Trekkers often miss out on the most important things before going on a trek. I see this especially when they are trekking on their own, where they don’t have an organisation like Indiahikes guiding them.
But here’s an observation. While setting off on these do-it-yourself treks, I notice several trekkers make disastrous errors. Only later do they realise these mishaps could have been avoided. Many times it also happens that trekkers don’t realise what went wrong. So they end up repeating the same errors again and again.
To this, the biggest solution is to prepare well. I always tell my trekkers – good preparation is vital for trekking. Be it for a single day trek or a multi-day trek, it can make or break your trek.
In this post, I want to guide you through the preparation. I’m putting together a list of things you must tick-off before going on a trek on your own.
If you’re short on time, use this quick table to navigate within the article
- Obtain Permissions Required for the Trek
- Know your Trail Information and Terrain
- Be aware of the Difficulty of the trek and Your Fitness Level
- Keep an eye on the Weather Forecast during the trek duration
- Water and Food Sources near the base
- Carry a GPX File and Map of the Trek
- Have a Checklist of Things to Carry for a trek
- Go through the details of How to reach the base camp of your trek
- Note down the Timings to have on a trek
- Have your Plan B and Exit Routes
- Always follow the right Spirit of Trekking
1. Obtain Permissions Required for the Trek
Most treks in India (except perhaps in Maharashtra) lie within forest reserves or regions where permissions are mandatory for trekking or camping.
I notice that trekkers are unaware of this and are caught on the wrong foot when officials stop them from trekking. Unfortunately, there have also been instances where localities or forest authorities harass trekkers. You do not want to be in those shoes.
Forest office where you need to take permission. Picture by Aniruddha Kalghatgi
It is important that you know if you can trek / camp without permissions on a trek. And if you need permission, how you can obtain it.
For treks documented on the Indiahikes Trekipedia, you refer to the documentation (such as this) or a check a local trek guide as your source of credible information.
It’s best to
contact the forest department to get more information about permissions. Most treks which lie in the forest region have a contact number where you can reach out to – Contact Regional Forest Office which can be found online from the Forest Department.
For example – In Karnataka, you can find the details here. Few trails would be linked with the Tourism Department where you can pre book your slot)
In our country, there aren’t many rules and regulations when it comes to trekking, but a phone call will help you get some clarity.
2. Know the Terrain and Trail Information of Your Trek
Most treks usually go through sections of forests, boulders, river crossings or tricky terrain. Knowing the terrain of your trek plays a vital role in being prepared for the trek. This determines what you should carry for your trek as well — for instance, if you know that there are going to be rainy temperate forests, expect leeches. Or if there are slippery boulders, pay attention to the footwear and prepare for it.
The rocky section of Harihara Betta. Photo by Team Indiahikes.
This is why getting an accurate mental picture of the terrain is a crucial part of preparation. Do this by going through the trek guides, blogs and videos of the trek.
3. Be Aware of the Difficulty of the Trek and Your Fitness Level
The difficulty of the trek and your fitness are closely linked to each other. If your fitness is in place, you won’t get exhausted on steep ascends or long trails. But if your fitness is not in place, you will struggle and may find the trek really difficult.
This is the reason why the difficulty of a trek varies from one person to another based on personal fitness. While choosing a trek, keep this in mind and be realistic, especially while taking on challenging treks.
I also notice that many times trekkers underestimate the difficulty of a trek. An easy trek can turn difficult if you overlook aspects of safety or do not have knowledge of the trail. So it is important to look objectively at a trek. While doing so don’t forget to keep your fitness in mind.
4. Keep an eye on the Weather Forecast during your trek duration
Trekkers often miss out on this crucial detail. Understand that if it starts raining, a simple boulder-y section becomes very difficult to navigate. This is why it is a good practise to check the weather forecast before setting off on a trek. While you must always carry your rain gear with you, knowing if rain is expected helps you mentally prepare for the day.
Pro-Tip: Use the IMD website or Accuweather if you are trekking just before/after the monsoon or during the monsoon season.
5. Water and Food Sources near the base
Talking about preparation, it is not enough to know how the trail moves. You must also make a mental note of water and food sources closest to the trail. This is usually available at the base village. But there could be exceptions.
For example, the treks of Ballalarayana Durga, Kurinjal Peak do not have a food source at the base or the trek of Markandeya in Maharashtra does not have any food or water source at the start of the trek.
In times like these, you need to be prepared before you begin the trek. In times of doubt, the safest option is to carry food in your own dabba and at least two filled water bottles on any trek.
Pro-Tip: Carry purification tablets or straw-filters to purify water in case there are potable water sources available on the trail.
6. Carry a GPX File and Map for the Trek
Knowing the route before setting off on a trail is a brilliant way to stay safe on a trek. Apart from mentally preparing you for what lies ahead, it also prevents you from getting lost.
As an explorer myself, I know that it is easy to get lost on a trail when you are trekking on your own or exploring a trail for the first time. In such a case, that tiny GPX file that you downloaded on your phone can save your life.
Read this complete guide to understand how to use a GPX file on a trek.
7. Have a Checklist of Things To Carry for the trek
Forgetting even one time from your ‘Things To Take’ list can spell disaster. This, because on a trail you are usually away from civilisation and if you are not carrying why you need, chances are you won’t find it on the trail either.
Most of the DIY Treks follow a template list of things to take – things like a raincoat, headlamp, backpack are some of the common list. You don’t need to ponder too much over it. Simply download the list and follow it. Indiahikes Checklist: What to take
8. Go through the details on How to Reach the Basecamp/village of Your Trek
Till now we’ve talked about being mentally prepared for the trek. But it is equally important to know how to reach the starting point of the trek. This involves knowing the quickest and most cost-efficient routes so that your journey before the trek doesn’t tire you out.
Google Maps do come handy for figuring out routes. But as a trekker, it is good to know the route without Google Maps. This helps in case your phone dies or you lose network en route.
The best way to go about this is to have a mental map of the route. Add this to the checklist before the trek.
9. Find Out The Best Time To Do The Trek
While it is important to know which is the best season to do the trek, it is equally important to know at what time of the day the trek is at its best. This changes the way you experience the trek.
Saurabh Sawant from the exploration team descends cautiously with the help of rock inscriptions. Picture by Saurabh Sawant
For example, if you are trekking on the Savandurga Trek, timing the trek during dawn is a beautiful experience or Tadiandamol Trek has forest restrictions on when you can trek. For treks around Mumbai, leaving your homes the previous night and starting as early brings out the best on the trek. Otherwise you need to trek in the humid weather conditions.
There are treks which you can start at dawn to see a sunrise, a trek where clouds are floating during early morning or spending the night, camping brings out an experience which you won’t get when attempted during another time.
Knowing the right time influences how you prepare for the trek. Do you need to carry camping gear? How much food/water do you need to carry? Deciding these become challenging if you don’t have a clue about the right time.
Pro Tip: Having a Turn Around Time (TAT) is an important protocol to have for yourself or a team. This one concept or a process that we follow on our treks at Indiahikes , enhances the safety of the trek. Follow the discipline of having time to turn around to the base from whichever position you are at to see the benefits of having a safe trek.
10. Be Prepared With Plan B. Figure Out Exit Routes.
The best possibility is that you go on a trek and complete it without hiccups.
But what if that doesn’t happen? What if you run into challenges? In that case, what’s Plan B?
While going on a trek, you need to be aware of other possibilities and prepare for them too. It’s also possible at times that you are unable to go on a trek you have prepared for. Road conditions, changes in permission/weather/political, any of them can fall apart and halt your plan. In times like these, if you have a trek ready in your Plan B, you can easily get on with it without wasting the entire period.
You also need to know the exit route – this is the shortest possible route in case you need to exit in an emergency. Be mindful that a trek can have multiple trails and there can be more than one exit routes depending on from where you The other safety point is to know your exit routes on a trek. A trek can have multiple trails. Be mindful of the different trails and exit routes.
11. Always Uphold the right Spirit of Trekking
At Indiahikes, we believe that trekking must happen with the true-blue spirit of trekking. It doesn’t matter where you are trekking, whether in the Himalayas or in the Western Ghats, as a trekker you must always exhibit that spirit and maintain a certain decorum on the trek.
In the true spirit of trekking, you do not litter on the trek. You leave the mountains better than you find them in. To do this, you can carry a sack to collect waste left by other trekkers on the trail. There are even other ways of ensuring you carry your own food, reusable water bottles, and not harming nature by having a bonfire or campfire.
Although Karan was enamoured by the mountains, he was disappointed by the trash on the trail
Other points to keep in mind would be not to play loud music while trekking. I’ll tell you why a true trekker never does this. Loud music disturbs the ambiance of the trek for your fellow trekkers. It also prevents you from enjoying the ambient sounds of nature, for which you have trekked so far.
You must also avoid alcohol on a trek as it dulls your senses and keeps you from the immersive experience of nature. In fact, alcohol ruins the spirit of trekking.
As an explorer who loves setting off on treks on my own, I felt really driven to share these points with you. And if you too like to trek on your own, I would love to hear from you.
If you have more points that a trekker must keep in mind before going on a trek, do share your thoughts below in the comment box 🙂 It will help the entire trekking community to be aware and prepared before they take up a trek.