Preparing for a hike

About packing

I use two non-competing methods to help me pack for a hiking trip. The first method is defining my “mission objective”. That means that I try to suss out what my main goals for the trip are. Why am I actually going and what do I want to accomplish? The second method is based around an “ordinary day”. What I mean by that is that I mentally walk my way through what I believe is a standard day noting down everything that I use and need from dawn to dawn. That list forms the basis of my gear that I have to bring with me.

Mission objectives

The first thing that usually springs to mind when thinking about preparations for a long hike is stuff. What equipment to bring, what to wear, do you need to get new boots and so on. While that is obviously important – you don’t want to carry an extra 12 kilos of stuff you never use, I find it’s easier to pack if I know why I’m travelling. What are my expectations for this trip, what do I want to learn and what do I expect to experience?

For instance, do I want to see as many UNESCO-listed buildings or cities as possible on my hike? Or do I want to find out if I can walk 1000 km in 40 days? Or is my objective to meet lots of other people and get to know them? Do I want to learn about a new culture or do I want to experience the isolation of walking alone in a wilderness for three weeks? And so on. You don’t need to choose one single reason for travelling since that’s seldom the case anyway. However, if you can manage to narrow it down to a few core objectives for your trip it can help you make some difficult choices regarding what to bring and what to leave at home.

Stone bridge in the Jōchi-ji Temple
Stone bridge at the entrance of the Jōchi-ji Temple in Kamakura, Japan

An ordinary day on the trail

I start by envisioning myself being on the trip and I mentally go through what I think a standard day will look like, hour by hour. I start when I wake up and end when I would wake up again the following morning. Using a spreadsheet I write down everything that I think I’ll use on a daily basis.

Waking up
I wake up in the hostel, inside my silk travel liner and with my head on my travel pillow. I take out my ear buds and unplug (charger) the phone. I put on a pair of quick-dry shorts and a non-cotton t-shirt and I go to the bathroom with my toilet bag.

Bridge crossing the Cèze river near Codolet, France.

Morning bathroom
I wash my face using all-purpose soap, dry myself with my towel, put on deo, use hair gel and brush my teeth (toothbrush and toothpaste). Now, my mission objective can immediately affect this list. Do I really need deo and hair gel? I might use it every day in ordinary life, but if my goal is to be isolated from the world in a remote wilderness, it might be dead weight in my backpack. Think about why you do things as you plan your ordinary day.

Itinerary for the day
Next I check my itinerary and the day’s weather on the phone and I recheck the guide book for the next stage of the pilgrimage (where to eat, where to rest etc).

Getting dressed
I put vaseline on my feet (to help prevent blister), put on a pair of merino-wool socks, my hiking shoes and my sunhat.

Coloured packing bags to easily identify my stuff

I pack the sleeping gear and all the other stuff I’ve used during the morning routine. I take the rucksack out of the flight bag I use to prevent lice getting into my stuff during the night. I fold the flight bag and pack it as well. I fill my water bottles, grab my walking sticks and head out, but not before I apply sunscreen and lip balm.

And so on, all through the day.

Medkit and toiletries

When you’ve finished going through your ordinary day you have a pretty decent list of things that you need on your trip. The first thing to do now is to gauge how many of each of these things you need. Most are obvious choices. You only need one backpack, of course, but how many pairs of socks? How many t-shirts? Etc.

Then you can start to add stuff that you won’t be using every day. Start with extra clothing. Is there any risk of rain and how will you deal with that and so on. Second, think about emergency stuff – what does your medkit need to contain? For instance, Compede, bandages, band aids, alcogel etc? Are there some miscellaneous stuff that you want to bring such as a swiss army knife, pen and paper, binoculars, compass, etc. Do you need to bring extra toilet paper?

When you’ve finished this you’ll have a basic list of all things you think you need. Add a “weight”-column to your spreadsheet and tally up how much you’re going to be carrying. You’ll see lots of recommendations on the net such as “don’t pack more than 10% of your body weight” and other useless tips. 10% of your bodyweight? Does that mean that if you pack a bit too much you can gain weight before leaving so the weight of your gear goes below 10%?

You should pack as little as possible but what that means can vary a lot depending who you are and what you are used to carrying. Just make sure you go for many test walks with all your gear before heading out for real.

With all that being said, here’s a link to my list of stuff for walking.

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