Ready for a little adventure? Beautiful days are here and with them the season for hiking and trekking. Where? When? How? How long? With whom? Planning a multi-day hike means asking loads of questions so that you can travel safely and get the most from your trip. Fortunately, we’re here with the answers!
First step: decide on an objective
The first question you need to ask yourself is what you really want out of your hike! Your objective, as well as your preparation for it, will be determined by the reason you want to go and what you want to get from it. Nothing’s impossible, you just need to be well organized! Any route can be approached in a variety of different ways. Planning your itinerary will determine how many days you spend on the trail, the equipment you’ll need, and how much food and water you take. Because of this, it’s essential to have the final objective in mind so that you can fully prepare everything!
When do you want to leave?
A winter hike requires different planning than a hike in summer. Whether it’s your equipment and nutritional needs or how you pace yourself, the season when you want to go will make a big difference in your planning.
In addition to the season and the weather, the environment is another important factor to consider when planning your logistics. Whether you’ll be at sea level, in the middle of the desert, or high in the mountains, each environment has its own characteristics and unique weather.
- In the desert, for example, temperature differences can vary dramatically between day and night.
- In the mountains, a sunny day can turn into a thunderstorm in a matter of minutes.
In addition to the weather, the climate of the region is also important. The temperature and amount of sunshine along with the humidity and exposure to wind must be considered as well as the local flora and fauna. A beautiful lake during the middle of the day can hide an army of mosquitos come nightfall!
How long will you go for?
Do you want to go for a weekend, a few days or several weeks? The duration of your hike is important to nail down. The amount of time you’ll need will be determined by your route as a whole, its characteristics (distance, elevation gain and loss, and terrain) as well as your pace. It’s important to add some extra time into your planning to allow for things like changes in the weather, sickness or fatigue, or simply wanting to hang out a bit longer at a nice place along the way.
What’s the route like?
Total distance and elevation gain are key factors in planning your hike and it’s essential to evaluate your route in detail. Becoming completely familiar with the profile of your route will enable you to strategically organize your hike on a day-by-day basis. It’s important to identify the challenges along the route because there will be some days when you cover more distance and others when you’ll gain more elevation. Terrain should be taken into account as well and the fact that some trails will rise and fall more or less than others while other trails will be more or less exposed will also determine your pace. Finally, access to water (streams and fountains) and bivvy sites (campsites, mountain huts, and refuges, or lodging) should also be planned for in advance.
What style of hiking?
Deciding to sleep in a mountain hut or refuge, a shelter, or tent will make a huge impact on your plans. Your food requirements, bivvy equipment, and even the personal hygiene products you carry will be determined to great extent by where you sleep. Will you need a tent? A stove? Do you need to bring food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or simply a lunch? As you probably know, your backpack can triple in volume depending on where you sleep during your hike.
Who are you going with?
Finally, it’s important to plan your hike according to the people you’re going with. You must take into account the fitness levels and goals of the others in relation to the length and difficulties of the hike. In addition, you’ll also need to organize bivvys and the distribution of the food and equipment that the whole group will use. For example, if you’re going with kids, you’ll need to plan for their nutritional needs, their endurance limits, and keep in mind you’ll also need to carry their gear.
Second step: Prepare your backpack
Once you’ve set the dates and itinerary for your hike, you can then start planning your equipment, clothing and food needs. Don’t wait until the last minute to pack your backpack! The more you plan ahead, the more time you’ll have to make the distinction between what you want to take and what you need to take. Everything boils down to a compromise between weight and usefulness. What goes inside your backpack, as well as the pack itself, needs to be well thought out. During this adventure, your backpack will be your travel companion, your home, and your kitchen pantry so deciding on the best backpack is important. Make sure your backpack fits the purpose. It must be suitable for the project, practical and comfortable.
Regardless of where you hike or for how long, there are certain things you’ll need to take to ensure your safety. These are the things you should always have in your pack:
- First aid kit
- Survival blanket
- Navigation (map, compass, apps)
- Sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses)
- Rope (or small diameter cord for repairs)
- Telephone and portable charger
If you’re going to a foreign country, gather the phone numbers you’ll need to call in case of an emergency. You should also write down the numbers of people to contact in case of an accident as well as important information about yourself such as allergies to medication and other medical information. Always keep your identity papers with you and if possible, some cash.
Your clothing needs will vary depending on the length of your hike, the season, and the environment. However, it is strongly recommended to always take comfortable, technical clothing including warm and waterproof clothing that will protect you from the elements. Go with a layering system that you can adapt to any situation.
- Lightweight, breathable base layer that wicks moisture
- Warm midlayer (like a fleece or down jacket) to insulate you from the cold
- Waterproof outer layer (like Gore-Tex or hardshell) to protect you from rain and snow
- Hiking pants (learn how to choose your hiking pants)
- Technical underwear
For five days of hiking, plan to take at least two base layers (bottom and top). It’s important to always have a dry set if you need it.
If you plan to camp, this is the gear you’ll need to take for sleeping and eating:
- Ground pad
- Sleeping bag
- Camp shoes or sandals
- Silk sleeping bag liner
- Mess kit: bowl, cup, fork, knife, spoon
- Personal hygiene products: soap, microfiber towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, mosquito repellent…
Make sure your gear is lightweight and compressible to save both weight and space. Once again, everything is a compromise between weight and comfort. If you’re travelling in a group, plan your gear together to avoid duplication.
If you prefer to sleep in a mountain hut or refuge, find out what’s provided and what you need to bring and be sure to bring a silk sleeping bag liner for sleeping. Huts and refuges have limited capacity so be sure to book in advance to avoid having to sleep on the floor in the dining room! Also, be sure to cancel if you change your plans so the hut keepers can calculate their food order to the best of their ability. After all, it’s not easy to get perishables delivered to the middle of the mountains.
Food and water
Food and water are essential so it’s important to accurately plan your daily intake to avoid deficiencies. Don’t underestimate your food and water needs.
Adequate hydration is essential and while you should never compromise you should certainly plan wisely. Locate places where you can refill your water supply and plan accordingly by anticipating your hydration needs based on the demands of each stage. The difficulty of the route, climate, altitude and weather should all be factored in when planning your hydration needs.
If you’re planning to do a self-supported hike, you’ll need to plan all your meals. High-calorie food should be prioritized because you have to make sure to replace all the calories you burn without carrying too much weight. Freeze-dried meals are highly recommended because they are lightweight, compact, easy to prepare (just add hot water) and provide all the necessary nutrients. For a multi-day hike, it’s also a great way to make sure you have a variety of food. Freeze-dried dishes are often a bit expensive, but you can save money by dehydrating the food yourself.
As a general rule, you should go heavy on starches (like rice, pasta, cereals… they act like super fuel during any extended effort), legumes (lentils, chickpeas, split peas…) and nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts…). Dried fruit is also great for boosting energy and stoking out your taste buds! Be careful not to eat too much and don’t eat too much fat, because this all requires too much energy to digest.
- Stash snacks in easily accessible pockets (like waistbelt pockets of your backpack)
- Bring bags of tea including herbal tea
- Think about taking spices (salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon…) in small containers
- Include some comfort food because it’s good for morale!
- Vary the menu. It should be a pleasure to eat, not torture!
- Think about supplements and powdered ingredients like spirulina and powdered protein…
If your hike includes stops in a mountain hut or lodge, find out about the services they offer and make sure you have the option to eat or refuel.
Third step: organizing your backpack
You’ve prepared your itinerary and gathered all the gear you’ll need, now it’s time to fit everything in your pack! Which backpack you choose is pretty important when you plan to be out for several days because you’ll basically be carrying your home on your back during your trip. Your backpack needs to hold everything you’ll need while at the same time being as comfortable as possible. Therefore, your pack needs to be adjusted correctly and your load evenly distributed inside the pack. If you want to know more, see our article on how to properly pack your backpack.
Last step: leave with a smile
You’re finally ready to leave! Rule number one: stay safe and have fun! Here are a few last tips before you hit the trails:
- Make sure you have everything
- Tell your friends when you’re leaving and make sure they know your itinerary
- Write down any numbers and addresses that you might need
- Doublecheck all batteries and chargers if you’re using electronic equipment
- Check the weather forecast one more time
- Get last-minute info from the locals
Hiking provides many benefits, both mental and physical, and your time on the trail will enable you to escape your everyday life and reconnect with nature and your loved ones. Take time to observe, smell and feel. Go at your own pace and in harmony with the environment. Here’s to a healthy and safe adventure!