Rediscovering the Slow Trails: Advice and Equipment for Mountain Treks

Summer is back, and we can dream again of long days and nights spent in the hills. Here, we talk about the equipment needed for trekking in the Pyrenees.

Pyrenean treks, rediscovering the slow trails. Photo: Barrabes

The Rediscovery of Slow Trails

For some years now, the rediscovery of slowing down in the mountains has gradually become popular with an increasing number of outdoor enthusiasts. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this number has increased.

This slowing down has nothing to do with your walking speed, but it is rather a way of understanding the concept. Whether it is walking, climbing or running, being more aware of the environment, taking your time, and experiencing the full sensation of how you integrate in your surroundings is what it is about. A way of understanding the mountains, where the path becomes more important than the destination.

And for this way of understanding the mountains, trekking is king. It allows you to nomadise, to maximise the feeling of integration with the environment, and to enjoy the unforgettable experience of nights in the mountains.

Mountain Huts or Self-sufficiency

Mountain huts are more than just a place to shelter. They are a meeting place for like-minded trekkers and mountaineers. Moreover, many huts are legendary, and visiting them will take you back in history, so that it is almost like visiting a monument, but one that is alive. Staying in huts has increased in popularity over the years, especially in the most popular locations, on mountains where you have to spend a night, due to the length of the ascent.

The 46 stages of the Trans-Pyrenean route, both on the northern and southern slopes, can be covered almost entirely from hut to hut, so that you do not have to carry a tent, heavy pack or large amounts of food.

Being self-sufficient is another matter: this is where we find the greatest growth of interest in recent times. A new generation is discovering - and some older generations rediscovering - the beauty of nights under the stars and of the feeling you get from achieving a long trek, unaided.

Bivouacs are unavoidable in certain situations, especially among climbers on the most technical and challenging routes, but what is really winning the hearts of this new generation is a conscious search for those places and nights.

Bivouac on a Pyrenean summit. Photo: Mikel Iraola Gracia
Bivouac on a Pyrenean summit. Photo: Mikel Iraola Gracia
Nowadays, there is no need to panic about the weight: equipment, clothing and even food, has evolved to such an extent, that the average weight of a self-sufficient trekking pack is half of what it was.

Pros and Cons of Self-sufficient Trekking

Pros

  • It allows you to experience a very intense and personal mountain experience.
  • You get to bivouac in unforgettable places.
  • You can modify the route, explore and plan, without having to rely on the existence of a mountain hut.

Cons

  • You must be responsible for your own logistics: this means significant weight gain
  • Without assistance, you must take full responsibility for your safety.
  • When conditions get tough, things can get complicated (but this is also part of the experience).
  • The environmental problems
  • The legal constraints

Environmental and Legal Issues

It is up to each person to minimise environmental issues, but it is important to remember that one of the fundamental functions of a mountain hut is to act as a clean point in the area.

For example, in Aragon, all of the huts with a guard have toilets to prevent the spread of sewage and waste, as well as purifying plants to prevent the contamination of aquifers and rivers. Therefore, if you spend the night elsewhere, you should be extremely careful and scrupulous with your waste.

Paradise in the Pyrenees...it is forbidden to camp in certain areas. Photo: Barrabes
Paradise in the Pyrenees...it is forbidden to camp in certain areas. Photo: Barrabes
As far as legal issues are concerned, you should never begin a trek without reading the relevant legislation on that particular area, especially if you plan to bivouac or pitch your tent. The protective measures vary greatly from one mountain area to another, and pitching your tent is not always permitted.

Preparation, Experience and Planning

We do not recommend embarking on a multi-day trek without adequate preparation and mountain experience. The chances of encountering a problem when you’re on your own is multiplied, so you must be able to deal with them when they arise.

Preparation includes physical capacity, technical knowledge, orientation, and also planning. It is important to study the area, so that you know how to turn back or find shelter in the event of a sudden change in weather or an emergency. It is also important to carry the appropriate equipment, both personal and technical, to deal with any incident.

Know the location of mountain huts and shelters in the area, just in case Photo: Barrabes
Know the location of mountain huts and shelters in the area, just in case Photo: Barrabes
All this will help ensure a successful trek.

The Gear

One of the reasons that have led to the growth of this type of activity is the remarkable evolution of mountain equipment, especially specific equipment for hiking and camping. Thanks to this evolution, self-sufficiency is no longer synonymous with inhuman weights and volumes, as it used to be.

And these improvements are not only due to the weight of backpack. Perhaps the biggest advance, is the food and cooking utensils, which have greatly improved in performance and are much more packable and lighter.

All of this not only allows you to get greater enjoyment from the trip, but also enhances safety, due to less fatigue, greater agility and greater reaction capacity, resulting in a reduced risk of accidents... and greater enjoyment.

Here, we provide a selection of articles where we explain this evolution, and where you can clear any doubts you may have about the specific material required for your mountain hikes and your nights under the stars.

1. Food. The Huge Innovation of Freeze-dried Food.

It is nothing like it used to be. The new freeze-dried food systems are healthy, tasty, nutritious, natural, hardly take up any space, weigh almost nothing... and are very clean, because they do not need pans and plates.

Do you want to know how all this is achieved? Read how, in this article: The Latest Freeze-dried Mountain Meals. For all Situations.

Photo: Trek
Photo: Trek'n'Eat

2. Cooking Utensils

The greatest advancement. Nowadays, cooking pots and stoves form one unit, gas included, take up little more space than a flask, weigh under 400 grams, and have systems that, despite their minimalism, multiply the power of the older burners. There are hardly any stoves that take over 3 minutes to boil a litre of water, and the best do it in just 2 minutes.

The same goes for kitchenware. Today you can find folding kits that take up very little space in a backpack, weigh under 300 grams and include a plate, bowl, 2 tupperware pots, a cup with lid, cutting board and fork-spoon-knife.

In the following article, you can find more information on cooking kits: Outdoor cooking: how to choose a stove and cookware

3. Water Purifying

Another area with many breakthroughs, such as Steripen pens, which eliminate 99.999% of bacteria, parasites and viruses, by means of ultraviolet light. Or plastic jerry cans, like those used in races and mountains, which also purify 99.99% of bacteria and parasites and finally the purification straws which can even be used for sucking water from a puddle.

Read all about purifying system in our article on: How to purify water outdoors

Katadyn BeFree. Purifying is as easy as drinking from a flask
Katadyn BeFree. Purifying is as easy as drinking from a flask

4. Sleeping Bags

Now much lighter, but without any loss in quality, due to advances in materials and designs. But, when it comes to choosing, it is important to know about the limit, comfort and extreme temperature to ensure you get the most suitable sleeping bag for your needs, or you may find it does not perform as expected. Sleeping bags: comfort, limit and extreme temperature explained.
The sleeping bag, an essential for your adventures. Photo: Korkuerika
The sleeping bag, an essential for your adventures. Photo: Korkuerika

5. Sleeping Mats

Another essential item, but do you know the difference between the 3 types, their pros and cons, or which one is best for each activity? and do you know about the R-value? Here, you can find the answers: How to choose your sleeping mat: R-Value

6. Backpacks

Do you know which 3-season backpacks are the best for trekking and mountaineering? Or what capacity is most suitable for trekking? considering that the volume of equipment has decreased considerably. What types are there, and what are their pros and cons?

All your equipment has to fit in your pack and you have to be able to carry it comfortably, so choose wisely:How to choose your backpack for mountaineering, hiking and trekking

Photo: Lowe Alpine
Photo: Lowe Alpine

7. Tents

New designs, new materials: highly durable with minimum weight. Minimalist models and all you need to know: How to choose a tent for outdoor activities
Photo: Javier Camacho
Photo: Javier Camacho

8. Bivouac

And finally, an in-depth article with tips for bivouacking, on rock, snow and ice. The purest mountain experience: Bivouacs on rock, ice and snow
A summer shelter using your trekking poles and sleeping mats. Photo: Mikel Iraola Gracia Un ta
A summer shelter using your trekking poles and sleeping mats. Photo: Mikel Iraola Gracia Un ta

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