Transport to the Trailhead

Before starting any hike you have to get to the trailhead – the point at which the hike begins. There are several ways to get to the there, some better than others depending on the type of trail you’re doing. Firstly, lets look at the two different types of trail.

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The Types of Trail
There are only two different types of trails, the Linear – those beginning at the trailhead and ending at some other point, and the Circular – those that both start and finish at the trailhead, whether in a grand circle or by returning along the same trail once a certain point is reached. Both can pose differing challenges for transport, so let’s have a look at both kinds.

Circular Trails

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Own Vehicle – Having your own vehicle is the easiest option for a circular hike as you drive to the trailhead and park it there, returning to it at the end. Be aware that some National Parks require a parking permit. Lone vehicles in a deserted National Park car park can be a target for thieves, so make sure valuable items aren’t left inside the vehicle while you’re walking. Also pay attention to the route to get to the trailhead, if you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle and there are fords on the way, more walking may be required before you even start the trail.

Being Dropped Off – While this method saves having to worry about parking permits and theft, coordinating the pick up may be troublesome. Your ride might end up waiting hours if there’s some delay on the hike and with little mobile phone reception in National Parks, there’s no way of letting them know.

Taxi – This may be the only option if there’s no-one you know near the National Park or if you’re in a foreign country. While it’s cheaper with more than one person, it suffers from the same issues as Being Dropped Off in that communicating with the driver in areas with no mobile phone reception is troublesome.

Buses – While this could be a valid option, if they’re available it would mean planning around getting to a certain point at a certain time, or knowing the timetable if there are delays. This only works if the National Park is near a major road, the more remote the hike the less likely there will be a bus service.

Linear Trails

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Dropping Your Car At The End Perhaps the easiest means of transport on a Linear hike is to get someone to follow you to the end of the trail, drop your car off and then have them taxi you to the beginning. This takes less organisation, and you’re not committed to finishing the trail at a certain time to be picked up. Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle, as thieves can target lone cars in National Parks.

Two Vehicle Drop Off – If hiking as a group and there are two or more cars between you, simply drop one or more cars at the end of the trail and transport everyone to the trailhead in the other. This is the easiest method for groups of walkers, but more opportunities for thieves.

Being Dropped Off – Having someone drop you off at the start and collect you from the end is the next easiest transportation means that only suffers from the issue of communication with the person picking you up, similar to that of Circular hikes.

Taxi – Similar to Being Dropped Off, but with a tariff. It also has some issue with describing the end of the trail if you’ve not been there before. Communication is still an issue.

Buses – The next easiest method as long as there’s a bus stop near both start and end of the trail. Ensure you have an up-to-date timetable and you plan around the times.

One Vehicle – A solo hiker with a vehicle can be the most difficult transport means for a linear hike. If you park at the trailhead you need to plan a means to get back to it once you’ve completed the hike. This could mean catching a bus to the other end or arranging someone to collect you and delivery you there. As an alternative, hitch-hiking back to your vehicle might be a way to go if both start and end are on or near major roads. Most hikers will pick up another hiker they see on the side of the road, your pack being the dead give-away.

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Then, once you’re at the Trailhead the only thing left to do is begin walking…

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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The Weight of Hiking – Packing Light

To the casual observer, hiking is just a bunch of walking, camping and stuff. While that pretty much covers it at a very basic level there’s far more to it than that. Hiking is a physical experience especially when walking long distances and intense climbing. Add to this a pack filled with food and camping equipment and it can become quite a heavy work out.

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In saying that, the weight of your pack can make or break the hiking experience. Too light and you’re probably going hungry or shivering away in your tent trying to keep warm instead of sleeping. Too heavy and after hour three on the trail you’re struggling to put one foot ahead of the other and the pain in your shoulders/hips is killing you.

The Optimal Carrying Weight.
To find the optimal carrying weight, we need to look at what we as humans can carry comfortably.

It’s suggested that the maximum carrying capacity is 50% of our weight, although for those of us not trained to carry this much it’s not sustainable for long. At my own optimal weight of 95kg (209lbs), this would mean carrying 47.5kg (105lbs). Even though I’m fairly strong, this wouldn’t be an enjoyable experience over any distance.

Comfortably then, we can carry about 25% of our own body weight, half of the above maximum capacity. This is more sustainable and while it would still be quite a workout, it can and has been done. I’ve personally carried almost 30kg (66lb) on hike.

Optimally, and for the most enjoyment, the general aim should be to carry 15-20% of our body weight. My average carrying weight on a 3-day hike is 18kg (40lb) and for a week or longer hike is 22kg (48.5lb).

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Packing Light
Putting together one list to suit everyone is impossible as there’s too much variation in requirements and item weights. So, what follows is a list of items and weights based upon what I would take on a hike. In this particular case, a 3-day solo hike, with a good water source at camp and a moderate temp requiring some warmer clothing at nights.

Note that weight referenced here relates to items carried only and excludes hiking clothing and boots.

Base Equipment Metric Weight (gm) US Weight (oz)
Hiking Pack (70l) 2,500 88.2
Camera, Carry Case, Spare Batteries 825 29.1
Tent 2,700 95.3
•Sleeping Bag 1,200 42.3
•Sleeping Mat 950 33.5
•Camping Pillow 275 9.7
Sleeping Bag Blanket 275 9.7
Sleeping Bag Liner 100 3.5
Plastic Trowel 75 2.6
Water Bladder 100 3.5
Whistle 25 0.9
Total 9,025 19lb 14oz
Easy Access Equipment
Money/Cash Card 25 0.9
Toilet Paper 125 4.4
Alcohol Based Hand Wash 50 1.8
Insect Repellant 125 4.4
Sunscreen 120 4.1
Head Torch 100 3.5
Pen and Paper 150 5.3
First Aid Kit w/ Survival Blanket 300 10.6
Pocket Knife 50 1.8
Pack Cover 150 5.3
Waterproof Jacket 400 14.1
Empty Plastic Bottle 25 0.9
Kindle/Book 300 10.6
Phone 150 5.3
Maps, Itinerary 75 2.6
Compass 25 0.9
Duct Tape 125 4.4
Total 2,295 5lb 1oz
Night Clothes
Thermal Shirt 275 9.7
Thermal Pants 175 6.2
Fleece Jacket 525 18.5
Flip-Flops 400 14.1
Gloves 25 0.9
Hiking Towel 175 6.2
Underwear 125 4.4
Wool Socks 125 4.4
Beanie 75 2.6
Total 1,900 4lb 3oz
At Camp Equipment
Cooking Stove 275 9.7
Cooking Pot, Lid & Handle 250 8.8
Plastic Mug 75 2.6
Cutlery 100 3.5
Lighter 25 0.9
Matches (Waterproof) 15 0.5
Scourer 10 0.4
Sewing Kit 25 0.9
Lightweight Durable Cord 100 3.5
Spare Batteries 3 x AAA 30 1.1
Toothbrush/Paste 100 3.5
Wet Wipes 40 1.4
Small Garbage Bags 4 100 3.5
Deodorant 50 1.8
Gas Cylinder 345 12.2
Water Treatment Tablets 100 10 0.4
Total 1,550 3lb 6oz
Food
Porridge (3 portions) 225 7.9
(tablets) x 20 2 0.1
Coffee (instant) 6 teaspoons 30 1.1
Teabags x 3 10 0.4
Pre-made Sandwiches x 3 900 31.7
Snack Bag (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, sweets etc) 900 31.7
Camping Meals (2 serves) x 3 900 31.7
Water 2l 2,000 70.5
Total
5,067 11lb 2oz
GRAND TOTAL WEIGHT 19,837 43lb 11oz

The above packing list is typical for me at the beginning of a hike. Please note that I’m 189cm (6’3”) and fairly strong. I’m used to carrying weight and because of this include a few extra items for a more enjoyable personal experience, such as a 2-man tent, a Kindle and a full set of ‘night’ clothing.

Based on consumption of food, each day on the trail should reduce the load by approximately 1kg. While this is a reduction in weight, it’s barely noticeable. By the end of the 3-day hike, carrying the above equipment, my weight would be 15.1kg (33lb 6oz) due to my having used most of the food and water.

This should give you a general idea of weights and hopefully an understanding that a few extra items, even small items, can really add to your weight.

Water
While water is the greatest requirement on any hike, it’s also one of the heaviest consumable items. On the average hike, a person should carry between 2-3 litres (2.1-3.2 US quarts) per day for drinking, more in a hot climate or summer hike. This equates to about 2-3kg (4.4-6.6lbs).

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The amount of water carried should also take into account the availability of water at or near the campsite. With limited water availability an extra1.5 litres (1.6 US qt) should be carried for food preparation and cleaning (covers both dinner and breakfast) plus the water required for the following day. If your aim is to carry a 15kg load, water per day will cover between 3 and 6 litres. (6.6-13.2lbs), which doesn’t leave a lot for the rest of your equipment. While the water may appear to be clean, it is always safest to purify any water you get on the trail, especially if it’s from a water tank.

Weights by Season
On average, pack weights during a summer or hot climate hike should be lighter because of the reduced requirement for heavier, warmer evening clothing needed on a colder hike. While more water is required during a ‘hot’ hike, the added weight is still lighter than extra clothing and heavier sleeping bags.

The Trail Wanderer

Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically

Hiking has both mental and physical challenges associated with it. Here are some methods to help prepare in both areas.

Mental Preparations
Beyond any research you may have done on the trail, being prepared mentally is just as important as being prepared physically.

The ‘Can Do’ Attitude
Many people are put off by something that sounds too challenging. While they convince themselves to do it anyway, they tend to pull out when things get a little difficult. For the most part we can push the body further than we think. But if the mind’s not fully into it we’ll give up well before we meet our maximum exertion level. By having a ‘Can Do’ attitude we can actually achieve far more than we think.

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The easiest way to get a ‘Can Do’ attitude is to stop doubting yourself. If others can climb a mountain there’s no reason you can’t. Always set your sights to the top and not ‘just as far as you can get’. It doesn’t matter how long it takes just that you’re prepared to go the distance. And once you make it all the way next one summit will be easier.

Dissect Your Map
While many people like to hike without much information about the trail, I like to break it down to get an understanding of what I can expect each day. I write a small blurb in my trail book and read it during breakfast to mentally prepare for the day. The blurb might read something like this… “Day begins with steep 500m climb to summit then gentle downhill along ridge line for rest of the day stopping at a lookout then a river crossing before a final short but steep climb to camp.” The blurb also allows me to note points of interest along the way so I can plan my breaks.

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Dissecting the map can also be useful to pinpoint any known dangers on the trail. For example, if there’s a strong wind and the trail leads along a ridge line, you’ll be able to prepare accordingly. Or if there has been plentiful rain prior to the hike, the river crossing in the middle of the day may be heavier than usual or there may have been rock slides on cliff top trails.

Physical Preparations

Hiking is a sustained endurance activity which can take some conditioning to get used to. For the fairly fit, carrying a sizeable pack long distances with some intense climbing shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. But for the first time hiker undertaking a long hike can be challenging and exhausting.

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On the first few days of your hike, your body’s not going to like you very much and will probably react something like this:

End of day 1: “I hate you.”
End of day 2: “It hurts, why are you doing this to me?”
End of day 3: “I’m sore but this isn’t so bad after all.”
End of day 4: “Another day on the trail? Let’s do this!”
Day five and onwards: “Sore? Tired? Not me, I’ve been on this trail my entire life!”

The problem is, most hikes finish on Day 3 just when your body’s getting used to the sustained exertion. To lessen this effect trick your body into thinking it’s already been walking for days as follows:

Increase your exercise leading up to the hike, focusing on building leg muscles and increasing your core strength. Squats, step machines and running are all good for this.

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Training under weight will condition the body to carrying your pack. Fill your pack with 10-15kgs (22-33lb) of books or stones and walk for about an hour, increasing time and/or weight as you see fit. This can be done on a treadmill or to and from work if you live close enough. If you don’t, you can always get off the bus/train a few stops early and walk the rest of the way.

If you’re first hike is for a week or more, it’s suggested to do an overnight training hike a week or two prior to the major hike. This will not only get you used to the process, but will help you break in the new boots and allow you to recover from any blisters they may cause.

The more you do, the less likely your body is going to complain when you get out on the trail.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Preparations: Doing Your Research

Usually the basis of a hike is to explore a national park or some other area of wilderness via a predefined trail. While exploring generally means ‘discovering as we go’ it’s still important to know a few things about the trail before we set out. With so much information available to us via the internet it shouldn’t take long to a little research and find out some of what we might expect. Here are a few things it’s suggested to look into:

Weather

We all know weather is a changeable thing and while forecasts aren’t always accurate it’s still handy to know what kind of weather we might be facing. Many people prefer to hike in fine weather, so if it’s going to downpour, maybe schedule the hike for another time.

But sometimes weather is just a mental challenge, something determined and prepared for. After all isn’t hiking about being in nature and isn’t weather a big part of nature? In saying that, there are some forms of extreme weather that should definitely not be hiked in, in particular very heavy rains – which can cause flash floods and landslides, and heat waves – which can cause heat exhaustion and rapid dehydration. Whatever the weather, if you decide to hike, pack accordingly.

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Are Bookings Required?

Some national parks require a permit before you can hike in them while others only require permits to camp overnight. Most permits are purchased ahead of time as there are often limits to the number of people allowed on a trail at a given time, or the number of camping spaces are limited. Permits must be carried at all times, attached to packs or to tents in camping spots. Park Rangers will ask to see this permit and are well within their rights to impose fines or expel you immediately from the park. Most permits are obtained online, through the national park office or at trailhead.

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Dangers of the Trail

The wilderness is a dangerous place, so be aware of any dangers on the trail.

Physical Dangers
Many trails have cliffs, rocky climbs, slippery trails, windy passes, rock slides, areas subject to scrub fires and the like. Details of injuries, deaths or rescues that have occurred on the trail should be easy to find. Most are caused by lack of planning or stupidity, but all should give clues as to where to be especially careful. If concerned contact a park ranger or don’t hike these areas alone.

Living Dangers of the Trail
It’s the fauna and flora in a particular area that may cause the most danger. Research will give not only plentiful insights about what dangers there are but also how to deal with them.

Plants – While it’s common sense, it’s worth mentioning here… Do not eat any wild mushrooms or berries found along the trail as they can cause sickness or even death. Those aside, there are many plants that can cause burns, blistering or worse, simply by touching their leaves. Stinging nettle is a good example of this.

Another example is the Gympie Gympie tree of Queensland, Australia, which has leaves covered in tiny hairs. A simple touch of these hairs can transmit a neurotoxin that will cause pain for weeks or even months. Enough exposure to the plant’s neurotoxin has caused death in animals and humans alike. Beware.

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Beasts – National parks are protected wilderness areas that usually have varieties of wild animals living in them. This could be anything from the rampaging Iguanas of Australia that when frightened climb trees, occasionally mistaking humans for trees… There may also be monkeys, rats, possums and even some birds, that will tear or chew their way into your tent or hiking pack looking for food.

In many areas there are larger more dangerous beasts that can mistake the unwary hiker as its next meal. These include the likes of pumas, crocodiles, or packs of marauding dingoes. Care should also be taken around free roaming cattle. While many people think them domestic animals, they are actually responsible for more hiking injuries and deaths than any other animal.

Snakes – The silent threat in many counties are snakes as they often blend in with their surroundings. Tread carefully and always be on the look out for them as accidentally standing on one can cause it to strike. Snakes can often be found sitting in a patch of sunshine on the trail. If encountered give them a wide berth and do not kill them, they have as a much right to be there as you do.

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Insects – It’s important to know if there are dangerous smaller creatures in a particular area. While flies can be annoying in hot climates and biting flies even more so, mosquitos in certain regions may carry dangerous diseases. Check online for information about preventatives and protections for diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. Ticks are also annoying and potentially dangerous. Know how to check for tick bites and carry a set of tweezers in your first aid kit to remove them.

Leaches – While these pests can do little harm on their own, in swarms they are particularly onerous. Leaches inhabit warm wet locations and latch onto you from any direction, but most usually from the ground by climbing onto your boots. Be especially careful of your eyes when swimming in infested areas.

Spiders – Spiders are everywhere and many like to hide in clothing and packs. Ensure you check boots and equipment left outside your tent in case they’ve taken residence in them overnight. A more lurking danger are larger spiders that have slung webs across the trail. Coming face-to-face with a Bird-eating spider or the Orb-weaver is not a pleasant experience.

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Humans – In the remote areas of some countries foreign hikers have been targeted by locals looking for money and valuables. Stories have filtered around about hikers being held up at gunpoint, assaulted and even murdered. Many countries have laws against foreign hikers walking without guides or forcing them to only walk specific trails where protection is provided. On these trails, armed members of the local police or army patrol regularly. If however, you’re planning a remote hike in a foreign country and are genuinely concerned about the threat of locals, DO NOT go. Choose a trail that’s better organised and known to be patrolled, and live to hike another day.

Overall, there are too many living dangers to relate here. Do your research and know what you’re likely to come up against and be as prepared as possible.

In a future post I’ll provide more details of how to protect yourself against many of the creatures noted on this post.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.