hiking, the best way to discover nature

Introduction to hiking

Hiking is the activity of excursions carried out systematically both in the mountains (where it is a minor form of mountaineering) and elsewhere, with a tourist character, for recreational purposes, or to promote physical and cultural development.

Whether you are in Yellowstone park, in the African savannah or in some remote European national park, if you want to hike safely you must follow certain rules.

In fact, hikers often tend to think that their activity is free of pitfalls.

This often causes a lot of problems and the number of accidents in the practice of hiking is high.

In fact it is the highest ever more than skiing, mountaineering or mountain biking.

With this post we will try to give you all the tips you need to tackle your excursions safely.

We’ll also give you basic information to get you out of the way in case things go wrong.

How to prepare an excursion

Any excursion that involves a few hours of walking and in a hostile environment must be carefully planned. The first thing to do is the choice of the path.

There are two ways to select one path instead of another; in the first case, knowing one’s physical form and abilities, one chooses a path based on this.

In the second case, you “dream” of a path and prepare yourself physically, mentally and technically to be able to tackle it.

Note that these rules apply whether you go trekking in Yosemite National Park or you want to do the Camino de Santiago where the only animals you will encounter are humans.

It is advisable to go step by step in choosing your excursions starting with the easiest ones and then moving on to the most difficult ones.

So your body will train a little at a time together with your head which must always remain clear.

Orientation and routes to follow

Plan your route with maps The route must be planned with paper maps, paper maps do not have batteries that run out and help you develop a sense of direction especially in boundless territories.

Whenever possible, choose maps that have contour lines. When planning the route on the map, being able to evaluate the altitudes by reading the contour lines allows you to understand the positive or negative height difference of the route and so you will know if you need to train to face it.

Topo Map for hiking
Tis is an example of exellent Topo Map https://www.usgs.gov – pubblic domain.

But having a GPS with you can also be a great help in some cases, as long as you know how to use it.

In excursions that involve several days, it is necessary to evaluate the stages and points of support and if there are none, it is essential to deal with the supply of water and food.

Remember that without food it goes on for several days but without water the end comes soon!

Obviously we are not masochists, at home during the planning you can use specialized sites to find out as much information as possible about our path, but remember to always check the sources well.

Assess the environment of our excursion

Another very important thing to be able to make our excursion safely is the evaluation of both the environment and the terrain that we will face.

A desert is very different from the Amazon rainforest and also from the great American forests.

A trek in the mountains will be very different from a trek on the plains.

But above all there is one thing that many underestimate, which is the change of the terrain and the environment according to the weather conditions.

The mud

There are soils in some areas that are or seem solid and compact, but then a violent storm comes and turns the ground into a muddy swamp. Sometimes this can make the path really difficult and this is often not written on informational sites.

Into The Wild

Another example this time very well known and that will make you understand the meaning of the evaluation of the environment: do you remember Alexander Supertramp in Into The Wild? well he had forded a river until he got to the Magic Bus.

When he realized that it was time to go back so as not to die he realized that the river he had crossed weeks ago was now no longer viable, he was trapped.

Here is again the importance of studying the route and the environment well before leaving.

Difficulty of hiking - Cross the river into the forest
Cross the river into the forest

Weather and weather forecasts for trekking


Another fundamental aspect for planning a trek in the best possible way is reading the weather reports and their interpretation.


Obviously this aspect is one of the most difficult and controversial to deal with.

In fact, it is well known that meteorology, while basing its foundations on accurate scientific bases, never manages to express certain forecasts.

This is in fact due not to the inability of those who study meteorological phenomena but from the very high presence of all significant variables that inexorably condition meteorological events. Consequently, it is understandable why the more the forecasts are pushed forward in time, the lower the reliability of the forecasts themselves.


Mathematical models for weather forecasts


However, technology has made meteorology great strides as by using mathematical models developed by supercomputers it is possible to obtain predictions that at least in the short term are quite reliable.
The most important are the American model GFS, the European model ECMWF, the Canadian model GEM and so on with others used to a lesser extent, you can see them at work on the German site wetterzentrale.de.


There is no better model ever, they must always be interpreted and to succeed well you need experience and study.
However, know that the forecasts up to three days ahead in time are quite reliable while then they are less and less and exponentially. If a 3-day forecast has a confidence rate of 50% at 4 days it is already a lot if it reaches 20% confidence.


Now you will have understood for yourself that a prediction of a week or more is worth less than a lottery play.


A final consideration concerns the latitude in which the forecasts are considered.

It is not the subject of this post to explain the weather at various latitudes and in all its aspects but know that at the equator level the weather is completely different from what we have in the regions of North America.

At the equator we will have monsoon weather as the further we go the more seasonal it becomes and consequently difficult to predict.

Apply forecasts to the chosen itinerary

Now we know that if our excursion is one or two days and takes place at the equator we will be able to have super reliable forecasts, instead if our excursion will be at the level of Europe it will be better to foresee all the precautions needed for sudden climate changes.


This evaluation is more important the more you get up in the mountains where temperatures in the event of a storm can have enormous changes.

Also in the mountains in the event of thunderstorms it is normal that there are strong winds which help to lower the perceived temperature in the presence of wind, especially if you are sweaty or wet with water, perhaps due to rain.


Be very careful as many people have suffered severe damage or even died due to a weather change.

Below is a table that summarizes the main values.

Wind Chill Chart – Credits: National Weather Service

What you must always have in your backpack

Hiking Backpack suitable for multi-day hiking
Hiking Backpack suitable for multi-day hiking by North Face


Let’s now pass to evaluate an aspect that becomes more and more important based on the days of duration of our trekking: that is a list of the things that we absolutely must have in the backpack.

One day hiking

Hiking backpack

A torch with a flash function
A whistle
Water based on temperature and trekking effort
Route map
Gps
Check the telephone network on the route
First aid kit
Emergency shelter
Knife (if is permitted by the country law)
Sunscreen for skin and lips
Sunglasses (in case of snow glasses with appropriate solar filter)
Bear spray

Multi-day hiking with support points (mountain huts)

Hiking backpack

A torch with a flash function
A whistle
Water based on temperature and trekking effort
Route map
Gps
Check the telephone network on the route, otherwise bring a satellite phone
First aid kit
Emergency shelter
Knife (if is permitted by the country law)
Sunscreen for skin and lips
Sunglasses (in case of snow glasses with appropriate solar filter)
System for starting a fire
Extra clothes
Hiking stick
Moleskin
Bear spray
siren

Hiking adventure on your own

Hiking backpack

Tent

A torch with a flash function
A whistle
Water based on temperature and trekking effort
Route map
Gps
Check the telephone network on the route, otherwise bring a satellite phone
First aid kit
Emergency shelter
Knife (if is permitted by the country law)
Sunscreen for skin and lips
Sunglasses (in case of snow glasses with appropriate solar filter)
System for starting a fire
Extra clothes
Hiking stick
Moleskin
Bear spray
siren
Backpacking stove with extra propellant
Curtain
Sleeping bag
A Kevlar cord if possible a few meters long
Water Filter
Food as light as possible better if dehydrated

How to dress for a trek

This chapter deserves a lot of space because technology has brought great innovations in the garment of fabrics. Especially technical outdoor or mountaineering clothing has benefited.


We need to clarify a concept first, the more technical and functional the items are, the more they cost.

So not everyone can afford top performance clothing.

But maybe you can only buy some high-performance garments and then fall back on cheaper things for less important garments.

Hiking boots are very important

But what are the garments for which it is better not to save too much? absolutely shoes and hiking boots are very important.

A wrong pair of shoes during an especially multi-day trek can make you cry bitter tears.


Try on many types of shoes or boots and possibly in shops that have a small test run, do not rush. Bring your own socks that you will use during the trek so you don’t get the size wrong.


Each foot is different and everyone walks differently, so you have to find the shoe that’s right for you. Only then will you walk safely for days without cursing the day you bought them.


Last but not least suggestion: prefer Goretex boots that allow the foot to breathe but above all with Vibram sculpted soles, this brand is a guarantee and equips all the best technical brands in the world.

They are resistant and with an unbeatable grip on all terrains. Not for nothing they are under the feet of all the greatest mountaineers in the world. Read our hiking boot guide to find out more.

The technical jacket, a faithful friend

The second technical item that I recommend you buy considering it an investment for your future is the technical jacket.


It is a jacket in cutting-edge material, light, resistant and breathable. The most used and reliable is the Goretex but others are coming. It must have an ergonomic hood that can also allow you to wear a helmet in case of mountaineering.


Personally, I still own triple-layer Goretex items purchased 15 years ago and which have accompanied me on incredible adventures around the world.

They are still functional and in excellent condition. Rely on internationally renowned producers to avoid the risk of having a technical items with poor manufacturing.


For all the info consult the post clothes for trekking guide, in which you can also find information regarding socks, underwear, sweatshirts and do not forget to bring with you a windproof jacket perhaps without sleeves which is of great use whenever you are cold but not too cold, a very versatile item.

The ultimate strategy for a successful hiking in summary

Satisfaction of hiking - Looking the lake from the mountain
Looking the lake from the mountain – Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash

Planning is essential in order to have the entire development of the trek under control.

Clearly this is not enough to guarantee its success and therefore one must also prepare for unforeseen and unpredictable events.

It is essential when hiking to maintain a good state of physical fitness. Try to keep your weight down and mentally prepare yourself to handle dangerous situations.

The awareness of the danger

Awareness of both subjective and objective dangers is the first step to take, do not be scared you are better than you think, every time you cross a busy road you cannot know if someone distracted will make a mistake and run over you, but you cross it anyway because you are aware of these dangers and therefore be careful you are alert and attentive.

The same thing is true when you are in the wilderness, getting informed and studying bears well will allow you in case of unexpected encounters to manage the situation and get out of it without consequences for you but also for the animals.

Honest with yourself by recognizing your limitations. When we are confronted with something greater than ourselves it is necessary to have full awareness of ourselves.

You don’t go on big adventures simply hoping to make it. You have to be fully aware of your physical state, and this comes with training.

When you train yourself by setting goals, you realize your state of form and thus acquire awareness.

In the case of independent adventures, keep your psychological state under control as well.

In this kind of excursions it is almost certain to have to face unexpected events and dangers and therefore it is necessary to face them with a good mental condition.

Hiking preparation - Girl on the top of the mountain praticing yoga
Psychologically prepare your mind to handle the unexpected – Photo by Eneko Uruñuela on Unsplash

The pitfalls of short treks

Short treks and day hikes tend to be underestimated due to their length. But be careful because the dangers can be there anyway.

When you prepare the hiking backpack

The most common mistake is to prepare the hiking backpack at the last minute.

How many times this has happened to you? certainly to me in the past, but then I realized the importance of not forgetting anything and so I started preparing all the equipment the day before.

Before going to sleep you must have everything ready, in this way the chances of forgetting something important decrease considerably.

How do you prepare the hiking backpack

Another important trick that is very easy to put into practice is to have a list of the things you need to put in your backpack. You will only have to check it, you will not have to think about what to bring or not to bring.

Forgetting the first aid kit could be irrelevant if nothing happens but in the event of an accident it could become a real problem.

A trick that could make the difference between life and death most hikers do not incur serious accidents, but this does not mean that it never happens, indeed the numbers show that accidents, even serious ones, are very frequent.

If we are with other people, perhaps our companions can call for help and the problem is solved. But if we decide to go on our adventure alone, no one can help us.

The trusted person who knows your plans

However, alone or in group, my advice is to always tell a trusted person your intentions. It would be better, especially on multi-day excursions, to write your project on paper and hand it to the trusted person.

Write down where you are going, the route you will take with the specified times and any other notes that may be useful, such as the number of participants.

Those who do not see you return on schedule will sound the alarm and they will come looking for you.

Do not underestimate this thing, many people are saved every year thanks to the alarm by who was the keeper of the travel plan.

An always current advice for hiking

Regarding weather forecasts, all the precautions I have listed above apply. But there is another piece of advice that I feel from experience to give you: always ask local experts for advice on the weather.

Years of observation often win over any mathematical model.

Each place has its own particularities and it can happen, for example, that in a particular valley in July it rains every day at 4 pm. It is information that you will not find on any site but it is very important.

Also from experience I recommend that you consult more bulletins and then make a summary.

With experience you will be able to guess predictions that seemed impossible and you will better understand the phenomena that govern our beautiful planet.

Wildelife and surroundings

hiking encounters - Bear cubs looking in the grass
Bear cubs looking in the grass – Photo by anthony renovato on Unsplash

How to deal with animals is too complex to deal with in a post that is aimed at the whole world. Asian animals behave differently from African animals and likewise the animals of the American continent behave differently from all others.

So I think I’ll do a post soon where I will point out the most appropriate techniques with some of them.

If you are in the bear territory you can read “What to do when you meet a bear” post.

For now I only tell you that if you think that a lion or a bear that meets you will come to you to lick your cheek you are deluded who have not yet any experience of wild environments. You are also a candidate for great food, but I don’t think that’s what you wanted.

In general, I recommend that you take detailed information on the presence of wild animals along your route.


Look for information if there have been any events involving wild animals in the area.


Look for information on what to do when encountering these animals.


If necessary, buy bollards suitable for the animal you may encounter.

Ma soprattutto chiedi alle autorità locali oppure alle guide locali informazioni sulla presenza di animali e sul comportamento da tenere.

Conclusions

Remember that you are going to nature, nature is everyone’s home. Respect it and respect the animals, which have a fundamental function.

Never before is there a need for ethics even when walking in the woods.

A healthy and biodiverse nature allows us to all feel better and prepare a better future for the new generations.

Let me know in the comments if my advice was helpful

I wish you good adventures!

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