When I set out to do “Walking Home” I had done exactly one multi-day hike that was far from the long distance hiking I was about to attempt: When climbing Mount Cameroon in 2012 I had chosen the two and a half day route with one day ascending and one and a half days descending from the mountain via lava fields. Porters were carrying most of our baggage, leaving me with just a day pack to worry about.
That means in the last six months I have learned an awful lot about how to prepare for a long walk and best practices on the road. Keeping it simple (light) and taking care of your body are the two main themes that have emerged for me. My last post focused on how to prepare a long distance hike. Today it’s all about happiness on the road:
I never understood the boo-how over walking sticks.
Until I walked cross-country with a 9 kg pack on my back. The sticks help you keep balance in uneven terrain. They protect you from a stoop. And after six hours of walking, they might just be the only thing to keep you up and guide you along a few more meters.
You won’t be able to avoid wet feet. The culprit might be dew on the grass in the morning, a puddle you cannot bypass, or a monsoon rain.
Regardless of how your shoes get wet, do what you can to dry them overnight.
I don’t believe in carrying a replacement pair of shoes, not least because you won’t be able to dry the wet one throughout a rainy walking day anyways. So you might end up with two pairs of wet shoes regardless.
Instead, focus on drying. Ideally, you have shoes that allow you to take the inner soles out and dry separately. Paper, stuffed into the shoes also helps. Heat is even better. On campgrounds, ask reception or your neighbors in the caravans — which might also land you an invitation to breakfast and coffee — whether they would take the shoes in overnight and put them under their heater.
You might think you are wearing your most comfortable shoes. They are not too tight. They are padded. You have worn them in. Your socks are cotton or bamboo and fit well. And still, you get blisters.
Dang! The weight on your back puts additional pressure on your feet.
Creaming is the way to go. I find deer tallow works best. But a standard hand cream works as well. As long as you stick to fatty creams (no lotion or water based products). Simply cream your feet generously in the morning before you put your socks on. That’s all.
You are in it for the long hold. To stay in it take breaks before you desperately need them. I recommend five to ten minutes after each 5 km or one hour. To not risk dehydration drink at least a few sips every time you stop.
Also, plan in snacks. Again, you want to consume calories before you get hungry. See below for what makes a good hiker’s snack.
Just as you want to take your breaks during the walking day you also want to break from walking. I find spending at least once a week two nights in the same place is a good pace to go. A day off gives both your body and your mind some rest. And it is more enjoyed when you are not completely worn out.
Extra pockets and carabiners are a great way to keep things accessible while walking. You don’t want to have to stop and take off your backpack every time you want to take a photo or put on your poncho tarp to protect you from a downpour.
Other things to keep within reach could be handkerchiefs, asthma spray, water, money, mobile phone, a map / GPS device, candy. As days go by, take note of what you need to get hold off quickly as you walk and adapt the packing system accordingly.
Traditionally nuts, dried fruits, and muesli bars should not be missing from any hiker’s stock. Unless it is too hot dark chocolate makes for a great snack, as it doesn’t only contain sugar but also caffeine and flavonoids, which have even more positive effects on your health. Candy and sugared condensed milk help for a quick energy boost.
Transport your dry snacks in a watertight container to keep moisture from creeping in. The container can also double up as cup and bowl. Just make sure you dry it properly before putting your snacks back in.
On the savory side, canned fish and paté are easy to transport and usually make max. two servings.
Don’t forget to have a small bag (keep wrapping paper and recycle it) or container to take trash to the next bin.
Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.
Depending on where you walk you may be able to acquire fresh snacks. I love stopping for wild fruits and nuts. While long distance hiking, it is a delicious way to learn a thing or two about changing seasons when indulging in sweet ripe cherries in one month, plums in the next and figs in early fall. Different varieties of fruit will be ripe at different times as well.
Unfortunately, the fact that almost everyone these days owns a car in middle Europe has led to a decline in rural bakeries and mom-and-pop stores. In some places, food trucks have taken over, with service ranging between several daily stops throughout the community and bi-weekly stops in the only the central square. So get your fresh bread and cake when you can.
Unless you are going into remote, uninhabited areas or are planning to bush camp, a 1-liter reusable water bottle is plenty. You can refill it in villages or ask farmers. Rural graveyards get their water from the village well and thereby provide fresh and delicious water for free. In mountain terrain keep your eyes peeled for sources springing from the stone. Water doesn’t get any fresher.
On a side note: Please do not use single-use plastic bottles. After all, you are coming out here to enjoy nature. Don’t mess it up.