the elements (wind, rain, snow): it must be light, waterproof and allow perspiration to pass through (breathable fabric). Avoid the k-way which is waterproof but does not allow sweat to pass through.
The 3 layers must all be permeable to perspiration and be able to evacuate it from one layer to the other to keep you dry. Cotton is therefore to be avoided. You will remove or add layers as needed.
In addition to walking clothes, plan for the evening, a microfiber or cotton T-shirt, a sweater or a fleece and an outfit for the night.
As for pants, avoid jeans which are heavy, hot, not very comfortable and which retain perspiration. You must be comfortable. Two canvas hiking pants and a k-way overtrousers will do the trick
Also bring warm clothing for the night, including a hat and thin gloves, especially if you sleep outside.
Opt for a solid, light and comfortable backpack. You will indeed have to wear it for hours. Test it before you buy it. Some bags are heavy even when empty, which is more weight to carry or less stuff to carry.
Your bag must have a waist belt. It transfers 70% of the weight of the bag from the shoulders to the hips and thus distributes the load better.
As for the volume of the bag, it depends on the duration of the hike. A 10-liter bag is suitable for a ride of a few hours. For a day trip, you will need a bag of at least 25 to 30 liters to carry your picnic, water, a sweater, a poncho. For a hike over several days, plan at least 40 liters. If you are unsure of the right size, choose your bag only after you have decided on the things you want to carry. You will buy the bag accordingly! Be careful though, the weight of your bag should not exceed 20% of your body weight. For example, 12 kg if you weigh 60 kg.
Recommendation of backpack sizes according to the type of hike
To fill your bag, distribute the load so that the center of gravity of the bag is as close as possible to your body. This will limit the risk of losing balance. For this, place heavy objects along the back. Keep the things you will need most close by: raincoat, GPS, camera, etc. Place sensitive objects in small plastic bags (freezer bags with zip closure, for example) to protect them from the weather.
Essential, they make it possible to transfer part of the effort to the arms and thus save up to 30% of the energy of the legs. They will help you on the ascents and descents, will allow you to keep your balance in the delicate passages and thus reduce the risk of falls and sprains. Their height should be 0.7 times your height. Opt for rubber grips rather than hard plastic which becomes slippery with sweat. Telescopic poles will be convenient for transport. There are carbon ones if you are looking to optimize weight.
The small equipment
Depending on the type of hike, plan the following small equipment: multifunction knife, headlamp, map, compass, watch, GPS, lighter or matches (there are “all-weather” matches that work even in windy, rainy or humid weather), telephone and charger (or backup battery), batteries, threads and needles, cords.
A GPS watch can be useful to indicate your position, altitude, distance traveled or remaining to be traveled or to follow a pre-programmed route, record your route and points of interest, inform you about the weather trend, sunrise and sunset times sun, etc. Some watches even carry topographic maps and can tell you about nearby points of interest.
Hygiene & care
The following equipment will be useful for your comfort and protection:
- Personal hygiene: glove, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, spare underwear, wipes, toilet paper, a little detergent, earplugs for nights in a refuge or gîte, insect repellent.
- Sun protection: cap, sunglasses, high factor cream, after sun cream, lipstick.
We also recommend that you bring plastic bags that will be used to transport waste, protect your belongings and store dirty laundry.
Provide the following equipment for your safety and that of others: survival blanket, whistle, stings and bites kit, first aid kit containing the bare essentials (common drugs, dressings, dressings for blisters (second skin), anti-inflammatory cream).
Take your identity papers and cash with you, especially to pay the shelter if it does not accept checks
Bivouac equipment and kitchen utensils
For trekking outings, you will need to carry the equipment to bivouac or sleep in a lodge: tent, sleeping bag or meat bag, mattress, stove, fuel, kitchen utensils (meals), microfiber towel (light and compact).
The route and the location
Preparing well for a hike requires a perfectly defined itinerary before departure. You need to know how far you will be covering each day, the topology of the terrain you will encounter, the type of trail (marked or not) you will be taking, the elevation, the expected difficulties, the water points, the local regulations, where you will sleep, etc. You must ensure that the route can be completed by the group in the given time and provide alternatives in the event of an incident (delays linked to fatigue, change of weather, unforeseen events, etc.).
From the study of the terrain and the knowledge of the group (its physical abilities, its weaknesses, etc.), you will be able to estimate a walking speed, therefore a distance and steps
Study the terrain
Prepare the route according to the terrain. For this, use an IGN map at 1/25000 (TOP25), i.e., 1 cm for 250 meters. Identify the difficulties (elevation, difficult passages, glaciers, rock faces, etc.). Pay attention to the altitude: above 2000 meters, the lack of oxygen is felt and the efforts are more substantial, therefore the walking speed is lower.
This field study may allow you to identify additional equipment to wear that you had not thought of.
Estimate walking speed based on group and terrain
Take into account the nature of the group of hikers (physical condition, experience, presence of children or not, etc.) to estimate the walking speed according to the type of terrain studied above. Also consider the number of hiking days: the longer the outing, the heavier the backpack is likely to be. Fatigue will also go on accumulating a little more each day. Anticipate a lower walking speed for the last few days.
Do not overestimate the walking speed (therefore the distance covered). It is better to plan wide and arrive at the lodge earlier than to take the risk of facing a storm at the end of the afternoon, or even of not finishing the stage before nightfall.
Evaluate the route according to a walking time
A hike is not planned on the basis of a distance to be covered but on a travel time. The distance traveled can indeed vary enormously depending on the difficulty and the nature of the terrain. An adult walk at 5 km/h on flat ground, without a backpack. In the mountains and with a 10 kg bag, this speed can go much lower, between 1.5 and 4 km/h on the flat, less uphill. We no longer reason in distance but in time and the speeds are estimated according to the elevation. Also beware of steep slopes: the maps give a crushed view of the trail. You must calculate the travel time according to the elevation and not the distance to be covered.
Walking speed according to physical condition and type of terrain
- Get route information
Know the terrain and local regulations. Are there protected areas to cross, private land, a protected massif, a nature reserve, a hunting area? Are there marked trails, bivouac places, a campsite, a refuge or gite? Can we make a fire or use a stove?
Find out about the flora and fauna. Are there any dangerous animals (vipers, scorpions, bears, etc.)? Protected plants that should not be picked or trampled?
Identify the water points (stream, lake, fountain) and whether this water is drinkable or not.
A hiking guide will be useful for this research. You can also get information from a tourist office, on the internet, by consulting people who have already hiked in the same place or by contacting the lodges.
- Know your way around
Do not trust the marked trails, your memory or the kerns to guide you. You must take with you a paper map at 1/25000 and a compass (the map alone is not enough) or a GPS to find your way around. The advantage of the map is to be reliable and available at all times, unlike GPS which depends on the network and needs charged batteries. It goes without saying that you must learn to use a map and a compass to find your way around. You can also use a GPS or a GPS hiking watch where you will program the points of interest to reach and take advantage of the GPS guidance to reach them.
- Plan the means of transport
Arrange your transportation. Are you going to do a loop? If not, how are you going to get back? (Hitchhiking, bus, car left on arrival). Will there be transportation on the return day (Sunday, public holiday, etc.)
For a great hike, you must plan in advance your different stages and the places where you will spend the night: hotel, bivouac area, campsite, refuge, lodge.
The bivouac is prohibited on certain sites, in particular along the GR20, except in the zones provided for this purpose (in general near the refuges). Find out about local regulations before you leave!
Avoid the summits because of the wind and the risks in the event of a storm. The ideal is to settle on a plateau halfway up a valley, close to a water point. If you bivouac near a river, beware of the risk of flooding that a storm or melting snow can cause. Make sure to set up camp at least 10 meters above the level of the stream.
Also find out about the possibility of using a stove or making a fire. The stove may be prohibited outdoors, depending on the site and the season, in order to prevent the risk of fire
Lodges and refuges
Call the gîte(s) before leaving and reserve your places. Some establishments do not accept checks: remember to bring cash!
Food and water
Water and supplies
Staying hydrated is essential, vital even when hiking. In the mountains and in hot weather, our body consumes a lot of water to meet the needs of the muscles (destocking and use of energy reserves) and to maintain a constant body temperature. Water is mainly lost through sweating but also through breathing and urine. The wind increases this dehydration. The hiker can lose between 25 centilitres and 1 liter of perspiration per hour and more depending on the effort and the weather conditions.
Losses must be compensated by food (50% apart from sports activity) and by drinking water or, for major efforts, an isotonic drink. Dehydration makes the blood thicker, putting more strain on the heart. It greatly reduces performance: a loss of 1% of its weight in water implies a 10% drop in its physical abilities!
In order not to get dehydrated, you should drink regularly, in small sips, throughout the course. You must therefore have reserves (gourd, pocket of water). Allow a minimum of 2 liters per person. Do not drink large amounts of water at once: this will slow down gastric purging and your rehydration.
Also drink before departure (the day before and the day of departure) and after arrival in order to quickly recover from the losses of the day and facilitate the elimination of waste (toxins, lactic acid).
If you go hiking for several days, you must plan to supply water (potable or not) for drinking, washing, cooking. Identify water points (fountains, springs, lakes, glaciers, etc.) before you leave. Some community sites on the Internet provide information to hikers and cyclists on areas of water identified by the community. Be aware that some refuges do not have water. Also beware of high-altitude water sources: depending on the season, they can be frozen… Finally, plan something to purify the water you find (filter, purification tablets, boiling, etc.).
A sedentary adult consumes between 1800 and 2100 kcal per day depending on gender and weight (around 1800 for women and 2100 for men). These numbers obviously rise with physical activity. A hiker consumes 300 to 500 kcal per hour of walking, figures that depend on his age, weight, sex and the weight of the backpack. If we consider the basal metabolism, this represents more than 3500 kcal per hiking day. These expenses must be compensated by a suitable diet.
For a one-day walk, plan, in addition to your picnic, some dried fruits and energy bars that you will have tested beforehand. Avoid fresh fruits that are heavy, difficult to transport and which can cause flatulence. However, if you need something substantial, bring an apple.
For multi-day hikes, plan low glycemic index carbohydrates for your meals. There are freeze-dried prepared meals that can be found in sports stores. Just add hot water to consume them. Practical and light, they are relatively expensive and very often insufficient in terms of calories if you walk 6 or 7 hours a day. Better to cook yourself on the spot. A word of advice: always plan a reserve meal just in case.
Fill up on energy before departure by consuming a diet rich in carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. Contrary to what was thought years ago, pasta and rice, if they are refined, are not the most appropriate. To optimize your reserves, you must prepare yourself, in particular to fill up with glycogen by consuming the right carbohydrates
In the morning before leaving, have a good breakfast with low glycemic index sugars (bread and/or whole or semi-whole grain cereals), high glycemic index sugars (jam, honey, white bread), a drink hot and, if you have the possibility, a fruit juice.
Plan something to transport your waste to the next shelter or campsite. Garbage bags or freezer bags will do.
To properly prepare for a hike, it is essential to take into account all aspects of safety!
Find out about local weather conditions before venturing out, especially if you’re heading into the mountains. The weather can be very changeable: check it every day. Find out about the temperatures (minima, maxima), the length of the day (so as not to be surprised by the night) and the wind (pay attention to the setting up of the tent). Also avoid hiking after 4 p.m.: thunderstorms tend to break out in the late afternoon.
Pack gear for rain and cold
Always bring rain gear (poncho or waterproof jacket and raincoat trousers. The poncho has the advantage of protecting your bag), even if you are only going for the day. Also plan warm things and a survival blanket.
Watch out for wildlife!
Also pay attention to the risks associated with wildlife (snakes, scorpions, spiders, etc.). Take the necessary steps to protect yourself.
Expect the unexpected!
If you bivouac near a river, beware of the risk of flooding linked to snowmelt or a storm.
Anticipate the unexpected: change of weather, person getting hurt, delay, broken equipment, full shelter, etc. Think about alternative solutions (plan B). Plan a flexible route (variation, shortened loop, shorter stage or different route) in case of concern.
Tell someone you trust and let them know your precise itinerary, keeping them informed of the progress of your hike every day. She will be able to notify the emergency services in the event of a problem.