It’s time. Time to take that next step from short and sharp day jaunts to a multi-day walk. It’s a relatively big step but it can be a safe and enjoyable one, provided you are prepared. And by preparation, we mean not only in terms of being mentally up for the challenge of staying safe and returning in one piece, but also in terms of having the gear you need – and the skills to use it.
01: Plan and preparation
If your multi-day walking ambitions encompass heading off with friends into the wild for a night or more, you need to ensure you have researched your destination. By “research” we mean confirmed all the tiny details. Choose a destination that is close to home. Familiarity with the expected terrain and distances to the start of the walk (and how far you are from emergency help) will make it less stressful. Source as much information on the planned track/route you wish to follow. If the trip goes through a national park or state forest, be sure to contact the local office and ask them for advice on things like the best season to walk there, water availability, campsites and – important – the best maps. After all, you do need to know where you’re going…
02: Find your way
Of all the outdoor skills you can (or rather, should) learn, map reading is one of the most important. And when we say map reading, we mean being able to find your location with a paper topographical map and compass. It’s an age-old skill that has been (sort of) slightly dismissed in this age of Google Maps and handheld GPS units, but one that once learnt, also makes using these modern navigational tools far easier as well. Speaking of which, a handheld GPS is still an excellent tool (we often use one in conjunction with a paper map) but if it does fail, being able to take a bearing, from a map and compass, could be a lifesaver. During a day walk, basic navigational skills are handy; on a multi-day walk, they are an essential, so sign up for a bush navigation course. You won’t regret it and it will also help boost confidence when you’re looking to tackle your first multi-day walk.
03: The right shelter
For Australia, a three-season tent is the shelter of choice for all but the alpine regions. Going as lightweight as possible is often preferred but for longer-distance walking, a slightly heavier/more robust tent, with a larger floor space, is preferable as it adds some assurance that, when conditions do go crazy, the tent you are, er, sheltering in, does exactly what it’s meant to do and shelter you. Key features to look for include a heavyweight floor, durable aluminium poles, plus large vestibules for storing gear. For solo-ists, we’d still recommend a two-person tent unless weight is of utmost concern. Having that extra space – and, generally, a larger vestibule for gear – is always welcome. For two-up travellers, a two-person still works (space and sizes will vary, though) but, again, we’d recommend sizing up if you can; there’s not much weight difference between a two- and three-person tent, and that additional real estate is worth it, in our view.
04: A good night’s sleep
A three-season sleeping bag is the best all-rounder for Aussie conditions. A few years ago, we’d have said that, if you can stump up for it, go for a bag with down fill; down offers the best warmth-for-weight. Up until very recently (with the advent of water-repellent down fill) if your down-fill bag got damp through moisture, it would lose its warmth-generating capacity. A synthetic-fill bag, on the other hand, will retain warmth when wet. Plus, modern synthetic bags are also nearly as compressible for compact storage in your pack, although they will still be slightly bulkier and heavier than a down-fill bag of equivalent comfort rating. Bag shape is a personal choice; if your main concern (besides staying warm) is comfort, we’d recommend a relaxed mummy shape. It combines the best of the mummy shaped bags (less “empty space” for the body to warm up) with a slightly roomier interior, to lessen that confined feeling you get from a regular mummy bag.
For a sleeping mat, we’d go for a self-inflating one, and there are a number of variations on the market, from thin, ultra-light ones, through to ultra-comfy down/synthetic-fill ones. Pack a patch kit, just in case, but most sleeping mats these days are very robust.
05: Staying dry on your walk
A comfortable, tough, waterproof and breathable outer shell jacket is a must for any walk, whether it’s a jaunt down to the shops, or two weeks in southwest Tassie. The outer shell jacket is the barrier between your body and the elements and should be chosen accordingly. There are myriad waterproof/breathable fabric technologies out there, all designed to combat the double-barrelled problem of keeping the wearer dry from external – and internal – moisture, caused by the body’s sweat. Breathability and ventilation is key for all conditions – look for pit-zips and chest pockets that also double as ventilation points and also check out reinforced sections of the jacket for durability. The shoulder area of a jacket – plus the elbows – should ideally have a more robust fabric as these are high-wear areas. The elbows should also be articulated, i.e. allow for free movement without pulling up the hem of the jacket and exposing your body to cold winds/rain. Regarding jacket length: at the minimum, you want it to be hip-length. For walking through harsh vegetation this is a must. The other key to outer shell longevity is care: be sure to wash the jacket with the recommended fabric cleaner and also re-treat the DWR coating regularly. Do this, and you’ll get years of reliable service.
06: Boots ’n’ all
A good pair of supportive hiking boots are essential for multi-day walks. There are a number of styles/designs out there, but your best sticking to a reputable brand and making sure you try as many different pairs on as you can before purchasing. Heavy-duty leather boots are, with time and effort, still a great option, but do need plenty of wearing in. But, once that’s done you’ll have excellent support both for your feet and for heavy pack-loads – you’ll be surprised how much a heavy pack, combined with uneven terrain, can put so much strain on your feet. Synthetic boots are still worth checking out, of course. For some, the quicker/no wearing-in process is always welcome, plus the lighter they are on your feet, the less the boots will fatigue you over a few days of walking. Whichever way you go, a well-fitted (and well cared for) pair of hiking boots will provide years of service – and also assist in lugging those heavier loads.
07: Packin’ it
One of the less pleasant aspects of multi-day treks is the fact you will be carrying all your camping gear with you, on your back… A properly fitted backpack is, of course, an absolute essential then, in this regard (and plenty of others). When looking at backpacks, pay close attention to the harness system – both its adjustability and recommended load weight – and how it fits to your body. Then, you will just need to ensure the pack can fit all your kit in. For a week-long walk, a 65-plus litre pack is the minimum. Some packs in this size range offer an “extendable” section of anywhere between five and 20 litres (usually this can be stowed away when not used). This additional capacity can be handy when lugging more gear (and food) on those longer walks.
As well as harness and capacity, pay attention to the material used; heavier canvas is the toughest and will last the longest, but synthetic fabrics have closed the gap significantly in recent years when it comes to strength and durability. Regardless of the manufacturer’s claims of waterproofness, make sure you still use a bag liner (preferably a dry bag) to protect all your gear inside your pack – and double-bag your sleeping gear. There’s nothing worse than a cold, wet night’s sleep.
The multi-day walk: the last word
Getting started on multi-day walking sounds like hard work, but it really isn’t. Buying all the gear you need can be half the fun. We’d highly recommend visiting a specialist outdoor retailer, such as Anaconda, for the simple reason that not only does a retailer such as this stock highly regarded outdoor brands, all that gear is under the one roof – and staff members are like-minded in regards to being fellow adventurers, so they can offer some additional advice.
After snaring all the essential goodies, it’s simply a case of learning as you go; taking that one, well-considered step at a time, as you progress from a single night away to a week out in the wild, and readjusting your essential gear list as you go. Get the basics – navigation, appropriate gear, fitness – nailed and you can apply your ever-expanding skill set to any walk, anywhere. It’s hard not to see the fun in that.