Guided vs Self-Guided hiking tours

March 13, 2021 by
POSTED BY March 13, 2021

We are often asked whether Self-Guided hiking tours are better than Guided hiking tours. Both have their advantages and suit different hikers. We really believe in the benefits of self-guided tours and in this post, we investigate the differences and explain why.

On a guided hiking tour, you normally walk in a group and with a guide. There is normally an outlined timetable to follow and taxi or bus transport is arranged to bring the group to and from their walk. This often allows for more center-based accommodation where you can stay for multiple nights.

On a self-guided hiking tour you can either walk alone or with a small group of family or friends. Walks are normally completed from location to location but without luggage. This will have been pre-arranged to be transported to your next accommodation while you are walking. Maps and a guidebook with historical information, tips on the best restaurants and background information on local culture are provided for easy navigation which you oversee. You also control the timetable and can start, finish and linger for as long as you please.

Where did the idea for self-guided hiking trips come from?

It wasn’t that long ago that hiking was considered a large group sport. Organized in associations, nature lovers went hiking in the mountains on Sundays, combining cultivation of contacts with outdoor activity. It’s different today. More and more people are discovering hiking as an individual or small group activity and want to be with themselves in nature and escape civilization and everyday life.

The Dingle Way Hillwalk Tours Ltd.
Hiking the Dingle Way

Based on the desire for more freedom, a new travel format was created: the self-guided or individual hiking tour.

In our opinion, it combines the reliable service of a booked trip with the flexibility of individual tourism and is therefore a great addition to hiking.

In this post, read how self-guided hiking tours compare to group hikes and completely self-organized hiking tours. Some have similar benefits, such as pre-booked accommodation and luggage transfer, over individually planned trips. Others are significant differences. However, be warned: we are very enthusiastic about self-guided hikes and so this post may not seem 100% impartial!

Booked accommodations VS planning stress

In the most beautiful places, travelers always gather in the main tourist season. And wherever travelers come together, accommodation is often scarce. This is especially true for small, secluded places along the most beautiful hiking routes. Anyone who has visited various hotels and hostels unsuccessfully because, for example, a public holiday or local festival attracted the crowds, knows how quickly the ideal of a very spontaneous vacation becomes torture. Namely when you can’t put your tired head on a soft pillow.

It can be just as stressful when a fully booked hut in a certain stage makes the complete planning of a multi-day tour impossible.

This time-consuming activity is relieved of you on a self-guided or guided hiking tour. In addition, carefully tested accommodations save you unpleasant surprises in terms of facilities or comfortable mattresses. Because what a tired hiker needs in the evening is above all a hot shower and a nice place to sleep.

Day 5 began with a delightful breakfast with Nathalie and Annemie, two fellow Hillwalk Tours clients
Staying in a local Bed & Breakfast

Luggage transport VS haul it yourself

One of the biggest challenges on multi-day hiking tours is actually not walking per se, but walking with luggage. Every gram counts when after several hours you have additional weight on your shoulders and slow down your steps. A common issue found while hiking in Ireland and the British Isles is that the underground footing and not the distance can cause the biggest challenge to carrying a heavy pack.

A solution would of course hardly be to take anything with you, but what you need for that day such as rainwear and a packed lunch.

Therefore, luggage transport is a real relief on your hike (with Hillwalk Tours it is included with every tour). Especially for more inexperienced hikers or those with physical ailments such as back problems or people of different age groups, luggage transport reduces unnecessary agony. This gives more energy to just enjoy the beautiful nature and fresh air. And fresh socks of course.

Walking the Cornwall Coast Path, Hillwalk Tours
Walking the Cornwall Coast Path with Hillwalk Tours

While luggage transport and booking of accommodation mainly differentiate self-guided and guided hikes from completely independently planned trips, the next aspects distinguish it from group trips. They show how you can maintain individual freedom without having to forego a certain level of comfort.


Own pace VS average speed

The characteristic of the hiking group is that it consists of different individuals. This almost always leads to some “rushing ahead” and others “loitering” behind. In the end, nobody is happy with the resulting average speed.

An individual hiking tour allows you to walk at your own pace. Especially on a longer hike, this makes a significant contribution to feeling good in your own body and enjoying being on the move.

Rob_Roy_Way_Hillwalk_Tours
Hiking the Rob Roy Way

Flexible booking VS group pressure

With a self-guided hike, you can determine your arrival and departure dates yourself. In addition, you decide how many kilometers you would like to hike each day. This is a big difference to guided hikes, which often follow rigid schedules.

Hillwalk Tours offers you gentle, moderate and challenging versions of each of our routes, each with different daily stages.

Inch_Beach_Hillwalk_Tours
Views of Inch Beach from the Dingle Way

Time to yourself

The extent to which a hike should be a sociable experience depends very much on personal preferences. While people at one end of the sociability scale would like to have nature to themselves, at the other end there are hikers who meet new best friends along the way.

A guided hike means spending a lot of time with the same people and exchanging ideas extensively about shared experiences. For some people this is just right.

Others appreciate the freedom to wander in silence and to be able to measure how much conversation is pleasant when you meet people on the go and on site.

However, a self-guided hike doesn’t mean not talking to others and there is always opportunities to chat with other walkers that you meet along a trail or meet the locals or fellow tourists in the evenings.

And our new friends celebrating a hike completed
With new friends celebrating the end of our hike

Achievement and Confidence

A great aspect of hiking is experiencing a sense of achievement at the end of each day. If you turn around, you can often not believe that you have covered this long distance all by yourself with your two legs. This strengthens self-confidence and gives back a piece of independence in our high-tech everyday life.

This feeling increases when you have found your way in unfamiliar terrain. This is how you develop new skills like reading maps.

Hillwalk Tours Kerry Way Hillwalk Tours Ltd.
Windy Gap, Kerry Way

Safety net

Traveling in a group may increase the feeling of security. But being on your own does not mean that you have to do without protection. Hillwalk Tours provides an emergency hotline around the clock. So you are not alone if something does not go according to plan on the way.

Walkers Hillwalk Tours
Walkers taking in the views on the Western Way, Connemara

Curious?

Hillwalk Tours has been awarded the “Certificate of Excellence” by Trip Advisor. It shows how enthusiastic numerous customers were about the service of Hillwalk Tours and our self-guided hiking tours.

Are you also interested in trying out a self-guided tour? Or are you curious about the various magical hiking routes that Hillwalk Tours offers in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and on the Camino de Santiago? We’d be happy to answer any questions that you might have.

Hillwalk Tours Walker Photo
Hillwalk Tours Walker Feedback

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