Want To Become An Independent Hiker? Here Are Our Top Tips

By Di Westaway | Chief Adventure Chick | Wild Women On Top

Before the advent of tracking apps, getting lost was incredibly easy to do in the wild, even on marked trails. I did it often, mostly because I was too busy chatting to navigate.

Many years ago, while doing a reckie with my partner, we had a full-on fight when we realised we were lost. I wanted to go back and he wanted to go forward. In the end, we agreed on an off-track short-cut which involved crawling through low, spikey thicket above a river. Things went from bad to worse when he got impaled by a stick and suddenly everything was all my fault. Eventually, we bumped into some hikers who got us back on track and guided us to our camp site.

I learned a big lesson that day... never go hiking with men. KIDDING, kidding. I learned that navigation requires focus and to never veer off the trail if you don't know where you are!

Another time, I was on an overnight hike with friends near the Coxs River. I felt exhausted when I noticed one of our girls had turned as red as a beetroot. It turned out she had shared her water with her friends and then ran out herself. She didn’t want to be a bother so she pushed on, but now everyone was dehydrated and fading... fast. I felt responsible and I knew this could be life threatening, so I left our group lying under a shady tree, collected all their water bottles, and ran ahead to the stream to fill them up. Luckily, the stream was only a kilometer away and no harm was done, but I finished the day knackered and feeling less-than celebratory when we arrived at camp. 

I learned it's essential to carry at least 3 litres of water in summer and to ensure everybody else does too.

Even after 20 years of hiking, I'm still learning big lessons. 

For example, I was recently in the Lower Blue Mountains with a group of Wild Women exploring Glenbrook Creek on a 38-degree day. Tinder dry flood debris blocked our riverside track, so we plunged into the river to get around the obstacle. It was so exhilarating and fabulous, we kept swimming.

Suddenly, I felt my waterlogged pack pushing me down. This surprised me, as I had previously used my pack as a floatation device, which keeps you boyant in the water. But I didn't have time to ponder it... I was being pulled under the water. One of my fellow Wild Women, Linda, reached out and grabbed onto me. She was sinking too. I tried to grab her but I was just out of my depth. Eventually, I managed to grab her and drag us both to shallower water. It was a terrifying experience. Not just because it was so unexpected, but because it happened so fast.

I now know that there comes a point where the pack fills up and instead of keeping you afloat, it pulls you down. Also, different packs react differently, depending on the situation, and it's not something you want to mess around with. 

There’s nothing like experiences in the field to teach you how to become an independent hiker. But if you want to reduce the risk and stay safe, it's best to practice close to home and to do a bit of homework. 

Here’s some basic tips on how to become an independent hiker, so you can manage the risks and stay safe while exploring the wild:

  1. Research, research, research your chosen adventure so you know what to expect and how to prepare. You need to check out where you can get water, what the terrain is like, what hazards are likely, what exit points you can access and what things could change based on weather and seasons.
  2. Invite your hiking buddies to join you and assign tasks, such as who's carrying the first-aid kit, food, cooking, team gear, navigation and safety.
  3. Learn some basic navigation. You can do this through TAFE, outdoor guiding companies or rogaining events.
  4. Download your maps and apps, and carry a map and compass in case your phone runs out of battery. I prefer not to rely completely on my phone just in case something happens to it. Traditional map and compass should always be carried just in case.
  5. Get fit for your adventure, three to six months prior. This involves regular daily walking, weekend day hikes, interval training and pack-carrying sessions to build up your strength, endurance and mental tuffness.
  6. Go shopping for your adventure gear and clothes three to six months prior, so you have time to practice wearing and using the gear before you set foot on the trail.
  7. Organise gear-gathering with your group and practice putting up your tent, using your stove, blowing up your sleeping mat, using your pee funnel, cooking your dinner, boiling the billy, packing your pack and stowing your sleeping bag.
  8. Start a “what to pack” list and keep adding as you think of things. Headings could include: clothes, gear, accessories, treats, food, first aid, toiletries, medications, extras.
  9. The week before you go, put everything on your gear list out on a mat and make sure you really need it all.
  10. Notify family, the local police, National Parks and Hire an EPIRB. Check the weather, tweak gear and head off on your adventure. 

Importantly, enjoy!

Want to become a badass independent hiker? Di Westaway has written a whole book to help you. It's called 'How To Prepare For World Class Treks' and it's packed full of tried and tested tips and tricks that'll make you a prepared, empowered queen on your next adventure. Buy it now.

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