I thought it might useful to add up some tips and ideas on how to plan a hiking trip or vacation. I’ve organized and taken part in many hiking trips over the years so I thought I would drill down into the main things I look at when considering a trip.
First off, I should start by saying that by a hiking trip, I mean more than a day trip to your local mountains, although some of the items below could still apply. For this article, I am talking about taking a few days or more away, often in a location unfamiliar to you.
Every hiking trip is unique, no matter how small or large. However, if you want to go away to another country or state for a weekend with a few friends to hike some trails in a national park, generally speaking that will be much easier to get together than say, climbing to the top of Mont Blanc or hiking the Inca Trail.
So, let’s look into this some more. Below are some ideas on what to consider to help you find the right information to get you going.
Starting at the start, establish the basic framework of your trip. Do you already know what type of hiking trip you want? This is the fundamental basis of organizing anything, you need to define what you want, or at least get an idea of what you’re looking for.
Sure, it can be fun to start from a completely blank slate, but the amount of choices are practically infinite so at some point, you need to get a clearer idea of some of the basic things you’d like your trip to cover. Listed below are some key areas to get you thinking.
This is self explanatory really, so not much explanation needed really. If you live in London and want to head to Everest Base Camp, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than heading to the Italian Alps for a few days. Travel is a big one in this example as it is way more expensive to get to the start of your hike to Everest Base Camp than it is to travel to your chosen start point in the Italian Alps.
Also, the more adventurous you get, you may need more specific gear to handle whatever the hike may throw at you. For example, if you think you’ll be hiking over glaciers, you may need to buy or hire crampons.
Of course, you should never be crossing glaciers without the guidance and help of a trained mountain guide, or if you and your party are that experienced and know how to rope up and do it yourself. I assume the latter is not the case for most folks and so, the extra gear will add cost.
Then of course, as reviewed in more detail below, there will be the costs of accommodation whether you travel of your own accord or join an organized tour or trip of some kind. You have to eat and drink too so you need to factor that into your budget as well.
Typically organized trips with a company will cost more, but they have the added advantage of supplying all the gear you may need for the hike which is a big plus. I first experienced this when I climbed Mont Blanc. The company I went with not only took care of all the gear needed, but they supplied transport, guides, accommodation, meals, etc. It was great, as it meant me and my friends could focus on the task at hand, namely getting to the top of Mont Blanc! Which I’m happy to report, we did 🙂
How long do you want to go away for, a weekend, a week, longer? Depending on the type of trip you want to take, this will of course vary. But if you know you only have a weekend to work with, that immediately puts certain limits on your options and helps narrow down the search criteria.
This was alluded to just above but it is fundamental to organizing your trip. Exactly what kind of hiking do you want to do? Are nice and easy trails, taking in the morning sun your thing, or are you after challenging off trail stuff?
This is kind of the fun part, as the choices are practically limitless. Taking all other considerations into account, you can get to pick from any country, park, trail, etc. Within reason of course, some places are of course just not viable or accessible.
You also can consider whether you need guided help or is it’s a do it yourself mission. I touch on that in more detail below.
Weather and Climate
Important to factor in, if you have a hike in a certain location in mind. Depending on the time of year, the weather and climate could mean it’s a big no-no to do what you want to do. You may have to pick the right time of year.
For example, a common one, is that some mountains in winter time are just no go zones as it is far too dangerous to attempt to summit them in winter. Even in summer, when the weather is typically better, it could be a no no.
For example, I hiked in Death Valley in April last year, and I found the heat tough. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do that in August when the Summer heat is scorching. Potentially very dangerous and it could mean you’d be wiser not to even consider heading out on the trail there at that time of year!
Already touched no above but it is an important one so deserves a specific mention. Whatever trip you decide on, do you have all the gear you need for it? will standard hiking boots do the job or do you need specialized boots e.g. crampon compatible? Will your normal hiking rain jacket be enough, or do you need something much more resilient to the elements?
There is a lot to think about here, depending on your trip. For standard hiking trips, you can probably get away with gear you already have. You can check the complete day hiking checklist for the standard gear you typically need for an average day hike, that covers most things.
However, for more adventurous hiking trips, you may well need to hire or buy more specialized gear to ensure you are safe while out on the trail. If you choose to go with a guided hiking trip or adventure holiday, any required gear may be supplied by the company, so that is worth looking into as well if specialized gear is required.
Depending on the trip you want to undertake, you have to of course work out how you’re going to get there. When you hike, you are of course in mountains and so on, so you’re not likely to have an airport in close vicinity to your chosen destination (which is of course a good thing as who wants an airport in the wilderness!). I’m sure there are exceptions though.
The point being that if you’re travelling and organizing things yourself, you’re not going to always have easy access transport to the mountains. Sometimes you will, but not always and even if there is public transport, you will most likely have to get a series of connections to get there if you aren’t hiring a car (Or driving yourself there in your own car from home). So, in summary, how hard it is to get to where you need to get to, is an important thing to consider.
If you are going on organized trip, say a hiking package holiday, all of this should be taken care of for you, from when you arrive at the airport till the time you get back. There are also plenty of hiking day trip options from city centers so that can be another option i.e. to use a main city or town as a hub or base and travel in and out of it to your hiking location of choice.
This isn’t always desirable though and you may be better planning to set up base in the local area. Anyway, you get the idea, there are often plenty of options available, if you go down the organized trip route. Cost plays an important role in this as you can imagine, so you should try and get an idea of all the travel costs involved.
Just like getting there, you will need to factor in accommodation for your hiking trip. Are you planning to backpack and camp in the wilderness, or do you need a hotel or hostel to sleep in at night? These things all add up in terms of cost as well, so you need to examine the various options available.
This isn’t usually a big deal when travelling to popular travelling destinations as the local economy is setup to support that kind of tourism. Timing may be a problem for this though, so you may need to book well in advance.
On the other hand, if you’re going well off the beaten track though, that may not be the case and you need to do a lot more research to figure out what will work best.
If you’re thinking about backpacking, be sure to check the rules in the area (see the restrictions and limitations section below) as you may need special permission, like a wilderness pass to do that kind of thing i.e. you can’t just show up, head into the mountains and pitch a tent. That isn’t the case everywhere of course, but it is in plenty of places so you need to take it into consideration and check when doing your planning.
Do it Yourself or Guided
I touched on this above, but depending on what kind of trip you end up looking for, you may need to sign up for a guided tour. For example, sometimes you need a license to hike in certain countries national parks, which are only available through official tour companies. This is done to prevent overcrowding and to protect the natural habitat, history, etc.
On the other hand, this can sometimes be optional. For example, if you land in the UK and want a hire a mountain guide to take you hiking to the top of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK, you can do that. However, if you’re an experienced hiker, there is no reason you can’t head up Nevis of your own accord given the conditions, etc. are suitable. You just need to be aware that you will have do you own route planning etc.
Again, this ties back to your requirements and how experienced, adventurous, etc. you may be. I have used both options at times, when the choice has been available to me. In some cases, say going to a foreign country, guided help can be a real help.
If you’re unsure about this, again, just do some research online, etc. In most cases, you will find information in articles and so on, on how easy or hard it may be to go on your own, and whether it is better to have a local guide with you. There are plenty of hiking forums too.
There are of course, as always, exceptions to this. There are countries with beautiful hiking regions that aren’t frequented as much as others. Think of somewhere like Siberia, or deep regions in India as an illustrative example. A hiking location could be well off the beaten track and far from populated civilization. Therefore, there may not be as much information available on these types of places (even things like available maps of the region may not be great or they may even not exist).
Now, for this kind of trip, you are moving into adventurer territory to a degree and suffice it to say, you need to do a lot more good research, as opposed to for a more mainstream type of trip. Employing a competent local guide (who speaks the language) is both sensible and probably essential for this type of trip. This is also good for the local community / economy as well, as you’re putting money directly into the hands of locals.
That is a nice segway into my final point for consideration on this. Many tour companies will organize trips abroad from your home country. These can be excellent, and they usually take care of everything end to end, from your home airport, right till you get back.
However, sometimes, it could be worth considering directly employing a local tour company in the place you are visiting. Your money is potentially going directly into the pockets of local people, without an intermediary.
Now, I do not mean to imply that international tour companies do not support local economies on these types of trips, in most cases they do and employ the local people as well. However, it is something which might be worth looking into, as if you are willing to take care of your own travel arrangements, you might just save some money too as utilizing local resources directly, can often be much cheaper than a big established international tour company.
Again, it comes down to what you’re most comfortable with and what meets your needs best.
Restrictions and Limitations
As already referenced above, many places have restrictions and limitations on what you can and can’t do. It’s very important to get clear on this before you go. So, for example, if you need a license or pass to hike in the area, you can get one organized in advance; if you don’t need a pass but you’re not allowed to hike on private land, you should be clear on where you can and can’t go; and so on …
Broadly speaking, most national parks and established hiking locations have clear rules and regulations to follow, to ensure everyone enjoys themselves and stays as safe as possible. If however, you’re aiming for somewhere much more off the beaten track, that will not likely be the case, so again, at a minimum, consultation with a knowledgeable local expert is a must and ideally, hire a guide to keep you safe and within the rules.
It’s worth keeping in mind cultural differences here as well. For example, are there religious festivals or local traditions that may impact the planning of your trip!?
Finally, depending on the country you’re travelling to, you may even need a visa to just get into it, and they can cost money, so that is another factor to consider.
Health and Safety
Probably more one for the more adventurous hiking trip but it is something that you need to think about in certain cases, and it could well add to your budget too.
For example, do you need vaccines for the country you intend to travel to? If you’re heading to the Amazon, you will need a bunch of vaccines to be sure you don’t catch any unwanted diseases like Malaria, Typhoid, Yellow Fever and so on. Are you going to high altitudes and so may need medicine to help with altitude sickness?
As well as this, you may need to keep in mind the basics like food and water. Is the water safe to drink? If not, how will you sterilize the water to make it potable? What about food, will the local diet agree with you? Again, these are things to reflect on and consider, especially if you’re going to an exotic location or somewhere well off the beaten track.
Roles and Responsibilities
Typically, for a trip of this, one or two people take on the organizing of it, if it is for a larger group. Where this is the case, it can be wise to work out who is looking after what. Many times, I have chose the route of organizing all my travel, accommodation myself, and then passing on the details to everyone else to book for themselves. This can be the least painful way to do it, and whomever decides to go, books for themselves.
However, this may not always work and you may need to assign one or two organizers, who do all the set-up work. Where this is the case, and you’ve had everything arranged for you, it’s always nice to show your appreciation in some small way e.g. buy the organizers dinner on a night out during the trip. That kind of thing to show your appreciation.
Ok, Ok … I am totally stating the obvious here but it is a key step in the process and one that I want to conclude with! Once you have some level of all the above requirements defined, you need to get onto Google, Internet Explorer or whatever your browser of choice is, and start the search. Type in exactly what the first steps gave you. For example, ‘Good sunny hiking destinations in <location> for people on a budget in Spring’.
I won’t dwell on this as it is obvious to most, but this will return a host of possibilities that might meet your initial requirements. You can then do a deeper dive into options so you can start to hone in on relevant and more detailed possibilities that look to fit the bill.
Also, keep in mind, asking around your hiking friends and other ‘offline’, if you will, resources can also lead to excellent possibilities too, many of which could be far from the madding crowd, so keep this in mind. Not everything is on the internet, but a hell of a lot is 🙂
So, there you have it, these are just a bunch of tips and areas to consider, to help get you started on planning a hiking trip. I think when most people start as beginner hikers, if they take to it and enjoy it, many folks start to get the taste for hiking in different locations, for more adventures further afield and so on. And why not, there’s a great big world out there to explore and enjoy, with amazing hiking locations all over the globe!
If you’re just starting to entertain the possibility of your first hiking trip, check out the gallery 40 of the best hikes and trails. It lists some of the top hiking locations all over the world, so there will be plenty of inspiration there to get the creative juices flowing as you try and settle on a plan.
Again, these are just some things to think about, the main ones. However, there are potentially oodles of other things involved and, as mentioned at the start of this article, every hiking trip is unique, so there will nearly always be exceptions and special things that need to be taken into consideration.
I hope you found this article on how to plan a hiking trip useful 🙂 Please like, share and / or leave a comment below if you did!