Trekking preparation

Trekking preparation

This section will help you start thinking about the type of trekking you might consider and gives you some handy pointers to help with your planning and preparation, including a useful 'before you go' checklist.

Whether you are an experienced hillwalker seeking to broaden your horizons by setting off to one of the world's greater ranges, or have just seen a book or article that has inspired you to seek out and taste for yourself the thrills and excitement of adventure travel abroad, there are several key decisions and choices to be made before you get around to booking flights or signing up for a commercial trekking package. Carefully assessing your own goals and exactly what you want from a trip at the outset will greatly increase your chances of a rewarding and enjoyable trip.

There are four principal modes of travel possible for those wishing to spend prolonged periods trekking in mountainous areas:

  • Backpacking (self sufficient - carrying everything yourself)
  • Tea house (staying in local hostelries or houses)
  • Expedition (self sufficient - travelling with a small group of locally hired porters or guides)
  • Commercial (self sufficient -travelling with a group organised by a commercial trekking company)
Your own level of fitness or experience and the particular region you wish to trek in will partly decide which of the above modes is appropriate, as will your own personal tastes, budget and the time you have available.

Most people select a destination based on their own personal tastes and interests, and then select an appropriate mode of travel. Certain destinations lend themselves to particular modes of travel. For example, in the popular parts of Nepal while it is perfectly feasible to backpack, travel in expedition mode or go with an organised commercial group, it is also possible to travel alone, carrying minimal equipment and taking the country as you find it by staying in the numerous trekkers' lodges that have sprung up along the trails. In the barren, uninhabited northern reaches of the Karakoram in Pakistan your choices will be effectively limited to expedition or commercial styles of trekking.

A summary of the pros and cons of each trekking style:
 
Backpacking

• Freedom to move at will
• No large group to consider
• Minimal ecological impact
• Can be inexpensive
• Duration of trip limited by the amount of water, fuel and food you can carry between re-supply points
• Heavy rucsacs make for slow progress
• Finding sufficient energy for camp chores and cooking at the end of a long day
• Personal security and rescue considerations
• Navigation
 
trekking © granitepeaker
TrekkingTea house

• Minimal equipment requirements
• Light packs
• Freedom of movement along tea-house trails,
• Interaction with local people and other trekkers
• No large group to consider
• Can be inexpensive
• Ecological and cultural impact
• Choice of route limited by availability of accommodation and food
• Trails may be very busy during peak seasons

Expedition

• Small, self contained unit - can travel and vary programme at will
• Not constrained by availability of food or accommodation
• Interaction with local people
• Great sense of freedom
• More expensive
• Needs thorough planning and research
• Some knowledge of local language needed
• Success of venture depends on hiring proficient local porters or guides

Commercial

• No organisation or planning required other than choosing a destination and selecting an operator, who will organise and run every aspect of the trip - this saves time and hassle
• Expensive
• Travelling on a pre-arranged and rigid itinerary
• Travelling with strangers
• Ecological and cultural impact
• Lack of or superficial contact with local people

Trekking and adventure travel is a booming growth industry today, and sourcing information on different regions has never been easier

Fit to travel

You should carefully and honestly weigh up your personal fitness and aptitude when you are choosing a trekking destination and mode of travel. Obviously the fitter you are at the start of your trek the less you will suffer on those first days on the trail, but it is also true that specific types of fitness are acquired by each different activity. For example, a keen mountain-biker or marathon runner will not necessarily be fit for backpacking on steep mountain trails. A level of aerobic fitness will always help, but the only thing that really gets you fit for trekking is trekking!

Information overload

Trekking and adventure travel is a booming growth industry today, and sourcing information on different regions has never been easier. Publishers have been quick to pick up on the demand for guidebooks and related topics, and the internet offers almost unlimited - and unverifiable - information on everything from personal travelogues to gear and book reviews, picture galleries, regional and national tourist sites and often stunningly well laid out sites detailing the services of commercial operators. 

Preparation checklist
Insurance must also cover helicopter rescue and repatriation

Insurance
Normal travel insurance will not be enough: your insurance must also cover helicopter rescue and repatriation. Leave a copy of your policy details with your next of kin at home or your trekking agent.
See your GP and dentist for a health and dental check-up before you go - prevention is always better than cure, especially in Third World countries.

Inoculations
Allow yourself enough time to take the full course of treatment before your trip. Many vaccines require several injections over a period of months if full immunity is to be achieved.

Money
Decide what currency you are taking and how you will carry it. Guidebooks can give some specific recommendations.

Maps of remote areas
Often easier to source from specialist suppliers - albeit at a price - at home before you set off.

Check visa requirements
Again, allow plenty of time for processing. If you need a visa and will need to extend it during your stay, find out where you can do this locally and how long it will take. For extended periods of travel, it's worth carrying a supply of passport photographs to use on new or extended visa applications.

Air tickets
Check the small print about reconfirming your return flight and make sure you have enough cash for departure tax if required. Many airports do not take credit card payments but insist upon local currency or perhaps US dollars.

Several Himalayan countries require you to insure any local staff you hire

Porters
If you are organising your trek independently, make sure you can equip your staff properly, and think about what you will do for them in an emergency. Several Himalayan countries require you to insure any local staff you hire.

Ecological considerations
Before setting off, think about what steps you can take to minimise the impact of your visit. Discard packaging, don't cook with firewood, avoid taking wet wipes and other hygeine or sanitary products that will be impossible to dispose of safely or cleanly. Bring all your spent batteries home with you, along with all your non-degradeable trash. 'Pack it in and pack it out.'

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