This is a documentation of a training with the Russian hitchhiker Alexej Vorov from 06.04.2012
The following text contains basic informations about the technique of competitive hitchhiking, how it is practiced and developed in Russia. The chapters are orientated to the Russian customs. The documentation is divided in three chapters: (1) Preparation (Equipment, Maps, Cars,…); (2) Strategy (Tactics); (3) Utilization (Nighthitchhiking, Wintertime)
Basic problem for our Russian friends was the big backpack in the former soviet republic. There was not much space in the cars for big backpacks. In the 80s PASL1 developed it´s own, hitchhiking optimized backpack, which holds about 40l and looks similar to a parachute container. Traditionally there was a rope attached to the backpack, to being able to tie it at the outside of cars, if there was not enough space inside. Nowadays this is not needed anymore, but the rope is still there. Habits. After developing the backpack, our friends realized, that the conventional equipment was too big for it. Logically this meant, that they need to reduce the size of their gear.
Originally the technique of competitive hitchhiking had its beginning while making outdoor expeditions. For getting into the mountains to do a hiking or skieing trip, they hitchhiked, even if they didn´t knew it was hitchhiking. After a while they figured out, that at certain times and in certain places the hitchhiking works better or worser. It was the first step to analyze and optimize their own movement and can be seen as the beginning of the idea of competitive hitchhiking. The second most important milestone within this technique was the observation, that hitchhiking also works in the night. With being able to hitchhike all night through, also the needed equipment could be reduced alot, because there was no need for camping gear on short and middle distances anymore.
Three different types of equipment exist: Technical Equipment, Camping Gear and Clothing.
Clothing consists of three layers: The first layer has basically the function to transport moisture to keep your skin dry. On longer tours you should use every possibility to wash to keep up the functionality. Synthetic clothing is recommended, as this soaks not as much as wool and stays not as wet. The second layer has the function to protect yourself from cold. Here a fleece is very functional. In principle it is better to wear 2 thin layers, than just one thick layer, because the temperature regulation is working better this way. Also small clothings are easier to pack, easier to dry and two stacks have a better isolation. The third layer is to protect you against wind and rein and should be breathable.
The Russian hitchhiking uniforms, as they are used in competitive hitchhiking, are not made to keep you warm. Therefore you need additional equipment in winter competitions as caps, gloves scarf to keep yourself cozy in colder times. For the body you can use a downvest. This should be worn above the uniform, cause it is not working in compressed condition. In extreme temperatures you can wear thin synthetic finger gloves and on this mittens. Mittens are in general superior, cause they store more warmth. The finger gloves are very useful, if you have to touch cold metal, because, especially in Russian winters, you can injure yourself very fast when touching metal with you bare hands. As you have to dress and undress your gloves constantly while hitchhiking, the gloves are attached to an elastic tie at your arms. You don´t wanna lose this and so you wont. Another classical part of the equipment in competitive hitchhiking is a rain cape.
As shoes normal boots are recommended. In winter you can wear leather boots, they work and are easy to dry. Most important are insoles, cause 90% of the heat disappears through the ground. In cars or trucks you should take of your shoes, for a better heating of your feets. Also it is practical to buy your shoes one number bigger than you are used to, cause you feets will swell up if you sit for a long time or in a long lift. In deep snow you can overdraw your boots with nylons, to keep them dry. Same as with your body clothing it is also recommended to wear 2 layer of socks. First layer a thin one and over it a thick wool-sock. Cotton is not recommended.
Technical equipment exists of a small pair of field glasses to eventually check control points within the competition and observe the traffic. The hitchhiking uniform is especially developed for moving in the night and pays of during this time. Basically they are made to represent a silhouette of a person, cause this is easier to recognize for the drivers and has an advantage towards bright clothing on the upper part of your body, which not might be recognized as a person. Furthermore the uniform is there to give the impression of an accurate, sporty and kind person, to increase your chances getting picked up. In principle there is only a small amount of cars which stops for everyone and a small amount of cars which stops for no one. Therefore it is required to provide the best impression to the drivers, to secure an advantage within the competitions.
Beside that you should use active and passive reflecting equipment during the night. Beside a head-torch, which ideally can be switched on and of easily, reflectors should be standard equipment during the competitions. Reflectors can be used for the legs and for the hands. As the spotlight of the cars beams mostly to lower objects, we ensure a maximal reaction time for the drivers. They can see very early, that there is something beside the road and slow down.
A transportable charger, which can be used in the cigarette lighter of the car is very useful. Same for a compass. Compass, because usually, if not announced different by the referee, GPS navigation is forbidden during the competition and compass represents a more traditional way of execution in orienteering sports. Maps should be colorful and include measuring rod. Also important is a functioning watch to be able to note the times during the competition.
Camping Equipment is always a question of distance. In PASL for short (<1000km) and middle (<3500km) distances, camping gear is usually not taken. For the tent you can use the classical version with poles. But it is very costly to take this kind of equipment with you for just 1-2 nights. For the competitions we use special produced tents without poles, which provide a rain and wind protection and use less space in the backpack.
As summer sleeping bag a synthetical filling is recommended, because it is drying faster. Wools are not recommended, cause they are heavy and moisture-sensitive. For colder regions down is the material to go for. PASL members use amongst other things a double sleeping bag. It means less space but a better thermal insulation. As inflatables usually the Therma-Rest is used. They are better than normal foam mates, because those are big and difficult to store. The isolation to the ground is very important in the winter time. Sometimes you also can use your clothing for isolation. But remember to keep your equipment dry, especially in the winter time.
Cooking gear you should only take for long-distances. For short trips it is easier to just buy something on the way and take „non-cooking-food“ with you. For cooker you have different combustibles. Gas is the easiest to use and most of the times you need less, than you carry with you. High quality has aircraft gas. Fuel contains 20%-25% more energy than gas and you can buy it almost everywhere. Especially in wintertime fuel works much better than gas. Beside that you should, in extreme climates, always have half a liter kerosine with you. Sometimes the diesel in the tanks freezes and you can make it fluid with the kerosine.
As cooker a multi-fuel solution is recommended. In winter time you can cook in the tent, but be careful. Pots should be made of aluminum, because it is lighter. The more flat a pot is, the faster it will cook. If it is very cold in the night, you can take a bottle of hot water with you in the sleeping. Also a candle in the tent can increase the temperate. But as with the cooking, be careful. Technical equipment should also include a waterproof bag. In trouble plastic bags will do the job.
Also the food is dependent on the distance. For a 2 day competition we store the following catering: Small sausages, flat bread (like Tortillas, normal bread gets crushed in the backpack and is not useful for our purposes), dry nuts and fruits, chocolate (winter) or Nougat (summer- doesn´t melt), water mixed with juice (summer) or tea (winter) and canned fish or meat for dinner time. For longer distances always carry food for two days with you. Buckwheat is recommended, rice (more energy than noodles) and sugared tea with lemon. Be careful if you have a competition during summertime and you lose a lot of salt, because this can cause muscular problems. To prevent this you can use a teaspoon of salt for rebalancing the Water-Salt household.
Preamble: Example: Moving from A to B. Person one changes the car 15 times. Person 2 changes the car 3 times. Coincidence? No.
For longer distances you can calculate the traffic volume. There are times of the day where is less traffic. This is known most of the time and it is necessary to make optimal use of the „waves of traffic“ for your own movement. Beside that there are so called „dead zones“ existing, which are mentioned as corridors, with extreme less traffic. In general: In the morning time there is a lot of traffic into cities and in the evening a lot of traffic out of cities. For a long distance trip it is recommended to start in the morning, to catch commuters, which go more far.
Tactics of movement represent a fundamental discipline of competitive hitchhiking. Especially the effective switch between small and big roads is important for the success within the competition. In general you should move from one good position to another good position. It is better to get out of a lift before he reaches its destination, to take a good position, than going till the end. Same counts for nightfall. But in nightfall and on less used roads it is recommended to use every possibility for moving forward to the next position.
Technique for crossing cities: Hitchhike with the car into the city. Never position yourself at the entrance of a city. Better go out before (f.e. 70km before the city in cities without a ring) and wait for a suitable car. If you, because of drowsiness or other reasons, end up in the middle of the city, move forward as followed: (1) Get orientation (2) find a big street (3) hitchhike on the big street, find a lift. Ask for the way (4) get informations about the way. Forget the way description and find a new car. It is best to rate a good position by yourself.
Positioning. A good position is, if the driver has good view on the hitchhiker and enough space to stop. Positions are always depend on the environment: road markings, holding surface, ascend and tempo limits. Peaks of ascents are always good positions, f.e. It should be avoided to position yourself at the end of a descent.
Those positions are most of the time the best for hitchhiking. But always keep in mind the visibility and holding surfaces. Never try to catch a lift on a position, where the vehicle becomes an obstacle for the following traffic if stopping. Better: Find a spot where cars can safely leave the road. Don´t try to hitchhike cars that are followed by trucks. If a driver stops on the middle of the street, ask him to pull over to the side.
The hitchhiking signal (if thumb, hand, stop sign or waving) is a question of personal preference. More important is to lift you arm in the right moment, which should not be too early or too late. Without motion, there is no communication between you and the driver. Always look at the driver, Especially when moving in a team it is very bad, if one person does something else, while the other one tries to stop a car, cause this communicates you’re not ready. Small details are very important in hitchhiking, cause they determine, if the car stops or not.
Night hitchhiking is the core art of competitive hitchhiking. When we realized that a 24/7 movement is possible, it was the hour of birth for competitive hitchhiking. Much gear and a big backpack could be easily reduced and replaced with the nowadays backpacks. The technique and the equipment during the night differ from the ones during the day. You have passive reflectors and active light. Passive reflection is not working in the twilight and if there is no direct light available, like in a curve.
In the night it is recommended to flash your own source of light, to start communication with the driver. Mind the position in street lights. Always stand behind the light, to not being covered by your own shadow. If you don’t have a hitchhiking uniform, you can wear a white shirt on top of your jacket or pullover. In Russian Tundra you can make a small campfire in emergency case beside the road. This is understood as a common distress-signal. Beside that you should not forget to sleep. This is also something you can use the night for.
Trucks cover most of the time not very long distances and make a lot of breaks. Especially if you go middle distances and during the night, this can turn out negative. Even if the driver tells you, he goes long distance, this can turn out as a short ride sometimes. Be prepared. The best is to ask the driver to announce breaks before you stop, to be able finding a better position and hit for the next vehicle. If you found a good spot, tell him he shouldn´t worry.
To fight the drowsiness it is good to eat something (seeds or chewing-gum). In the night it is much easier to move in a team as two, because then one person can sleep and the other one talk to the driver. But the best way to overcome drowsiness is to sleep. Try to take a most relaxed position and gain as much comfort as possible. The „as much as possible“ should be in the center of attention. In the morning you should look out for well-rested drivers, f.e. trucks that just started. It will be good for your own well-being as well.
Winterhitchhiking differs from conventional hitchhiking in the following points: it is cold, the average driving speed is less, you are endangered (especially in the east parts of Russia) getting stucked and the braking distance is higher, which is important for your own positioning. If the temperature is around the freezing point it is sometimes more dangerous than extreme colderness, cause the streets are slippery and drivers might not be prepared. Also, compared to the summer, small roads have less traffic if it is dark during winter time. The „dead zone“ begins earlier.
The equipment during hitchhiking in the winter should be kept dry! Never try to wear as much clothing as possible to keep yourself warm. It is working at the beginning, but not the best tactic. It is better to keep your muscles active for staying warm. For this you should wear less clothing to get warm faster and prevent sweating. For cold fingers you can simulate to chop wood. Don´t use masks in the winter, they could scare the driver. If you drive on the loading platform of a vehicle and it is very cold, you should use snow goggles to protect yourself. In general you should not walk during the hitchhiking, cause drivers might think you just want to go short distance and less cars will stop for you. But you can walk or run upstream (opposite of driving direction), it can work. In wintertime it is legit to walk, because so you stay warm at least.
Never be hungry if its cold. Carry Antigel or Kerosin with you to make Diesel fluid again.
1St. Petersburg Autostop League is the first hitchhiking club, that was practicing competitive hitchhiking and was founded by Alexej Vorov.