“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.”
― Cindy Ross
Every trek is a journey, and you never know what you might discover about yourself. It is for this reason that I will always include a trek, whenever possible, into my travels. Whether you are hiking through the ranges of the Atlai mountains in Mongolia or on the quest to conquer the summit of Rinjani in Indonesia, treks are always a good way to disconnect from your life and reconnect with nature.
If you have not done a trek before, you should definitely give it a shot. While being away from the comfort of your home may seem daunting, some preparation will ease you into the process.
Below are 6 of my personal tips that I have accumulated over the years that may help you prepare yourself for an exciting trekking holiday.
1. Friendship is about doing crazy things together, gather like-minded friends as your companions
That’s right, having others to share the excitement always help increase the motivation. Trekking is always more fun having people who can motivate you in your pre-training exercises, or give you the extra nudge when the trek gets tough. For me, it is also always fun when we relive the fond memories from the trekking experience, even after many years. I have seen some groups as large as 7 to 8 people, but I prefer to keep it to a maximum of 4 companions per group. 4 people in a group usually allow for easier planning and transport arrangements. Cost tends to be more effective as well.
I don’t think that you necessary need to find someone with trekking experiences to join the team, as going through a new experience together is sometimes more rewarding. I am generally open to traveling with most of my friends, but finding people who shares your traveling style, whom you can trust and don’t mind being confronted by uncertainties together can be a good way to start.
2. Research about the destination and trek
Knowing your destination and the trek will help you in your preparation. Things that I usually research on includes:
- The destination. Check about how to get in, how to get out, and things you can do after the trek. Maximize your trip and try not to miss the flight home.
- The route. The duration of the trek, whether a guide is necessary and if it is a camping or tea-house trek. Most importantly, find out about the weather and period to avoid, if there is.
- Details about the trek. Read up about the difficulty of the trek and mentally prepare yourself and the group. Check if there are any equipment or fitness requirement.
- Trek packages available. This is especially helpful as local operators can help in the liaison and coordination of the necessities, leaving you to focus on the experience. I will usually compare prices and itineraries offered by various local operators. Remember to check the inclusion and exclusion of each offering. It is also a good opportunity to ask questions about the trek if information is not readily available online. This will help you assess the knowledge and service quality of the operators.
3. Know your group’s fitness and health conditions
Regardless the difficulty of your trek, it is always good to know your companions’ fitness and their medical history. I have once made the mistake of bringing a group of friends up Mount Ophir in Malaysia without asking about their health conditions, only to find out that one of our travel companion has heart-related problem. Luckily for me, she was a sporty and spontaneous person, and through sheer perseverance, as well as the group’s unrelenting encouragement and patience, we managed to complete the trek safely. Be responsible, and know the fitness and health conditions of your friends. While I don’t believe in stopping people from challenging themselves, at least it will inform the pace for the trek, and help us keep a better lookout for each other.
4. Make time to train together as a team
Whether you are an avid exercise enthusiast, or the desk-bound person who only hits the gym once a year, making time to train together as a team is essential. For the saying goes, a team is as strong as it’s weakest link, training together allow you to understand the fitness level and help each other better prepare for the trek. Develop camaraderie by motivating and supporting each other during training. This is especially important as tiredness and fatigue can sometimes bring the worse out of us. Having the bond will help mitigate such challenges, and allow us to nudge each other on as the going gets tough.
Take the initiative and develop the training plan. Don’t just do walks. Do more legs and core exercises, such as step-up, squats, up-hill running, climbing stairs, flutter kicks etc. Some treks may require you to also train your arm strength. In my experience, spending time over meals after each workout is a good source of motivation for the team to appear for the trainings and build the camaraderie spirit.
5. Bring the essential gear, but keep it light
Deciding what to bring for your first trek can be a very perplexing experience. While you want to be sure that you have everything you need for all possible situations, you do not want to overload yourself with unnecessary weights during the trek. Below are a list of items I consider essential for my trips.
- Beanie and a pair of gloves. Gloves comes in handy when you need your hands to help your ascend. Good if your gloves are waterproof.
- Waterproof rain jacket and over-trousers.
- One thermal wear and a cold jacket. For jacket, I usually use down or fleece. Cold jacket is usually required for most treks as it gets colder the higher you go.
- Water (if not provided) and energy snacks.
- Comfortable and waterproof trekking boots or shoes.
- Extra daily wear and dry socks depending on the duration of your trek.
- Medications and first aid kit. I usually consolidate them with two persons as you don’t need everyone having a comprehensive kit.
- Altitude sickness pills are recommended for treks above 3800m. Consult your doctor for advice.
- Trekking poles are optional. I prefer to keep my hands free, but trekking poles can be useful during your descend.
- Sandals are optional. Good for river-crossing or when you air your boots at night after you have set up camp.
6. Have fun together but be safe
As you take-in your newfound experiences, never forget about safety. Whether it is descending from steep slopes and rocky surfaces, or snapping a photo near the edge of the cliff at the summit, always listen to the advices of the guide and make sure that you do not put your companions’ or your own lives at risk. Go slow or get down on your butt if you need to. A severe fall due to recklessness can ruin the entire experience for everyone in the group. Have fun but stay safe together. Follow the directions home.
No time to read? Check out my infographic below!