What comes to mind when you hear the word trekking? For many travelers, trekking has many connotations and not all of them are true. There is a perception that trekking is exhausting, long, dangerous and even as expensive as climbing Everest and K2. But what is really meant by trekking and what should be done by those who want to start this type of trip?
Hiking and trekking are becoming increasingly popular and are finally no longer considered a way of traveling suitable only for those who know how to light a fire or can survive several days without food in the forest.
Is trekking really so wild and for people accustomed to extreme experiences? I’m actually talking about a great vacation both for people who want to do something active a few hours a day on almost flat land and for those who love long routes at high altitudes, all while admiring incredible attractions and meeting new people.
If you have never considered a trekking holiday, now may be the time … but before starting this little trekking guide for beginners let’s start with giving some indispensable clarification.
Trekking, hiking and mountaineering: they are different activities
The terms trekking, hiking and mountaineering all seem to be used interchangeably, which can confuse novices. In reality, they are all different things. If you are considering trying one of these activities, it will help you understand the difference and be precise to get the experience you want.
What is hiking?
Hiking is the simplest of all disciplines, especially because it is the shortest.
An excursion is essentially a vigorous and long walk that lasts less than a day: a hiker generally takes a return trip to the starting point within about six hours or less. The hiking trails are usually well maintained and are not extremely steep when climbing mountains or hills.
During an excursion, do not carry large quantities of tools, usually just a backpack with snacks, water, an emergency raincoat and maybe a camera. No night equipment or heavy equipment is required.
What is Trekking?
The main difference between trekking and hiking is the duration: the treks last two or more days and usually involve different landscapes.
Generally, the trekking routes will not be exactly a round trip (even if the circuit itineraries are becoming popular in the Himalayas and elsewhere).
A great example of this is the trek of several days/pilgrimage is the Way of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a route that includes a departure from France to then arrive on the Atlantic Ocean from the side of the Spanish coast.
The other big difference between hiking and trekking is that you stay on the road at night. This means bringing with you all the equipment to sleep in tents, or sleeping in shelters along the way.
What is mountaineering?
Mountaineering is basically an extreme mountain trek. If we want to make a comparison, mountaineering is a technical effort, while hiking is more like a long walk.
In mountaineering, specific equipment is used to overcome high mountain peaks. This equipment can include helmets to prevent stones falling on the head, ropes to keep you from falling, oxygen in the bottle so you can breathe at high altitudes, crampons, and ice axes to grip the snow and ice and nails to dig into the rock face and provide the outlet.
Mountaineering requires a great deal of physical and mental endurance and is an incredibly demanding and often dangerous activity.
I have limited time: is a trekking holiday possible anyway?
In the beginning, you will not start with demanding trekking holidays, but with routes that will take a few days and this will allow you to organize trekking holidays even if you have a limited time for holidays.
With the deepening of technique and knowledge, you will want to dare more and push yourself into territories beyond the border … or overseas. By studying itineraries and schedules in the most thorough way, even a limited number of days can give unforgettable walking holidays. But don’t think of the other part of the world necessarily: if trekking in Nepal is unthinkable this year, postpone to next year and study the routes in Europe where there are interesting and endless possibilities.
I advise you to start moderately: you could find a 3-6 day trekking itinerary and adding it to a wider vacation you also have time to relax: you can experience both a trek and other activities that might seem a bit more like a traditional vacation. This is a great way to start enjoying trekking holidays.
5 basic rules to get started
Everyone has to start somewhere. Instead of jumping straight into a strenuous hike, like getting to Everest base camp, start with something easy. Practice makes perfect.
The more experience you can acquire, the more challenging the trekking routes will become.
Depart from Italy, after all, we have some of the most interesting trekking routes in Europe.
Then move on to other European countries: you will be able to organize trekking holidays even for a few days, leaving you time for a traditional vacation and gradually moving to the more challenging itineraries.
Check the weather
Remember that in the mountains time is always extremely variable, but checking the weather can help you not to be completely unprepared. Above all, you will be able to prepare all your equipment in the most appropriate way.
If the weather does not seem favorable do not challenge nature, much better to postpone.
We will talk better about the ideal equipment for trekking in another post, but it is good to make a small excursus in this guide on 3 fundamental points
– Invest in a good pair of hiking shoes
Better not to buy mountaineer equipment from day one, but investing in a good pair of trekking shoes is certainly a good starting point.
Blisters on the feet or injuries to the ankle during a walk will ruin your extra holiday a good shoe will contribute to grip on slippery soils and help support the ankle.
Make sure they fit the foot and ankle perfectly, otherwise they could cause more harm than good. Pay particular attention to the sole: there must be a well-defined heel and a high-quality rubber tread.
– Choose a suitable hiking backpack
For the first treks do not choose anything particularly cumbersome, You will go to more capacious backpacks in case you decide to lengthen the routes. Make sure, however, that they have good shoulder straps, a waist belt, breathable pads, must be waterproof or have a protective cover.
– Other equipment: depends on the routes
The first routes could be simple and even provide nights in a shelter, which could save you a lot of equipment like sleeping bags, tents, and so on.
I advise you to start from this type in order to gain experience and training in walking for more complex itineraries. Bring with you only the necessary changes, a small first aid, the necessary for the field kitchen and for the bathroom, a torch, an orientation tool (GPS, maps, etc), multipurpose knife, lighter, extra food.
Hydrate and eat well
No one would ever leave for a trip with the empty car tank … and then you shouldn’t go for a walk without eating and drinking well.
Water is the fundamental element: We must drink well before, during and after. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, but carry at least 2 liters of water in your backpack.
Always take more food than you need; it is better to have too much than too little. It is good to have carbohydrates and proteins with you: the most recommended foods are toast (because they are quick to eat), bananas, dried fruit, protein bars, fruit.
Follow the tracks, but don’t leave a trace
Trekking is in contact with nature, but it also means respecting this and those who will pass by the same path after you. Don’t ruin the path, don’t leave garbage, pack everything and throw it where you are authorized to do it.