Travel Guide Hikes

Hiking

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Discover nature, let your mind wander, clear your head: There are many reasons to set off on a hiking tour. For easy hikes, all you need to do is to lace up a pair of comfortable shoes and to take off. The more challenging a tour gets – especially if you are heading for alpine terrain – the demands on equipment, condition and technique are much higher.
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What is hiking? A general definition

The German Hikers’ Association has developed the following definition from a representative survey:

"Hiking is walking in the landscape. It is a leisure activity with varying physical demands, which promotes both mental and physical well-being. A hike is characterized by a duration of more than one hour, appropriate planning, the use of specific infrastructure and equipment."

Hiker in a vineyard
Hiker in a vineyard
Photo: Heilbronner Land, www.flickr.com; CC BY-SA 2.0

Hiking on Outdooractive

On outdooractive.com, the following activities are combined under the term "hiking":
  • Hiking trails
  • Thematic trails (provide information on a specific topic)
  • Pilgrim trails (lead to pilgrimage sites)
  • Long-distance hiking (are usually longer than 200 miles)
  • Urban walks (lead through cities or villages worth seeing)

Physical requirements for hiking

For hiking in plain terrain, a healthy person needs nothing more than a basic physical fitness.

As the tours extend in length, as they shift to alpine terrain or if they take place in extreme weather conditions, the body is much more strained. Sure-footedness, a head for heights and a good stamina are then absolutely necessary.

Whoever is inexperienced in sports, has to struggle with pre-existing conditions or is planning a particularly long and strenuous activity should have his state of health checked by a doctor in advance.

Hikers on a mountain range in Carinthia
Hikers on a mountain range in Carinthia
Photo: Bad Kleinkirchheim, www.flickr.com; CC BY 2.0

Difficulty level of hiking trails – is there an official classification?

Quite a lot of countries don’t have an official scale of difficulty for hiking tours. However, most of them follow the Swiss SAC scale which was introduced in 2002 by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC).

The classification ranges from grade T1 to grade T6. The easiest level refers to hiking on well-developed paths without the risk of falling. The most demanding level describes difficult alpine hiking in mostly pathless and often very exposed terrain including climbing passages.

Equipment for hiking

Once you have chosen your route, you need to think about the equipment. Otherwise the fun will be clouded all too quickly due to wrong clothing, unsuitable shoes or missing provisions.

The following equipment is recommended for hiking:

Hiking boots with a sturdy sole
Hiking boots with a sturdy sole
Photo: airFreshing, www.flickr.com; CC BY-ND 2.0
Clothing
  • well-fitting, comfortable and sturdy shoes (the more difficult the terrain, the more stable the footwear)
  • outerwear made of sweat-transporting and fast-drying material

  • trousers made of hard-wearing and elastic synthetic fiber material

  • weatherproof, hooded jacket made of wind- and water-repellent material

  • light spare clothes for changing

  • socks with reinforced footbed of mixed fabric or terry cloth

  • for colder temperatures: functional underwear, fleece jacket or sweater, hat and gloves

 

Accessories

  • hiking backpack with padded carrying system, about 20 to 30 liters for a normal tour

  • topographic maps and guides

  • protection against UV radiation (headgear, sunglasses and sun screen)

  • first aid kit, blanket and mobile phone (for possible emergency call)

  • drinking bottle, provisions

  • walking sticks (increase the surefootedness when walking uphill on slippery ground; the joints are spared when walking downhill.)

Health benefits of hiking

Those who decide to go on a hiking tour will not only enjoy nature, but also do something for their health at the same time. The gentle movement has a beneficial effect on various areas of the body:
Hikers enjoying the view to Schlern, South Tyrol
Hikers enjoying the view to Schlern, South Tyrol
Photo: Tiberio Sorvillo (Tourismusverein Ritten), www.flickr.com; CC BY-ND 2.0
Heart: Hiking strengthens the heart. Moderate exercise leads to a regular heart beat, which pumps more oxygen-rich blood through the organism. This prevents blood clots.

 

Blood fat level: Hiking lowers the cholesterol level. The "bad" LDL cholesterol is reduced and the "good" HDL cholesterol increases. This reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

 

Blood pressure: Those who walk regularly lower their blood pressure.

 

Lungs: Deep breathing provides the lungs with fresh air, thereby increasing their capacity and performance.

 

Bones: Regular walking supports the bone formation process and slows down the breakdown of bone mass. Therefore, the occurrence of osteoporosis is prevented.

 

Metabolism: The different temperatures and the exposure to wind and weather make our skin more resistant and better supplied with blood. Hiking also stimulates the digestion and reduces the appetite.

 

Resistance: Regular hiking at any time of the year makes the body resistant and protects it against various germs.

Well-equipped hikers on a tour in South Tyrol
Well-equipped hikers on a tour in South Tyrol
Photo: Luca Guadagnini (Tourismusverein Ritten), www.flickr.com; CC BY-ND 2.0

Quality seals

When planning a hiking tour, some people wonder whether there is a list of particularly beautiful hiking paths. An objective evaluation is of course difficult. Far too many factors influence the perception of each individual.

Nevertheless, different countries have established their own quality seals judging trails by different criteria – for example the view, the sightseeing and refreshment possibilities on the route and the quality of the signage.

Hiking with kids

It is especially fun to hike through nature with children and to watch the little ones exploring their new surroundings. In order for a family hike to be an untroubled experience, there are a few things to consider, depending on the age of the children.
Family with two kids on a hike
Family with two kids on a hike
Photo: Tiberio Sorvillo (Tourismusverein Ritten), www.flickr.com; CC BY-ND 2.0
1-3 years (infants)

Even toddlers can be taken along for hiking in a child carrier backpack. Since they can hardly move in it and are fully exposed to the weather, special caution is required against cooling down, overheating and sunstroke. In addition, regular breaks should be taken so that the little ones can move freely during this time.

The tour should not exceed a total duration of three to four hours. The person carrying the child must be absolutely up to the conditions of the route in order not to endanger the safety of the child.

 

3-6 years (preschool age)

As soon as children are a little older, they prefer to explore their surroundings independently. Climbing trees and rocks on the way are excellent to keep them happy. It is important to take regular breaks for playing and relaxing.

Exposed trails have to be avoided. The tour should not last longer than four hours.

 

6-10 years (early school-age)

Between the ages of six and ten, children increase their endurance and physical condition. Longer hikes of up to five hours are possible and steeper sections and climbing passages can be overcome with appropriate practice and assistance.

 

10-14 years (late school-age)

In the late school age more demanding goals can be aimed at. Many children already have a good stamina. Their physical strength increases, too. With the appropriate hiking experience, it is even possible to plan multi-day tours staying overnight in a mountain hut.

An appropriate walking time of six to seven hours should not be exceeded – and always remember: Hiking has to be fun!

Children playing in a stream
Children playing in a stream
Photo: Bad Kleinkirchheim, www.flickr.com; CC BY 2.0
Equipment for hiking with children

During a hike with children you have to pay attention to a good catering and the right equipment.

A sufficient supply of drinks (children drink about 1.5 to 2 times as much as adults), good, carbohydrate-rich food for regular refreshment breaks on the way, spare clothes, rain and sun protection as well as ankle-high hiking boots are essential.

Children like to carry some of their things in their own backpacks. However, special care must be taken to ensure that the backpack is not too heavy and well padded.

 

Safety when hiking with children

The safety of the children is of paramount importance. A good tour planning (weather forecast, road conditions, route length etc.) can avoid dangers in advance. You are not allowed to lead children on routes that you don’t master yourself.

In safe and manageable terrain, children should always lead the way. So you can always watch them and give help if necessary. In places where there is a risk of slipping or falling, younger children should be held by the hand. Alternatively, they can also be secured with a climbing harness and a short rope.

Hiking with dogs

Your four-legged friend is the ideal companion on a hiking tour. However, you should give some thought to your dog's fitness, equipment and provisions in advance.
Dog in alpine terrain
Dog in alpine terrain
Photo: CC0, pixabay.com
Health requirements

Every healthy dog is able to go hiking with you – provided that the tour fits. If you are planning a longer tour, it makes sense to have the dog checked by a veterinarian in advance.

In addition, you should train the dog for the upcoming challenge and strengthen its condition gradually. 

 

Appropriate choice of route

You should pick your route carefully and early enough and inform yourself exactly about the conditions. Especially in alpine terrain you might suddenly find yourself in front of an insurmountable iron ladder or a vertical rock face and can't get any further with your dog.

A lot of dogs – although they are persistent runners and skillful on narrow paths – shouldn’t be taken into challenging terrain. It depends on the race and also on the extent to which the dog is trained and used to difficult terrain.

It is best to slowly approach larger challenges and pay attention to how the dog behaves.

Equipment for the dog

If you go on tour with your dog, you should pack some selected equipment items.
Hiking with a dog
Hiking with a dog
Photo: CC0, pixabay.com
Dog shoes

Even if it might sound a bit exaggerated at first, dog shoes are an important piece of equipment for sensitive paws – especially if the tours lead on snow and ice as well as in rough terrain.

 

Leash and harness

When hiking in alpine terrain, a dog harness is recommended. Collars are dangerous because there is a risk of strangulation if the dog should slip and fall. Even on hikes in flat terrain, a leash can get tangled in the woods easily. The dog then gets hurt trying to free itself.

It is not recommended to use a long leash on demanding hikes. In forests or steep terrain it is better to keep your dog as close as possible.

 

First aid

If the four-legged friend is injured during the tour, a first aid kit provides help. Just like the one for the hiker, it should be in the backpack on every tour. It should at least contain gauze bandages, scissors, sterile saline solution and tick tweezers.

 

Food and water

It is also important that the dog is supplied with food and water on a regular basis. It is therefore essential to take along an adequate amount of water and treats as well as high-quality and calorie-rich supplementary food.

To make it easier for the dog to eat during the hike, foldable water and food bowls are available.

 

Clothing/towel

At least as important as water and food is appropriate protective clothing for the dog. In extreme weather conditions, protection from wind and rain is a must on every dog hike. In addition, a towel is useful for drying in between, especially if the four-legged friend likes to go for water.