Trekking around the globe is a great way to see the world, and a range of exciting new and interesting trekking regions have become accessible in recent years. Travel Doctor-TMVC has over 30 years’ experience of helping prospective trekkers get prepared and be ready for the challenge.

Getting ready

These days there are hikes and treks aimed at various degrees of difficulty to cater for everyone. While many introductory level treks are not so difficult, longer and more challenging treks still offer a range of potential problems.

All hikers and trekkers should consider their health and try to start with a reasonable level of health and fitness. Prospective trekkers should prepare for the arduous treks with a fitness program starting several months before departure, preferably with 40 minute walks involving steep climbs carrying a 15-20kg back pack at least 3 times a week.

A fitness for travel assessment should be conducted prior to booking a trek, particularly if the traveller is over 40 years of age or has risk factors for heart disease such as diabetes, hypertension or a family history of coronary artery disease. Many well know treks and trekking companies will state the difficulty of treks and suggest fitness levels. Some may require medical checks, so start you preparation and research well in advance.

Vaccinations are usually required and are recommended on an individual trip based risk basis. A medical kit is absolutely essential.

Getting the right clothes, boots and pack are all essential in your preparation. Most trekking organisations will provide a list of suggested items, however some points to consider:

  • Attending to any health issues, including dental check
  • Fitness and training
  • Equipment, boots, clothes, packs
  • Travel insurance

Medical issues

Our experience indicates that most hikers and trekkers will experience some medical problems. The commonest problems that trekkers encounter (apart from blisters!) are diarrhoeal illness, respiratory illness, and depending on the trek, forms of altitude related illness.

Travellers’ diarrhoea can affect more than 50% of participants of some treks, and facilities for dealing with illness are very limited. It is unlikely there would be a medical clinic or pharmacy in many remote trekking areas. It is essential that trekkers have access to treatment medication, contained in their travel medical kit. Often trekkers are encouraged to treat illness as soon as possible to prevent having to leave the trek.

Respiratory illnesses are very common, from nuisance cough to influenza and pneumonia. Access to early treatment from a medical kit is also very important.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS), the commonest form of altitude-related illness, affects trekkers as they ascent above 2500m occur. Risk of acute mountain sickness is related to individual risk, absolute altitude and speed of reaching altitude. More severe forms of altitude sickness can occur. Other environmental conditions to be considered include, heat, cold, windburn, sunburn, frostbite.

If your trek is going to take you near areas where malaria is a risk it is important to seek medical advice and obtain malaria preventative medications. Malaria can occur in many areas that trekkers frequent and it can be a very severe disease. Medication needs to be continued after leaving the risk area as well. It is important to stay vigilant with insect avoidance, such has using repellants containing 30-40% DEET, sleeping under permethrin soaked mosquito nets and sleep sheets and in permethrin soaked clothing. Travel Doctor-TMVC are highly experienced in managing malaria risk.

Other notable health risks include:

  • Worm infections
  • Hookworm, strongyloides through the feet from walking barefoot
  • Intestinal worms and parasites, such as tapeworms can be contracted through contaminated food
  • Schistosomiasis through fresh water exposure
  • Skin infections (bacterial and fungal)
  • Insect borne diseases such as Dengue fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Zika, Chikungunya, Yellow Fever.
  • Accidents and trauma from falls and other injuries are very common and a not infrequent cause of emergency evacuations.
  • Sunburn is always an issue.

Cycling tours

Cycling tours are increasing in popularity and injuries and accidents are of concern due to poor road and driving conditions. Helmets are important and may not be provided in many countries. Good preparation and fitness are important.

Dog bites are a real risk to cyclists and need to be managed carefully. Rabies vaccines would be recommended and must be considered.

See our section on rabies

Special medical considerations

Extreme physical exertion associated with many treks can be psychogically stressful so it is important to trek with understanding and sensible colleagues. Always choose an easy trek to begin with, and work-up to more demanding treks as your own experience grows.

Vaccination against hepatitis A, B, and typhoid are often advised for most less developed countries, as is checking the status of routine childhood vaccinations such as tetanus, measles and chicken pox. Other vaccines may be indicated for certain individuals or for certain locations.

A comprehensive first aid and medical kit is highly recommended.