How to plan a hike


Planning a hike
Planning a hike

Planning a hike can be done in various forms, with various tools and for different purposes. I ‘ll guide you here how I plan a hike with my family, friends or a solo trip.

For me to have a successful hike, there are couple of requirements that needs to be fullfilled:

  • a roundtrip: I want to end where I started. Some hikes require to take public transport from the finish back to the start. There is nothing wrong with that, but after I finished a hike I want to keep the d peace off mind and not get stressed about missing or waiting for a buss or train.
  • abounded nature: I prefer to stay away from paved ways and asphalted roads, walking trough villages or industrial areas. I look for small tracks in the woods or fields and only if there is no other way I will cross traffic roads or pass a village.
  • remoteness: Some nature reserves or parks have several entrances and often people go for a small walk and that’s fine. But some of those short walkers leave a lot of trash, are very noisy, use nature as one big toilet for themselves or their dogs, … So when planning a hike I make sure make sure to stay away from small nature areas. I even prefer to be out in “unmanaged” nature over nature “entertainement” parks. The harder to reacher, the better the quality!

The fun of a hike starts with the preparation, looking at the maps, finding the right spots to lunch, choosing the right tracks, do the math, find a back up plan, checking the weather, … Every hike I make is wel prepared at home and those preparations are a big part of the fun for me.

I use two ways to organise a hike:

The first and most easy way is just to take a topgraphic map, a compass, a curvimeter and a pencil. And then I just start making a track from where I want to start. A little knowledge of the legende of the map makes it easy to find small, adventurous routes with scenic views or technical valley passages. I only use this when i’m alone or with other more experienced hiker. You can plan every aspect and section of your hike as detailed as possible. In the field you might encounter problems that couldn’t have been foreseen: a broken bridge, a closed gate, higher levels of water, …. which results in small or big detours. I can handle that but if you have kids with you or inexperienced company this might get tricky.

This is a bit more adventurous but that doesn’t mean I leave unprepared on those hikes. But i’ll get back to preparation later.

When I go out with my girlfriend and our two daughters, I make a lot of preparations to make sure we have the most fun we can but safe.

The search always begins with the distance I’m willing to drive for that day. My maximum distance is about 200 kilometers single, 400 km going and back. That means that for such walks we drive about 4 hours. That’s only a bit of a burden for me, since the rest of the family is reading books on the way there. On the way back they are mostly sleeping… but I don’t mind to drive, in fact I kinda like it. Most people spent 3 hours a day in their car going to and coming back from work, so why would doing the same for a day in Nature would be too much effort!
The 200 km range can get us quit far in different directions ending op in the Netherlands, France Germany & Luxemburg. That’s a wide variety in landscape to choose from. The far distances are mostly options in spring and summer, the days are longer then and we don’t need to hurry to get back at the car before dark. In summer when we get back to the car we often look for a nice spot to prepare some warm food before we head home. In fall & winter we keep that to a cup of coffee and some warm chocolade milk for the kids.

After I found a type of landscape and distance that I prefer for that hike, I turn to known websites like Wikiloc, RouteYou, OutdoorActive, … for walking or hiking tracks in that area. Distances my vary from 12 to 20 km depending on the type of landscape, technical skill level, weather forecasts, etc… And I upload that selected GPX track into my Basecamp.

In Basecamp on my topographic maps I spend a lot time and effort to check every part of the track. Especially to find out if there are big paved roads, villages or other civilised parts on track. If so, I adjust the track accordingly to avoid these sections. I often double check with Google Maps in satellite view, because some of our maps are a bit outdated. Especially the 1/20000 scaled maps but they are gradually upgrading them to updated 1:25000 versions.

This finalised GPX is then exported and imported on the Garmin Inreach website. This is a bit of double work but onze uploaded there the are automatically synced to all my GPS devices. That is depending on the type of activity to specific devices. In the case of hikes, Garmin Basecamp automatically syncs with my Garmin GPSMAP 66.

I used to drag and drop files from basecamp to my GPS devices, but every device comes with another type of cable which resulted in pulling cables out of the computer, looking for the right cable… Doing that extra upload isn’t that big deal. And actually, I use Basecamp as my library or archive and the Garmin Inreach website for all active or needs routes or tracks. That keeps thing a bit more manageable le when you have over 2000 tracks routes, waypoints, … in your archive.

So we’ve got ourselves a fresh GPX track and when you’ve charged your batteries of your GPS device you are ready to go. For me however, this is just the back up, safety part of the job. I always have a GPS with me if things go south but I only use it in case of emergency. I prefer to use map and compass to go out on a hike.

The next step is to find the matching topographic map for that hike. You can find those in your local outdoor shop or order them by the official mapping authority of that country. Remember that the chance to find a local map of o region is harder in the region itself than at home. They are most likely to be sold out or outdated in the local shop where you are heading.

Once you acquired the map it’s just a simple matter of copying the route you made digitally to the topographic map.
Make sure you do this in pencil so you can erase mistakes or erase entire tracks when making a new route on the same map.
Important is not to draw with your pencil over the roads you will be traveling, you will not be able to read what kind of road you should be are walking on. I use dots every 2 cm to mark the road to follow. The direction is marked with an arrow if the track crosses itself or in the beginning and the end.

I also look up the declination for the area where I’m walking. (See GPS Essentials) and write that on top of the map, in pencil as well.

By drawing the track on the map you imediately notice where there are difficult junctions, steep descents or ascents, … what good reference points are for navigating. you can also have a general idea of the compass heading in certain parts of the trip. The first part is mainly North East, the middle part might South West, etc… If the track is complex I prepare a routecard.

The more you take time to study your track the easier it’s get in the field. When you come for example across that difficult junction you already know that you have to look foor the small track in between the two bigger paths.

I also look for shortcuts that can be taken in case of emergency: when one of the kids is to tired or gets sick, when the dogs sprains a leg. Or the weather turns really ugly. Small issues can be a huge problem when you’re out alone.
I look for nice spots, to break or have lunch, spots where I can get higher up to get cell reach, …

So now you’ve prepared your track in detail it’s time to prepare your bag and enjoy the upcoming hike!