Your first long-distance, multi-day trek on a big trail can feel intimidating, with kit, fitness and safety all concerns. Here’s how to get ready, from choosing a suitable destination to packing the best equipment
Hikers at Col de Balme on Swiss/French border (Dreamstime)
Inching along paths day by day can appear daunting, but if you pick the right location, then it can definitely take the edge off. “It’s not about packing in the distance and slogging out the miles,” says David Holland of The Long Distance Walkers Association. “It’s about taking it slowly and enjoying what’s around you, so choosing landscapes that fascinate you is key.”
Having said that, to avoid spying said landscape through beads of sweat and the fog of aching limbs, it’s worth putting in some training before you set off. Begin with day walks of around 8km, before building up to around 16 to 22km – a full day’s walking.
Take a full backpack with you to replicate the conditions that you’ll experience on your trek; that way you won’t encounter any surprises when you’re on your actual walk. And if you’ve bought new walking boots for the challenge, be sure to wear them in beforehand; this will help prevent any rubbing or discomfort.
“Train your legs to go at a gentler pace, but for longer,” adds Alexander Kendall, author of Cicerone’s The Snowdonia Way. “You need to be fit enough for your legs to keep moving all day, which is definitely within most people’s reach.”
Aside from getting yourself fit, ensure all your logistical plans are in place. Book campsites or B&Bs along the way, and research public transport routes and timetables in case you need them. It often pays to have backup accommodation on standby as well, in case you walk further, or not as far, as you’d originally planned.
Map and compass skills are also essential; take them out on your training walks and practise until you know how to use them.
Hiker in forest (Dreamstime)
When it comes to packing your kit, you want all the right gear in your rucksack, at as light a weight as possible.
“I aim for my pack to weigh around 12kg as a rough estimate,” says Alex Roddie, who has walked over 20 long distance trails in the UK and Europe. “The main thing is you don’t need to pack for every day.”
Carrying food and clothes for three to four days should be plenty for most journeys, no matter how long they might be, as you can usually buy supplies and wash clothes along the way. If you’re walking an extended area that’s amenity-free, then pack extra food, just in case.
Walking boots can make or break a trip. Ensure you buy a decent pair that you’re comfortable in, but take plenty of blister plasters as insurance. Catering for all weathers is a must, too. Waterproofs, shorts (or better yet zip-off trousers) and sun cream are vital, as well as a headtorch (commonly forgotten) for after dark.
“For a first-timer, I would advise staying in B&Bs,” adds David. “That way your pack will be lighter and you won’t have to lug a tent around.” If so, a bag between 35l and 40l should be enough for your trek. But if you do camp, a larger (60–75l) rucksack is needed to accommodate a tent. For further information on what to pack, the LDWA have a comprehensive kit list on their site.
Hiker in Pirin National Park, Bulgaria (Dreamstime)
Wherever you go on your first walk, it’s key that you have an emergency plan in place as a safety net, in case an incident arises. “Have a list of emergency contacts and make sure that you know how to get help should you need it,” advises Alexander.
Keep your phone charged whenever possible (portable chargers are useful), as it can be used to pinpoint your location if you run into trouble, although it’s not wise to wholly rely on one. If you’re trekking solo, make sure you let someone know where you’re going and give regular updates, if you can, preferably giving them a full itinerary beforehand.
Whether you’re on your own or in a group, carry a First Aid Kit (and know how to use it), so minor injuries can be patched up and don’t impede your trip.
“The biggest physical problem is blisters,” adds David. “As soon as you feel sore, sticking a plaster or Compeed is recommended. Don’t wait until it gets really bad.”
For signalling help, keep a whistle and your torch in the outside pocket of your bag so they can be easily reached to attract attention. Ensure you know the Distress Signal for the country you’re in.
Man looking out on to rocky landscape (Dreamstime)
Don’t be too ambitious on your first long-distance walk. Your first few days should be shorter as you find your rhythm, you’ll find you start to increase your stamina and distance over time. If you’re not used to walking on hilly terrain, then don’t plan too many steep climbs early on and take regular breaks for food and rest.
“Lowland areas are a good starting point,” says David. “If it’s your first time, try to plan a route where there are plenty of potential safety nets in the form of accommodation, eateries and civilisation.”
Then, once you’ve tackled (and enjoyed) your first trek, you can start raising the bar for the next. Usually the best views are the hardest earned, but all multi-day walks hold their own charm, says Alex: “The chance to live life on foot and to immerse yourself in a wild landscape for an extended period of time is intoxicating.”
We agree. So lace up your boots, pack your gear and get ready to hit the trail…
Trekking newbie Jimmy recalls his first long-distance walk
Why did you do a multi-day trek?
I took on the 309km Coast to Coast (C2C) walk between the Cumbrian and North Yorkshire coast with my dad, to allow us to reconnect with our roots. It was also a good excuse to escape hurly-burly city life.
How did you plan the walk?
Fellwalker Alfred Wainwright’s old walking guide is still relevant, but it paid to purchase a newer book to accompany it. Large-scale maps and notes on the walk’s routes, towns and villages proved invaluable.
How did you find it along the way?
The C2C often uses pathways adopted by other routes, including the Pennine and Cumberland Ways. When it forges its own path, signposts are sporadic but there are some blazes and stencils on useful gateposts and tree trunks. Other than in the wilder parts of the Lakes and the North York Moors, it is hard to fully lose your way.
What pieces of kit were essential?
Waterproofs, a sunhat and good pair of quality walking boots. The latter must be broken in, and my father struggled in the early stages with toe problems, as his boots were not supple enough. Walking poles also proved invaluable.
How did you keep yourself going during the walk?
Times of chatter, times of silence and times of collaboration were all key when it came to opting for one route over another or undertaking a significant ascent. All this, plus a pint of Black Sheep Ale at the end of each day.
Any other tips?
Train, and train in the gear you will wear on the walk. It can be as simple as setting the running machine in the gym at the most severe angle possible, then hammering it at a brisk pace for 40 minutes. Also pick an interesting and achievable walk, and ideally one that will mean something to you.
Main image: Hiker girl in Caucasus Mountains (Dreamstime)