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.
"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."
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.
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.
The following equipment is recommended for hiking:
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
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.