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I just relocated from north Germany into the south of Germany.

Last weekend I went hiking for the first time and visited the top of a hill close to Heidelberg. It was spontaneous and I was fascinated, and surprised by the time it took me (mostly because all was so new and exciting, but still).

From the highway driving with my car I can see that the hill I just hiked on is connected in a chain with other hills. Since I really enjoyed my first hiking trip, seeing the hill chain made the idea arise to hike along that chain for a multiple day trip.

I'm used to walking for longer distances a few times, even up to like 30KM on kinda even areas, but I've never done a multiple day trip in a hilly area.

My problem is, I never did something like this before and don't know anyone who did a trip like this before (or at least no one I am aware of having done it). All I could figure out myself so far that I would absolutely need to take with me would be warm clothing, a tent, a sleeping bag and of course provisions.

I am planning to start on a Friday morning/noon and be back in Heidelberg in the afternoon/evening of Sunday.

Now I feel quite sure that what I considered so far will be too little preparation for a 3 day trip, and probably cause me to abort my trip earlier.

Also I feel like there might be dangerous situations I could be facing that I'm not aware of, and have no idea how to prepare for them yet.

My question is:

Doing such a trip alone, as described above, what are the mandatory items I should have with me to be able to finish my hiking trip? And what are the situations I should definitely be prepared enough to face, either because they happen often enough that it is good to know about it, or situations that are dangerous enough that it would be careless to not be prepared for it?

  • 1
    Look up "the 10 essentials" and make sure you pack them. – Jimmy Fix-it Nov 16 '18 at 7:31
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    +1 for asking first – user15958 Nov 16 '18 at 8:38
  • Know how to read a decent map of the area and know how to use a compass so you can bail out at certain points if necessary. Also, from what little I've read on backpacking in Europe, it doesn't seem that there are that many "wilderness" areas where you can camp freely so I'd make sure that whatever body "governs" this chain of hills allows you to do this and follow whatever regulations they have in place to preserve it. – topshot Nov 16 '18 at 18:00
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    I wrote this for newbies in the US, but you may find it helpful (though it wasn't meant for winter where you'd need more gear/clothing) topshotsystems.com/Lightweight_Scouting_Dissertation.pdf – topshot Nov 16 '18 at 18:02
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    I would suggest a practice trip where you pack and carry everything you need for one overnight stop (ie tent, sleeping bag, cooker, fuel, food, water, more water...) then carry that for your target distance and terrain - but just as a day walk. I did this recently with my son - we carried all our camping gear in a circular walk from campsite and back to the start then used it to set up camp. This proved to us both that we could do this if we wanted to head up into the hills to camp overnight. – AdamV Dec 3 '18 at 11:27
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I'm used to walking for longer distances a few times, even up to like 30KM on kinda even areas, but I've never done a multiple day trip in a hilly area.

One important differences between (multiple) day tours and a multi-day hike is

  • that you need to keep enough strength to do all the setting up of camp and cooking. I.e., you don't want to arrive exhausted - that would be sure way to have a very miserable experience (you'll get cold and miserable, and it will take you ages to warm up your sleeping bag so you can actually sleep).
  • And you're going to carry considerably more weight in your backpack.

Both aspects can vary in their extent, depending on how exactly you plan your tour. If you plan to stay at official campgrounds and even to get a warm meal at a pub, that will make things much easier compared to doing a completely self-reliant tour.

A few more thoughts:

  • Water is usually unproblematic in Germany: you'll be sufficiently close to/passing villages so you can ask for tap water at least 2 times per day.
  • As long as you're reasonably comfortable reading a topographical map, that's all the navigation equipment you need for the Odenwald. If you're uneasy about direction, you can bring a compass. But even in fog, the Odenwald has a very dense net of roads, so you'd not loose that much time to get to a point where you reliably know where you are, and the topography is easy (hills and valleys with villages in the bottom)

  • You may be surprised how much food you'll need staying outdoors all day.

  • And how much clothing you'll want to keep you warm sitting in camp in a November evening.
  • Also (until you're sufficiently experienced to know your slepping needs well enough) we're in season 4 in terms of the sleeping bag now.
  • Both are essential for not getting cold and miserable. If you get cold, you won't be able to sleep (that's good: it our natural protection against freezing to death). But without proper sleep, and probably more of that than usual because of the unusual excercise and being outdoors all the time, you'll be even more miserable and cold...
    Good news is: this time of the year the night is sufficently long to allow you to sleep long - even if you wake up a couple of times because of strange noises or the ground being hard.

  • Putting up a tent to stay overnight officially requires permission of the land owner (the difficulty in Germany is to find out whom you need to ask), source for Odenwald tours: Hessisches Waldgesetz.
    However, some regions now offer a few so-called trekking camps (Trekkingplatz) where you are allowed to put your tent in the forest - usually you can book a site via internet. For the ones I'm aware of, not in November though (hunting season, forestry season, and trying to lower the permanent stress level for wildlife during winter). In the Sächsische Schweiz you can stay in a Boofe - not even carrying a tent :-)

  • Open fire in forests + 100 m surroundings outside official fire/BBQ places are a big no-no unless you have a permission by the forester (and I'd say currently it is still rather dry after the draught this summer). This is a consideration if you're planning to start your wild camping experience this time of the year.

  • This time of the year really isn't the traditional season to get into (wild) camping. I'd say, it comes with a good chance of putting you in about the most difficult weather conditions for camping we have here: slightly above 0°C, constantly wet/raining and windy. It is basically impossible to stay dry in these conditions, and that makes keeping warm a major task (the more so, if you plan without hot food because of the no-fire-in-the-forest-rule*). It is much easier to have fun camping with reliably freezing temperatures.

  • In the Odenwald (and many other German regions) you're never really far from civilization. In other words, in case you need to get out, e.g. because you wake up at 2 am finding your tent is leaky and you're really soaked, you'll be within less than 5 km and most of that on drivable forest paths which do not pose any particular difficulty even for hiking out during the night from some kind of place/village with mobile phone connection where you phone for a taxi to bring you back to your car. Unless a considerable number of mistakes add up, you may be totally miserable, but unlikely to end up in a really dangerous situation.

  • (Wild) camping tours can be lots of fun, even in November weather :-) But wouldn't it be a shame if you totally miss out on that fun because your first experience is absolutely miserable? Consider starting "softly", with other people, after trying out your equipment in a rainy night at home, or after doing a long day tour that includes having dinner outdoors, etc.

(Btw, I'm just 125 km away from HD and I'd be willing to join forces for a tour. I'd suggest a day tour first, though)


* Forest fire is no problem in such conditions. But fire (even a cooker) may put you into a "big trouble" category if you get caught wild camping - plus it increases the probability of being caught.

  • Thanks for the answer and the offer. I didn't find the time for planing and obtaining the gear I would need. Also I have a friend who would like to join me so the trip is postponed to january as it seems for now. I created this chat room: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/86546/odenwald-trip So you can join it for talking about what you considered about "joined forces", and we can extend that idea a bit. – Zaibis Dec 3 '18 at 14:06
  • ping :P Not that I want to be annoying, but dunno, comments get overseen sometimes. – Zaibis Dec 10 '18 at 11:38
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Normally when people ask about their wild plans I tell them to be cautious and to build up to it. But your plan sounds pretty fun.

Things to consider:

Weigh your backpack, keep it below 15 kg if at all possible. An idea could be to plan your route to include shopping stops just before making camp. (If using camp grounds the camping store is a neat if often slightly more expensive option).

Distance: with no prior hiking experience 3*20 km is probably around the upper limit. That's "only" 4 to 5 hours of walking per day, but it will feel like plenty. You could do almost double that on the first day, but that will make getting any distance on the other two harder. For a first try at the concept it might even be more fun to go for less distance than that, try to enjoy it rather than create a hard challenge. Especially since you're doing a hill landscape rather than a flat hike.

The better you plan your route, the less likely you are to get lost and make extra kilometers. Don't rely on a route description or route markers alone, have some form of a map to help find your way back to the route. This can be your phone if you're confident in the battery.

Make sure you have an escape option. Knowing the location of a few bus stops along the way is good, but just bringing a charged smartphone is almost foolproof in and of itself. Even if you manage to break your leg in a forest where nobody else hikes you can still find your location and call someone.

Have clothing for slightly wetter and colder weather than you're expecting.

I wouldn't make it much more complex than that. Have fun.

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    Below 15 kg is nice for the hiking experience, but I doubt this is practable for a first-time camper this time of the year. The size of village OP is likely to hit in the Odenwald will either not have a local grocery store or that will be closed for the weekend by Saturday noon. – cbeleites supports Monica Nov 23 '18 at 22:26
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Many things are similar to a day-hike, like having good shoes and check the weather forecast for example. For more details, you might find the answers to this .SE post about planning a day hike useful. For multiple day trips, consider the following in addition.

planning

Since you have mentioned Heidelberg, I would like to point you to the site www.wanderbares-deutschland.de (I'm not affiliated). This portal collects hiking tours in Germany, you can search by region and difficulty. They list useful information like the symbol/marking of that tour, description of the trails (bituminised or natural), height profile, recommended stages, touristic highlights, etc. Hence, I guess it might be useful for your planing.

sleeping

You did not mention your ideas regarding the nights, hence I will go a bit into detail here.

First, please notice that in some German states camping offside official camping sites might be illegal or only allowed after asking the land owner's permission. So, if you plan anything like this, get familiar with the rules in the area you want to go to.

Depending on the season, there could also be hunting in the forests, which might be annoying, scaring or even dangerous. You surely don't want to be mistaken by a hunter as a boar on your way to the bush during the night.

Although I can really recommend the experience to sleep outside (with the proper equipment!), you could also consider sleeping in youth hostels or pensions. Besides the comfortable bed and the hot shower, this had the advantage that you would need to carry less baggage (sleeping bag, tent). You could have a decent breakfast and dinner there and fill up your water bottle, get food for the day. Hence, no need to carry around cooking equipment and much less food and water. This will make the trip much easier.

dangerous situations

I think most dangerous is either to lose your way or to get hurt (sprain your foot for example).

To prepare for this, know your map and how to read it. Do not rely on your cell phone only, there might be areas with bad or no mobile reception. Hence, I recommend to share details of your tour with a reliable(!) friend or family member. Agree with them that you let them know when you have reached this day's destiny (or where you are, if not) - and make sure they call the police / emergencies if you did not call in time.

Get an idea what you would do if you have to abort the trip. Would you know how to reach the next station of public transport and are they running at the weekend? Could you get to the next street/village and call a taxi or similar?


My first on-my-own trip was from Darmstadt to Heidelberg in five days - and even if I had blisters and a sickening smell that was one of the best things I ever did. I hope you will make a similar experience - minus the blisters ;)

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