Forget luxury cruises or all-inclusive vacations. Long-distance walking trips are the new holiday choice for an increasing amount of North Americans. And it makes sense. So many of us spend our working hours sitting indoors in meetings or in front of a computer; a walking tour is the antithesis of a 9-5 job.
Most of us are not going to spend multiple months walking thousands of kilometers, such as the Pacific Crest Trail (à la Cheryl Strayed in her wilderness memoir Wild). But multiday hikes are available in most nations around the world, and some routes offer comfortable accommodations along the way. For instance, trekkers along England’s National Trails and Spain’s renowned Camino de Santiago stay in hostels and guesthouses. A long-distance walking trip is more accessible than you might imagine.
I’m about to set off on my first multi-week walking expedition, and in preparation I’ve been doing — excuse the pun — mountains of research. If you’re also thinking about hitting the trail, here are ten vital items to start gathering.
(Disclaimer: This list is not exhaustive. For instance, you’ll need food and water. However, the following items are meant to help novice long-distance walkers get a sense of what gear they will need before setting out.)
1) Backpack. The challenge is finding the right size: big enough for all your gear, food and water, but not much bigger than that. (It might also be one of the last things you get, once you assemble all your other gear.) I’ll be carrying a men’s Osprey Men’s Aether 70, which continues to impress me with well-thought design features: hipbelt pockets, backpanel shaping, J-zip access to main compartment.
2) Shoes. A myriad of footwear options exist, and the easiest way to navigate through the options is to know what you need. Trekkers tackling technical feats, such as BC’s West Coast Trail, should opt for a supportive boot that rises above the ankle. Folks walking along smooth terrain might opt for a lightweight pair of trail runners. Whatever you choose, make sure you break your footwear in before you leave!
3) Tent (or bivy sack). Select an appropriate tent for the trail you’re hiking. Coastal or high-elevation hikers — even in summer months — might consider a four-season tent. In my case, I want to keep my bag as light as possible, so I’ve opted for the Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy.
4) Sleeping bag (with a compression sack). Sleep is important, so get something to keep you warm. If you get cold easily, like myself, I’d suggest finding out the coldest temperature forecasted on the trail, subtract another 10 degrees, and then opt for a model in that range. To minimize bulk, spending a few extra bucks for a compression sack is totally worth it.
5) Sleeping pad. The primary function of a sleeping pad is to provide insulation from the cold ground, but a good pad should be relatively comfortable. Inflatable pads are less bulky, but are vulnerable to leakages and punctures. The other option is a foam-based pad. I’ve had a three-quarter length Therm-a-Rest pad for years. The brand makes great products.
6) First Aid Kit. A supply of first-aid resources will vary depending on the type of trip. For desert treks, you might want extra sunscreen. For hilly hikes, extra blister bandages. Construct your own kit, or start with a basic adventure medical kit, and add any additional items you might need. Remember: it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
7) Headlamp. It’s much more convenient than a hand-held light. A headlamp also makes the perfect tool for hands-free reading at night.
8) Smartphone. In today’s day and age, a smartphone is a digital jack knife. Locate yourself on a map. Call for help. Or snap a photo of the sunset. The only hitch, of course, is to ensure you’re in an area with mobile coverage and that you have batter power. (The Brunton’s Metal charger makes a good backup.)
9) Hat and sunscreen. Fairly self-explanatory. Over the years, I’ve grown to love mesh trucker’s hats for their lightweight breathability. Find what works for you. (Tip: For sunny destinations, bring a scarf or neck tube for your ears and neck.)
10) Water-proof/wind-proof jacket. Many options exist on the market. Try on a variety of jackets, and see what fits you best. Ensure that there is space for both a base layer (such as this Icebreaker merino wool top) and a mid layer.
Finally, if you’re curious where I’m going on my long-distance walking adventure, stay tuned to Altitude’s blog and I’ll be sharing more details from my trip (including my destination and reports on my gear) in the coming months.