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Planning A Long Distance Trek

Andrew Mazibrada

There can be no more compelling way to connect with a foreign land than to walk on the soil, sand and rock that comprises its landscape. Nor can there be any better way to meet the local people than to walk in their footsteps and among them, on their own terms, instead of being tied to roads, train-tracks and cityscapes.

We hope this guides both inspires you and gives a sense of what avenues someone preparing for a long distance trek will need to investigate to be safe and to get the most out of their time. As each day passes on a long trek, the likelihood of changes in weather and terrain increase. A longer trek usually involves the potential for days without easy access to civilisation and all the contingent benefits we rely on daily. You will want to consider all of these issues in the planning stages. Selecting your gear takes on additional significance – carry a heavy load and your mileage will necessarily decrease and your body may suffer. And if you do not take enough, you may find yourself inadequately prepared. Have a contingency plan – the prospect of unexpected difficulties increases the longer the trek goes on. Physical and mental fitness also play a pivotal, but often underestimated, role.

Think about taking a notebook and pen to record what happens to you – in later years you will relish the memories. Perhaps have some knowledge of the local language and some cash in the local currency – keep both in your notebook. Take copies of important documents such as your passport, your travel documents, insurance and so on and, again, keep them in your notebook. You may want to be cautious about relying on an electronic device if you are concerned about not being able to charge it.

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING

  • How exactly do you intend to get to the start of your trek and home again once you have finished?
  • What passes, licences and related documentation are required for the trek by the country or countries you are traveling in?
  • What route do you intend to take and why – what is the purpose of the trek, what do you want to see, why are you going, what topographical features will you have to negotiate and do you have the skills to negotiate them?
  • Do you have a safe emergency egress route should things go wrong?
  • What do you intend to eat and drink during the trek and how will you have access to it – will you be carrying it, buying/obtaining it en route or a mixture of the two?
  • Unless you are very experienced, think about having a route of contact with the outside world during the trek
  • Where do you intend to sleep – will you be camping and if so, where and is it legal to camp wild? Do you need to book huts or other accommodation in advance? Is the popularity of a given route seasonal – if so, book well in advance
  • What weather, terrain and conditions are likely to be experienced on the trek? Can you deal with ANY GIVEN SITUATION – if not, you may want to reconsider whether it is safe to go.
  • What gear do you need to be safe, and what gear do you need to be comfortable and what gear do you need to enjoy your time in country?
  • Where will you store your traveling gear – your spare clothes and so on?

Think about taking a notebook and pen to record what happens to you – in later years you will relish the memories. Perhaps have some knowledge of the local language and some cash in the local currency – keep both in your notebook.


If you are undertaking a National Trail, selecting your route will be done for you. If not, be realistic about the terrain and your ability to cope with it. You need to research the terrain, as well as the likely weather, and have planned emergency egress routes.

TRAVEL AND ROUTE SELECTION

Before you can even begin to consider your gear, you might want to look at where you are going, when and how you intend to travel. How do you intend to get to the start of the trail – will public transport suffice or will you need a hire car or taxi? Tourism sites for most countries have national trails listed and details of how to get to and from them. Alternatively, if you intend to stay in a local hotel/hostel/hut near to the trail, ask them – they will almost certainly know and emailing is easy. Google translate is a fantastic tool if the language is difficult and they are unlikely to speak English – you will at least get your message across that way even if your grammar is poor! Or check with airport information – for alpine treks, there will be minibus services from Geneva, for example. Do you intend to travel in your trekking gear (a treat for the passengers on your flight back) or do you intend to leave a kit bag somewhere – if so, where? How do you intend to gain access to it and how often?

If you are undertaking a National Trail, selecting your route will be done for you. If not, you will want to be realistic about the terrain and your ability to cope with it. You will want to research the terrain, as well as the likely weather, and have planned emergency egress routes. Find out what the paths/trails are like and how straightforward on-the-ground navigation is likely to be. You might want to consider taking GPS for longer treks where getting lost is likely to have far-reaching consequences. Most smartphones have GPS these days, or alternatively take a small unit with the maps of your route pre-loaded. Ensure that, if you are going abroad, that your GPS unit’s datum matches that of your local map. Have paper maps even if you have a GPS unit – you must never rely on GPS alone. Know how to use a compass. You’ll want to be to re-charge the GPS unit or carry spare batteries – a useful tips is ensuring your headtorch batteries are the same as your GPS unit batteries. Try working out exactly how long the battery life is for your unit and try to learn to use it before you go.

You might want to research the weather for the last few years in the area you are going for the time of year you are going. If it is in a different country, perhaps seek advice from the local body running the park – they will be more than willing to provide you with advice and assistance.

Do you have a mobile phone that will receive signal on the trek? If so, a good tip is to enter the relevant number for the emergency services or mountain rescue. Think about leaving your itinerary with someone you know, or the local park authorities, so they can track you down if you don’t check in on your return – go read ‘127 hours’ if you don’t believe me.

To undertake even 5 consecutive days walking you will need to prepare physically and mentally, especially if doing so alone. If instead you intend to walk for weeks, or even months, and if you intend to camp rather than stay in huts, your body will need to prepare for that task. Whether through fatigue or muscle damage (or both) your body will let know if you have not prepared fully. It may give out altogether – a dangerous prospect 3,000m up with no one to help you. Whether you undertake a specific gym regime, or simply walk a few 15-20km days each week, you need to do something above that which your ordinarily do and which approximates the kind of pressures your body will face on your trek. Do not underestimate the importance of this. If you can, do any fitness work with your pack on. After a few 7-hour days with your pack, when you come to determine your final gear selection, you’ll be far more inclined to offload superfluous kit and tip the balance from comfort towards lightweight. It’s astonishing what you can learn to live with and come to enjoy on the trail.

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