Walking and Hiking: why, where & how
It’s a fact—the slower you go, the more you see: every little pebble and root, the grass and bushes alongside the trail, the mountaintops and forested slopes across the way, that Cedar Waxwing sitting high in a pine, or the clarity of a stream that sweeps the odd leaf along as it yields to gravity’s pull. You also feel the sun on your arms and the breeze touching your face. These are good things.
Seeing nothing but the nature that surrounds you is precious. On a bus, your senses are occupied with the interior of the bus. You see your fellow passengers, the book you’re reading, you might catch a whiff of toilet disinfectant, as well as take in snatches here and there of what’s going on outside the window. The wonderful thing about walking is that there is no filter between what’s going on in the world and you. And no disinfectant!
Walking is happiness
The other great thing about walking, or any form of exercise for that matter, is the way you feel after a couple hours. No, not the sore calves, which admittedly can be a part of it, but the satiated feeling you get from hours of sustained activity. The stresses drop away, your thoughts clear, you feel…good, and you’re ready for a satisfying meal—and perhaps a nap!
Those of us that are not die-hard hikers will be satisfied with the three to four hours’ exercise that most walking-focused adventure tours entail. It’s enough activity to bring on an endorphin rush and see some beautiful sights. But there are more challenging hikes. Some are at altitude, making you work harder for each step, and some require you to carry your belongings along with you (!).
Selecting a destination
Like cycling, walking can either be something you use to punctuate your adventure, or it can be the main event. If you’re simply looking to add interest to your trip with a bit of walking, you might want to start by choosing a destination. Our Irish walks, for example, involve up to 9 miles (14 kilometers) of walking per day, and typically quite a bit less. That saves plenty of time for village exploration, touring historical sites, pub visits en route, and hours of relaxation at the fine country inns where we stay each night.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to hike and you want to see some great sights along the way, find the geographical features you’re looking for, which are typically rugged mountains found on six continents, then pick a continent. On some of these hikes you can climb until you’re literally blue in the face—there’s nothing quite like maximum exertion in an oxygen-starved environment. If that sounds like you, we have some recommendations at the end of this article.
Preparing for your walking tour
Naturally you’ll want to choose a walk or hike that suits your ability and expectations. An Appalachian trail walk is a far cry from summiting Island Peak at 20,000 feet (6,200 meters) in Nepal’s Everest region. (Remember to duck for airliners.) If you’re a regular walker or jogger, you can likely manage our easy or moderate trips (look at online trip dossiers for a rating) as-is, or by doing a few extended walks in the month or two leading up to your trip. You can even multitask: load up your backpack at the grocery store and hump it home.
For more ambitious outings, carry a daypack loaded as yours would be on your adventure. Work in some longer walks over the weekends leading up to your tour and try to match some of the hills that you might encounter during a hiking adventure in Croatia, southern Italy or South Africa’s Cape region. If you live in Kansas or Florida, that could be tough!
What to pack
Unless you’re dressing to impress (the chipmunks and the Red-tailed Hawks, for example), most of what you’ll need on a walking tour you already have. A lightweight, fully waterproof jacket (preferably with a hood) is a must, but other than that just choose clothes that allow a good range of movement and dry quickly. Dress in layers so that you can peel them off as the day warms up, and layer up again if the sun disappears and the breeze freshens. Thinner layers also dry more quickly than one or two bulky layers—an important point when you’d like to hang your clothes up in the closet and have them bone-dry for the next day.
Footwear is an important consideration. Some degree of water resistance is preferable to protect against dew, light rain and the odd puddle. Soles should have good grip. If you have strong ankles you can do just fine with a pair of trail running shoes or low-cut hiking boots. For added support, get higher cut boots designed specifically for hiking. One important word of advice is to work your new shoes or boots in well ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than having the pleasure of your vacation curtailed by painful blisters.
For truly challenging hikes, try this selection of Everest and Annapurna area treks, or a collection of our more aggressive Patagonia hikes in Chile. You can find our entire selection of walks and hikes, moderate and aggressive.