With a fail list nearly as long as her packing list, a recent trip to traverse the Larapinta got Alice thinking about how good it is when everything goes right.
Six mates, two weeks off work and nothing but the picturesque landscape of Australia’s desert heart stretching ahead of us. What could possibly go wrong? One ruined ITB, one sprained ankle, several busted water bottles, six boxes of mouldy protein fudge, and a nasty case of bed bugs later, we returned to Canberra with a newfound appreciation for the things you want to avoid in order to have a great time.
So, in the spirit of sharing, I’ve pulled together a list of mistakes to avoid, to help you make some secret sauce and get the most from your next hiking trip.
1. Saying ‘Let’s just wing it’
The day before we left for the Larapinta we were treated to a truly grim sight: two dusty hikers fresh off the trail, hobbling through the main drag of Alice Springs. Surely that wasn’t going to be us…was it?
There’s a time and a place for yoloing, and heading out on a multi-day hike generally isn’t it. While you don’t want to swing too hard in the opposite direction and plan everything to a tee, it’s a good idea to read some trip reports and get a feel for the route before you set off.
Take a look at the topo map, identify which sections are likely to be the most challenging, and allow enough time to cover them, based on a realistic assessment of your skills and fitness level.
2. Buying All the Expensive Gear and Taking Everything
On my first overnight bushwalk to Mount Solitary in the Blue Mountains, I just took what I had: a two-person car camping tent, some recycled soft-drink bottles for water, and some definitely-not-ultralight cooking equipment, including a clunky French press. Was I a little cold without a puffer jacket? Sure. Did my pack weigh more than it does now that I’ve moved to an ultralight setup? Probably. Did I still have fun? Absolutely.
Unless you’re planning on walking in an area known for its unpredictable weather, like the Tassie wilderness or Kosci backcountry, chances are you’ve already got everything you need. Start by investing in some quality pieces of kit – a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and stove – and make do with the rest. You can dial your set up over time as you discover what works for you.
And try not to pack your fears. The beauty of getting into the bush is stripping it down to the bare essentials.
3. Not Testing Anything Before the Trip
Who’d have thought Kmart water bottles would break? Or that warm protein fudge left to sit in a plastic container for a week or two would be a bad idea?
Anyone who’s ever been caught in a leaky tent during an unexpected downpour will tell you the same thing — ‘I shoulda sprayed it with the garden hose to check how waterproof it was’.
Before setting out on a longer trip, make sure to test your gear. When you’re tired after a long day hiking the last thing you want is to be cold because your sleeping setup isn’t quite right, or hungry because you didn’t calculate how much fuel your stove needs.
4. Worrying More About Dingoes Than Doing Your Physio
It’s easy to worry about the really scary (albeit totally unlikely) possibilities when you’re hiking — like being attacked by a crazy axe murderer, or mauled to death by a pack of wild dogs. But chances are, an injury is more likely to take you down.
Trust me. I learnt this one the hard way. Hitchhiking back into Alice Springs with a busted knee after only one day on the Larapinta made me realise I probably should have listened to the physio. Glute bridges (and hiking poles) are your friends folks, particularly if you spend your week sitting at a desk.
Don’t let your fitness level put you off getting outside though — hiking is a great way to build up your strength! And it’ll happen quicker than you think. After a few rest days, I was able to get back on the trail and enjoy the last 50km. I even managed to tackle the rocky Southern Walks at Nitmiluk Gorge a week later.
5. Not Discussing Everyone’s Expectations
Along with coordinating calendars, making sure everyone has a great time has to be one of the hardest parts of organising a group trip. When the shi*t hit the fan on our recent trip, our biggest mistake was not spending enough time discussing our options.
Read more: Can You Ever Really Fail an Adventure?
6. Focusing Only on the End Goal — No Side Trips Allowed
Unless you’re setting out to break a speed record, or log a first ascent of a gnarly Patagonian peak, the main point of any bushwalk should be to have fun along the way.
Take the time to explore the area around your campsite, follow a side trail up to a great view. Some of my most memorable moments outdoors have come from finding a secluded campsite or an isolated stretch of beach, and I’ve never regretted the extra effort.