If you have spent any time on YouTube or read blogs about long-distance hiking then you will find that the focus is always on the positives and rightly so. Long-distance hiking, whether that is on a pilgrimage trail spending time in hostels, or on a 6-month hike across the Pacific Crest Trail backpacking with a tent is a truly amazing experience. The pros certainly outweigh the cons which is why we tend to immerse ourselves in this way of living. You will find that once you have completed one long-distance hike and reaped the rewards of being in nature for a prolonged period of time, then it will call you back, time and time again.
That being said, there are always a few bad days when walking a multi-day hike. So, with this in mind, here are my top eight “cons” about long-distance hiking, with a positive spin on how to overcome each hurdle.
#1 – Snorers in hostels
My husband snores for England and I still sleep like a baby, so knowing that I would be sleeping in bunkrooms with other people on the Camino etc did not worry me in the slightest. I knew I could sleep through anything if I was tired enough. However, sleeping with a familiar snore is perhaps comforting, but sleeping with the “Pilgrim song” of multiple snorers is a completely different kettle of fish. One night in Logrono I ended up being that annoyed with a fellow pilgrim in the opposite bunk that he ended up being poked quite hard with my trekking pole numerous times in the night. But as he stopped snoring for a few minutes, a more high pitched breathing whistle was coming from a different part of the room.
Solution – I either book a smaller room (maximum of 6 pilgrims), or I plug in my AirPods and listen to a sleep story from the Calm app to send me to sleep. It works every time.
#2 – Packing up a wet tent
I suffer with Raynauds Disease which means I have problems with circulation in my hands and feet, especially in the cold weather. There is nothing worse than trying to pack up a cold and wet tent in the morning. My hands become extremely painful and the whole process is just horrible. Unfortunately, I do not have a solution for this “dislike”. If you have any tips then please share below!
#3 – Feeling stinky
I remember feeling rather depressed on a few days along the South Downs Way as I had not had the opportunity to have a good wash in a few days. It was July and very hot. I remember staying at a campsite on the outskirts of a town called “Cocking” and the farmer had converted a horsebox into a shower. I was desperate to have a shower and didn't even care if the water was cold. I just needed to wash my hair and body and rinse out my clothes. Feeling clean was just good for the soul. But, there I was, standing completely naked in an open-top horsebox, dodging the bird poo on the floor, and all that came out of the shower head was a little trickle of water. I put my clothes back on and ended up having a bed bath in my tent with my bandana and compression towels. That day was a bad day! If you are completing a long distance backpacking trip then your clothes and your body will start to smell. People in shops or pubs may start to look at you a little bit strange, but it is just something that you need to deal with.
The following evening I was staying at a Youth Hostel and I spent about 20 minutes in the shower thinking that life was wonderful!
Solution: If you are able to stay in a hotel or hostel at least once a week while on a long-distance hike, a good shower will do wonders for your morale.
#4 – Blisters
If you are walking day after day then you need to look after your feet. If you are walking in the heat then being “blister aware” is essential. I learned this one the hard way. I have always walked the Camino in May or October when the weather is perfect for hiking. However, I did walk through the meseta region of Spain and into Santiago for three weeks during July of 2018. I was wearing the wrong type of footwear, I didn't stop to let my feet breathe and I didn't apply foot balm to protect my feet from friction. The results were the most painful blisters that I have ever experienced. I think I counted 11 blisters in total at one stage and it made for a very unpleasant week or so.
Solution: Know what works for you, and stick to a foot routine. For me, I stop walking every 5 miles and remove my shoes and feet. I always add foot balm and tape my feet every morning, and I wear shoes that are appropriate for the time of year.
#5 – Seeing rubbish on popular trails
On some of my day hikes, I often stop and pick up trash on the trail. I have a little “bin” attached to my sternum strap so if I see wrappers etc on the trail then I will pick it up. But a day hike is very different from a long-distance trail. I find it incredibly upsetting to see toilet paper on ancient trails like the Camino and even the Cotswolds Way (I don't pick up used toilet paper!). We all need to get the message out for everyone to “leave no trace” and respect the land.
#6 – Hiking in the rain
Hiking in the rain for a day or so it absolutely fine. But hiking in the rain for multiple days can have an impact on your mood and your morale. Hiking for multiple days on The Jurassic Way earlier this year was an amazing trip, but the rain got to us all in the end. To keep our spirits high we ended up doing rain dances, and then giving up for one night and going home to get our clothes dry (luckily the Jurassic Way was only 30 mins away from home, so we had that option). Being cold, wet, unable to dry out clothes and putting wet clothes on the next day (then packing up a wet tent) makes for a miserable hike.
Solution: Since the Jurassic Way, I now have a rain skirt (fashionable… not!), and also rain mitts that go over my gloves. My Frogtogs jacket keeps me dry and my waterproof socks are also a bit of a bonus. Take your insoles out of your shoes at night as it helps with the drying process.
#7 Losing my way!
When you are walking day after day it is easy to lose concentration. I have lost count how many times I have followed an animal track rather than the actual trail. I don't think I have ever been completely lost and not known where I am, but I remember being so involved with a podcast on the Cotswolds Way that I walked over 3 miles in one direction which was completely the wrong way. That lack of concentration added an extra 6 miles to an already long day.
Solution: I now upload all my walks into Alltrails.com. The pro version comes with a little alert system so I get notified if I am off-trail. It is a lifesaver for me and I tell everyone about it! In my opinion, Alltrails along with the OS Maps app, are the two best navigation apps on the market.
#8 – Backpacking Gear failure
The last thing I dislike about long-distance hiking is not really something that you can control, but it is still a pain if it happens and that is your gear failing. My Jetboil igniter failed to work for a few days and I didn't have a Bic lighter, so that meant I was eating snacks and had no hot coffee until I reached a shop. I now always carry a lighter with me. On a recent trip to the South West Coastal Path, a storm on a cliff and a putting my tent up in a hurry resulted in a tear in my tent at 1 am and I had to bunk in with a friend. I didn't have any duct tape or gaffer tape, which meant that I had to get a bus back to the nearest town in the next village. I now have duct tape wrapped around my walking pole for emergencies.
I also have anxiety feelings when my battery power is getting low and twice on the South Downs Way I ran out of charge. Having to navigate using map and compass takes time and I find it frustrating. I now carry a huge 25000 milliamp powerpack with solar panel charge. The anxiety has gone, although the weight in my pack is much heavier than before!
I am sure that other gear will fail in the future and you just have to deal with it when the time arises.
I absolutely love long-distance hiking and the list for “pros' is ten times longer than the list above. If you are new to backpacking, then good gear and a positive attitude is one step closer to having a successful hike.
Remember, Get Outside, Get Inspired and Go Take A Hike!
Gear I mentioned in this video:
1. Map downloads for Northamptonshire can be found here: https://www.adventuregeek.co.uk/maps
2. Apple Aipods Pro £200 – https://amzn.to/3flWH2m
3. Calm App, with sleep stories – https://www.calm.com/sleep-stories
4. Lanshan 2 Ultralight Tent – https://amzn.to/2HpGBbv
5. Compression Towel (disposable) – https://amzn.to/35TCzla
6. Trekking Umbrella (Handsfree and lightweight ) – https://amzn.to/2URMMbC
7. Rain skirt – https://amzn.to/3fnu5Wq
8. Nature Valley Nut Butter Cups – https://amzn.to/3fmAyRD
9. Alltrails navigation – https://www.alltrails.com/ See you on the trail!
Remember, Get Outside, Get Inspired now go take a hike!