While I like walking in the hills and enjoy the peace and tranquillity, I cannot call myself an expert, or a veteran of hiking.
For this reason, when I decided I’d like to do a basic introduction to one of the best ways to enjoy the countryside, I asked my friend Gianluca Santini for a guest post. Gianluca is an old friend, and he writes one of the best Italian blogs about hiking and walking in nature, Un Passo alla Volta, and its title, One Step at a Time nicely illustrates Gianluca’s attitude towards hiking. And you should check it out, using a translating service if necessary: it features a wealth of information and some wonderful itineraries in beautiful Sardinia (and other places too!)
Gianluca’s been so kind, he wrote a nice piece intended for anyone that was ever interested in hiking but maybe got a little wary, as it might seem much more complicated and daunting and expensive than it seems.
But it’s not, and here’s Gianluca’s post.
Hiking – how to begin
When it comes to hiking and walks in nature, especially in mountain areas, those that are not part of this world react in a way that could suggest, to those hanging out in this environment, that the subject is something extremely complex. Of course, hiking is certainly a more adventurous activity than watching a movie on the couch, but there are practices, even limiting our scope to the outdoor activities, far more adventurous than hiking. In fact, although it appears to be an expensive hobby, difficult and complicated, hiking is relatively simple, and it’s just as easy to begin doing it. I myself, in the beginning of my journey as a hiker, took an approach that overestimated the complexity. I wanted a manual that could explain what to do and how to move, all at once, as if an instruction booklet for a task like this could really exist. I also began to follow a basic free course but I realised early on that it was not actually transmitting anything to me. This is because, to put it simply, the best way to start walking is to start walking.
How, though? Let’s assume we won’t join groups or associations, but that we want to start this activity in complete autonomy. How to do it? Knowledge is just a click away, on the Internet, and just as how you can read the advice in this article, you can read dozens of other sites, blogs and forums. Then the world of hiking and trekking could really appear as vast and boundless, judging by the many topics of discussion and countless mentions of equipment here and there. But for those who want to get started, simply focusing on some key issues, delving deeper into various themes only later, and guided by curiosity. The interest for walks will stimulate the desire to learn more, but all this will come later. To get started just think of three things: what to bring along, where to walk, how to behave on the field.
As I said, on the Internet there are countless lists of equipment recommended for hiking. Lists of lists, of different lengths, developed by people with different needs, capacities and experiences. It is impossible to find our bearing in such a scenario. I believe that, in the beginning, it is enough to put one’s attention on a single element: the boots. Going to the mountains or hills with suitable footwear allows you to make the most of the journey and the view while using inadequate shoes will only spoil the experience and will lead you to reach a negative opinion on an entirely positive activity. The boots are essential and it is certainly the first investment to make if you want to start walking in nature. They must be robust, capable of protecting the ankle, waterproof and with a resistant sole.
There will, of course, also be a backpack but, in the beginning, it is not necessary to have a technical product designed just for hiking. For starters any bag can fit: there will be time in the future, if you are determined to continue with the walk, to buy a special one. As for standard equipment to pack, I would suggest bringing a good supply of water, food, something wear and to shelter from the rain, a change at least for the socks, something to cover us in the case of cold, a phone. And of course a camera!
Where to go
To choose where to go for a walk you have to become familiar with the technical specifications of hiking trails. Learn the differences between the various levels of difficulty, so that you start from the lower ones. Choose well-marked trails, with trail markers on the ground and maybe even progressive signs along the way. The most important data to be verified are the travel time and the ascent. The length is not really a necessary element, as it does not provide an actual indication of the difficulties that will be encountered at the physical level.
I noticed that many people outside the world of hiking are demanding information on the length of the path, but that’s not really important to know. If you want to have information on what will be difficult and how arduous the path will be, only the couple time and altitude can provide that information. For starters, of course, it is better to choose short paths with a low gradient. For example paths with uphill gradients lower than 300-400 meters are suitable to find out if this type of business is right for us or not.
If you can not find information on hiking trails in the area of interest by searching the Internet, you can buy a book or a map that shows the trails in the area. The possibilities from this point of view are many, the important thing is not wanting to do so right away, overestimating your own abilities or underestimating the difficulty of the course. Better to start with simple tracks, there will always be time to address the most challenging adventures!
Use your head!
When you walk on the field it is important to behave properly. Respect nature, the silence, the places that you meet. Common sense is our best friend while walking. We should avoid going off the path, we should follow scrupulously the trail signs, and if we are in doubt, better to go back and give in than stubbornly try to find the way, further losing our orientation. As long as you will not be able to use map and compass or GPS, it is better not to venture blindly to see where the path continues, should the trail disappear from view. Similarly, if you are tired it is best to go back, rather than try to reach at all costs the designed goal. If we follow our common sense it will be more difficult to end up in a bad situation, having to call for help as we got lost, or because we are in trouble.
This in my small way I think is the minimum required to begin making hiking trips. The basic, to be able to enjoy the nature that surrounds us and see if we fit in this world. When we start walking we would probably like to know more, and just by walking we will understand how to walk better.