In 2016 well known research company, Roy Morgan, undertook a study on hiking (bushwalking) and unsurprisingly found that the proportion of Australians who participate on a regular basis was on the increase and in 2015 accounted for 27.3% of the population (more than 5.3 million Australians). From my perspective these figure are backed up by the increased number of people we are seeing on the trail. While many people may only hike every now and again, hiking is definitely the Australian pastime and one people do throughout their lives.
As I write this article it’s 2020 and the impact of COVID means people are looking for activities that not only get them out of the house, but also connects them with nature in an activity that provides a bit of social distancing; hiking does this perfectly. Like any sport or hobby there are do’s and don’ts that greatly increase your enjoyment and safety and hiking is no different. This article is aimed fairly and squarely at new hikers and is designed to provide a simple overview of the considerations to get ‘out bush’ in a manner that will hopefully increase your enjoyment, as well as reduce any anxiety/fears that you may have.
It’s Saturday morning and the weather is perfect so you decide to head to a local National Park with friends to do a hike. While you occasionally go for a walk around your suburb or visit a scenic lookout it been along time since you’ve been ‘out bush’ and the rest of your group is the same. So you decide to do a simple day walk, nothing complex, but its longer than your usual 20 minute hill walk and a bit more remote. None of your group owns any ‘specialised gear’ but your chosen walk doesn’t require overnight equipment such as a tent, sleeping bag or cooking equipment. Having said all that there still seems to be so much to think about. Where to start?
Things to consider for first time hikers
Keep it simple
When you first start hiking you have two main options
The first is to go with an experienced hiker; an experienced hiking friend, a bushwalking club or a commercial group that can show you the ropes
The second is to go it alone (by yourself or with others) starting out simply and building up your experience
Choose hikes the are easy to access
Choose hikes that are well marked and easy to follow
Choose hikes that are short in length
Choose hikes that have mobile phone coverage
Plan your hike
There is a saying in hiking that goes ‘Plan your hike, hike your plan’
Work out what it is that you are doing. Is this an easy walk with flat formed trail tread or is it a steep, uneven trail tread, that’s poorly marked? Leave the more complex stuff until you are experienced
Set out a plan
Stick to it
Fit to Hike?
Choose hikes that you know are within you/your group’s level of fitness
If you struggle to walk to the kitchen in the morning then don’t choose a hike that is going to take hours to complete
We have found that our most popular hikes on our website are under 10 km in length and are usually those between 3-6 km
Check the weather
Check the weather for the duration of your trip
Pack for the expected extremes
Cancel the trip if the forecast is for extreme conditions and beyond your skill level. Remember its better to be safe than sorry when it comes to personal safety
Dress for Success
Dress for the expected conditions and always allow for colder/warmer conditions than you expect
Carry rain gear if there is even a remote possability of wet weather. It will protect you from the wind as well as the water
Carry enough water for your trip
If its summer then allow around 1litre per hour
If its the colder part of the year allow 1 litre per 10 km
Keep a supply of water in the car just in case
Make sure everyone has their own water
Everyone gets hungry so carry food for your walk
If the walk is not overly long, snacks will be fine e.g. a chocolate bar, fresh fruit or dried fruits
Think about lunch if the walk is long enough
When you first start out make-do with what you have around the house. The most important thing is sturdy comfortable shoes. We are big fans of trail runners but that’s a personal choice. Whatever you use it needs to be comfortable and that you don’t mind getting wet or dirty
Here are our day hiking gear lists. I don’t carry the full list but will elect what I take based on what I am doing
Probably the biggest fear for most new hikers is snakes
If you hike often enough you will see snakes. Essentially what it comes down to is leave them alone and they will leave you alone. To find out more go here
Before you go tell someone and tell them when you are back
From a planning perspective let someone reliable know what you plan on doing and when you will be back
You’ve done all this planning, had a wonderful hike and you’re sitting in the pub thinking ‘now what did I forget?’ Make sure the person you told about your trip as a safety precaution knows you have finished and you are safe!
More on gear
What you carry with you on a day hike will vary depending on factors such as the length of the hike, the weather, the terrain, the time of year, and just plain personal preferences but there really isn’t just right answer. At the bare minimum you will need the following:
Clothing that is comfortable and will keep you protected from the sun and warm enough for the expected conditions
We recommend long pants but steer clear of jeans!
We recommend long sleeve tops for most hikes
A small pack that fits what you want to carry. Everyone has at least one backpack laying around the house. Don’t buy a new one until you know what you want/need
Pack rain cover if you expect wet conditions
Bottle or bladder. The choice is yours
Start off with a pair of runners laying around the house. If you decide you really like hiking then this is probably your first purchase. A dedicated set of hiking shoes of some type that fits comfortably is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment you can have
Something to protect your head from the sun or the cold depending on the time of the year
For when it’s glarey
Sunscreen, water resistant SPF 30+ and/or insect repellant
Particularly useful for hiking during the hot weather
First aid kit
I can’t remember the last time I used my first aid kit on a hike under 10 km. Having said that having a basic first aid kit for you/the group is always something worth having just in case
As an overall comment if you are new to hiking take things slowly particularly if you are doing it without assistance. Build up you fitness, skills and knowledge as you go. In relation to gear, while I definitely fall into the Gear Freak category, I can’t stress strongly enough that you don’t need to rush buying new gear when you first start out hiking. In most case you can make do with what you have at home.
Once you decide you are hooked, then start to build up your kit based on your needs and wants (often two different things). While it’s possible to spend lots of money on hiking equipment, this is an activity that you don’t need to.
Take your time, build your experience and choose the gear that offers the best value for money; this isn’t always the cheapest.