Top 25 hiking tips

By Dallas Hewett 29 June 2012
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Ensure a successful walking trip each and every time by adopting these tried and tested tips from the experts.

YOU HAVE ARRIVED at the campsite after the first of five long days walking. The view is spectacular as the sun dips between the surrounding peaks, sending shafts of light splintering across the valley.

You delve into your hastily loaded pack, glancing at the surrounds and wondering if life could be any better. Then you reel in horror – your hand hits a wet patch, deep in what should be dry territory. You delve further, only to find a soaking sleeping-bag.

The culprit is a cracked water bottle. It will be a long, cold night. The cardboard packaging that houses the rice you had planned to eat for dinner is also wet and has created a soggy mess down one side of your pack. You sit to compose your thoughts and remove your boots – a lace snaps.

To top it off, as the sun disappears and the cold silence of the evening engulfs you, you can’t remember where you packed your head torch, the ignition on your new stove is not working and the only matches you have are also wet. What should have been a magical evening has turned into an uncomfortable affair.

What lessons could be learnt from those who have experienced such wild and unforeseen moments for years? Those who walk often develop habits and routines through extensive experience; handy tips that most often remain a mystery to us mere mortals. Here, the experts impart their wisdom.

Handy checklists are part of every experienced walker’s pre-trip routine. Leaving behind a vital piece of equipment could prove uncomfortable at the very least, and life-threatening at worst. Seasoned walkers have a master checklist that they update for each outing. A good checklist is vital to ensure you have all the equipment required and, finally, to ensure all the equipment actually gets packed. Question how important each piece of equipment is to the trip and justify its carriage before loading it – this is a good habit to get into. 

* Create an equipment checklist and a separate food checklist with the trip menu.
* Start the food list by breaking down the trip into individual meals. For example, on a five-day trip you may require four breakfasts, five lunches, four dinners and 10 snack breaks. The menu and a list of ingredients are then created.  
* Once you have a master list of ingredients and foodstuffs it is a good idea to calculate weights and amounts required for your group or your individual needs. Update your master list each trip.

A sure sign that someone is hitting the bush regularly is a food dehydrator in the kitchen cupboard. Dehydrated food is light and much easier to carry. Simply cook your meals, place them in the dehydrator, then pack. A commonly quoted line from dehydrating connoisseurs is: “If it can be cooked it can be dehydrated.” Experienced walkers will bring wonderful-tasting sauces and condiments that with a touch of water will set the culinary adept among the group into a feeding frenzy.

Walkers love zip-lock bags. Storing foodstuffs in these handy little bags saves weight and space. The muttering of the words “save weight and space” will set the pulse racing of any hot-blooded regular walker. Zip-lock bags pack well and keep food fresh. Removing food packaging will also mean less rubbish to carry out. For larger groups, Tupperware is the answer. Yes, the ultimate kitchen solution has transcended the generations; Tupperware is lightweight and comes in a mindboggling variety of shapes and sizes. Look out for the latest flat-packing versions. Bring on the Tuesday night Tupperware parties.

Sitting in a tent for 48 hours being battered by storm fronts in the Western Arthurs with a mate will indeed test your patience and conversation skills. A pack of cards, a paperback novel or a lightweight field guide could be worth its weight in gold. A game of cards is social and great for bonding on a long trip. Unexpected circumstances could have you in the wilderness for longer than planned. Some form of entertainment or mental stimulus will help you get through the long hours and boost morale.

So simple yet often overlooked when heading out for extended periods, a tube or siphon could just save your life. Used for siphoning water from tiny springs or soaks, this small piece of equipment is especially important in much of Australia’s dry walking environments. In Australia, water sources can be extremely unpredictable, so fill up at any opportunity. Note the location and distance travelled from the water source should you or a group member have to return for water.

A fold-up water bag or the trusty wine bladder is excellent for carrying extra water.

Vaseline is a staple in any self-respecting regular walker’s kit. Chaffing can be irritating at least and downright painful at worst. A touch of ‘vaso’ on sensitive areas and you’ll be gliding along the trail.

Let’s face it unless you are a complete masochist the main reason you are out in the bush is enjoyment. Experienced walkers will tell you a little treat can make all the difference after a long day and lift spirits when times are tough. A cup of coffee, a slice of chocolate, a glass of wine or a dash of whiskey. Pack a little extra for your walking buddies and it’ll be a happier camp all round.

A roll of duct tape will prove its worth in time of a quick repair. Wrap the tape around a trekking pole, or a container if space is a real concern. Duct tap will fix a torn tent, a ripped backpack, hold a flapping boot sole at bay, extend a cracked water bottle’s life and even help prevent blisters.

Even on well-marked trails experienced walkers are always navigating. They will look behind at regular intervals and get a feel for the route should they have to return. They will identify points of interest such as rock formations, distinctive trees, or changes in the terrain. This simple routine should become every walker’s habit. With the advent of GPS such simple habits can be easily overlooked.

If walking in cold climates, take a pair of kitchen rubber gloves. Not only will they make washing up
on cold evenings much more pleasant, they are also good for doing jobs around camp like pulling up tent pegs in the rain.

If you are walking with a group, use each member to evenly distribute equipment and food. Depending on the group size and dynamic you may need only one tent, one stove or one first-aid kit. Often gear is double loaded in small groups of inexperienced walkers. Before the trip it is a good idea to compare checklists and use common sense. Ensure loads are evenly distributed and match people’s physical ability and strength. Be fair and practical and you could all save a few kilograms.

Carry extra bootlaces. The saying goes “you’re only as strong as the weakest link” and you wouldn’t want a simple bootlace to be the undoing of an otherwise well-planned trip.

Regular walkers love nothing more than playing with their gear. A great habit to develop is inspecting and using gear regularly between bush sojourns. Keep abreast of the operation of equipment; this will assist you if you have to set-up gear in tough conditions, and will ensure you don’t set off with faulty or damaged gear. A simple problem could compromise the safety of you and your group. In particular, trial new gear before you go bush. Much walking gear, such as stoves, require assembly and can have many different parts.

Check the forecast before you depart. On route look for signs of deteriorating weather and plan your walk accordingly. Even though a walk should be well-planned, common sense should prevail and you need to be prepared to be flexible in your approach if the weather changes.

Seasoned walkers will study areas and routes with often meticulous vigour. Going bush is not without
its risks. 

* Have a solid knowledge of the terrain and plan the route beforehand.  
* Go deeper than the guidebooks or local walking blog.  
* Find topographic maps and look at them over and over during the preparation phase.  
* Plan alternate routes and escape routes where possible.
* Have a contingency plan should issues arise.  
* No matter your level of experience, always notify others of trip plans and timeframe. Consider providing detailed trip notes for long walks in wilderness areas.

You should waterproof all gear, at the very least use a waterproof pack liner. However, most seasoned walkers will tell you it is imperative to show some extra vigilance with your sleeping-bag and one set of warm underclothes. Wet clothes can be walked in and may have to stay wet, as is often the case in Tasmania, however to sleep dry and warm is imperative for enjoyment and safety. Ensure each morning you repack your dry underclothes and sleeping-bag well and it is waterproof sealed.

Experienced walkers will always carry at least two ignition sources. Should one fail you can be safe in the knowledge you have another.

Plan your clothing according to layers. The rule of thumb of experienced walkers is to break clothing into at least three layers – base layer, middle layer and outer layer. Carry what you require for each layer only. This will assist your packing and ensure you don’t carry unnecessary clothing. Be mindful to pack the outer layer so that it is easily accessible. Your nice new Gore-Tex jacket may roll down and fit beautifully in the bottom corner of your pack, but you will regret your inefficient packing as soon the first shower hits and you have to empty your pack to find it! 

If the weather conditions are terrible or key personnel on the mission pull out, you have to be comfortable to cancel. If conditions are likely to be dangerous, then make the call as early as possible. The decision is never easy, particularly when you’ve planned and waited for a trip, but any outdoor adventurer has to make the call at some stage, and you need to be content with your decision. As travel author Ken Eastwood said, “It just means you are wise; not a wuss”.

Regular walkers love routine. For example, get into the habit of always setting up the tent the same way. Packs under one vestibule, food in a bag in the top pocket, torch in your pant pocket – whatever works for you, just as long as it’s consistent. This will avoid you spending half the evening looking for things in your bag, miss half the ingredients for dinner or have to blindly scramble around the tent looking for your torch when you’re busting for the loo.

Having to take your pack off every time you come across a good shot means every chance of missing that great unexpected moment or wildlife encounter. Keep it in a pants or hipbelt pocket for quick and easy access.

A simple length of cord has so many uses: handy for drying clothes, tying things together, lowering a water bottle into a water source, lowering a pack down unstable track or as a guy rope for a tent or shelter.

On any extended trip into the bush you must account for emergencies and carry extra provisions. How much will vary on the remoteness of the area and the length of the trip. A good extra emergency meal is one that doesn’t require cooking. In unforeseen circumstances this will mean that, if water is short and fuel is running low, you will still have a meal. This could be as simple as a bag of dried meat, dried fruit and biscuits. Remember it’s about sustenance not gourmet for
this meal!

Double-duty gear is gear that can perform more than one task. Garbage bags will carry food, act as a pack liner, provide an extra rain layer, can be sat on in the wet and even carry garbage, while a sleeping-bag cover stuffed with clothing is a great pillow. 

Source: Australian Geographic Outdoor March/April 2010.