Choosing not to join a commercial trek is an attractive alternative for many adventurers and is an option enjoyed by tens of thousands each year around the world. Without the support of fellow-trekkers and tour leaders, it means taking more personal responsibility for the obvious matters such as permits, route finding, accommodation and food. Not so obvious before setting out are the practical considerations on the trail each day.
Go lightweight – resist the temptation to pack for every eventuality. Your rucksack will weigh you down, hold you back and, ultimately, demoralise you. Modern outdoor clothing is light, flexible and easy care. A baselayer top or two will double as T-shirts and an insulating mid layer worn over it and under a waterproof or soft shell jacket allows you to be comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and weather. You certainly don’t need to pack changes of clothing – wash, rinse and dry quickly is the best way.
Feet – if you’re not used to hiking day after day, take it easy at first and check your heels and toes regularly. Boots or shoes that you know you can wear comfortably day after day are a much better bet than a brand new pair of tough trekking boots. Good socks – and a spare pair – make all the difference to comfort and foot care so change them during the day rather than each night. When you take a break, whip off boots, remove insoles and socks and let them all dry as your feet air off and cool down.
Drinking – water, that is, not local firewater! Avoiding dehydration is a key component in staying healthy and making good decisions. Drink water regularly – by the time you feel thirsty, it’s already becoming too late. Filter or otherwise treat water you think is safe to drink and top up yourself as well as your bottle at every opportunity. Hot drinks from local stalls are refreshing but beware of bottled soft drinks as they may be filled round the corner.
Sun – Basking in hours of sunshine at altitude can cause serious sunburn. Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are the first line of defence. Take it easy to begin with until you adjust to the conditions.
Stay in touch – even in remote areas, it’s surprisingly easy (depressing almost!) to stay in touch with family and friends. It’s hard to get lost on popular trekking routes and, if you’re tempted to wander up a side valley on your own, try to let somebody know what you’re planning to do. Use careful judgement as to who you tell, of course.
Take it easy – you’re not in a completion so there’s no need to stick to a schedule. If a guidebook says a trek section should take 5 hours, remember it’s only a guide not an instruction or challenge. Take regular breaks, enjoy the scenery, chat with locals and share experiences with fellow-trekkers. It’s not a race and you’re there for the whole experience. When you’ve had a break, stretch your muscles before heading out again.
Body clock – it pays to re-tune your way of operating to make the most of each day by rising early and enjoying a long break during the day before getting your head down early in the evening.