A quick but thorough guide on what to pack for a walking holiday including a gear checklist you can download or print. Don't be caught out, enjoy your time away by preparing properly. Or in other words, learn from my (many) mistakes.
From the glamour of Italy's Amalfi Coast to the high altitude cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru, the legendary snows of Kilimanjaro, the fog of Mount Fuji and the sands of the Sahara, some things always stay the same.
With the right gear, you have a better time.
So here goes: my packing tips for walking holidays and an essential hiking gear checklist. To may life easier, I've included some links where you can buy what you need. Some of these may earn me commission at no cost to you (marked with an asterisk*.) But not all do. And I only recommend things I'd be happy to use myself.
Also, download the free printable hiking gear checklist by popping your email into the box above. And welcome to our VIP club!
In order of importance...
It may sound obvious, but this is THE THING to get right. Much as you can't have a circus without a clown so you can't have a decent walking holiday with shoes that make you scream with pain.
Ankle support. That means, boots that rise to cover your ankles. If you've left it all too late (and no-one's judging here) then trainers/sneakers will likely carry you through. But as you walk over uneven ground, your ankles bend and twist, as they're supposed to. Ankle support from your footwear will stop things bending too far, saving you from sprains and strains.
It should, perhaps, go without saying, but wear the shoes/boots/trainers/sneakers in first. Start by wearing them around the house and then gradually increase the amount of walking so that you can ease into them and them into you.
When you buy them, wear thick socks and err on the side of slightly too loose rather than slightly too tight. Your feet get hot when you walk (even in cold climates) and hot feet means swollen feet, which means you need slightly more room in your shoes.
Waterproof, breathable fabrics are all good things to hear. So is Gore-Tex. A grip on the soles is a must.
Decent walking boots need a wash and a spray with treatment from time to time but nothing fancier than that.
If you're going to be walking through tropical areas then sensible boots are even more important. They help protect from snake bites, mosquito bites and water from infected sources (including sewage) from accessing any cuts you pick up along the way. I used to wear non-sexy but practical Teva sandals in such situations but after finishing medical school, it's closed toe boots all the way.
Once you're walking for more than an hour, you're going to need some water (and if you're walking through extreme conditions, you're going to need it sooner than that.)
At one end of the spectrum, you can have a plastic water bottle slung into a sexy leather handbag. At other ends, you're going to need more.
Depending on your route, you may benefit from a metal water bottle with a carabiner you can clip to your bag. Alternatively, I love the Platypus water systems if you want to keep your hands free* (they're a pouch that fits into a rucksack with a long plastic tube you can clip on to the front strap. You can drink from the tube as and when you need to without having to stop and take the rucksack off and rummage around.) Most of the time, that will do. If you go anywhere where you need to filter and purify water yourself, then consider the full water purification kit.
So, in short, you need a water bottle or pouch and a bag to carry it in.
Yes, wherever you are these days. We're all supposed to be wearing factor 15 SPF even in the midst of foggy grey Britain so if you're planning on being outside for more than an hour you'll definitely need this. Check out travel size sunscreens to keep your daypack lighter, and look for clear sprays to cut down on the gloop and mess factor.
I almost put this in the nicety section. Almost. But instead, I opted for including it here just to prompt you to think of the weather. Is it going to rain? Snow? Shower you with sand in a dust storm? If so, then you need something to protect your map.
Paper, iphone, whatever.
If you can't read it you may as well not have it. (And bear in mind that if you're betting on using your phone you may want to think about back up power supplies and mobile phone reception away from cities.)
From painful experience, I now always carry something to protect my map. You can stay simple with a zip-lock plastic bag from a supermarket or jazz things up with a purpose-built device from camping shops, complete with a waterproof zip and lanyard.
But whatever you do, think about this before you set off.
No matter how well you break in your boots, in my experience, a blister will blight its way into your life one way or another. So a quick bit of first aid - leave the things alone! If you must "pierce" them, do so with a sterile needle and cover with a sterile dressing. Don't have those things? Not sure what sterile means beyond you can't have children? Leave well alone.
Instead, cover the injured area with a well-heated compeed* (I pack these in every bag for every assignment.) Failing that, a plaster (band-aid) will do.
Weeeeeellllll. I guess it's not 100% essential, unless you're travelling through an area plagued with malaria, dengue, sleeping sickness or what have you.
But even if the bites don't kill you, let's face it, they're extremely annoying. And they tend to come out whenever you stray from the cities.
So, sling a travel-sized bug spray into your bag and you'll be set.
Yes, I know. Unless you're a cowboy, hats aren't cool. I spent years, YEARS I tell you, thinking that I was OK in hot weather without a hat yet strangely ending up with headaches, nausea and feeling faint. At some point after the mighty 3-0 I started wearing a hat. Outdoors. Almost all the time. Sartorially, the result may have been a failure. In every other respect it was a success.
Wear hats kids. It's that easy. I use a cool packable, sackable, crushable one. Much easier to haul around than a fixed one.
Lots of cute young nieces and nephews have reinforced the crucial idea of the snack. Folk, we need energy. Probably not while we're sat at our desks day in, day out, but when we're out on the open road, we do. Pack something that will feed you well (unless the place you're going to will take care of that.)
Complex carbs are the key (like trail mix - hey, there's a reason they gave it that name!) so look for some kind of combo of oats, seeds and dried fruit. Chocolate and sugar based sweets (like Kendall mint cake) are OK too but they are likely to give you energy in one big rush and then leave you a little drained.
No, guys, I don't mean tampons. (Though girls, just as an aide memoire on the hiking gear checklist... )
If you're going to be walking for some time, away from the city, you're going to need to go to the loo/washroom/bathroom/restroom etc.
In the wild.
That means, you'll need toilet paper. And something to wash your hands with afterwards. Depending on the environment you're in, you may need something (a plastic bag) to carry away your paper in.
So: tissues, hand wipes/sanitizer, plastic bags.
(And depending on circumstance, the bug spray can become crucial here too.)
Yes! That's right! We want you to ride out into the wilderness looking like a knight in shining 21st century armour!
If you're walking for a considerable time, then you're likely to be out in nature. If you're out in nature for any period of time then you're likely to be around things that scratch and things that bite.
Long sleeves, more importantly, long trousers protect against this.
If you're walking somewhere where the air is cool then clearly this won't be a problem. If your'e walking somewhere hot, you'll need to give this more thought.
Do you want to opt for long cotton trousers? (Look elegant, snag more easily, keep you cool.) Or zip off trousers in quick-dry fabrics (fashion folk will mock you but your skin and outerwear will stay in one piece. Plus you're protected from insect bites. )
The choice is yours...
I'll admit, I was sceptical.
Then I tried some out. First skiing. Then walking.
And...well...cough...splutter...yes, I do think they're worth it.
Decent walking socks come equipped for the weather you're walking in, with reinforced patches at the heel and toe and vents to help cool your feet.
They're pricy compared to your average sock. But, if you can, I'd say go for it.
There, I'm embarrassed but I've said my piece.
PS - socks have different temperature gradings for different environments. Make sure you're feet are snuggled up into the right ones.
I've put this here because I realise not everyone shares the same obsession as me when it comes to photography. For me, a camera would be up there in the top as an essential.
Regardless of your feelings on the subject, the important thing here refers to how you carry it.
a) have a waterproof cover in case it rains/snows/becomes too humid?
b) have you thought about spare batteries/memory cards?
c) do you have a way of carrying any spare lenses? (I've recently fallen in love with the Olloclip, a small plastic device that clips on extra lenses to my iPhone.*)
I've tested and paid for a lot of expensive options. But ultimately, I've not found anything better than a large zip lock plastic bag for this.
If you think there's a chance you won't make it back before the sun sets...
Something left over from my Brownie Guide days. Useful for calling for help if you're injured and don't have phone reception.
If you're walking on steep, slippery, moss covered rocks then walking poles can help you out. For flat, dry paths, don't bother: they'll just become kit to weigh you down.
So, that's it for me. How about you?
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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