The Heavy Hiker

Sharing Hiking Experiences in Western Australia

So, You’ve Decided to Start Hiking

Great decision.

Hiking is a fun and easy way to get some exercise into your weekend as well as offering you a chance to enjoy some sunshine on your face or savour the feel of WA rain in the winter.

But first you need a plan.

Where are you going to go? What trails are appropriate for your level of fitness? Who are you going to take? Can you find a loop trail or will you need to drop vehicles at either end? What will you take?

There is a lot to consider; but we are going to look at just 3 considerations in more detail:

What trails are appropriate to your level of fitness

Who are you going to take; and

What gear will you take.

Let’s assume you’re embarking on a 1 day hike.

  1. What trails are appropriate to your level of fitness.

I’m not going to rattle of a list of trails here. There are plenty of resources out there offering you great information on trails across WA.

The best, in my opinion, are the Trails WA website or The Life of Py blog. There you’ll find locality, grade, accessibility and recommendations for heaps of different trails for both metro and regional WA.

The issue is the grading system. Who says what is moderate fitness?

You can be ‘fit’ in different ways. My friend, The Chatty Hiker is boxing fit. She can maintain high intensity boxing over short periods of time.

Me, on the other hand, couldn’t box for the count of three without a near death experience but I can endure long, low intensity hikes with a lesser degree of difficulty.

So, how does that convert to the grading system?

It doesn’t.

It’s up to you to ensure that you have read ALL of the available information for the hike you are about to embark on. You need to take the grade into consideration ALONGSIDE other hikers experiences or specific information about the hike such as the fact that there may be long sections of rubble incline, or other trails that comprise of short sections requiring some rock scrambling.

It’s about understanding the whole trail and not just relying on the grading information. Look into the terrain type, factor in the time of year (heat or wind chill factor) and choose a trail based on ALL of the information, not just the grade or you may find yourself overdoing it in the early stages of your hiking endeavours.

Understand exactly what you are in for.

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2. Who are you going to take?

This is equally as important to your hiking experience as what trail you actually choose.

Many new hikers are reluctant to go it alone. So you’re going to need a buddy.

First, you need to decide why you’re hiking and what you hope to gain from the experience. If you’re hoping to better your fitness through hiking then you need to choose someone who is at a slightly better level of fitness to you so that their pace will challenge you to step it up.

Let’s call that guy “The Sporty Hiker”.

He’s probably the guy you’ve seen on your local flat, bushwalk trail in fluro yellow with a hydration pack and a bright orange sweat band on his head sitting just above his reflective Oakley wrap around sunnies. Yep, that guy.

Or, if you’re looking to experience nature more you’ll want to choose someone who will take it more casually and won’t mind if you want to stop to take 30 000 photos of water pooling on the top of moss. (I have a thing with moss, you will learn this.)

Let’s call this one “The Hippie Hiker”.

It’s likely she’ll want to go on a short, low intensity stroll through the forest, foraging for berries and singing to the birds. She’s a gentle creature with a beautiful soul; connected to nature but low in competitive spirit.

Or, you could be like me and enjoy a mixture of both those things. I’ve been blessed with “The Chatty Hiker” who doesn’t shy away from an 18 kilometre, enduring and challenging trail so long as we can go in the cooler months and can stop for a picnic lunch somewhere by a stream where we can take pictures of water droplets forming on the leaves overhead.

The Chatty Hiker challenges me to dig in (and quit whingeing) when my dodgy ankle starts begging me to stop, but also delights in a chat about our marriages or work or “The Restless Hiker”- my 4 year old little girl; who incidentally LOVES hiking.

So, whomever you choose should be matched to the type of trail you choose and to what you hope to gain from the experience.

3. What gear will you take?

What you take on your hike hinges off the first 2 points. Where are you going? How long will you hike? Who are you going with? And what do you hope to achieve?

No matter the length or ‘Grade’ of your hike I highly recommend you take the following:

A small day pack ; with a rain cover

A small first aid kit; including the following:

  • BandAids
  • Insect Bite Relief Cream/Spray
  • A Pressure Bandage
  • A whistle
  • An Emergency Poncho

Enough snacks to last 2 days. (I normally take 2 bananas and 2 tubs of trail mix.)

Appropriate walking boots and an army knife.

It’s important to prepare for a ‘worst case’ scenario. While you may think you’re just headed down to Mundaring for a low-key bush stroll in a high traffic area, you never know what may happen:

Early morning, dense fog and you’re deep in conversation with your Chatty Hiker and you’ve missed a marker and walked 1km South of your turn off.

Not having noticed how far you’ve come you’re now on a completely different trail taking you into an area that isn’t well frequented as those trails up near The Dell.

It starts to rain.

You notice you’ve gone too far and you whip out your map only to realise you didn’t deploy your rain cover and your pack as soaked through, destroying your map.

Thunder.

Rain gets heavier.

These kinds of situations happen and they make you a bit more cautious.

It helps when you’re well prepared with enough snacks to sustain for an unexpectedly extended hike and emergency ponchos that you can use to keep the rain off you.

In these cases you probably won’t get stranded and you’ll likely find your way back out within a couple of hours but, I can assure you, you’ll be pleased you had an adequately packed bag; especially if you were to add an injury to that list of simple complications.

Preparing your gear might sound like unnecessary work but you won’t feel that way in the unlikely event you actually need to use it. Prepare wisely.

Good walking shoes are integral to the success of your hike.

Having the right shoe is everything on a long trail.

You may have done short bush walks on wide, defined trails in your sport shoes but when you start negotiating rubble inclines, single-file ‘can’t see my feet for the scrub’ type trails you’re going to want real boots; both for comfort and protection.

You’ll need to speak to a local retailer about your specific foot support needs but look for a walking boot/shoe with good arch and ankle support that is light enough that your legs don’t feel like dead-weights.

My personal boot is a mid-rise Columbia Omni-Tech Waterproof, Breathable hiking boot which offers enough ankle support for me while being lightweight enough to not cause heavy foot fall.

I’ve had mine for about 4 years now and they have proven to be a sound investment, saving me from many falls as well as 1 snake strike when I was bushwalking in dense scrub at the back of Gosnells (of all the places!)

I also utilise a hiking pole, but that’s a story for another day and not always necessary for most day hikes.

Hiking can be a beautiful and spiritual experience but it can also be torture. So prepare for your hike, choose the right hike, the right partner and the right gear and you’ll be well on your way to an enjoyable experience.

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