Long-distance walks - or hikings of several days of varying difficulty - are experiencing a moment of great success. In fact, more and more people choose to test themselves with this type of journey, which combines physical performance and exploration of the territory. But how can we plan a long-distance walk, to avoid risking being in difficulty along the way? We asked Simone Barletta, a mid-mountain guide and expert on trails in central Italy.

Planning a long-distance walk

December is definitely not the best time for multi-day hikes, but it certainly is for planning a long-distance walk for next summer. In fact, more and more people are choosing this kind of trip to spend their holidays in an alternative way, looking for slowness and discovery. Whether you decide to tackle a solo route, with a group of friends or rely on a guide, it is good to prepare well in advance - and this is certainly the perfect time to start.

The main thing to consider when planning a long-distance hike is that the best time of the year for this activity is from May to October, for reasons related to the hours of light available, the temperatures and the weather. This is obviously a general consideration, each itinerary must then be evaluated based on its position and characteristics.

What kind of training do I need for a long-distance walk?

The first requirement is to be adequately trained for a continuous hiking activity of several days, on paths with different grounds and elevation gain, carrying a backpack more or less heavy depending on the kind of trail.
It is therefore important to start training for the journey with regular hikings and, as your physical condition improves, walk along paths with technical characteristics – i.e. length, uphill and downhill gradients, hiking difficulty - in line with those of the chosen itinerary.

The backpack must be adapted to the needs of the selected itinerary, as we will see later, but in any case, it must have a capacity of between 30 and 50/60 liters. It will be important, therefore, during the training phase, to reach the goal of carrying the backpack with all the necessary equipment neatly stored inside.

We remind you that in organized groups it is generally possible to carry luggage, which allows you to carry a backpack with a maximum of 30/40 liters. In short, in a journey of this kind, only a backpack with the necessary items for the day is carried on the road, while the organization takes care of taking the real baggage at each stage arrival.

Another crucial factor is the familiarity with the use of telescopic poles.
Hiking poles, often underestimated, are instead an important tool in the progression of hiking and, if used with the right technique, significantly reduce the load of one's weight and backpack on the joints. Furthermore, they ensure greater stability especially along steep trails, near fords or muddy grounds. There is a lot of information on the internet about the use of hiking poles that should be read further.

Finally, personal motivation, the desire to complete what you have begun and the determination to face the journey are essential. In a nutshell, being there with your head, focused on your ultimate goal.

I personally lead several groups on long-distance walks all year round and during the introduction meeting, as well as reiterating everything described in the specific program, I look at those who are facing me looking for strength and weakness point, in order to get more or less complete and objective picture of the composition of the group. Being able to bring all the participants to the end of the hike is a great challenge and more than once I was wrong (luckily!), then having to review my first impression. In fact, I found walkers, who were thin, heavy or not too well equipped, bringing with them two qualities that could not be identified but on the road: the habit of walking and a strong personal determination, which supported them until the end of the journey.

What do I put in my suitcase for a long-distance walk?

Unlike daily hikes, preparing the suitcase for a long-distance walk (with carried luggage) becomes a remarkable challenge. It is certainly not easy to enclose our world in a space-saving trolley that will anticipate our steps.
In the ideal baggage the content will be completely used, with the sole exception of the equipment dedicated to the unexpected. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to focus on the concept of essential, which will guide us in identifying what is really fundamental for our journey.

Personally, I do not devote much time to the preparation of the suitcase, because with experience I have learned to concentrate on the bare essentials. So much, after a long day of walking, there is very little space left to give oneself to 'worldliness': the arrival in the accommodation, a shower, a rich dinner and then normally one goes straight to bed.

Comfort, versatility, breathability and quick drying are the key features you should look for in the so called "travel" technical apparel. These garments provide the right balance between the two worlds, that of hiking and that of travel, which merge and follow each other for several days.
With technical garments, it becomes even easier to reduce the amount of dirty laundry. If the temperatures allow it, you can wash the clothes in the evening to have them ready and dry in the morning, just have the foresight to pack liquid detergent for hand washing.

Finally, two pairs of shoes are required. The first pair, structured and with anti-water and windproof membrane, is essential for daily activities and can be high, mid or low depending on the period and the difficulty of the journey. As a reference model we can take Garmont's Toubkal GTX, designed specifically for backpacking. The second pair must be comfortable and light one, like a light hiking or approach shoe such as the comfortable and versatile 9.81 N AIR G S GTX, suitable during breaks and in less demanding stages.
What do I put in my backpack for a long-distance walk?

To give a useful and brief answer at the same time, I will only list the necessary items to carry in the backpack depending on whether the planned long-distance walk is the classic backpacking trip or a more comfortable hiking with carried baggage service.

In both cases, you need a good quality backpack that is suitable for the purpose, which can be recommended in any outdoor clothing and equipment store. However, do not forget that the weight of the backpack plus the equipment to be stored should not exceed 10% of your body weight.

So, let's see what to put in the backpack for a long-distance hike:
  • 50/60 Liters backpack for a long-distance walk (5/6 days)
Hiking map, compass, gps, powerbank, headlamp, first aid kit, thermal blanket, binoculars, electrician's straps and American-type fabric tape (always useful), sheet bag (if you sleep in a shelter / hostels) or tent, mattress and sleeping bag, water bottle and food, camping cutlery, liquid laundry soap, microfibre towel, beauty case, spare underwear, technical shirt, trousers, fleece, 100g down jacket, waterproof and windproof shell.
  • Backpack for daily hikings (26/40 liters), with carried luggage
Hiking map, compass, gps, powerbank, headlamp, first aid kit, thermal blanket, binoculars, electrician's straps and American type (always useful) canvas belt, water bottle and food, 100g down jacket, shell in waterproof and windproof shell.

These rather exhaustive lists should be added only with the bare essentials linked to personal needs. In any case, everything must be strictly stored in watertight compartments to guarantee order, practicality and impermeability to all the contents.

We thank Simone for the valuable advice about planning a long-distance walk. Now, we just have to choose our destination. And, if you are looking for inspiration, why don’t you have a look at our tips on the 10 unmissable routes between Abruzzo and Molise?

​​​​​​​Simone Barletta is Medium Mountain Guide and Hiking Teacher registered with the Abruzzo Alpine Guides College, accredited operator of the Autonomous National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise for environmental education and Nordic Walking instructor. He personally takes care of Atropa Trekking activities with a lot of passion.