Trekking is walking. Or, more accurately, it’s an ‘extreme’ form of walking that usually takes several days and explores all kinds of remote and difficult terrain, and tests the trekker’s physical and mental endurance. But walking is a big part of it.
One of the most enduringly popular places to trek is Nepal- a country not short of remote and difficult terrain! However, there are amazing places to trek in Tibet, Canada, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, USA, Nepal, New Zealand, Iceland, Colombia, Greenland, Peru and many more. You can do group treks or solo treks, with guides or maps. You can camp or stay in hostels, teahouses or with local people. Trekking is an amazing activity that will truly challenge you in more ways that you could imagine.
Trekking vs Hiking
Usually, length and difficulty. If someone’s planning a hike it’s likely to be a day trip through an area with some other people. Trekking takes you to much more remote places and you’ll usually be gone for at least a few days. If you’re lucky enough to do the Pacific Crest Trail (yes, the one from the film with Reese Witherspoon) it’s 2653 miles in total and can take weeks to complete.
There’s also an etymological and historical difference: ‘trek’ comes from Afrikaans, with roots in Dutch. It was originally used in reference to the ‘Groot Trek’ of 1835, where over 10,000 Boers left Cape Colony to escape the British and ended in what is now Zimbabwe. The first known use of the word ‘hike’ (or, actually, ‘hyke’) was in 1809. It used to mean ‘go away’ in English.
Hikers also prefer to stay on actual footpaths. Trekking tends to be much more varied- there’s actually a trek that’s done entirely on wooden boards because the topsoil is so delicate. Both hiking and trekking may involve camping, and trekkers are often expected to carry all of their tents, food, clothes and equipment.
Where can I go trekking?
In some of the most amazing places! If you’re new to trekking and have friends who’ve gone before, ask them about their experiences. They’ll probably have lots of hilarious stories, weird advice and would love the opportunity to talk about it all. The first question, though, is where in the world are you and how far would you be willing to travel.
Let’s break it down into continents.
There are lots of mountain ranges in Africa that are perfect for hiking. From the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia to the endlessly popular Mount Kilimanjaro (attempted by 20,000 people per year) you’ll definitely be able to find a great mountain trek. Prefer it smooth? Why not try trekking across the Sahara Desert! There’s the option to do this in Morocco, so you could combine the Sahara with the Atlas Mountains relatively easily. The Sahara isn’t all sand, either: you’ll come across dry valleys, salt flats and lakes. If you go during January and February you may even get to see newborn wild camels. Obviously, you’ll need to be especially careful, so please do lots of research before you leave!
Look, you probably can’t go to the actual north pole. Santa needs it. But if you don’t mind getting a little chilly (ok, maybe more than a little) why not try the Icelandic Highlands? You can visit black sand beaches, surprising oases and actual lava fields. Is the floor lava? Yes, but you can walk on it. Fancy something with slightly less walking? Try a tour of Greenland that combines trekking and boat trips with fjords, glaciers, mountains and icebergs.
The place to trek in Asia is the Himalayan Mountains. It doesn’t all have to be cold trips to Mount Everest, though: if you’ve got two weeks, you can look into trekking across Ladakh, India. Depending on your route it will take around a week to cross the Markha Valley, a vigorous trek along the bottom of the mountains. If you want something a little more niche and appreciate truly astonishing views, try Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China’s Hunan Province. There are 3000 otherworldly spires made of quartz and sandstone, which inspired Avatar (2009) and is featured in Civilization VI.
Ready for a little Scandinavian beauty? Try Skåne, in southern Sweden. From start to finish it’s 776 miles with five sub-trails and goes across ancient forests, pastoral landscapes and dramatic coastlines. Alternatively, try the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. There’s pristine lakes, medieval towns and (obviously) mountains. Most treks will take between 3-5 days, but you can go for longer.
If you’d like something more structured, and don’t fancy camping (and carrying a tent), look into the Milford Trek in New Zealand. It’ll take four days for the intermediate trekker and you’ll go through mountains and rainforests with incredible biodiversity. Alternatively, there are guided treks in the Australian bush that aim to be as environmentally friendly as possible and adhere to ecotourism principles to protect and preserve the wilderness.
Do you enjoy dramatic rock formations? Spires, arches, towers, all in stripes of burnt red and orange sandstone? Zion National Park in America is definitely worth a trip. You can find solo or guided treks which range in length and pass fresh creeks (for a little trek break) and deep canyons. If you’re looking for a long trek try the Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada. It’s over 560 miles and if you’re committed to seeing it all the way through will take a month. Some of the land is agricultural (ok, it’s a vineyard) but lots more is almost entirely deserted woods, waterfalls and lakes.
South America has some of arguably the best trekking places. Want to see the most magnificent rainforest on the planet? Head to the Amazon. I don’t need to tell you about the sheer mass of wildlife you’ll see, or the fact that by being there you contribute to the local economy and incentivise the Brazillian government to prevent logging. Or, if you’d like to visit the astonishing remnants of a lost city, try Machu Piccu in Peru. An Incan city that wasn’t destroyed by colonists, Machu Piccu is one of the wonders of the world, AND it has llamas. What more could you want?
The importance of trekking
There are several reasons to try trekking. Firstly, it’s an amazing opportunity to get away from the daily bustle and really explore outside of your comfort zone. If you’re lucky enough to live near a trekking spot you can go for a long weekend, or travel to a different part of the world and experience something completely new. Many trekkers also get to stay with or near indigenous people and learn about their lives, with massive cultural significance and education. Investing in trekking with guides, transportation, accommodation and food also incentivises communities to keep areas of outstanding natural beauty from being turned into agricultural land, and provides the economic benefits to allow them to do this.
Trekking is also a good way to stay fit and can be a nice break from stress. Some people find that trekking is a spiritual experience or use it as a personal pilgrimage to gain distance and process big events. If you’re trekking with a group of people, it’s nice to take the time to get to know them and even make friends. You’ll have at least one shared interest!
What types of trek are there?
That really depends on where in the world you go! There are some choices that are pretty universal, though.
Firstly, where would you like to sleep? You can go camping trekking, where you carry a tent with you and stay in it. Obviously, this can get a bit heavy so some places offer Sherpa services. If you’d prefer somewhere more solid there’s teahouse trekking, usually found in the Himalayas. Here, you stay in specially designed accommodation, often on the side of a mountain. There’s other treks with hostels or camps for trekkers, and what’s available will depend on where you go.
Secondly, who would you like to trek with? Proper treks aren’t suitable for children – try a day hike, instead- but teenagers and adults with a reasonable level of fitness should be able to trek. It’s recommended that you don’t go alone on your first trek: even if you don’t know anyone who’d like to come with you, you can find groups to join with guides. You may want to trek with a partner as a fun way to bond, and honeymoon treks are perfect for newlyweds who love a challenge.
Finally, how experienced are you? Trekking levels are usually divided up into the following categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced and you’ll be able to find the trekking level as part of your pre-trek research. Beginners are not expected to have any experience, although a reasonable level of fitness is required. If you have any health conditions which may impair your ability to trek you should discuss these with your guide beforehand. Intermediate trekkers will be expected to walk for four to six hours a day with a rucksack. They also may go up slopes of 1000-2000 feet every day. It’s a good idea to do some beginner treks or hikes first. Advanced trekkers will walk for six to eight hours per day and be in excellent physical shape. If you want to get in shape for your trek we have put together some great workout ideas.
Risks and safety tips
There are risks associated with trekking. Some of these will vary depending on where you are, and others will be things you should always be aware of.
1- getting ill. Trekking can be incredibly stressful on your body, and if you’re travelling to areas far from home you’re also at risk of local diseases. Speak with your doctor about recommended vaccinations, because a little prick with a needle is far nicer than having to be air-lifted to hospital.
2- getting injured. We all fall down at some point or another, and if you’re trekking all day it’s almost inevitable. Make sure you’ve got the following things to help if you do get in trouble: a first aid kit; material for a sling; information of local languages and knowledge of where the nearest hospital is; and a charged but switched off mobile phone, only to be used in emergencies. You can turn your phone on and record your outgoing voicemail message with your location and time if there’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re out of signal, it’ll update automatically when you get in phone range.
3- getting lost. It’s old-school, but make sure you’ve got a compass and a paper map with your route clearly drawn on with you. Technology can fail at times, and it’s much safer to have a back up. Having said that, it’s sometimes better to stay where you are if you’re lost as it’s easier for park rangers or other trekkers to find you. You’ll need to decide for yourself based on where you are. Why don’t you treat yourself to a hiking watch – these are great navigation tools at amazing value – we have a list of our favourites here.
Off you go!
We know trekking is an incredible experience and we love it. It’s popular all over the world, so by trying trekking you’re joining an interesting, well travelled community filled with adventurers. We hope you have an amazing time!