Tactics during a hike

Tactics means a well thought-out process. In other words, it means that the process cannot be random, but must be driven by our intent. It does not, however, mean that there is only one tactic that doesn’t change. Tactics should be flexible, which means changeable according to the dynamically changing ambient conditions. And yet this flexibility may not ever slide into a form of improvisation with scrutable results. Tactics in the right form means a suite of various tactical elements, processes, methods of performance, and selected activities whose effect has predictable results; flexible tactics mean the appropriate application or removal of these elements in such a way that their outcome may be focussed as closely as possible toward the successful completion of the hike. While this may sound like a hackneyed cliché, it is necessary at this point to caution that modern culture, above all various harebrained films, are literally destroying the capability of young people to behave tactically. The cultural model nowadays is one of sudden action-oriented decision-making, relentless forward progress, and other similar foolishness. It only looks good in the movies. In real life it generally ends in misfortune.

Tactics are closely related to the planning of a hike. The first tactical elements enter the game already during the planning of the hike, when we make our estimate of the duration of the hike. From this estimate, and an additional buffer time, it is necessary to establish our departure time from the start point. It is not good to head out on a hike in a rush and confusion. Before the hike it is necessary to devote time to a morning restroom visit, breakfast, preparation of certain elements of equipment. If we have camped all night, it is critical that we factor in time for striking and packing the camp. The morning alarm should therefore be set for a commensurate amount of time before your actual departure on the hike in order to attend to these needs.

It is generally a good idea to set out on a hike early in the morning. This is necessary particularly in the following cases:

  • when we are going a long way
  • when we are in a climate where there are high temperatures at midday
  • when afternoon storms are expected
  • when seeking the high ground for a viewpoint before the afternoon sky clouds over
  • when overtaking a heavy snowfall, so that you don’t get bogged down in it
  • when passing through an area at risk of falling stones loosened by thawing snow
  • when trying to avoid avalanches released by higher temperatures throughout the day
  • when trying to reach glacial rivers, which typically swell in the afternoons
  • when we don’t know the exact details and pitfalls of the chosen route due, for example, to insufficient information.

Sometimes it is necessary to leave when it is still dark due to a shortage of time. And yet it is not a good idea to force this situation. In darkness it is hard to get your bearings in the light of headlamps, and there is a risk of getting lost, and thereby a far greater loss of time. Nevertheless, if the circumstances demand such an early departure, it is very useful to go and explore the initial passages of the route in the light of day the dusk before. The knowledge of the route gained will then help you a great deal the next morning in the dark.

Don’t set off on the hike hyperactively. It’s necessary to warm your body up and slowly stretch first. Walk slowly for the first 15 minutes, or even longer in a wintry or cold environment. After this initial warm-up it is good to increase the tempo to the desired intensity so as to be able to stick to the schedule.

At this higher tempo your body will warm up quickly, you will start to get hot, and you will sweat. It is essential to regulate body temperature by removing articles of clothing so that you can achieve the most comfortable body temperature possible. It is practical to use a base layer of clothing made of fibres that wick sweat away from the body.

In the event of a decrease in the tempo of the walk or due to some other cause, you might begin to feel cold. At this point it is necessary to put on clothing and keep from getting a chill.

Particularly during unexpected sharpening of the wind, when you are sweaty, a chill can strike your body very suddenly and unpleasantly, and it can have consequences for your health. A light windbreaker should be near at hand in your rucksack.

Taking breaks from walking is essential on mountain hikes. You should take your first break roughly 2 hours after you began to advance at an intensive tempo. A large break should take roughly 25 minutes. After the break it is once again necessary to resume with a more casual tempo, and only engage in a more intensive pace after a while. It is good to take the next break after 2 hours. It is also a good idea to choose the locations for your breaks from any suitable places in the terrain you come across (in the lee of the wind, shadow or sun, etc.).

When advancing through more challenging sections, such as ascending a steep slope, you must occasionally stop and gather your strength, but this short rest should never take more than 30 seconds. They should serve only for you to “catch his or her breath”. Longer, several minutes-long breaks, taken constantly, will not help you much. They are too short for rest, but unfortunately long enough to disrupt the body’s rhythm.

Food on the hike

Getting around in the mountains is universally very arduous and people use a lot of energy during it. It is therefore necessary to supplement this energy in the form of nutrition. Contrary to usual dining principles, it is not necessary to eat a large breakfast prior to a mountain hike. Morning food should be reasonably plentiful, but easily digested, containing carbohydrates and sugars. Bread, granola, chocolate breakfast cookies, marmalade, etc. fit the bill. It is no good to have a full stomach and feel heavy prior to a hike.

During the hike, it is recommended that you eat little, but energy-heavy food containing carbohydrates such as bread or granola and simple and complex sugars, which can be provided by chocolate, dried fruit, or various candy bars and wafers.

After completing the hike, a large meal should follow that evening, containing (among other things) fats and protein. That way you can replace the primary energy lost; you will then digest overnight and the next day you will once again be prepared to expend energy for the march.

It is very important in the mountains to maintain a good drinking regimen. If you are on a march for 8 hours, it is necessary to drink roughly 2-4 litres of fluid per day. Tea is good in the morning for breakfast. During the hike you should have a drinking bottle close at hand. Drink abundantly, above all during breaks during your march. If you are thirsty during your walk, you can also drink at that time, but only lightly; two or three gulps of fluids should suffice. Drinking should not become a reason for frequent and longer breaks.

Movements of people in groups

Outings in groups are the most popular and frequent form of high-altitude hiking. Going in a group has several advantages. You have someone to consult, to share the joy of a successful advance and the beauty of the surrounding countryside, to talk to, to solve common problems with, and last but not least, you can better overcome fear, and you won’t feel alone.

On the other hand, you could also say that other people can be a source of inconvenience. So as to avoid this inconvenience, it is necessary for the group to be integrated and unified in the desire for a common goal. This is the first and most basic condition for a group to work at all. Another important criterion is conditioning and experience. It is an immeasurable advantage when people in the group are approximately at the same level of performance.

Nonetheless, even in an ideally harmonised group, there’s one particular inconvenience you can’t avoid: communication within the group. A group too large can become an immobilised entity. With an increasing number of members it becomes difficult to reach consensus or issue instructions. In places and activities involving individual performance, time delays will arise as the others wait until one particular action is completed. Experience has yielded the natural realisation that if a group is to be capable of the event, it should not exceed approximately 15 members. Depending on the difficulty of the hike, the maximum number of possible group members will drop.

  • light hiking along marked trails, 15 members max.
  • challenging high-altitude hiking off trails, 8 members max.
  • high-altitude hiking with climbing and belaying, 6 members max.

The actual progress of the group must have a certain level of order. While each member of the group will advance at his own pace, he should know his place in the group, and adapt his advance to that. The first prerequisite for every group member to act rationally is knowledge of the objective and the route. Everyone must know where he or she is going. At the same time it is necessary to agree ahead of time on the method of approach for situations in which an unforeseen event might occur.

The group should be ordered in such a way that the most experienced members are located at the front and back of the group. The person going in front should be the leader, or another member who knows the route very well, or who can navigate very well. When walking off the trail, she must also know how to correctly select the line of the route so that the pace can be as reasonable as possible. The last person in the group should not allow for any laggard to fall behind him. His task is to close off the group and to make sure that no one gets separated from the group.

It is natural for a group to spread out somewhat while progressing through the terrain, to gradually divide into smaller groups or individuals. An inexperienced member of the group must never go alone. During the journey it is critical to designate a “meeting point” where the faster members of the group will wait for the slower members. After the last arrives, and confirms that no one from the group has fallen behind him, a check is carried out as to whether or not everyone is present and accounted for, and the group then moves on.

In clearer segments it is possible to allow the shape of the group to be more spread out. However, once you lose your perspective over the route, it is necessary to close ranks and create a more closed shape. Such situations occur in rugged terrain or under poor visibility in fog, thick snow, etc.

In exposed places, where the most common threat is the hazard of falling rock, the group should proceed in single file so that any accident might befall only one member of the group, leaving the others available for rescue. If, however, the section at risk of falling rock is too long (for example, a narrow long dry valley), the group should proceed together, but in very close formation, so that a rock loosed by one person may not have time to gain high speed when missing the other members, during which it could seriously endanger someone.

Now that a logical section of the text has been completed, it would be appropriate to review and test what you’ve learned.

Brief summary: In the previous section we discussed the topic of high-altitude hiking and movement in mountain terrain both along trails and off the trail in free terrain. The issues around building a fixed rope, which is a common method of protection during a hike by a larger group of people, were explained in greater detail. And the conclusion of this section was concerned with advances made by a group of people in the mountains, as we examined the tactics for advancing during a mountain hike.

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Title Part 4Mountaineering Methodology – Part 4 – The Mountains

ISBN 978-80-87715-10-9

MMPublishing, 2013

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Title Part 4 GPMountaineering Methodology – Part 4 – The Mountains

ISBN 978-80-87715-15-4

MMPublishing, 2014

Available for download from Google Play.