Every hike is an adventure, but long-distance hikes present unique thrills and challenges. If you’re a weekend hiker who wants to take your adventuring up a notch, get some ideas on where to go, what to pack and what to expect.
Preparing for hiking adventures
Preparing mentally and physically is key when organising your first multi-day hiking trip. Here are a few things to think about…
Choosing your companions
Going it alone isn’t always a good option. “Unless you’re going on a trail with a high intensity of hikers and lots of stops, it’s best to go with a partner or group of friends,” says Miranda Ioannou, whose company Active Sundays leads hiking expeditions in her native Greece.
You’ll need to choose your hiking companions carefully: do they want to go to the same places as you? Do they have the same level of fitness? The same attitude to dealing with situations that might arise on the hike?
Remember, you’ll be with your companions for the duration of your hike, so it’s essential you’re all on the same page. Talk through what you’re going to do on your trip in advance with your companions.
Getting your body ready
You’ll need to be fit enough to physically withstand 10-15 km a day, and that means training, whether it’s in the gym or on one-day hikes. Prepare for increased distance by building up slowly.
For example, start at 5km, move on to 8km, then 12km and so on in the months and weeks leading up to your hike. That way, your longer hike will be a lot less daunting.
Also, be aware of any acclimatisation issues: if you’re going somewhere very hot or cold, or with a high altitude, you’ll need to give your body time to adjust and withstand the changes.
When deciding on a route or trail you need to factor in how many days you have to hike and the distance you want to cover each day. If you’re short on time many popular long-distance trails can be completed in sections done over a series of weekends.
Be realistic about your own ability and fitness levels too. If you’re used to hiking on relatively flat terrain, for example, be aware of how much additional effort and time is added by hills. And consider whether you can go much further in a day than the distance you’ve trained up to.
Figure out what you want from the hike. Mountains? Coastline? Relaxing? Strenuous? How confident are you with navigating? Do you want a well waymarked trail or are you itching to test out your orienteering skills? What is your comfort level? Do you want to wild camp and carry your gear or would you rather hike from village to village, inn to inn?
Once you have a route or trail in mind you need to think about logistics:
- how are you getting to and from the trailhead?
- where can you buy food and refill water along the way? How far is it between stops?
- where are you going to stay along the way? Are you planning on camping? Are there refuges or shelters to stay in?
Choosing the right gear
Any long-distance hiker will gush about the importance of weight given the chance. When you’re carrying everything on your back for several hours a day, less is most definitely more.
“You can only take what you can carry,” says Miranda. “You can’t be a donkey and a hiker at the same time!”
This minimalist approach takes some getting used to but you may find it changes your attitude to life: when you realise how little you need, you start to prioritise people and experiences over stuff. And there is something very satisfying about carrying everything you need on your back from place to place.
The key to getting the right gear for your trip is striking the right balance between weight, durability and cost. Just like you, your gear needs to be ready to withstand whatever the elements throw at it.
Think practical. Think weatherproof. Think durable. Think lightweight. Think multi-purpose. There’s a wealth of information on the internet to help you make your decision, including gear lists and gear reviews. This approach applies to everything from your boots to your tent to your outdoor phone.
Finding your way
Some long-distance trails are very well waymarked and trafficked. Others are, at times, little more than a general direction. Either way, you need to be confident that you can navigate, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
You already know that it’s essential to carry a proper map and compass but a phone with GPS might just be your new best friend.
With apps like ViewRanger you can download detailed maps to use offline and determine your exact location on a trail, even if you’re enveloped in thick mist and can’t see more than a foot in front of your face.
Long distance hiking isn’t delicate, so look for a phone that’s hard-wearing, waterproof and reliable even in cold conditions – especially one that means you don’t have to take a handheld GPS too.
Be prepared for pitfalls
Hiking isn’t going to be fun and easy all the time. There could be tricky sections of trail, lung-testing mountain passes. There might be rivers to ford, bogs to wade, bushes to whack. You’ll get bruised, you’ll get scratched, you’ll get soggy feet. There will be times when your morale is thoroughly tested. So it’s important to think in advance about how you’ll deal with problems.
“You need to know how you will deal with risks,” says Miranda. “What will you do if you see a grizzly bear on the trail, for example? If the weather is bad despite the forecast, you need to know what to do. Your life is more important than any hike so it’s better to leave it for another day than put yourself at risk.”
Make tech work for you
Don’t forget it’s not going to be sunny the whole time. You’re not that lucky. It’s probably going to rain at some point. There could be high winds, storms, or worse. You need to be prepared and to know your limitations.
Make sure your outdoor phone has a reliable weather app – like Weather Underground so you can keep an eye on conditions and make an informed decision about your safety.
- For medical advice at your fingertips download the First Aid app by Red Cross.
- The SAS survival guide app has all the information from the bestselling book including help with identifying animal tracks and recognising edible plants.
- Inquisitive hikers might also like apps like Peak Visor, that allow you to point your camera at the mountains around you and discover their names and altitudes, or Spyglass, which among its many useful features, allows you to navigate by the stars.
- Or if you struggle with flat maps, 3D Map Pro offers detailed 3D map views so you assess the lay of the land. The Land Rover Explorer phone comes with a handy selection of curated apps for the outdoors.
Making your own path
Sometimes it’s nice to forge your own way. Once you gain more experience in hiking and camping, you may want to get further off the beaten track.
One of the great things about the UK is the extensive network of public rights of way, just begging to be explored. With GPS on your side, you can mix up your trail a bit with interesting detours or alternate routes that keep you on your toes.
Creating and sharing new memories
Just think of the photos you’ll be able to share and the memories that you can cherish from experiences and sights all along the trail. The highs – and the occasional lows – will all come flooding back when you look at your pictures and start telling your traveller’s tales.
Go long distance
If you want to challenge yourself and have fun at the same time, Europe has some great long-distance hiking trails to explore, including:
- Wainwright’s Coast to Coast: spend a couple of weeks hiking 192 miles across England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
- The Great Glen Way: follow the Caledonian Canal for 73 miles of stunning Scottish Highland scenery.
- Glyndwr’s Way: challenge yourself to a strenuous 173 mile trail through rugged Welsh countryside.
- Tour du Mont Blanc: hike 110 miles through France, Italy and Switzerland around the jaw-dropping Mont Blanc Massif.
- GR20 in Corsica: tackle 112 miles of truly challenging terrain on what is known as the most difficult of Europe’s Grand Randonnees.
- Kungsleden in Sweden: translated as the ‘King’s Way’ this epic 270-mile route takes you through one of Europe’s last great wildernesses.
- Laugavegurinn in Iceland: known as the ‘hot springs route’, this 34-mile route takes in active volcanoes and glaciers.
Hiking tips in a nutshell
Here are seven of Miranda’s tips for a successful hike.
- Decide who to take with you.
- Plan well ahead about where you’re going. Get to know all the details.
- Train hard so you’re fit for your hike.
- Get the right gear – boots are very important. A backpack must fit so well that when you put it on you don’t feel the weight of it. Make certain you pack enough water filtration tablets for the duration of your hike.
- Decide when to go. If you’re tied to a specific date you have to be able to take anything that comes with it, including adverse weather conditions that may end your hike early.
- Be clear about how you’ll deal with risk.
- Tell someone your whereabouts and give them your detailed plan, with instructions to contact the authorities if you don’t make it to a certain point on time.
Enhance your hiking experience: discover more about the Land Rover Explore phone.