You’ve just seen a beautiful picture of mountain peaks on Facebook and Instagram. Again. And the bloggers you read upload posts describing mountain trails. Your friends go hiking again, spend their holidays in Austria, in Slovenia, in Slovakia, in Poland.
In the mountains.
And you would like to go too. All the amazing views are irresistible. You would like to spend your next weekend actively instead of lying on the couch again. But how are you supposed to know how to prepare if you’ve never been to the mountains before? Oh, wait, you’ve been a couple of times. On a little hill next to your house.
In this post you will learn how to prepare for a hike in the mountains even if you’ve never hiked before, starting from the very basics.
And if you know the basics already, wait for the next parts of my Mountain Guide:
Mountains Guide #3: How To Choose Hiking Boots? What Do I Wear?
Mountain Guide #4: Your First Time At Night In The Mountains
Mountain Guide #5: Your First Time In Winter In The Mountains
Mountain Guide #6: ………………….. 🙂
Your First Time In The Mountains – How To Prepare?
Time of the year and the weather
Plan your first time in the mountains for late spring, summer or early autumn (May-October in most cases). During this time of the year you won’t see snow on trails and the temperature should be pleasant.
One day before your hike check the weather forecast. Make sure storms or heavy rains won’t appear. If they will, consider rescheduling your first hike for the next day 🙂 Don’t be afraid of small showers though. The weather in the mountains can change in a matter of minutes and you have to be prepared for all scenarios. I got my little respect lesson from Polish mountains recently too.
Planning your route
Plan the exact route of your hike in advance. Check the distance, elevation gain and predicted time of your hike.
Don’t be overambitious. If you haven’t hiked for a long time (or at all), don’t even think of a 20km hike with 1500 m elevation gain on your first trip. You should enjoy your time in the mountains, don’t let them kick your ass immediately 🙂 If you get exhausted, you won’t feel encouraged to hike again.
The website I use for planning my hikes abroad is called wikiloc. I usually check the trails there, find possible options and then use google to find more detailed maps and information.
When I plan my hikes in Poland I use the website called mapa-turystyczna.pl. They also have a mobile app. They are available in Polish only but it’s intuitive and gives you all the information you need – distance, time and elevation gain.
The marks vary depending on a country. In Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic they are marked with colors. The marks are painted on trees, fences, rarlier on stones. In these countries the trails are usually well marked, you should be able to find a mark every few dozen meters.
Unfortunately the trails are not that well marked in all European countries. When we hiked Monte Resegone in Italy near Como Lake finding the trail was quite a challenge. We had to turn back many times in order to find our way. Also, the trails are marked with numbers there. Bad idea – after a few years in the sun, rain and freezing cold the numbers fade. And then try to guess if it’s number 1 or maybe 7…
The best marked trail we have ever seen was Rota Vincentina in Portugal. Not only did they mark the right way but also put a cross on the wrong ones! Wow!
All in all – pay attention to the marks. Sometimes you need to improvise and try numerous ways before finding the mark (Italia, love ya…) but make sure you are always able to get back to the last place with the mark. If you don’t see one for a long time and you are not sure, don’t stubbornly follow the path. Get back to the last mark and try other paths if there are any.
Or come to my lovely Poland with very well marked trails! 😉
The first time in the mountains: Shoes & boots
Nobody who hikes for the first time is obliged to have professional hiking boots. However, there is no excuse (!!!) for girls in high heels and guys in flip-flops.
Take sports shoes on the thickest sole you have. After hiking in trainers with a thin sole your feet will hurt badly, constantly touching all the stones and hard ground.
Running shoes will do the job. I know people hiking in running shoes only for many years (cheers, Bernie :))
However, let me remind you that we’re talking about late spring, summer and early autumn here. Time without snow. When the trail is covered with snow, hiking in such shoes may end with a broken leg. If you’re lucky. If you’re not – you may slip from the trail. Believe me you don’t want that to happen!
The first time in the mountains: What to wear?
For your own comfort, use sportswear. I love my quick drying and breathable sport tops and t-shirts. These things are not expensive and the comfort is much, much higher comparing to a regular, cotton T-shirt which collects sweat like a sponge, embarrasses you with wet spots under your armpits and makes you feel unpleasantly cold till the end of your hike. The same thing with sports underwear, especially bras.
Really, sportswear rulez! 🙂 And you can buy one set of it really cheaply.
Take warm clothes too – fleece jacket, sport shirt with long sleeves. In the mountains cold wind can turn the warmest day into freezing cold one. Take a hat or cap to protect you from the sun and a raincoat in case the weather surprises you (don’t even think of an umbrella! Unless you want to be a lightning rod 🙂 )
What to pack in your backpack?
Take a lot of water or isotonic drinks – at least one liter and a half per person. It is important to drink as often and as much as you need. We often take Oshee isotonic drinks except for water. Its taste is acceptable in comparison to others 🙂 You can also make your own isotonic drink – squeeze 1 lemon, mix it with water, add some honey and a bit of salt. Voila. It works 🙂
You should also have snacks. Except for sandwiches you can take bananas, chocolate, muesli bars (even though I usually end up with a Snickers… :)), nuts, almonds etc.
Don’t forget your raincoat, hat and sunscreen. The sun is much stronger in the mountains and I don’t even want to know how many times I came back from a hike with a burning face 🙂
Take a map or a phone with offline hiking maps and enough battery. For some time now my basic hiking equipment is a photo camera too… 🙂
Before hiking the mountains you should know some unwritten rules. In the mountains we greet each other. Don’t forget to say “hi” to other hikers. On a narrow trail people going down should always let the hikers going up pass. If there are chains on the trail, don’t grab the part of the chain if anyone else is holding it already. And last but not least, let’s just respect the nature and each other 🙂
The first time in the mountains – what else to remember?
Don’t be in a hurry! You go to the mountains for your own pleasure. It’s not supposed to be an exhausting punishment. If you overdo it you will later say that all this hiking sucks and you will never do it again, ever!
That’s not the point. If you feel you need a break, take one. Yes, even if your last break was 10 minutes ago. Sit on a rock, listen to forest sounds, wait for your breath to become normal again.
Enjoy the nature.
Now you know how to prepare for your first time in the mountains. This time you will have breathtaking pictures from Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia or Poland. From the mountains. Don’t forget to upload them on Facebook or Instagram. You might motivate others to spend their time actively outdoors 🙂
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