By Gabrielle Gagné
I have just returned from a long 10-day hike on the Notre-Dame-de-Kapatakan trail and I wanted to write an article to help you take on the challenge of a greater shipping. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things to think about before leaving as well as during the walk. Don’t hesitate to leave your own tips in the comments!
Choose your long expedition
Several questions arise before making a choice.
What is your experience in terms of long hikes? Personally, I started with experiences of 3 to 4 days before carrying out a long expedition over 10 days. I had time to make mistakes and learn a lot of things before starting out. On the 10 day one, I also knew a little more what to expect physically. The fatigue and blisters were less of a surprise and I was able to cope better mentally with the difficulty.
What is your physical condition? Question to ask yourself before choosing the level of the challenge but also in order to plan the number of days it will take us to cover the required number of kilometers . Depending on the equipment you will have to transport, your speed may be affected. Do I have any injuries? Is the height difference significant? Is the route trail or city? Walking on asphalt is harder on the joints, so that’s something to consider.
What are your desires? A hike in complete autonomy will be more difficult than a hike where you have access to certain lodges or inns. For example, on the long crossing of Charlevoix, as it is completely in nature, you have to carry all your meals and make sure you have the right equipment to purify the water. On the Notre-Dame-De-Kapatakan trail that I just did, we passed a lot through the towns of Saguenay and Lac-Saint-Jean, so we had a few freeze-dried meals for prevention, but we were often able to pass by grocery stores to supply us. So there was less food to transport. We also learned that there was a luggage transport service on this trail; Some people therefore choose to only carry water, snacks and a camera, allowing them to concentrate only on walking and not on managing everything else.
You also have to decide if you want to sleep in a tent, which requires more things to drag around, therefore a heavier bag, or if you want to concentrate on walking and sleep in a hostel. A mix of the two is sometimes possible. The important thing is to go according to what you feel you need for this experience.
When is the best time to do it? And other questions
Is it heatwave weather? Do you want to do it in the fall in cooler weather? Depending on the temperature, do I have a lot more equipment to carry? Will there be a lot of mosquitoes? Do I prefer to go there in high season, to meet more people, or in low season to fill a need for solitude? Are the refreshments still open depending on the time of year? Will there be a strong presence of wildlife? Do I need a permit to do this trail? Etc.
Choose your partner
We will not hide it, a long expedition creates fatigue, which can cause us to become on edge more quickly. You can choose to do it alone or otherwise target someone with whom you already know that everything will go well. It could be someone with whom you have already had experiences that push your limits, so you know their temperament well in similar situations, or otherwise a person who seems appropriate to your feelings. In any case, take the time to establish your limits before leaving, to communicate during the journey, to apologize if necessary, but above all to build wonderful memories together. On my expedition, all three of us brought a book. Yes, it’s extra weight, but the moments we took to be in our bubble brought a nice balance to our days. Even on the most difficult days, we didn't argue with each other.
Plan stops and manage supplies
First of all, before departure, you must plan transportation if the arrival point is not the same as the departure point. Then, if you go to town, you need to validate whether the places to stock up on water and food will be open depending on the time of year and your time of arrival. If you are completely independent, you must plan the quantity of water to purify before the next water point.
Another aspect to consider is the departure time. Personally, I prefer to start early so as to be less stressed in time if we ever encounter any problems. This also allows you to take advantage of unplanned stops such as a swim in a lake, a longer restaurant stop, etc. These are also times of the day when it is sometimes a little cooler, so this should also be considered.
Manage what’s in the backpack
Here, I don't want to give you a list of what to bring or how to choose the right backpack, but to give you general advice. Here is what I learned during my stay:
- Light material yes, but compact too. I had a sleeping bag and mattress that were described as ultralight, but during our trail I ended up finding that they took up way too much space. Eventually, I would like to equip myself with more compact equipment.
- Multi-purpose equipment. A utensil that is a knife, fork and spoon all in one? Yes! Bobettes and sports tops that also serve as swimsuits? Go! Every opportunity to travel light is good.
- Test your equipment first. Whether it is to ensure that our shoes suit our needs, or to check that there are no holes in the tent, a testing operation can help you avoid problems that are more difficult to manage during shipping.
- The notion of hygiene becomes very relative on a long hike. Depending on the type chosen (camping versus accommodation), you may not be able to wash often. Forget creams, conditioner, complicated things: after all, you have to reduce the weight of the bag. Perhaps opt more for a tiny soap, swimming in water points or for cleaning wipes which will do the job en masse.
- Heaviest at the bottom, near the hips, lightest at the top, near the upper back. This will greatly influence comfort and save your shoulders. On the other hand, one of the things I keep in mind for a possible bag will be a bag with zippers that make the bottom accessible. Mine only has an opening on the top, so when we needed heavier things, we had to take everything out to get access to it. I know that now some bags have accessible pockets at pelvic height, which makes things a little easier. A good bag and good organization avoids having to take everything out and repack at each meal stop during the day. We also avoid a lot of wasted time on days that are sometimes busier in terms of mileage.
- Keep a kit dry. Our waterproof bags were very useful during our journey. One day it was so wet that the mattress and sleeping bag were even damaged. A waterproof bag helps protect electronic equipment as well as having a dry kit to put on while waiting for wet laundry to dry.
To have stopped. When we feel that we are injured or that we need a break, nothing prevents us from taking a day off, stopping the trail, reducing the number of kilometers per day, etc. It is important to find out beforehand to know what is accessible if you ever stop. Is there suitable transportation if needed? Can you get off the trip and take the bus and taxi back to your departure/arrival point? It's also important to carry a bass first aid kit and not hesitate to use it. With our blisters, tape and plasters were our best friends!
Plan, plan, plan
I say that, but honestly, I'm the worst at this level. I try to plan as little as possible and I always leave a map of the route with people around me so that they know where I am on which day, if anything happens. Otherwise, I’m much more of a “go with the flow” type, I find that it always ends up bringing me delicious anecdotes. But hey, obviously, some things have to be planned in advance.
And one last piece of advice: savor every moment. It’s such an enriching experience, which goes by so quickly even if certain portions, due to their difficulty, seem endless. The memories and experience you will gain are priceless!