Take a hike: Top tips and essential equipment

Hiking is an exhilarating and popular form of exercise. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning on hitting the trails.

Weather wise
Check the forecast the night before, then check it twice more before you leave. Download a weather app to your phone, and plan your course according to temperatures and conditions.

Even if the day is predicted to be fine, continuously monitor the app and your surroundings for any clue to changes, and alternate your hike accordingly.

Let family and friends know your plans
Leave a copy of your trip itinerary – with detailed plans and time estimates – with family or friends, and be sure to touch base with them at regular intervals.

Do your homework
It’s not just the weather you need to monitor; a number of other factors should also be researched. Francis McGuire is a seasoned hiker with more than three decades experience tackling some of the world’s mightiest trails including the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru, Australia’s Bibbulmun Track and Bay of Fires, and the Yoshida Trail of Mount Fuji in Japan.

“Any experienced hiker will tell you that research is vital if you want to gain a solid understanding of the landscape that makes up your intended trail,” she says. “You should be able to sketch out the route on a piece of paper before you leave, and always have a back-up plan that includes an alternate route mapped out just in case.”

Make a checklist
Make a list and check it twice! No matter how organised you think you may be, even the most detail-oriented hiker will forget something.

“Don’t just make one. Make a few checklists,” McGuire suggests. “The all-important Master Checklist is a hiker’s bible, and it has everything you’ll ever need. Breaking this large list down, you’ll first need to make an equipment list, then a separate food and clothing list, and then weigh everything so the gear can be distributed evenly.”

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Careful planning is the key to a safe and enjoyable hike

Zip up
Never underestimate the usefulness of a zip-lock bag. As well as saving space and reducing waste, airtight bags are great for keeping food fresh and storing spare batteries (or small knick-knacks). Stock up and be amazed at how many uses you’ll find for the versatile little things. If you’re not a fan of squashed sandwiches, try a flat and lightweight container instead.

Don’t get low on the H20
“You never know what Mother Nature has in store, and worst case scenarios can happen,” McGuire explains. “Always bring a siphon or tube because these innocuous devices can save your life when equipment is damaged.”

Particularly in Australia, where we experience such dry conditions, it’s essential to carry sufficient water supplies, and fill up whenever you come across a water source. You may believe you have enough water to last until the end of the hike, but it never hurts to err on the side of caution. Pinpoint water sources on your map so you can retreat with ease if necessary.

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Never underestimate how much water you are going to need on your hike

Protect against chafing
Chafing is the arch nemesis of hikers, along with broken poles and disastrous weather. Avoid the pain caused by excessive rubbing by moisturising with a liberal dose of anti-chaffing cream on trouble spots and keep a back up supply handy in your backpack.

Duck out for some duct tape
“I’ve used duct tape more times than I’d care to confess,” McGuire says. “Minor tent and equipment repairs always involve duct tape, and I usually wrap some around my poles for grip.” So, be sure to throw a roll in your pack and you won’t be disappointed.

Listen to your body
If you’ve overestimated your capabilities and stamina, there is no shame in calling it a day and turning around. Never push on for the sake of finishing; you will have more fun if you cut the trip short rather than struggling through the entire route.

“Nobody is invincible, so being cautious and having a healthy respect for nature are important qualities every successful hiker should possess,” McGuire adds.

The backpack
The backpack will be one of the most useful pieces of equipment you’ll need to buy, so don't skimp on quality and look for models that contain a light inner-frame and rain cover.

Packs specifically made for hiking come with distance ratings, so go for the pack that will be versatile enough to keep you in good stead for a variety of hiking adventures. A number of packs are designed to curve more naturally – and comfortably – to the body, so be on the look out for these models. 

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A quality backpack will drastically improve your hiking experience

Inside the backpack
It is tempting to go overboard, but consider each item in your backpack carefully. Here are some essential items to consider: 

  • Sun safety: Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm.

  • Lighting: Torch, headlamp and extra batteries. Matches or a lighter and a fire starter will get the fires burning, and a waterproof container will keep it all dry.

  • Navigation: Take a GPS-enabled smart phone or GPS device, a map and a compass. There are compass (and altimeter) apps you can download to your phone. Likewise, topographic maps are recommended, but do keep in mind your phone battery won’t last forever, making physical maps a must.

  • Sustenance: Pack for the length of your trip, plus an extra day (energy bars and gels are popular because they take up minimal room and weigh next to nothing. Take a water bottle with a built-in filter, allowing you to treat water if the need arises.

  • In case of emergency: Always take a first-aid kit, and even if you don’t plan on camping, pack a tent or a bivy and reflective blanket. A whistle is also handy to have at hand, as is a Swiss army knife or similar multi-tool and a personal location beacon.

The outfit
Captain Obvious advises hikers dress according to the weather and we couldn't agree more. For a warm walk, wear fast-drying pants/shorts, a long sleeve shirt (to block out the sun and insects) over a breathable wicking T-shirt (wicking blends retain less moisture than cotton) and a wide-brimmed hat and bandana.

Cold-weather adventures should cover up with wicking undergarments, a long-sleeved shirt and insulated jacket (or vest) and pants. A wide-brimmed hat will still be useful, as will gloves and raingear.

Regardless of weather condition, a good pair of hiking boots (and spare socks) is vital. Shop around until you find a pair that are comfortable and promise longevity.

Hiking poles
Excel on difficult terrain and ensure your footing is always safe with a new pair of poles. Browse around online or visit a sports store for an affordable set. 

Useful Links

Do you have a memorable (or dramatic) hiking tale? What are your tips for anyone thinking about hitting the trails?

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