Hiking from town to town
A quick guide
I'm starting to think I should make a slogan: "I make mistakes, so you can learn from them." Hiking from town to town over a certain number of days is a really nice way to challenge yourself and to see routes, towns and views not many tourists do. In this guide we'll cover how I planned my route from Innsbruck in Austria to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, and which mistakes taught me valuable lessons.
The very, very first step is to estimate how much you can walk per day. Here, it's definitely important to account for the fact that no matter how stubborn you are, the further you get into your journey, the less kilometers you can put behind you on a daily basis. That is, if you walk daily of course. There's no one stopping you (I think?) from adding extra stop-over days dedicated to muscle recovery.
But the point is to be honest to yourself. It's better to wake up fresh because you underestimated yourself, than having to hike a long distance in zombie mode. Also, take note that a backpack will slow you down and shrink your daily distance.
When you plan out your own route from scratch, you need to accept that the planning phase will be a lot of trial and error, and a lot of compromising between money, time and daily distance.
But before I select specific towns, I enter Google Maps in terrain mode, so I can get a sense of the elevation. With this data and impression I can make a number of roughly laid out routes.
If there's a lot of upwards elevation, you'll have to downgrade your daily distance between towns. If you have no recovery days, you might also want to lower the daily distance, the further into the trip you get.
Now, it's time to pick out some candidate locations. The distance between them should be around or less than the maximum distance you believe you can walk per day. I try to plan so that the longest distances are at the beginning of the journey. But it really depends on how you plan your recoveries, and where there's the most elevation. You obviously want the fewest kilometers where there's most elevation.
I keep bringing up the point about daily distance, because when I hiked from Innsbruck to Garmisch-Partenkirchen I made the mistake of walking every day and pushing myself beyond my daily limit. I succeeded, but the last two days were absolutely brutal to my legs, and I might as well have injured myself. On my last day, I had an 18km hike, and I was tired after not even 10. The last 4km were straight-up painful. The scene from Saw, where he eventually saws his own leg off, suddenly served as blissful inspiration.
I actually get a little kick out of overcoming these scenarios, but it's obviously not a good or healthy way to treat your body.
- Better understimate yourself a bit, than taking in way more than you can chew
- Either add recovery days after long hikes, or plan according to the fact that your legs will get more and more tired for every day
- You might need to re-iterate your route a number of times to solve the puzzle of daily distances and affordable accommodation
- Use Google Maps terrain mode to get a sense of elevation on your route
Awareness on the route
Animals you encounter might even be used to humans, but do you look like an ordinary human to them with your backpack, flashy clothes, etc.? You look different than the humans they're used to. You probably also behave a little differently. They don't know who or what you are. Exercise caution, even if you think you know what you're doing. That way you won't need to whip out over €300 as I did for my incident in Belgrade, where I failed to respect territorial stray dogs.
In my humble experience, Google Maps doesn't know half the available routes. Sometimes, asking locals or using local maps, maybe just as a supplement, can be of great value.
Along that trail of thought, Google Maps will try to take you along the fastest or shortest route, and they are not necessarily the safest or most walkable. They easily involve walking on highliy trafficed roads, with fast driving cars, and no place for pedestrians.
I also strongly recommend that you learn some basic navigations skills. Signs are not always put up and GPS'es fail at times. This happens especially when you walk in wooded areas, where trees can block sufficient GPS signals.
Food and water
- Check on Google Maps or call your host to see if your destination has supermarkets, mini-markets, cafés, manned gas stations, etc.
- If there are only one or a few options, make sure they are actually open and running*. Call if necessary.
- Check the opening hours and remember to account for holidays!
*) I've tried arriving in a town which was supposed to have a single discount market. Turned out it was being renovated. I was fortunate enough to have kept a jar of peanut butter and some slices of rye bread from the day before, but it wasn't optimal in any way.
I think it goes without saying that you should always carry some snacks, fruits or similar, even for hikes that are just a few hours. I always pack some apples and granola bars, in case unexpected events extend the hiking time, or I'm just hungry. For much longer hikes pack a good meal with many calories.
And especially, after a long hike, remember to stack up on proteins to help your muscles recover.
You might want to avoid coffee and sugarfree sodas before a hike, as they will... How to put this nicely. Accelerate your need to take a piss. This is more of an annoyance than a problem though.
Some countries are quite generous with offering water fountains along their hiking routes. This applies to Austria, for instance. But you never know when the next will show up, so always make sure to stuck up when you see one. When I find a water source, I usually drink up as much as I possibly can and refill my bottle(s).
Remember, that even though water looks clean, it's not necessarily safe to drink. Water is able to carry many kinds of bacteria, viruses or other things you don't want in your body. For instance, water is a typical source for Hepatitis.
Keep in mind that there are countries where the natural water sources can be straight up lethal! Even if vegetables, etc. have just been washed in it. One example is some parts of Nepal. So take care, I don't want to lose readers ;-)
Travel insurances may be different, but from what I've read, most will not cover a rescue operation in which you got lost due to your own navigational errors. Make sure to check up with your insurance company, before you head out, so you know how you're covered.
Also keep in mind that you may not have phone signal the entire way. And even if you do, there's a good chance it's no better than EDGE connection, which will hardly give you internet access, if any at all.
You can also download the area you're hiking in, by using offline maps.
If you have a smartwatch, there's a good chance you can find a GPS app for it. It's advisable to download and install such app, before you head out. You can use this as a backup GPS. However, the GPS app I've used consumed a lot of battery, so if you're hiking for days, or is low on battery, you may want to preserve your usage.
Pro tip: Make sure to download some hours worth of music for offline use, in case you end up in "dead zones".
I hope this short guide gave you some good indicators and pointers on how to plan your town-to-town hiking route. As always, safety is number one priority. You can never prepare and research enough before such a trip.
On the trip, always excercise caution. Don't be afraid to reroute, if you encounter obstacles such as unwalkable road, animals or something else entirely.
Also, be cautious with water sources. It may look clean and appetizing, but as mentioned earlier, viruses and bacteria do not exactly advertise their presence.
Thank you for reading, and have a great hike!