• Hiking in the Reißeck mountain group

    Mountain Hiking Tips for Beginners

    Hiking is cool and extremely popular at the moment, with more and more novices taking to the mountains. Perhaps you’re already planning your first day tour in alpine terrain for your holiday? Here are some tips to get you started, because there are a number of things that beginners can get wrong.

    "Hiking and mountain hiking have captivated the youth as well", says Michael Larcher, 61 years old and head of the mountain sports division at the Austrian Alpine Association. "That’s interesting, because when I was young, hiking wasn’t a sport for youngsters. It was for senior citizens in red and white checked shirts and Lederhosen; the type you were adamant you wouldn’t become. It was totally uncool, and now it’s really in. Everyone goes hiking – often young women amongst themselves. You look good, have great equipment, and fashion is on board too." For Michael Larcher, this is a reflection of our times.

    Hiking has not just become cool, but is also leading to an increase in mountain rescues, although fortunately the number of fatal incidents is decreasing. Beginners often lack the experience on the mountain, so can get themselves into emergency situations more quickly. These usually only means exhaustion, not being able to move further forwards or backwards, or that someone has simply got lost. But the mobile phone is quickly pulled out to call for help, which leads to the increase in mountain rescues.

    "For us, it’s a success if the number of accidents does not rise to the same extent as the number of active people", says Michael Larcher, and shares his tips with us, with which common mistakes and thus emergencies and rescue operations can be avoided.

    The Transition From Walker to Mountain Hiker

    • Walking

      There is no clear line between the two forms of movement and there are no international definitions. But you could say that walking is a more casual stroll without athletic ambition or a specific goal.

    • Hiking

      Unlike walking, hiking has a specific goal. In addition, it takes place amidst nature, which means the greater the distance to civilisation, to residential areas and roads, the more we are talking about hiking.

    • Mountain Hiking

      Mountain hiking is hiking above the tree line, i.e. at 1,600 to 1,800 metres – depending on whether you are in the central or northern Alps. The paths become narrower and there is a repeated risk of falling. 

    What to Remember When Hiking in the Mountains

    Michael Larcher tells us that weather is a very important factor when mountain hiking, as is the right equipment. You should also keep timings in mind and be able to gage whether you can manage the planned tour. "Am I healthy and fit? Always start small and work your way up. The further you progress from walking to hiking and mountain hiking, the greater the element of adventure and uncertainty. Honest personal judgement is of key here!"

    Four Things That Are Important When Hiking in the Mountains

    Hiking in the Schobergruppe in the Hohe Tauern East Tirol National Park

    1. Clear to Cloudy: Keeping an Eye on the Weather

    Keep an eye on the weather before and throughout a hike, such as with the Meteoblue app. The ZAMG website and its app (German only) are good points of call too. This is a good way to avoid nasty surprises, such as getting caught in a sudden change in weather. Should you still be caught by surprise, assess whether there is a hut or accommodation within reach. If not, stop the tour straight away and take the same marked trail back to the start. 

    Hiking equipment: backpack and appropriate clothing, hiking in Osttirol

    2. Backpack Essentials

    "Good walking shoes are the key to success when hiking in the mountains", says Michael Larcher. What you have in your hiking backpack is also particularly important. You should carry adequate protection against wet and cold (outdoor wear that is wind- and waterproof and breathable) and sun protection (head covering, high-quality sunglasses, sunscreen). A mobile is essential for emergency calls (European emergency number 112 or 140 for the Austrian mountain rescue), as is a first aid kit. In addition, a small emergency headlamp is useful, as well as at least one litre of water per person and nuts or cereal bars. 

    Sunrise hiking in SalzburgerLand

    3. Rule of Thumb: The Early Bird Avoids Heat, Thunderstorms, and the Dark

    Every good description will state how long a tour takes on average, so you shouldn’t have to calculate walking times. Nevertheless, there is a rule of thumb that’s especially important in summer: leave early enough to make the most of the cool morning hours. Michael’s tip: "Plan to complete two thirds of the time indicated for a hike before noon. For a six-hour tour, two thirds would be four hours, so you would leave at 8 am at the latest." This does not just help you to avoid the heat in summer, but also the risk of thunderstorms, which tend to take place in the afternoon or evening hours. A further reason is to avoid returning in the dark.

    Hiking in Ötztal, near Obergurgl

    4. Good Personal Judgement or Why the Path Should Be the Goal

    Overexerting yourself on the first day of your holiday and overambitious goals don’t just get your pulse racing, but can sometimes backfire. Michael Larcher recommends honest personal judgement and a strategy that allows you to gradually push yourself to your own limits and capabilities whilst reflecting on your actual goal. He doesn’t mean spatially, but far more: "What do I want? Do I want to train, to wear myself out, to exhaust myself or do I want to experience something? For the vast majority, it’s about a nice experience, and the goals should be set accordingly." For Michael, this is the ideal approach: you should be properly equipped and keep the weather forecast in mind. Choose hiking companions that you know and whose ability and willingness to take risks you can gage. A group should – no, must – always be considerate of its weakest member.

    "There are hardly any summer thunderstorms before 4 or 5 pm. So if you are back at lower altitudes or the accommodation by then, thunderstorms shouldn’t be an issue."

    Portrait photo of Michael Larcher
    Michael Larcher

    What Do Your Own Fitness Levels Have to Say About It?

    Even if it is clear that the focus should be on a nice experience, beginners can often misjudge their strength and fitness levels. This is why Michael recommends: "I wouldn‘t do tours with more than an 800 m difference in altitude for the first one to two days, i.e. the altitude that is actually covered between the starting and end points. Tours that allow you to stop for a break somewhere along the way are also ideal and there are so many mountain huts to choose from." This gives you the reassurance that you will be able to have a rest and don’t have to carry too much food and water with you.

    You can fill your water bottles up at the huts along the way and there are often farms or pastures where you can get fresh water from a fountain. This will help you avoid a beginner’s mistake: a backpack that is far too heavy with unnecessary items. 

    Tips From Michael: How to Find the Right Tour

    There is a lot of information available on hiking and there is hardly a tour in the Alps that has not been well documented.

    Michael Larcher, Head of the Mountain Sports Department at the Austrian Alpine Association

    · High-quality hiking guides are published by Bergverlag Rother, for example, and hiking maps are available from Freytag & Berndt.

    · Online there is the route portal of the Alpine Associations in Germany, Austria and South Tyrol, on which trained authors have published over 12,000 suggested tours. There are also thousands more from the community. 

    · You can ask for tour and hiking suggestion at the tourist office in your holiday resort.

    · Special tip from Michael for beginners: all hotels can arrange short-notice tours with qualified mountain guides. The advantage: the tour is led, you are taken to the best spots, get to know your own fitness levels, and learn plenty about local culture and nature.

    Dangers Lurking Along the Way

    Unseasonal weather such as sudden changes with snow, storms, fog, thunder, and lightening are risk factors when hiking. But the opposite – heat – should not be underestimated either, and should be taken into account when choosing your equipment and tour.

    Michael’s tip: tours that involve covering a lot of altitude or are purely south-facing are not a good idea at the height of summer. He therefore advises to opt for tours where the ascent is at least partially in the shade. All tour descriptions should include this information.

    What should also be considered for the ascent and descent: while there are almost exclusively cardiovascular emergencies on the way up due to overexertion, statistics clearly show that there are far more accidents on the way down. These are accidents caused by falls, because people are much better built to go uphill rather than down. On the descent, the view into the valley can also upset balance and a trip or slide can lead to a fall. An additional factor is that tiredness increases whilst concentration decreases on the way back down. This danger of falling is often not recognised, so it’s important to assess the terrain and your own speed in advance.

    Mountain hiking in the holiday region Pyhrn-Priel in Upper Austria

    A Summary of the 7 Most Important Tips

    1. Check the weather before and throughout the hike.

    2. Make sure you have the right equipment and good walking shoes.

    3. Select tours to suit the season and your fitness levels. Start slowly and increase gradually. Always consider the weakest member when part of a group.

    4. Keep your rucksack as light as possible and avoid taking unnecessary items with you.

    5. Only take food and water in moderation if there are places to stop along the way.

    6. Keep an eye on the time. Leave early enough and take advantage of the cool morning hours.

    7. Know the dangers and be alert; hiking in the mountains means adventure. 

    Information From the Austrian Alpine Association on Mountain Hiking

    The Austrian Alpine Association has more than 600,000 members and looks after 25,000 km of hiking trails in Austria alone. Its most important tasks are the promotion and supervision of mountain sports and the protection of the alpine environment. 

    · Safety on Mountains booklets

    · Hut finder and opening times

    Portrait photo of Michael Larcher



    Michael Larcher

    Michael Larcher has been with the Austrian Alpine Association for 29 years and is head of the mountain sports division. He most likes to go hiking in the Karwendel Mountains because he lives there and loves the karst landscape. His favourite hiking trail? That would be the one he has never taken, because for Michael the exciting thing about mountain hiking is the effect of unknown. He has by no means explored all of the trails the Karwendel have to offer yet.

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