Like all sports, hiking involves particular skills and strengths that take time to develop. We talk to a Sports Tracker Ambassador Eveliina Kupiainen who moved to the Alps for adventure about how to gain them.
When Eve moved from Finland to Austria six years ago, hiking in the big mountains initially scared her. “After six years I don’t have so much vertigo anymore,” she says, laughing.
Eve lives in Salzburg, a beautiful city surrounded by towering mountains. Whenever she and her partner have a chance, they head to a trail and go hiking or mountain biking. “It’s difficult to describe how much I enjoy being in nature,” she says. “That’s the reason we moved here.”
It’s taken time for Eve to get used to hiking in the Alps because she comes from the east of Finland, an equally stunning place, comprised of vast forests and lake land. Only thing is, it’s as flat as pancake. Adjusting physically and mentally to the challenge of hiking in the mountains has taken time. For people looking to start out, she explains how below.
But before we begin, there are many words for describing walking out in nature. Hiking, trekking, rambling (UK), tramping (New Zealand), and bushwalking (Australia) to name a few. It’s good to know what the difference is between them. “Trekking is a long hike in the mountains, and hiking is walking in nature or the mountains, but it’s not so long,” Eve says. Hiking is more of a leisure activity, while trekking is considered more demanding. For beginners, it’s good to start hiking and eventually try trekking later on.
Get good quality gear
Like any other sport, hiking requires specific gear. A good backpack for carrying all your belongings, water and food. Proper wet weather gear, especially a high quality hiking rain jacket. Remember, mountain weather can change rapidly, which can be dangerous if you are up high and unequipped.
It’s also wise to invest in good quality hiking gear, rather than choosing by price. Good quality hiking gear will last you for years, while the cheap stuff won’t. Investing in quality will save you money in the long run, and it’s also better for planet. Here Eve’s essentials:
Suunto 9 Baro: This is an essential item for Eve. She researches hikes she would like to do, and downloads GPX files (for storing GPS coordinates) on to her Suunto 9, which gives her directions while she’s hiking. “I can see the path in my watch and I follow that,” she says. “It keeps things safe.” (The new Sports Tracker Routes feature is another great way to plan your trip.)
Hiking rain jacket: consider Salomon’s La Cote Flex rain jacket for men and women.
Water bladder: fill these with water and put them inside your hiking pack. It’s makes drinking enough water much easier. Salomon’s two liter Soft Reservoir is a good option.
Headlamp: Some hikes can take longer than expected. Having a headlamp is helpful in the event you hike into the evening, or if you overnight in a hut and need to see at night.
Paper topographical maps: If all your batteries fail, then having a paper map can guide the way. Study it before you go, and make sure you know how to read one.
How to become a true mountain hiker
Getting used to the mountains takes time. Eve says if you’re not used to being the mountains, start with easier hiking trails first.
Embrace what you have
If you don’t live anywhere near mountains, that’s okay, embrace the terrain you have. Eve began hiking in the forest around beautiful lakes in Finland. Hiking on the flat begins to develop the endurance and skills that will serve you later in the mountains. Take a topographical map out with you, download a GPX file on to your Sports Tracker app, and get familiar with navigating.
Easy trails first
Once you have your gear and have tested it nearby, choose any easy hiking trail to do. In Austria, where Eve lives, hiking trails are graded according to difficulty. Trails marked in blue are easy, trails marked in red are intermediate level, and trails marked in black are difficult. Eve started on blue trails and gradually developed the endurance and outdoor skills to hike black trails, which she does regularly. Go into a hiking store or a tourist information centre and ask about easy local trails to hike.
Do longer sports sessions
Eve hikes, road cycles, mountain bikes, runs and also plays volleyball. She says doing longer training sessions helps her to maintain the base fitness for hiking. “It doesn’t need to be such a heavy workout,” she explains. “The heart beat doesn’t have to get too high. Keep it slow and steady, just like hiking.”
Attend an outdoor skills course
This is well worthwhile. These weekend courses are led by experienced hikers, and provide a safe way to develop the knowledge and skills for serious hiking.
Eve’s top hiking destinations
The stunning Austrian Alps are her playground, but Eve admits she has a bias for the hiking trails in Finland. “That’s where my heart belongs,” she says. Here are her top hikes:
Punkaharju Nature Reserve, Finland
This is near where Eve grew up. “This is where you can experience pure Finnish nature,” she says. It’s a great place to begin hiking.
Nuuksio National Park, Finland
Close to Helsinki, this national park is accessible and great for beginners, too.
South Tyrol, Italy
The Italian Alps are big and majestic. The hiking trails are also very well marked, with plenty of entry-level hiking trails. Eve has been hiking and mountain biking there, and can’t get enough.
More than a playground for the uber rich, Davos is perfect for hikers trying to test their feet in the mountains. The city itself is located at 1560 m above sea level, and the local mountains reach 3146 m.
Let us know in the comments below where your favourite hiking trails are!