My biggest lesson on the trail

My name is Johanna, and I’ve hiked across Vietnam, New Zealand and Japan. But my first real hike is something that no one should attempt.

The first day

My partner and I had dabbled in a little hiking, exploring caves in Vietnam. But a few years ago, after a road trip through Europe, we decided to attempt our first, big multi-day hike.

We were on our way to Mount Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia with an elevation of 2,864 metres.

Looking back, we were completely unprepared — no proper gear, no waterproof shoes, and heavy packs. I don’t know why we decided to take on the mountain — I guess just to see if we could do it.

We set off, and six hours later, we’d made it the top of the first mountain peak. We were relieved to see a cabin, but to our dismay it was fully booked out: “No chance,” they told us. “Last week of the season.”

We were devastated. But with evening closing in, we had also no chance of making it back down. The owners of the cabin took pity on us and kindly opened their doors. To our delight, we were treated to a night of traditional Slovenian festivities to mark the end of the season.

The second day

The next day, with our spirits invigorated, we decided we could continue to the next hut.

Naturally, we ended up taking a wrong turn. One mistake would turn into 10 hours of non-stop hiking. As a result, we ran out of water and food.

We found a stream and finally managed to get some water, and with night closing in on our heels again, we finally made it to the second hut. It was the second time we got lucky in as many days.

The third day

By the third day, we were exhausted — but we’d heard so many amazing things about Mount Triglav. We’d already come so far.

So for the final time, we set off. As we walked further up the mountain, the landscape began to turn into snow and ice. Other hikers were dressed in extensive hiking gear, and armed with pick axes to tackle the rocky cliffs. They took one look at us in our sneakers and shook their heads.

They kept telling us, “You need to go back. You need to turn around”.

Still, we persisted. The terrain became more treacherous under foot and we were soon climbing up a giant wall of rocks — with a huge drop of around 100 metres. Memorials of people who had passed away on the mountain began to pop up everywhere.

It was at this point I started freaking out. I didn’t know what we were doing, or why we were doing it anymore.

Some many hours later, we finally, somehow, reached the top of Mount Triglav. The mountains stretched across into Austria, and it was so incredibly beautiful and rewarding.

After that, I knew that I wanted to chase that feeling all the time.

Taking a quick rest break in Japan
Taking a quick rest break in Japan

A lesson learnt on every trail

Mount Triglav was where we learnt the most important lesson on the trail: be ready for anything.

While it turned out well for us, we knew we were incredibly lucky. As we approached the top, we were surrounded by snow and ice. If the weather had turned even slightly, we would have been in real trouble. We were halfway up a mountain and scared to death, and that’s an experience you don’t need to have. Honestly, we really were so lucky.

Since then, I’ve done a lot more hiking. I’ve learnt a lot about what works for me, and what doesn’t. But more importantly, I learnt about the importance of good hiking gear, emergency supplies, and all the things we should have had on us — not just to make it easier — but to keep us safe.

What to bring

These days we always make sure we have emergency supplies, extra food, waterproof garments and good base layers. It’s always going to depend on the kind of hike you’re doing, but here’s some of the most important gear you can bring:

Shoes. I’m really big on good hiking shoes. I’d always recommend your footwear fits properly and I personally make mine waterproof. Make sure you wear them in before you set off on a hike to minimise blisters.

Good socks. A lot of beginners will get the shoes right, but not the socks. You’d be surprised how one misplaced seam can ruin a hike for you. There’s a reason hiking socks come with their own classification.

First-aid kit. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but it’s never a bad idea to have one in case you take a tumble.

A waterproof shell. Always important to stay dry, warm and comfortable. If you do happen to get lost, or something happens where you have to stay out longer on the trail, a proper waterproof rain jacket could make all the difference.

The right pack. It doesn't matter what kind of hike you're on, you’ll need a decent hiking pack.

Packs come in all shapes and sizes so it’s important to have it fitted properly; a pack that’s too big or small can hurt your back, shoulders and generally make you uncomfortable. These days you can even find hiking packs with a women’s fit harness which features a shorter back length and custom shaped shoulder straps and hip belt.

During every hike, make sure your bag still sits where it needs to and make your adjustments.

Lightweight, warm gear. When it’s cold outside, or if you’re plan on staying outdoors overnight, you should have merino base layers, a nice compact puffer jacket, and a down sleeping bag. They’re easy to carry and are cosy warm.

Nice food. Obviously this isn’t a safety essential, but it’s always nice to have something to look forward to at the top of a hill! I make mine at home and they range from bliss balls to savoury muffins to a spread of salty snacks like salami. In terms of morale, good food is important.

In essence, the most important lessons I’ve learnt are: never rely on luck, be prepared, and get the right gear. And bring some delicious snacks.

Thanks to hikers like Jo, our hiking packs have evolved to be more comfortable than ever before.