Hiking: Advice of a Pro

Quebec is the ideal place for hiking, but before you can take on the thousands of trails in the province, you need to be prepared.

We asked Olivier Bélanger, the technical director of the Fédération québécoise de la marche, to answer our questions.

Is the hike for everyone?
Hiking is for everyone. You can start making them at any age.

Are there any physical constraints?
Two legs and a beating heart! Hiking is the most accessible activity of all outdoor activities.

Does an inactive beginner need to get back in shape before hiking?
When you start, you just have to choose shorter hikes and not too steep. The training will be done naturally, and gradually we will be able to travel longer distances on more difficult terrain.

The important thing is to progress slowly and never overestimate your abilities. If you choose too big a challenge at first, you may not want to hike again later.

What distances or duration do you recommend for the first few times?
The important thing is not to be exhausted. The first few times must be pleasant and make you want to do it again. A half-day is a good start.

For the distance, it will depend a lot on the type of terrain and the altitude difference. In general, on a natural trail, the average speed of travel, including breaks, is 2 to 2.5 km per hour for beginners. So for 3 hours of hiking will not exceed 8 km. If it’s in the mountains, we’re talking about 6 km.

What are the advantages of joining hiking groups?
Hiking groups will allow you to gain self-confidence in a safe environment. The guides will be there to give you the pace of the walk and make sure that everyone is in their comfort zone.

After a few group outings, you will have learned a lot about yourself, the distances your legs can handle and the energy you need depending on the length and type of terrain.

What is your advice on the minimum equipment to have?
The hiker’s list of basic equipment is often longer than you think and often overlooked. This is where most beginners get caught.

Whether you are going out for a few hours or a full day, the backpack must always contain: gourd (min. 1 litre of water), topographical map, compass, headlamp, raincoat, first aid kit and survival kit.

How to choose your shoes?
First, comfort is the watchword. Do not hesitate to try several models before purchasing. If you do not compare, you will not be able to recognize which ones are made for you from which ones do you well. A slight discomfort in the store can become a real torture on the trails. The return policy of outdoor stores is often very comprehensive and therefore, do not hesitate to wear your shoes for hours at home. If you have any doubts, it’s because you haven’t found the right shoe for you.

From a more technical point of view, several choices are available. Whether it is a boot or a shoe, there are certain points to respect. First, the sole must be semi-rigid and non-slip (e. g. Vibram), a waterproof breathable lining (Gore-tex) is recommended. As soon as we talk about hiking in the mountains, we should have a pair of hiking boots on our feet. This will prevent ankle injuries, provide better stability, better waterproofing and protect you from blisters.

What are the mistakes not to be made?
Be too confident! The mistake we often see is to go alone or even with a few friends, on a field that we know well and not to bring anything, because we know the duration and we believe that it does not justify bringing water, water, waterproof snacks, in short the essentials. So we get caught, either by a storm, or not by fatigue (yourself or friends), or we get lost. Click here to read more about our travels in Utah.

All these elements are part of the risks of hiking, but they can be avoided simply by the good habit of always leaving with the essentials. Even getting lost becomes a calculated risk when you have a minimum to extend your hike without running out of energy.

Do we have to be careful with the weather?
Watch out for a violent storm! The weather… Very few experienced hikers stop at the weather, because they have already made the mistake of staying inside a day that predicted 50mm of rain and finally….there was sun!

In general, when we bring the basic equipment with us, there is no reason to worry about the weather. As for the visual spectacle of evaporation after a good rainfall, I leave you the pleasure of discovering it for yourself… but you will have to risk getting wet!

What are the useful items you need to bring?
Once you have your basic equipment, you can start thinking about other things that will make your hikes easier.

Walking sticks are highly recommended and many consider them essential. They will help you on steep climbs and descents. With the right technique, you will save a lot of energy and your legs and knees will be grateful!

GPS? People often forget the most important thing… to know how to use it and it becomes absurdly useful. But if you want to take the time to follow a training and master the tool, it is a very appreciated companion.

What are the best places in Quebec to hike?
There is no better place than the other in Quebec. There are only better times in the right place!

In the spring, southern Quebec will bud faster than the north.

In summer, it will be cooler under dense forest cover than in the blazing sun.

In the fall, if you want to take full advantage of the colour season, the watchword is: Forêt de Feuillu!

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