No matter where you travel to on your gap year, odds are at some point you will end up doing some form of hiking or trekking, either as a day trek activity or a multi day adventure. This expert guide to hiking and trekking on your gap year will help you know exactly why you should indulge in one of the easiest forms of adventure travel and exactly what you should pack, take with you and do to keep yourself safe whilst on the trail.
Travelling the world, no matter where specifically you end up, will open up a vast array of hiking and trekking choices for you. I myself have trekked through numerous jungles and deserts, I have hiked up active volcanoes and mountains, trekked the Inca trail and hiked the great Atlas mountains amongst many other amazing hikes and treks.
And you can too.
Whether you choose to go with a small group on a tour, or decide to hire a local guide and go it alone, the options are almost endless, and there are countless reasons why you should take every opportunity to do so whilst you can.
Taking a specific trek or just going hiking in the hills, mountains or deserts of the specific country you are in can be an amazing, cheap and easy way to explore your local surroundings. With a good guide you can discover much more about the local region and the culture, you can discover ‘secret’ coves, waterfalls and other hidden spots that very few tourists get to see.
Going hiking or trekking is also great for both your physical and mental health. The cardiovascular and strength training benefits are obvious, even if you don’t see it at the time when you finish that climb a heaving, sweaty mess and flop down to take in that view you came to see, but it has been proven time and time again that getting into the great outdoors and doing some physical activity is also good for your soul, helping to alleviate depression, anxiety and a wide range of other mental health conditions that can have a serious impact on your travels.
So depending on the level of hike you choose – and there really is no right or wrong answer here, you can have an easy stroll through a forested path or attempt to reach Everest Base Camp and everything in between, it all counts – trekking or hiking is one of the best adventure travel activities you can choose for improving your health and wellbeing and exploring your surroundings.
How To Get Started Hiking And Trekking On Your Gap Year.
Don’t worry, it really is not very complicated. You don’t have to look like those people who look like they have just had an outdoor shop explode all over them and happily breeze past people with a walking stick in each hand.
You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, you don’t (always) need a lot of money (in many cases it is free), and you can choose the level of adventure that is right for you.
Choose Your Adventure.
This is simple, you just have to decide where you want to hike and for how long, and whether you want to go alone or go with a small group and a guide, that’s it.
Many trekking adventures are determined by specific location and activities, many backpackers even travel to do specific hikes such as the Appalachian trail, the Inca trail or doing a spot of jungle trekking in northern Thailand. Whichever trek you choose that is all fine, you will often have the length and time pre determined for you by whatever on the ground tour company you decide to go with. This is all good. As long as you choose one that is right for you, this is a great way to tick of some of those epic bucket list items and activities.
But you can also decide to take a trek on your own too, through a forest trail or up to a specific mountain top where the steps and trail has easily marked out. Again, just look at how long it will take and determine your own ability levels. If you have never done any hiking or trekking before and horribly unfit, then deciding to take on an overnight wilderness trek on your own isn’t the smartest of ideas.
A lot will also depend on if you decide to go with a tour group or be led by a guide or not. Both of these options have significant advantages over going alone if you aren’t used to hiking or trekking, the last thing you want is to have a fall or an accident in the middle of nowhere. If you do decide to attempt a trail by yourself though I highly recommend following standard safety procedure and telling people where you will be going and when you expect to be back, especially people in authority such as park rangers or even at a stretch the guy at your hostel reception!
What Should You Wear When Trekking On Your Gap Year?
This is such a huge concern for many backpackers who want to do some trekking or adventure activity on their gap year, and so many end up overpacking as a result. You really don’t need to as it really isn’t too complicated.
There are some amazing technical clothing out there that do specific jobs such as repelling insects or protecting you from the sun, and these are absolutely perfect for and builtfor trekking. Don’t get me wrong I own many of these items myself and I love them, but in all honesty as good as they are you don’t always need them. There is a big difference between being useful and being nice to have, and being essential.
Odds are you already own most of the stuff you need to go on a decent trek or hike, and a lot of it depends on what you wear, how you wear it and where you are.
For many treks, unless you are doing a very mild forest trail in the summer or in tropical heat, pants are generally better than shorts.
Lightweight, breathable pants that won’t make you too sweaty are perfect for most treks as they won’t be too hot in the heat, will keep you warmer in the cold and will protect your skin from a range of stinging plants and nasty things that bite.
Pro tip: Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirts and T shirts into your pants, whilst not 100% foolproof this should minimise the risk of being bitten by mosquitos or other biting insects, and help prevent leeches from latching onto your skin if you are crashing through a damp, humid jungle or anywhere else they reside.
And in most cases a good, breathable T Shirt that is comfortable to wear is more than enough to keep you going on the majority of treks. Depending on the climate you can wear a longer sleeve T Shirt or layer up with a shirt, or both.
The key – apart from layering – of course, is absolute comfort. If you can comfortably wear what you have whilst in a tropical climate or exercising, then it will be perfect for trekking. As long as they are comfortable and breathable, you can usually get away with what you have already.
Of course you can always upgrade to breathable, wickable, insect repellent technical clothing if you want at a later date, and if you have the money, but it isn’t a necessity.
Hats or Scarves.
Hats are a definite must and I swear by them. Okay, it doesn’t always have to be a hat, you don’t have to be crashing through a jungle rocking a stetson or a bowler, but some form of headwear is important. A decent wooly hat can be a lifesaver when you are at the top of a mountain waiting for hours in the freezing cold on that sunrise tour, and wearing a wide brimmed, floppy hat, desert cap or even a bandana or a shemagh can really help protect you from the sun (you are outdoors after all), protect you from getting burned and protect you from heat related illnesses such as heatstroke.
Do you really need a coat when trekking? Well it depends almost entirely on the climate you are trekking in. Unless it is somewhere really cold though it is unlikely you will need anything more than a thin waterproof or windbreaker that can easily be rolled up and put in your pack.
If you do carry one then it needs to be lightweight, waterproof and part of your overall layering system.
Wearing the correct footwear is essential when on a trek, but again it isn’t really as complicated as people think it will be.
It should really go without saying that the usual backpacker uniform of flip flops (or thongs for you Ozzies out there! Snicker!) are not really appropriate for trekking through any kind of forest, jungle or desert.
But then decent, expensive hiking boots are not necessary for the vast majority of hikes or treks you will be doing on your gap year either. Sure, if you decide you want to walk the length of the Amazon unaided or spend three months hiking around the ring of fire in Indonesia, then invest in a good pair of boots that will last you and give you that extra support.
In most cases the pair of decent athletic trainers will be more than sufficient. Unless they are specific running trainers which obviously won’t give you enough grip, a solid, basic pair of trainers will be fine. And when cleaned up they can double up as your smart casual look with a pair of long pants if you need to dress up a little later in your travels.
What Else Should You Pack For Hiking On Your Gap Year?
Obviously you aren’t just going to go on a trek with just the clothes on your back, right?
Staying hydrated is obviously essential when you are trekking, especially if you are in a hot or tropical climate, where you will need even more water than you think you will, so carrying water is obviously important.
Carrying a few water bottles is an okay option, but an even better option is to carry a refillable water filter bottle. This will save you the trouble of carrying the extra weight in water as you can refill from any source you like as you go along, but more importantly it decreases the waste of single use plastics as you travel. Just get a filter bottle, they are so worth every penny and then some!
Insect repellent is essential, especially so if you are in an area where diseases such as dengue or malaria are prevalent. There are a variety of insect repellents and brands available to travellers, but not all of them are equal, or even effective.
Natural repellents containing plant based liquids or homeopathic repellents are not clinically proven, do not work and are not effective or recommended.
The only repellents that are recommended are those which contain at least 20 – 50% of the active ingredients DEET, Picaridin, PMD or IR3535. If they don’t contain these ingredients, they are not recommended.
First Aid Kit.
A basic first aid kit is an absolute necessity. You don’t have to go all out and bring the entire contents of a pharmacy’s stock cupboard with you, just a basic kit with the absolute essentials will do. Plasters, blister plasters, antiseptic wipes and antihistamine cream, gauze and tape will suffice. If you nee anything else and aren’t trained, you should be seeking medical assistance anyway.
Hiking and trekking are two of the best adventure travel activities you can do when on your travels, so get out there and explore some of the worlds most extreme and beautiful places on foot. You won’t regret it.
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