Hiking in Portugal for beginners — how to walk with backpack for 100 km and feel pretty good!
Hiking is so cool that almost everyone can do it. You do not have to be a sports champion to try it. You can wander the majority of our cute little world’s land and most often for free. You can hike through your city, hills, valleys, by the lakes, by the rivers, in the mountains, volcanoes — the landscape of the Earth gives you a lot of opportunities and fun.
Landscape in Portugal also.
I’m in love with Portugal, but Portuguese cities are not on my top destinations list. I knew I wanted to go on a monthly trip to Portugal, and at least a week (or two) spend far away from people, metropolis, inhaling fresh air (nice change from polluted Cracow), enjoying the views and clear thoughts in my head. I didn’t have to search a lot.
Portugal has one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Europe. It’s called Rota Vicentina. It is divided into two sections: a Historical Way and a trail leading along the coast, called Fishermen’s Trail. The trail is insanely well marked and prepared. It has its own website where you will find all the necessary information: about sections, theoretical counter-indication, food points along the way, recommended accommodation and so on. You can also download the map of your route and GPS points to help you in case of getting lost on the road. No, this is not paid advertisement. Just look at this one.
I didn’t think too much over the trail choice. I knew I love the ocean and I want to admire the beauty of it, every day during hiking.
The Historical Way is much longer — it leads through the villages and places of Portuguese culture and tradition, from time to time you will see the ocean, but only for moments. As I’ve already said, I wanted to be close to the water throughout my whole trip. The only thing that discouraged me was the fear of heights and the warning that people with such fears might have a problem on the Fishermen’s Trail — due to the high cliffs, on which you practically walk all the time. But I have to admit that I do not have the classic height of fear. I am able to go to the last floor of the building and look at the view or fly the plane and look out the window — but it brings me anxiety. Anyway, I decided to try Fishermen’s Trail, in case of bigger problems I was suppose to turn back.
I did not return — although the rock exposition is impressive sometime . However, my brain worked on the trip in clever way. I was more interested in the rest of the way, looking under my feet and feeling tired than the height of the cliffs on which I walk.
On the other hand, if you have a real fear of height, you feel like you want to vomit, you get dizzy at even small heights or open spaces — better choose a Historical Way, you will also have fun and it will also be beautiful, why bother and stress.
Best system of walking for begginers
If you are a hiking-beginner, it may be helpful for you to go with flow:
1 day walking + 1 day break and so over and over
Then your body will have time to regenerate and rest. Keep in mind that on the Fishermen’s Trail, there is relatively not so many place to sleep to choose from, book them early enough (one month in advance, for example on airbnb or using the trail’s website) and plan the route you want to walk. Same thing when it comes to restaurants and snack bars — don’t expect that on the cliff will grow a magic oasis with great seafood in menu.
You cannot camp along the Fishermen’s Trail because it’s protected national park. At least officially. I didn’t and never seen anyone doing it.
What to eat during the walk?
This point is important. Day by day, make sure to take with you at least 2 liters of water, something nutritious, which will give you energy kick — wealthy healthy sandwich, canned tuna, something sweet — energy bars (which you will not buy in small Portuguese villages), simply famous pastel de natas or croissants, cookies, nuts, fruits — preferably a banana or apple, but the pear will not be bad either. You can buy snacks in almost every starting point in the small local shops (in villages where you gonna start your day).
Add a pinch of Himalayan salt to the water — do not exaggerate with the amount — it keeps the water for longer in the organism and will not let you dehydrate.
Going alone or with a partner in crime?
Ok — you have lunch. You should also have a companion. Of course, lonely trips by ourself can be fun or even necessary from time to time, but when walking along the coast, near the rocky walls high for several dozen meters, we need someone in case of a fall, ankle twisting, unhappy stories and other creepy things.
Bring a friend, boyfriend, sister, mom — anyone with whom you can walk in silent for 2 hours and with whom you can walk laughing for 2 hours in a row.
A well-chosen travel companion is a big achievement and it is not a joke.
I was traveling with a handsome guy. We are together from 10 years already, so…fortunately we had no problems with getting along.
As for unhappy falls and this kind of situation — a well equipped mini first aid kit in your backpack is a must.
Include patches, cutters, oxidized water, bandages, ointment for any kind of bruises or wricks, pills (anti headache, diarrhoea, cold, fever) and magnesium, calcium. Add to your backpack a lot of sunbathing lotion, in Portugal — it’s really useful, something anti insect’s bites, toilet paper, wet tissues, tampons (girls, I’m staring at you), cotton pads and so. It’s not that easy to buy all of these in every small local shop.
Backpack is your best friend and enemy at the same time
Baggage grows and grows. What about backpacks for hiking beginners? This year I bought my first professional backpack for longer expeditions. I chose a medium size backpack to be easily worn on a monthly trip, on the back of a small 50kg woman. I had to carry electronic equipment, a computer on which I worked remotely for the first week of travel, camera, clothes, small amount of cosmetics, food and flip flops. Fully packed backpack weighted 10–12 kg and it is the limit in my opinion (comparing to my weight, that’s 20% of my weight, it could be even little bit too heavy).
Old birds who walk a lot know how to pack, what they need during travel, what is absolutely superfluous — I did not know that, but I found out.
And you know what? I packed up really well. I chose only lightweight and universal clothes— although April in Portugal is a tricky month. It likes to surprise with rainy days or high heat. It’s a bit snippy because we had to be prepared for almost every kind of weather. I took the rain jacket and warm pants for the cool April evenings, but also the shorts in the case of thirty degrees in the shade. All in one piece, except for t-shirts — you can take 4–5 (pay attention to good quality airy cotton materials, short sleeves). It worked pretty well.
The model of the backpack for which I finally decided was Deuter ACT LITE 45 + 10 SL. First thing — it’s relatively light. Second, it is capacious. Third and really important one, it fits to the back of slim women. Some of the top brands choose to make backpacks designed for women and men separately. It makes sense — we have a different body structure, women have tits and generally shorter and narrower backs. The backpack did the good job during hiking and I can recommend it.
The next thing is to adjust the backpack perfectly for your body — if you are a layman on this topic, youtube and tutorials on it will help you to adjust all elements of your backpack to your silhouette.
As for other backpack brands — my boyfriend has a GREGORY STOUT 65 (M) backpack — a bigger backpack, but still handy. It comes with additional tiny backpack that worked great on the road, the anti-rain cover and it has also many useful pockets. Also recommendable.
When it comes to choosing a backpack —you will read everything. Hipsters and some passionate walkers say that the brand does not count, because the average backpack after a few trips is suitable for the trash.
But I think that the technology (the way the backpack fits our body) and the good quality materials matter so that’s why we chose quite expensive but trusty and proven brands.
Ending the topic of backpacks and what to pack — do not forget about anti-rain covers for backpacks (your new babies) and torch in the event of accidental walking in the dark.
Physical preparation versus being brave on the way
Physical fitness or good preparation before the trip are important for your comfort, but not the most important.
The key is positive attitude and your mood on a given day — however silly it sounds. If you’re in a bad mood, do not worry if you’ve done one million kilometers of training in your hometown or not — you’ll complain anyway. If you are in a good mood — you can move mountains. Stay focused, think optimistically, smile nicely, if necessary swear, be brave — you can do it.
If you want to physically prepare yourself, I recommend riding a bike at least once-twice a week, walking a lot, tone your legs (thighs, calf), back and stomach with simple exercises — even at home with youtube movies. But do not panic and do not overdo it.
And so, during long-distance hikes with a few pounds on your back, you’ll feel tired, especially if you’re walking several days in a row. Former preparations makes you feel not extremely surprised of the overall physical effort and exhaustion.
Treat this type of trail as a challenge and adventure. People naturally like competing even with themselves— whether I can do it, whether I will carry on, whether I will finish the trail.
I will not do it? Hold me a beer.
That’s how it works. But it is cool and sentimental — this struggle with yourself, despite effort and sometime crossing your own physical borders. I clearly know that for some people 20 km with a backpack on your back,
it’s easy-peasy warm-up but not for others. Let’s respect each other.
Everyone can do as much as he can plus as much as he does not yet know that he can.
Psyche can do magic things — so once again, I emphasize the positive and fighting attitude to each day of wandering. Allow yourself plenty of breaks, recharge energy and sugar with snacks at every stop, pull off your shoes and socks every time during the break — it helps to breathe the skin and really protects us from corns.
Snickers or trekking boots?
Can I go in the comfortable snickers or do I need to buy professional shoes for trekking? You can go with sneakers if you are stubborn like me. They are fine when it’s dry, it’s not raining and it’s warm. Feet do not sweat like in the heavier, ankle high boots.
It gets worse, if weather breakdown appears — in my opinion the rain on the Fishermen’s Trail matched with snickers can cause little disaster.
Mud, slippery stones — in snickers, it‘s dangerous. You will not predict the weather— keep this in mind. I was playing wizard role, I cursed the rain and it was sunny, hot and windy during all week of hiking.
10 points for Gryffindor please!
Something more about Fishermen’s Trail in Portugal
The Trail is really beautiful. So beautiful that you should shake yourself from time to time, if this beauty starts to bore you. Every day you will pass dozens of wild beaches, a plenty beautiful bays, crazy rocky formations, villages, local fishermen standing on the high rocks, fields and such.
The trail is very well marked — every hundred (or two hundred) meters wooden pickets show up with the sign of the trail, so you know where to go next. Trail’s website gives you full information about exact locations of starting and ending points. The shortest distance (from one village to another) is 15 km, and the longest is 22 km, but remember that you will most likely spend another time walking in the villages, looking for your accommodation, restaurant, shop and so on.
People are also not often aware that the 70–80% of the trail runs through the sandy surface. Your legs work harder on sand and it raises difficulty level, which means that the art of swearing is mastered to perfection.
Fishermen’s Trail runs literally along the Portuguese harsh coast, even a few meters from the ocean, so the wind that breaks off from time to time is strong, but not dramatically disturbing — even in warm weather it can be soothing and refreshing.
In April we passed on the trail about 10 people per day. It’s very little. But that’s the best thing about it — it’s not Trafalgar Square in London, right? There are certainly more people in the season.
Well… in season? I can not really point the exact season — because July-August is not the best idea to hike the Rota Vicentina — it’s just too hot. April is highly recommended. I generally recommend spring.
Flowers, nature, the ocean, you —everything blooms. During the spring you will find colonies of different types of birds, storks with nests on the tops of the most beautiful rocks in the middle of the ocean, few nudists or surfers on the horizon.
And most often you will meet yourself, your thoughts and inner peace — seriously.
How should I start planning my first long-term hiking?
Chill. Choose the trail. Buy plane tickets and the helpful backpack. Convince someone to go with you. Bike a bit, walk a lot in your hometown. There is nothing to fear, planning this type of hike is really easy.
Create a list of things you need to have with you, pack well, adjust your backpack appropriately to your body, book accommodation in advance, remember about the snacks in your backpack during hiking, make plenty of breaks and enjoy this beautiful adventure.
You will never regret it. You will never forget it. Cheers!