Keen to take your hiking adventures to the next level? Off-track hiking opens up a whole new world of unmarked terrain. But there are a few things you should know before you bash your way into the bush.
The Freedom of Going Off-track
There’s a certain freedom that comes with off-track hiking that cannot be matched. Walking without a trail creates a sense of exploration; tramping through long tussock grasslands in the Australian Alps with eyes set on a rocky peak ahead, I like to imagine I’m the first to ever wander this land.
An alpine meadow that has never been roamed or touched by humans before. Sometimes, just sometimes, with the size of the mint bushes beside me, I actually believe it!
Of course, the Traditional Custodians have been treading lightly across this land for tens of thousands of years, and I’m grateful to be a guest, exploring it for myself.
With every footstep off the track, there must be a moment of thought for the repercussions of that step. We, as Explorers, want to leave as little trace as possible, so that others can feel that very same sense of adventure, imagination and most importantly, freedom.
Not only does it involve consideration for the environment, but also navigation and hiking experience.
Where can I go off-track hiking?
Off-track hiking isn’t possible in every national park or wilderness area. Whether because of the terrain, possible environmental impacts, or high visitation numbers, some national parks do not allow it.
If you’re unsure if off-track hiking is allowed, or even possible, in the area you’re exploring, check with national parks beforehand.
What skill level is required for off-track hiking?
We all start our hiking journey somewhere; however off-track hiking is not suitable for complete beginner hikers to tackle solo. If you’re really sold on the idea of off-track hiking, go with someone who’s done it before, or pay for a guide.
There are plenty of adventure tour guides all over Australia waiting to show you the hidden gems of their national park and share with you a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm along the way.
Whether you’re a newbie or have been around the tracks before, there are a few basics to off-track hiking that you should get your head around, before stepping into the untamed wilds of nature.
1. Map And Compass Skills
Confidence in your map and compass skills is key.
Alternatively, hike with someone who is confident and can teach you along the way. In this modern day, many people rely solely on phones and GPS however there’s always the possibility that batteries run out, or signal may not be found.
Whilst you’re still on the comfort of a trail, practice orientating yourself on the map using the contour lines and surrounding landmarks. If this all sounds foreign to you, there are plenty of courses available to further your skills, gain confidence in map reading, and taking bearings to prepare yourself for off-track navigation.
2. Take The Trail Most Travelled
When there’s a built-in trail to your destination, use it!
Off-track hiking should only be for those destinations that are completely remote and do not have a man-made trail. Stay on the track where possible to ensure footpads are not created unnecessarily, and the impact to the environment is minimised.
If you must leave the track to reach your destination, spread your impact out by walking apart from each other and not one behind the other.
3. Do Your Research
Research the area you’re travelling to before you head out. You’ll find information about the Traditional Custodian’s cultural heritage and settlers’ history that will help you to better connect to the land. Discover the unique flora and fauna to watch out for on your hike and become aware of sensitive areas to avoid along the way.
Not all plants are good, for example in Kosciuszko National Park there’s an invasive weed known as Orange Hawkweed that’s currently being eradicated and should be avoided to help reduce the spread.
4. Leave Your Plans With Someone You Trust
Leave a plan of where you’re going with a reliable friend, with more information than just the destination. If possible, leave them a screenshot or a map of the path you plan on taking, giving them as much detail as possible.
Make sure this person is reliable and likely to check in with you after your return time, even if you forget to tell them you’ve arrived home safely.
5. Prepare For The Worst
Weather can change in a second, accidents can happen when you least expect, and without the help of nearby hikers, it’s important to come prepared for anything. When off-track hiking, ensure you carry a full first aid kit and know how and when to use everything inside.
Be prepared for changing weather or having to bunker down if an accident occurs. A bandage won’t protect you from exposure to the elements when waiting hours or even overnight for help to arrive.
Your location may not be accessible by vehicle or even by air when assistance is needed. Be sure to carry a PLB with you on every off-track adventure.
6. Take Your Time (You May Not Have a Choice)
Walking off-track is tiring, and slow. Hiking 1km through waist high shrubs may take one hour. Pay attention to your timing, and learn your own pace through varying terrain; incline, decline, off-track.
To help save your energy through the thick bush, choose the path of least resistance, stick to ridges or spur lines where growth is usually thinner to make your life easier.
7. Watch Your Step
Tread lightly, this doesn’t mean tippy toeing around the mountains, but try to stick to hardy ground like alpine grass. Avoid walking through fragile vegetation and wet boggy ground as you never know whose home you might be disrupting.
Kosciuszko National Park is home to the endangered, and adorable Southern Corroboree Frog that resides in sphagnum bogs. Their habitats areas are often ravaged by feral animals and humans tramping around. Sphagnum bogs can take years to recover from even a single footstep in the wrong place.
8. Follow Rock Stacks, Don’t Make Them
Whilst rock cairns may be a sign you’re heading in the right direction, avoid making new ones. These stacks of human-made rocks may disturb the habitat of little creatures living beneath them, such as the tiny Mountain Pygmy-possum that lives in boulder fields and rock scree in the alpine and sub-alpine areas.
9. Meet Your Marker
Slow down and take note of the changing natural landscape around you. Notice unique coloured tree, a rock that looks like a face, an old fallen down fence that once kept the livestock in.
Use these objects like breadcrumbs, they’ll help you return on the same route if you need, leading you home one by one just like Hansel and Gretel.
Invest in gaiters if you plan to be bush bashing in shorts, you’ll thank me later.