One of the biggest transitions that most hikers make is shifting from day hiking to overnight hiking. Learning how to camp overnight, cooking meals and go to the bathroom in the bush are all skills that we had to learn at some stage which may have seemed a bit daunting at the time. Transitioning from just a night or two to multi-day trips brings a whole new set of considerations that can seems just as daunting. This article discusses the main considerations for multi-day hiking and hopefully will provide you with some background if you are considering taking this next step.
So what’s the difference?
Surely a multi-day trip is just a longer version or a short overnight trip? In some respects, the answer is yes but when I think back to the first multi-day trips that we undertook as a couple, the answer is different. Our first two multi day trips longer than a few nights were organised group trips run by professional companies that did everything for us. Then there was the first multi-day (a two-week long trip on the Larapinta Trail) that we planned, organised and ran ourselves. Two very different experiences with the latter requiring us to step up to ensure the experience went well. Both these adventures had additional factors we hadn’t considered before so let’s take a closer look.
One of the biggest differences between 1-2 day trips and longer multi day trips is the planning aspect. Things to consider are:
Are you going to carry your food and fuel in a single pack or does the length of the trip require you to resupply?
Where are you going to start and stop each day? This is a much easier thing to consider on shorter trips but when you are planning a long trip, you need to work this out beforehand responding to the trip length as well equipment needs and resupply considerations
Research the trip
On my longer multi-day trips I spend weeks if not months planning every aspect of the hike and making contingency plans for that ‘just in case’ situation. I’m a bit obsessive and I can’t relax on a hike without having all the details
As part of the research process I also plan ‘down time’ which may include days off hiking or options for slowing down so I can ‘stop and smell the roses’
These are important on all trips but the longer the trip the more important they become
Develop an emergency plan
Let someone responsible know where you are
Outline the process if things go wrong
Have a plan for trip cancellation
Food planning spreadsheet
Transitioning from day hiking to overnight hiking brings with it new gear to carry. Items such as your sleeping and cooking systems as well as additional food. Usually if you are only going for a night or two your pack won’t be overly heavy, and you will usually have redundant space. On a longer trip this changes; available space reduces and the weight increases.
There is a physical limit to the amount of equipment and food you can fit into a pack, even a large one, and this can impact on the potential length of a hike or dictate resupply strategies.
Whatever the trip I always carry a pack that meets my needs. When I undertake an overnight trip, I choose one of my smaller packs that fits all my gear. Undertaking a multi-day trip will require more gear/supplies so you are likely to need a larger pack. But its important not to overdo it
I currently use a pack with a 51-litre capacity and prefer not to go larger. This size pack allows me to carry anything up to ten days of food and all the equipment I need for a variety of circumstances. However, I prefer to carry a maximum of eight days of food due to the weight so this becomes the limiting factor and drives consideration of where to resupply or do a town stop
While I can carry a reasonable load on my back, going too heavy it’s just not comfortable. A well-known saying in long distance hiking circles is ‘comfort on the trail versus comfort in camp’. There is no correct answer to how much weight you carry however you’re the one that must carry it- if you’re happy to carry it then you should. My preferred maximum pack weight is 18.5kg (with eight days of food and three litres of water). Choose where you want to be comfortable. Is it in camp or is it walking between camps? In most cases your answer will be a compromise
Consider every piece of gear and bit of food you’re planning to take with you. Don’t carry ‘stuff’ that you ‘might’ use. Having said that, always carry equipment you need from a safety perspective
Can you replace a heavier piece of gear with a lighter piece of gear?
Can you make a piece of gear dual purpose e.g. can your clothing pack become your pillow?
Hot versus cold
On a single overnight trip, you can look at the weather forecast and carry the equipment you need to keep you comfortable in the forecast conditions, leaving those things at home you don’t need. However, on a multi-day trip the weather can vary greatly and the forecast is less reliable, so you need to cater for the full range of potential weather conditions even if they don’t eventuate
And remember, layer for comfort!
Carry necessary pieces of safety equipment. While not always the case, being on an extended trip often means you are usually further away from assistance if something goes wrong. Carry an emergency Beacon or communicator e.g. a Personal Locator Beacon or two-way communicator just in case. This is very important for trails such as the Larapinta Trail and the Overland Track
Ensure you know how to find your way. Is the trail easy to follow or do you need a map and compass?
Food / Water / Supplies
It is so easy to carry too much food. In many cases this is something you must work out for yourself and everyone is different. However, I have seen first-hand on a few different multi-day hikes how most people will pack far too much food. Excess food is excess weight
Nutrition is more important on longer trips so as far as possible bring food you enjoy that is also nutritionally sound
As part of your planning process know where you can get water and how much you will need to carry between water sources. Skimping here can be dangerous in hot weather so don’t be tempted to carry less than you need
What sort of filtration, if any, do you need?
Know much stove fuel you use
I use an all in one stove unit and only boil water, I don’t cook. When there are two of us hiking, a 100gram gas canister will last 8 days. When I’m solo hiking I can get 12 days. I will usually replace gas cylinders at the same time I resupply food, but this will depend on my resupply options
Get comfortable with your footwear prior to your hike. Don’t wear new shoes unless you know exactly the impact they will have on you
Pack it in, Pack it out
Have a rubbish bag to put all the waste in. Gone are the days of ‘burn, and bash and bury’
Pack it in and pack it out refers to the practice of taking all rubbish out with you
Food for a multi-day hike
Tim's Gear List for Multi-day Hiking
Everyone has different preferences as far as equipment goes but if you would like to know what equipment that I use on my multi-day hike have a look at Tim’s Multi-Day Hiking Gear List
I regularly walk up my local mountain and it is not unusual for people to be ‘pack training’ in preparation for some trip. The biggest mistakes people make here are they don’t start early enough or don’t practice with a full weight pack. Pushing yourself on a one- or two-day trip while physically hard is usually manageable for most people. Try doing it on a one week plus trip if you haven’t prepared
Know your limitations and don’t go full bore on the first part of the trip unless you have trained
Know the impacts hiking with a heavy pack will have on you
One single day
On a multi-day hike
Do a multi-day shakedown hike
Hiking over one or two days may have little impact on your feet but hiking over multiple days may destroy them
Multi-day hikes can be as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Are you able to cope on a solo hike or do you need the company of others? Again, this may be something you don’t know until you try
Do you need any type of entertainment? Consider leaving room for:
Cards and/or games
Games to take on a multiway hike. Look for the small travel versions to save weight
Options for multi-day hikes
As I mentioned in the introduction, if you haven’t done a multi-day hike before you have a few options:
You can go in an organised group with a commercial company or a club
You can go with friends who may or may not have more experience than you
Jump in feet first and do your own thing
All these options are perfectly valid, but we would suggest going with others who are experienced at least on your first trip so can iron out any kinks. From then on you may decide to do it all yourself.
Either way choose a hike that is not overly complex and one that provides plenty of options. You don’t want to throw yourself into a three-week long hike if you have never camped for more than a day or two at a time.
The last word
Having a successful multi-day hike really comes down to one major aspect and that is planning. In everything we have discussed in this article it all revolves around planning. I’ve been hiking for over 40 years and can still remember my first camping trip longer than two days. A sharp learning curve then and I still learn every time I go out – sometimes just from the experience and sometimes from a mistake or two … but it’s OK to make mistakes if you learn and they’re not too serious!
Spend the time prior to your trip to plan all aspects and ensure you do the physical preparation beforehand. This will greatly increase your chances of having a great trip. There’s nothing that says you must do it all by yourself and venture out on your own, so seek out others or take part in an organised trip.
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