For some of us, the term hiking conjures up the image of Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild, lugging around a pack that weighs nearly as much as she does, wearing chunky leather hiking boots, and hikes that can last days, if not weeks or months. And well, let’s be honest, that doesn’t sound like much fun! Not just yet anyway! But what if I told you that you can start with a lot less gear, a lot less planning, and a lot less fitness than you imagine? Would you be up for it?
If you can walk around the block, and have a childlike sense of excitement at something new, then you can most definitely try hiking! Ever since I was a 10 year old sneaking out of the backyard to go and play in the caves in the beach cliffs near my house (sorry Mum!), I’ve always had a sense of wonder about the outdoors. I’ve been fat, I’ve been skinny, I’ve gotten even fatter, and yo yo’d in size and fitness over the years, but the sense of excitement about taking a new trail has never left me. And if I was to share one thing with you, it is that it is EASY to explore, and you don’t even have to go far from home!
To me, hiking isn’t about distance, its just about immersing yourself in the amazing bush, and walking on dirt trails.
With that in mind, here’s my tips for getting out and enjoying the great outdoors around you. Note that these are ideas for short hikes close to civilisation, they are NOT tips for wilderness hiking, that’s a different how-to guide entirely!
I don’t know where to hike!
So you want to head out and explore but you just don’t know where? Guess what, you don’t need to go and find a mountain, or even a national park, in fact, no matter how suburban your area, you will always find some bushland or national parks nearby. We aren’t talking paved trails here (boring!), let’s get on the dirt, and the narrower the trail, the better! Google is your best friend, simply google “easy bush walking trails near <your city/town>”, and go from there. Find a walk description that is less than an hour, is on dirt tracks, and is defined as “beginner” or “easy”. I’ve also included a list of great resources for finding national parks in your area at the bottom of this post.
I don’t want to hike alone!
The best of adventures are shared adventures. So find a friend or family member (including the kids!), and tell them about a great adventure you are going to do together. After all, you need someone to take photos of you with the cool kangaroo/huge tree/beautiful waterfall you come across! It is also much safer to head out with someone else, see below for safety.
Don’t I need hiking boots?
No way – wear your most comfortable shoes! Don’t get caught up in the hype of needing to buy hiking boots if you want to go hiking! Yes hiking boots are brilliant if you are doing long hikes, carrying a large pack, or are hiking on super rocky, technical trails, and you need some extra ankle support. And can certainly be helpful if you are a plus size woman. But when you are just starting out, just wear the most comfortable trainers/runners you have. Ideally they will be less than a couple of years old, and have a decent amount of grip left on them, as that’s all you need for your first couple of hikes. But if you do find yourself loving it, I’d highly recommend getting yourself a pair of trail runners. Basically, they are a beefed up version of your standard pair of trainers. The main difference being that they have plenty of grip on the sole. This is very important if you are hiking on slippery surfaces, like rocks, or steep trails. My favourites are La Sportiva trail runners, they are lightweight, but super grippy, and I trust them to keep me upright when my body has other ideas!
But hiking pants and shirts are ugly, and I can’t find my size!
Who needs pants anyway! Well, to be fair, we probably all need pants of some description! Just not hiking pants (or trousers for any of our UK readers)!! Like shoes, just wear what’s comfortable. Some of my best hiking outfits consist of leggings and a t-shirt. Ideally a shirt that is breatheable, but it doesn’t really matter if you are only out for an hour or two. In terms of pants, ¾ leggings (like the kind you wear to the gym) are ideal, as they keep most of your leg protected against being scratched by twigs or branches, but still expose some skin to breathe if you get warm. A ight pair of trakkies are fine, too. Most people prefer to avoid jeans, as they just make you too hot, and if they get wet they get very cold and heavy. As for long sleeve tops in the cooler weather, a few layers, or a lightweight fleece are much better than one heavy jumper.
Do I need a raincoat?
Well that all depends on whether you want to get wet! But in a word YES! For hiking, a reliable, waterproof jacket is crucial, particularly as we head out of summer and into the cooler months. Unless I’m staying very close to the car, and the weather is clear and warm, I will always take my jacket with me. Its small and it packs into its own pocket, so I can carry it in my hand, or in a small backpack. It doesn’t matter what brand it is, as long as it is waterproof.
What about a backpack?
If you are only headed out for 1-2hrs, you do need a backpack, but only something small – something that will hold your water, your jacket, your phone, and your first aid kit. For the most comfort, your small backpack should have a waist strap, and a chest strap, but make do with what you have to get started.
Isn’t it dangerous?
Well yes, but so is crossing the road! It just comes down to common sense. Here’s a few points to consider:
Tell someone where you are going, tell them how long you think you will be, and check in with them when you return.
Make sure you have enough time to return before dark if you are not carrying lights. Its best to overestimate how long you will take, particularly if you like to take photos or take frequent breaks. In fact if you are a beginner, don’t go out for more than a couple of hours, as it’s easy to tire quickly. For beginners, work on an average pace of around 4km per hour on flat trails with no stopping.
Always carry a phone, one that’s fully charged and has service in the area you are hiking. Check your provider, many are great in the cities, but get very patchy outside the city. Telstra has the most coverage in rural areas, some people actually buy a pre paid Telstra SIM card to use when hiking
Always carry water – for short hikes under 1-2hrs, a water bottle may be all you need. Some people carry their water in a bladder in a small backpack like a camelback, but it’s a personal preference. Obviously, the hotter it is, the more water you should carry.
It’s also highly recommended to carry a first aid kit, containing the following (thanks to Bushwalking Victoria for this info!):
- Compact first aid manual
- 1 x triangular bandage
- 1 x medium wound dressing/ tape to attach the dressing
- 3m x 10 cm elastic compression bandages for treating snake bite You can purchase a snake bandage for $10 from our online shop.
- Assorted bandaids
- Antiseptic liquid/cream
- Moleskin and/or blister kit
- Soluble pain relievers
- Insect repellent
- Salt (for leeches)
- Personal medications – with instructions
- Several vials of saline for washing wounds, eyes etc.
Snakes are a genuine danger in Australia, but if you stick to defined trails, and keep an eye on where you are going, you will most likely see a snake before you step on it, and avoid it. Be extra careful if you are off trail for any reason, or take a break by the side of the trail. Snakes can’t see or hear, but if you stomp your feet like a brontosaurus (and sing the song at the same time) when you do go off track for a toilet stop, they will generally make themselves scarce. If you do get bitten, stay where you are, and call 000 immediately. I have written a blog entirely on snakes – check it out!
Now there’s no excuse, get out there and explore!
I haven’t forgotten….heres the listing of all Australian National Parks locations and details by state:
Parks Victoria: Parks Victoria – Home
Here’s some great short hike locations near Melbourne – Lysterfield Lake Park, Dandenongs National Park, You Yangs Regional Park, Cardinia Reserve, Braeside Park.
NSW Parks and Wildlife Service: NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service | Home | NSW National Parks
Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service: http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/
National Parks South Australia: National Parks South Australia
Western Australia National Parks: Explore Parks WA | Department of Parks and Wildlife
ACT National Parks: Parks and Reserves – Territory and Municipal Services