Be gone walking holiday worries! It’s a holiday after all, not a Bear Grylls test of your strength of character and the most important thing is that it brings you pleasure. And that includes the prep phase. Yes, we have regular hikers on our holidays who are Alpine aficionados, or Camino connoisseurs. They may be able prep for the Pyrenees in a heartbeat, or gear up for Greece in Olympic speed. But they were newbies once too, and some may even have learned the hard way. So, if you are a weekend walker or just an avid step counter who wants to take a love of walking to the next level, here are our top tips on how to prepare for a hiking trip.
Be realistic about your fitness levels
If you don’t have a lot of experience of walking long-distance and many hours in one day, you can either opt for one of our ‘easy’ walking holidays, or give yourself a few months and get some training in. So instead of booking a Camino de Santiago or Tour de Mont Blanc, you can break in a little more gently on a holiday with fewer preparation drills but just as many thrills. Our walking holidays fall into one of five difficulty grades, so you have plenty of options: Easy, easy to moderate, moderate, moderate to strenuous and then strenuous.
Give me directions
Most of our holidays are self-guided, and they vary a lot in terms of the skills that you need to get from A to B. First things first, you won’t be alone out there on the hills. You have a support team on the ground, reachable by phone 24/7 and we give you detailed instructions, maps or apps (depending on the tour). If you don’t have a smartphone, we will advise you in advance whether you need to bring a GPS device such as a Garmin, to help navigate and we recommend getting this in advance of your trip and practising with it. But on many of our easier tours, our detailed instructions will do the trick.
Get confident with a compass
It’s important to practise with maps before you travel and familiarise yourself with a compass. You may have one on a phone, but remember that phones aren’t always reliable. Get into the habit of taking your compass with you even for everyday walks or runs, and then they won’t seem so daunting, or trigger bad memories of school field trips. Using the earth’s magnetic field to find your way is still pretty cool, after all. There are many videos out there showing you how to use a compass and map, and plenty of enthusiasts giving you ‘directions’.
Taking it easy can still be exquisite
If you are starting out gently, you can opt for flatter landscapes such as on our Lithuania or Denmark walking tours. You can also walk in the heart of mountainous spectacles, but use transfers to access the elevated landscapes before taking on easier trails, way up there with the pros. Combine the cultural wonders of Granada, for example, with some superb walks in the Sierra Nevada that are uplifting, without too many ups. Or walk in Slovenia’s Triglav National Park enveloped by mountains, following gentle trails through high mountain pastures forests. On this trip, for example, you walk an average of 10km per day, with a daily elevation gain of 400m.
Get in training
On all our trips, we give you details of how many kilometres or hours you will walk every day, as well as the elevations that you’ll cover. So, your training will very much depend on those. Keeping up a basic 10,000 steps a day is always a good starting point, and then take on a hike at weekends to build up to and then match your holiday outings. No matter which walking holiday you are planning, it’s good to build up over a period of at least two months (ideally more) before your trip, especially for the moderate to strenuous trips.
Never use trips as a way to get fit, as you risk injury or simply not enjoying it. It’s also worth remembering that the pace we set in our holiday itineraries is based on walking at a leisurely, gentle pace. We want you to revel in it all, not race it and training will help that.
If you are already a keen walker, but you’re upping your game a little by taking on a more moderate to strenuous walking holiday, then we recommend pushing yourself in the gym a little too. So if Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains are calling, where you walk 7-8 hours per day with approximately 800-1,000m ascent or descent, or you are contemplating the likes of Kosovo’s Dinarica Trail, you need to press your inner power button at weekends, not just the snooze button. We recommend an hour’s workout in the gym, three times a week with, for example, 20mins on the treadmill, 20mins on the cross trainers, followed by 20mins of core and leg strength exercises. Then at weekends, you need to fit in a good length of an outdoor walk, hilly if possible.
Hitting the heights
For strenuous (but always stupendous) walking tours, such as the High Trails of Ladakh, taking on Corsica’s GR20 or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro you need to double your efforts in the last few weeks, but always taking rest days to ensure you don’t injure yourself. You can, for example, increase your gym workout to include 60mins of cardiovascular exercise, including a good circuit of strength exercises such as squats and lunges, four times a week, plus a five hour hillwalk at weekends.
Get in gear
You don’t need to splash out on lots of new gear for your walking holiday but there are a few key things that you need to ensure you are comfortable and safe. From boots to bags, binoculars to bottles, read more about what to bring in our What to pack for a hiking trip blog. We will also give you more detailed advice in your trip notes regarding gear, because it also depends on the climate and average conditions of where you are hiking, as well as the comfort grades of your accommodation. You don’t have to buy everything new, remember. Reach out on your online community groups, or to friends, or buy second hand of course. Outdoor gear companies are also very good at bargain basement prices. But make sure the boots fit and the waterproofs are proofed.
Prepare for an emergency
During your preparations for a hiking holiday, it’s worth keeping in mind that, although rare, emergencies do happen. This is our advice in the event of an emergency: remain calm, move yourself and the injured person (if feasible, taking care not to aggravate any injuries) away from any imminent danger, such as rock fall or avalanche, and apply first aid if trained to do so. Keep the person warm using the foil blanket in your first aid kit, or any spare clothing available. If you are travelling as a part of a party, make a careful note of the precise location where the victim can be found and either call for help using the numbers we will give you in your trip notes or send a member of the party while someone remains with the injured person.
The emergency signal
Should it be impossible to go for help, the international distress signal is six blasts on a whistle (and flashes with a torch after dark) evenly spaced for one minute, followed by a minute’s pause. Repeat for as long as necessary. The response is three signals per minute, followed by a minute’s pause.