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By watching a Belgian television serie called GR5 on Één I got inspired to start with hiking. But as an inexperienced hiker I don't know what I could expect from it. I've flowing questions:

  • What's an acceptable average that anyone can walk on a single day, weak or month?
  • Taking the GR5 (2290 km or 1423 mi) route, how must you spread the walking days?
  • What's the best way to start with it? How could you prepare/train on it?
  • From where could you get the detailed maps?
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    It's just walking. We have been doing it as a species for the past 500 thousand years. If you ask what can a human do in order to prepare to be sitting in a chair 50h a week, that's another story. – QuantumBrick May 6 at 0:33
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    Might I suggest getting yourself a Boy Scout handbook? As an adult, I still defer to mine at times. Comprehensive list of essentials, techniques and first aid, as well as identifying flora and fauna. I'm in the USA, not sure what the Scout handbooks are like in Europe. – Jason May 7 at 16:32
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The answers you seek are not easily quantifiable - for instance, a very fit experienced hiker might walk 50+ km a day on flat, open (i.e. not brush covered) terrain, but might only do 5-10 (or less) on steep, thickly forested hills. Some people can walk more than 100 km in a day - on urban streets/race tracks, but would be unlikely to sustain this day-after-day as you might on a long hike like the GR-5. I would guess that for an average hiker (assuming some fitness and a little experience) around 20-30 km per day would be reasonable with a weekend pack (food for 2-4 days, sleeping bag, tent, clothes, water, cooker). I've personally done easily double that on marked trails in New Zealand with experience and good fitness, but also had days off-trail where I've moved less than 1 km/hr.

Edited to add: A long long time ago (over 25 years) I was taught that with a weekend pack most people would walk about 4 km/h (2.5 mi/h) on flat terrain and about 300 m (1000') vertical/hour (i.e. to climb from sea-level to 1000 m (3300') altitude on an average hill would take a little over 3 hours). These numbers imply for 8 hours walking about 30 km (18 mi) on the flat or about 8 km (5 mi) climbing (that's a lot - Everest is 8848 m/5.5 mi high)

According to GRfive.com, the trail is 2500 km long and takes the average walker about 3.5 months to complete. It covers a lot of different climates, from lowland plains in the Netherlands to alpine passes in the French Alps. I don't know how you would spread out the days, but I suspect that you will have to stop a few times for the weather to be right - don't attempt a high alpine pass in a snow-storm! Being Europe, you most likely will never be particularly far from a village of some sort where you can take shelter if need be. There will be on-line resources and most likely blogs/vlogs which will tell you how people did their attempts.

Maps as mentioned in the comment by @TomasBy can be obtained from sporting stores, book shops, online, with GPS subscriptions, libraries etc.

I have no experience on the GR5 or anywhere in Europe, but I would expect that starting in the Netherlands (northern part) and working your way south would be easiest. This is so because the Netherlands is flat -gives you time to build fitness, and because it's in the North - colder, wetter, shorter summer. Conversely, the southern part in France is alpine - you don't want snow on the ground as an inexperienced hiker, or any risk of avalanche. You also want a longer window of time for conditions to be right to cross alpine areas - longer summer gives you this. In addition, jumping straight into the alpine parts with no fitness will be very challenging.

For training, I would start by walking. Go out 2-3 evenings a week for a walk. Build up to 1-2 hours if you can. On weekends, go for a longer walk. Build this walk up to several hours (take appropriate food, water, clothing). Now start doing it with a pack and some gear (you can substitute anything for weight if you don't want to get gear just yet). Once you can walk comfortably for a few (4-8) hours with weight over any terrain you can access easily; plan an over-night trip - carrying your gear!

As for the gear you think you need - ask a specialist hiking/outdoors store, not a generic footballs and basketballs store. At a minimum you will need a hiking boots/shoes, pack, hiking clothes (raincoat, warm clothes, socks etc.), food, water container, compass, maps (and knowledge of how to use!). In addition, as per @Jason comment - you should always have a fairly comprehensive first aid kit and the knowledge on how to use. What else you need depends on where you will stay and how - if camping you need tent, sleeping bag (down is best, warmest, lightest, most compact), sleeping mat, cooker. You should also consider a GPS and emergency beacon.

Most hiking gear of any decent quality is incredibly expensive, but buying quality is quite important if you are using it day-after-day - you really don't want to buy a cheap pack because it was half the price of a more expensive one, and then have it fall apart after a month of daily use, or not fit you well because the harness is poorly designed. Or for that matter, buy a cheap sleeping bag and be cold every night!

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    And if you buy the cheap gear you probably will in time end up replacing it with the expensive stuff. I'm only a day hiker so I don't own the overnight stuff but I have noticed that on the harder hikes 80% of the people own the fairly high end packs and another 10% are using midrange stuff. Cost is generally an indication of how well it works, but beware that in some cases you're paying a premium for light weight rather than doing a better job. – Loren Pechtel May 6 at 3:31
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    @LorenPechtel The lightweight gear is generally not as strong as a heavier version too - so unless you really need the lightweight I would advise against it - it won't help you much on a 10-15 day hike with no resupply, as it isn't strong enough to take the load in the first place. – bob1 May 6 at 4:56
  • That's basically what I was saying in talking about paying for light rather than a better job. Ultralight gear is lighter on your back but inferior to stuff that weighs a bit more. – Loren Pechtel May 6 at 18:49
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    Depends wrt ultralight. Titanium is pretty much all upsides for cutlery, except for the co$t. I am also a big Arcteryx fan, despite the price, and a good deal of their gear is incredibly long-lasting and they really stand on their lifetime warranty. But, yes, in general the price goes waaay up above the extra utility of a pound or two less, let alone if they've shaved off weight by skimping on robustness. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica May 6 at 20:06
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica The manufacturer's generally have used material that is weaker - lighter materials have lower tensile strength and/or more prone to ripping (e.g. if it got caught on a rock), even the Arcteryx ones will have these problems. I'm talking packs, tents etc. For clothing and cutlery it doesn't matter so much as these are not usually subject to the strain that a pack is. – bob1 May 6 at 20:51
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Pretty much as per @Bob1.

I would not start out on this GR without having experience (and good equipment) of camping 2-3 nights in a row minimum, several times. You should also be able to do a 15-20km walk with about a 25-30kg backpack and after having slowly built up the equipment.

You don't need to be a super-hiker starting out, but you do have to have built up sufficient fitness to carry the gear reasonable distances and you need to be experienced with what you need/want to carry with you. That takes a little bit of time, esp. sorting out needed gear. Why 2-3 nights days in a row? Because there are tons of things you can do without for one night out that you need longer time.

For example, you can stay out overnight with say 2-3 liters of water. But you can't carry water for a week, you need a filter/purification tablets for that. And I know I'd rather not drink purification tablet water for more than 2-3 days, so I would get a filter. You may think the opposite. Same thing with food. I find camping food extremely unhealthy due to the amount of salt in it, so I try to do without when I can. That takes a bit of experience and you'll rarely be too far from some form of small supermarket.

You get a very different perspective for what you "need" when you are carrying it day in, day out and when you have no easy way to make up for stuff you are missing.

On that note, sure, the GR isn't in the outer wilderness, but if you need something near a small town, you may not find a good camping gear store nearby. Take the time to get to know your equipment and since camping gear is very expensive, buy it slowly. Don't be too cheap on the equipment, buy less of it or buy good quality, but less fancy, gear. Bit heavier? Probably OK within reason. You could even buy used cooking utensils or anything not likely to wear out. On a long trip, bad quality gear will break down.

If you can rent or borrow a friend's tent for the first few outings, before you know enough to buy yourself, do so. Ditto for backpack. Sleeping bags and boots are not hygienic to borrow, so plan on buying that very early on. Plan for a mat under the sleeping bag, you lose a lot of heat without it. Keep a log/spreadsheet of what you carried and what you used. Figure out what you think necessary for 1st aid. That's one item you don't want to cross out because you haven't needed it yet.

Consider a solar battery charger, and if you like to read, an ebook. For maps, I would give serious consideration to a tablet/phone with a decent offline map app. Be careful with GPS: iPads for example only have a real one when it is SIM-equipped version. The cheaper models use "assisted GPS", i.e. looking at the local wifi networks. The GR is, probably (check out for yourself), reasonably well indicated on the ground. So a high-res topographic map @ 1/25000 or the like would probably rarely be needed, but it will take up space. Back the phone/tablet map up with a good paper guidebook for that GR with maps in it.

Last, before really setting out, I'd get a satellite rescue beacon, best a 406MHz one without fancy subscription/messaging but with built-in GPS. (the fancy messaging ones use a different, less reliable, wavelength). They're not cheap, about $200-300, but last for years and can save your life. No, a cell phone is not a rescue beacon in rugged terrain.

Tent? I always size it at +1 the number of occupants. 2 person tent for a solo. That's probably an extra 2-300 grams, but well worth the space. Tent setup time is a major consideration for me, esp when you have bad weather. Reason? Say you're hiking and you see a rainstorm coming. With a 5min tent pitch you can wait till the last moment to stop and take cover. Maybe it doesn't rain after all, so you keep going. With a 20 min setup you need to actively stop and start pitching your tent, just in case.

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  • Second the beacon. In general other hikers will aid someone in distress, but if you get lost there will generally be nobody around to see you--and if you then twist an ankle or break something satellite communications can be a lifesaver. – Loren Pechtel May 6 at 3:35
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    Go Camping +1 (start by not sitting in a chair 50h a week). I've camped a lot but never in a tent or w/o access to water (that's hardcore). 'Maps'? the trails will be marked and well defined, or you don't belong there yet. I've never 'hiked' but I've walked the trails of most of the NPs of the US; most people are done after an ~8 mile trek through foothills and want nothing more than food and a comfy fire, if not their home. You know how to build a fire, right? – Mazura May 7 at 5:18
  • @Mazura: I somehow doubt you have been hiking in Western Europe. Yes to maps: the trail isn't the only plausible path in miles of wilderness. It is part of a criss-crossing network of paths, ways, roads that lead from one place to another. The marks may say GR5 that way in some places, in other places the signs will be even better and tell you which direction to take to get to which place and it's up to you to know where you want to go next. Plus, not having a map makes is much more difficult to deviate from the trail (e.g. to get supplies) and join it again next village. – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 10 at 12:38
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: my comment was to Mazura who recommended against maps, not to you... Also Mazura's point of building a fire is not so very relevant e.g. in the Netherlands where camp fires are AFAIK generally forbidden, even on the paalkemperen ("pole campgrounds"). I don't know about Belgium and France, but in most places there wild camping is forbidden, and in that case I'd never draw attention by making a fire... – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 10 at 19:03
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    oh, ok. to add that building a fire is really not a great idea in places that are prone to forest fires, which the southern end definitely is in summer. there are a few just do it comments in this question, which I don't find particularly helpful - the OP had a good idea in asking recommendations, though I'm surprised nobody found a duplicate somewhere. and, yes, seen your @ marker. need coffee! – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica May 10 at 19:16
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We already have two good answers pointing out that you should start small.

However, I would like to add another point--you also need to do shakedown hikes with the gear you actually will be carrying--including the max weight of consumables you will need.

I get the impression you have it much easier in the consumable department than we (I'm in the United States) do, but you need to check this in detail. I'm thinking of our Appalachian Trail, rarely will you have to go more than 50 miles before you can get food, but there is one section of one hundred miles where the only civilization you will see is logging roads.

Edit: A really extreme case: I just ran into a trail description here in the US that says for parts of it you might need 15L of water in your pack.

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    Excellent point about the shake-down, these can help you work out exactly what you are missing - or don't need - like 5 pairs of pants or a full set of pans, when you can get away with 1. – bob1 May 6 at 4:54
  • Thankfully, the Hundred-Mile Wilderness is nearly the final part of the Appalachian Trail, so you're probably in good shape and can cover the distance much faster than you could at an earlier stage. – Mark May 6 at 21:42
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    At least for the northern part of the trail until the Alps I'd expect the grocery question to be largely something that OP needs to decide: the trail probably tries to avoid bigger cities as much as possible - but there will be multiple opportunities per day to make a not too long detour to get groceries. The decision is then between a hiking style that tries to avoid such detours as long as possible and a hiking style that e.g. plans for the bakery in the next village each morning. Both perfectly legitimate, but very different in many aspects. – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 10 at 19:47
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A lot of people tackle long distance walks like this in segments, at least until they're used to multi-day hiking. The opposite is through-hiking, but not many people can take several months off work.

The GR5 looks doable in segments ranging from a long weekend to a couple of weeks. Thus after a couple of local trips to test your gear and yourself, you can get a train to Hoek van Holland for a few days' flat walking with plenty of resupply/accommodation options. Alternatively, take a week or two of holiday and hike home from the start; this would be a solid introduction to long distance hiking, and an achievement in its own right. I assume you'll do it N-S.

Early sections could be done staying in hotels, meaning you could build fitness without having to carry full camping gear (or indeed as much water) as later in the trip.

Multi-day hiking in alpine regions requires more preparation, more water, and more kit. You can go from hot to cold several times in a day and have rather limited options for stocking up or sleeping in a bed. A full tent, cooking gear etc. is one option. Some sort of bivouac (possibly combined with hotels) is a lighter option, and you may decide to live on cold food away from villages to need little or no cooking equipment. Either way you need to test your gear first.

I've done a couple of weeks at a time of this sort of hiking years ago and it was great (Swiss Alps, some of the GR25). More recently, to give you a hint, I've cycled near the Briançon-Larche leg in June, starting cold at sunrise, drinking something like 8l of water and ending dehydrated in the evening. So detailed planning is necessary, and you won't know everything you need to plan until you've had a few mishaps.

There are lots of discussions here about maps, (maybe start here), but paper maps in reasonable detail are fairly easily available for most of the EU. You wouldn't want to carry much of the route at a time. I normally prefer hiking with 1:50 000 or even 1:25 000 maps, but the IGN 1:100 000 maps are adequate for GRs, which are marked fairly well, so long as you do you homework regarding detours to villages etc. I'd obtain the maps for the northernmost few days assuming you start at that end and don't plan on through-hiking.

I suggest that as a first step, you do some long day hikes from home in various weather conditions, solo. The solitude is not to be underestimated.

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    Often you can pick up local, fairly detailed maps, from shops on or near the routes, and throw them out (or send them home) when you walk off of them. – Willeke May 9 at 10:01
  • @Willeke that's certainly the case in major walking/tourist areas in France and the UK. I used to prefer to get my maps in advance for planning, but online resources are now so good you don't need to do that any more – Chris H May 9 at 11:51
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    Having paper maps (even when a route is well sign marked) is good, signs get damaged or disappear, or you miss a vital one, and electronic devices may fail for many reasons. The cost of paper maps is not that much. And long distance routes often have book(let)s which have maps of the route. Not checked for the GR5 though. – Willeke May 9 at 12:59
  • @Willeke absolutely. The GRs' markings don't replace paper maps, but do mean you can get away with a smaller scale. My cycling is navigated on my phone (usually with a backup that may be local knowledge) but my hiking is usually on paper. If it is electronic for convenience I still have the paper map with me. And for long stuff paper navigation saves the need to recharge – Chris H May 9 at 13:14
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    @Willeke Here in the UK we're lucky to have good 1:50000 and good 1:25000. I prefer the latter for proper hiking, the former for more general visiting an area including cycling. My experience of the larger scale IGN maps isn't as good, though admittedly that was some years ago. It's often when there's a problem that you need the extra detail anyway – Chris H May 9 at 13:20
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If you read french the " topoguide" (https://boutique.ffrandonnee.fr/topoguides?gr=gr-5) from the FFR (fédération française de randonnée, french trekking association) are a good option both for planning and during walk ( I don't think they cover part of the GR5 outside of France and you need several to cover all the itinerary ) they have information on accomodation, food supply and transport around the itinerary, the itinerary is often described in time rather than distance thus taking account for elevation change and ease of walk (the timing is for average walker, so a beginner will take more time) and the itinerary is described on 1/25000 scale topomap extract so you dont need to buy extra map

I give this specific exemple because the question reference the GR5 but you will be able to find similar guide proposing map, suggested itinerary and information on amenity along the way for most if not all of the "famous" trekking route.

The hardest past of planning with this kind of book is knowing where you stand relatively to the information given (ie. how long will it take YOU to walk this described 5 hours part ? are you able to walk 8 hour a day for several day while carrying a pack ?) And as said in other answer the only way to know that is to start walking...

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I will give here some general guidelines for hiking:

  • The best training for hiking is... hiking. But for a very long hike, training is somewhat secondary as you'll gain fitness on trail.
  • If training is not mandatory, I think experience almost is: you should definitely go sleep in the wilds prior to your departure. You have to know your needs and start deciding which gear you'll carry.
  • Lightweight is key. You should aim for a baseweight (everything on your back without food or water) of 6kg or less. It might seems low, but as you don't have yet the gear it should be doable. You should check ultralight backpacking forums and see their gear lists.
  • Following the previous point: the lightweight gear is the one you don't carry. No need to carry 4 shirts or 3 pants. You'll stink, but every hiker stink and that's about it.

Specifically for the GR5:

  • North to south is the easiest and logical way to do it (easy start and amazing finish), but then you need to start between May and July in order to be finished before first snow.
  • It is logistically easy, at least before the Alps. You can often resupply or buy stuff.
  • As you can easilly complete your gear, if you wonder if you should take something with you: don't, and buy it or make someone send it to you along the way. It is easier to assess what you really need this way.
  • The GR5 is mostly easy and you don't need to worry too much about logistics. No need to purchase expensive guides or maps: a GPX track on your phone and a spreadsheet with all the resupply points with distance and elevation and you're good to go.

Then, how long does it take? It is really hard to answer that question as it will depend on how you want to tackle the route. It you follow the official stages, it might be 3.5 mounths. If you decide that you want a challenge, you can try to go faster. As it is a long way, it is quite easy to go faster as you progress; you should plan for shorter days at the beginning (20ish km) and then try to cover more. If you read about thru-hiking in the US, you'll see that they often average more than 35km/day.

I did the GR5 in the Alps and I was averaging 30km and 2000m of elevation per day. Then I discovered the thru-hiker mindset (basically: hike all day long), and now I average 40+km/day. Hiking is great because it's not technical: going faster or further is mostly a matter of motivation.

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    Why wait with the start till May? In the Netherlands you can hike round the year and it may be useful to start in winter if you want to do several weekends to build up your walking experience with weekends. (Of course, we are in May now, so this year you can not start earlier anymore, but this answer will be available long term.) – Willeke May 9 at 10:08
  • I was considering hiking the GR5 in one go. As a long distance hiker and cyclist myself (10000km of hiking and 20000km of cycling and counting), I love the feeling of hiking a route in its entirety and not by sections. – Shan-x May 9 at 13:16
  • I would also love to do it in one go, but OP mentions being new to hiking and should do (as advised in the answers) several shorter hikes, like one weekend each, and doing the earlier stages of the route in weekends would fit there. – Willeke May 9 at 13:21
  • Then I would probably do overnighters on other trails, and keep the GR5 for bigger sections or even in one thru-hike. It actually makes sense to do it this way, as it allows to arrive in the more mountaineous sections (the Vosges, Jura or Alps) with more training than if you were starting again at that point. Every time I start a hike I need a few days (even weeks) to get back to my peak, so I feel it's better to start in the flatter and easier region. But it probably depends on how you like to hike and how much time you have – Shan-x May 9 at 13:26

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