I can never wait for my dose of adventure – be it a pleasant weekend rappelling down waterfalls, climbing Kilimanjaro , doing the Everest Base Camp Trek or the Salkantay Trek . There are many things to keep in mind when venturing out to forest trails or going out for camping, a lot of which I learned the hard way. But for all first timers, here are a few tips to keep in mind, a guide to look through when you decide to get away from all the chaos and cacophony of city life to an enlivening trek in the great outdoors!
Where to go?
It is prudent to first look up on the web for information around places you want to go or to discover new places. Although it is ‘cool’ to say ‘Let’s just go for it’, it helps to research on the place and get general info on the route (getting lost there then is fun too!) Find a place suitable to you and your group’s fitness levels and experience. Choose popular trails initially so you get comfortable. Then you can be more adventurous in your escapades and chart out new trails! And being physically fit for your trek is always good. That way you can enjoy the climb and not get bogged down by sheer fatigue of walking. Easier said than done, it requires practice and getting used to carrying a backpack on ascent and descent. A good way to start off is jogging short distances and increasing the tempo steadily to build stamina. A good trekker going on major ascents needs not only strong legs but good core strength with back, ab and joint muscles trained. Maybe run errands to your local stores with a backpack on? Or hit that gym you’ve always been paying for but avoiding? There are no short-cuts to this and a little jogging never killed anybody. Keep in mind that different treks (like Kilimanjaro or Everest) may require different training regimes .
When you’re in the mountains, every day is Friday!
What to wear?
Here’s a rule of thumb – When starting off on your flirting affair with trekking, wear too much rather than too little. It’s always better being too warm and be able to take off a layer than being too cold and not having anything to wear on top. I had a shivering experience once when climbing a hillock in my initial days. We had planned to camp atop the hill but had to turn back midway. I wasn’t prepared and the cold winds which started suddenly froze my bones. So always carry a change of clothes which can help in the rain and as an extra layer on top, an extra pair of socks and a windcheater/poncho to shield in case of rains. Here is a Do’s and Don’ts guide:
- Avoid cotton clothing as it does not dry and does not keep warm in the rains. Go for wool or fleece instead.
- Never wear cotton socks either. Thick synthetic or woolen socks will help prevent blisters when wet or sweaty.
- Wear a cap/hat to protect from the sun and keep you warm in the cold.
- Wear comfortable hard-soled trekking/walking shoes for off-road. And here is another thing I learnt – Try those shoes with the socks you’ll wear while buying – nasty surprise can be in store otherwise! Best trekking shoes are the ones that keep your ankles stable. Break those shoes in if they are new so shoe bites don’t ruin your trek. Also, sneakers are not recommended. For river crossings, water shoes or hiking sandals are good, one can remove socks and just wear boots too, but that is bad in cold weather.
What to pack?
(Definitely not these – 8 wacky things NOT to bring on a trek! ). People have different views on this and it does depend on how long and where you are going. My favorite style is to pack the less required heavy stuff like the medical kit or change of clothes at the bottom, food in the middle and quick energy bites and water at the top. Kinda makes sense to me but whatever suits your purpose.
Here are some useful trekking tips for beginners:
- Water, water! An essential thing that everyone must carry. And carry enough, depending on how long your trek is. It is easy to get dehydrated while it’s warm. One can’t count on finding drinkable water along the route, so you’ll need to carry enough for your entire trek. Plan for refills too – Tablets will save you weight compared to most filtering systems, and are less time consuming to use. Natural spring water is sometimes potable but discretion is advised. Keep an eye out for running water – streams away from usual animal trails and free of nearby droppings of animals/birds.
In one of my rappelling experiences, I had no idea about how difficult the down trek could be after the thrilling 1800 ft of rappelling. The huge boulders and slippery slopes were treacherous and sliding down at steep angles with a backpack on took its toll. And then we found out that we were short on water! We had to ration half a litre of water among three people for more than 2 hours of scraping down big rocks.
- Food – Trekking can take up a lot of energy and it is advised to carry lightweight high energy food. In short day treks carrying energy fruits (read: bananas) helps, but perishable stuff should not be brought for longer treks. Dry fruits, energy bars and biscuits, dry cereal work best.
- Sunscreen, Insect repellants – UV protection becomes necessary if the skin is exposed to sustained periods of sunlight which can happen in trails with not a lot of tree cover of if you decide to stay atop a peak. Swampy areas breed bugs/mosquitos, so if you are that person in the group with the sweetest blood you might wanna use repellents. Did I mention hats?
- First aid kit -Simple stuff does the trick. Adhesive bandages (band-aids) and gauze, tape, a small squeeze bottle to irrigate wounds, scissors, antibiotic ointment, anti-inflammatories and pain relievers are the basics. Antihistamines for bug bites or stings may also be carried.
- Miscellaneous – An army knife (pocket knife), flashlights with extra batteries (I like carrying a hand-cranked rechargeable small torch – not as strong but does the trick), fire-making tools – waterproof matches/lighter or keep a strip of sandpaper handy and of course navigation tools if you’re heading a little deeper into the woods. And don’t forget biodegradable toilet paper (yes you get those here !)
How to be safe?
Trekking is best enjoyed with a fellow adventurer. Going in groups means being able to help each other along with the companionship. Before you head out always inform friends and family about where you intend to go, the route and when can they expect you back. Carry IDs and money in case of emergencies. During the trek, keep a lookout for potential dangers – don’t touch suspicious looking flora. Poisonous plants are another hiking hazard. Do not use strongly scented skin/hair products as it ignites the strong olfactory senses of animals around. Protect yourself against scrapes, plants and insects by wearing full-length garments. I iterate not to drink water from just any source. And most importantly keep alert and know your surroundings.
So there it is, trekking tips 101. One last thought – I can’t believe how many of us don’t pay attention to keeping our nature pristine and untouched. There are no trash pickers in the countryside, no one to clean away your waste. So take away what you take in – plastics, packets, food (and yep that toilet paper too if it is not biodegradable!) Respecting fellow trekkers by not being too loud and leaving markers alone is an unsaid rule. Remember etiquette, enjoy the adventure, click pictures and don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers!
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