Last Christmas our family hiked the 65km Overland Track in the World Heritage listed Cradle Mountain & Lake St Clair National Park.
I’ve always loved hiking. I'd done a few 4-day hikes, but I had never done anything of this distance or in alpine conditions. So the first thing I did to prepare was create a Pinterest board of what to wear hiking (because fashion is totally important while walking in the middle of the wilderness). I soon realised that was a total waste of time. So if your parents make the same suggestion, or you just need some hiking inspiration - read this list of 6 things you need to know before you go hiking, and how to actually prepare, because now I know. I've done it!
But first, a disclaimer. This blog is written by a teenager for teenagers. It’s not one of those irritating blogs aimed at adults called ‘Hiking with teens and how to motivate them’. You know the ones that suggest binoculars and scavenger hunts? Seriously. This blog covers relevant teenage hiking topics (mostly for girls, but guys, feel free to read too) like clothing, social media, how to stay interested and why hiking is literally amazing!
1. Carrying your life on your back 🥾
Whether you have hiked before or not, hiking can be a scary concept. Throwing on a 15kg pack and walking for 5 hours a day in the middle of nowhere… woah OK, if it’s put like it sounds bad, but honestly, if you are prepared, there is nothing to be stressed about. Hiking is incredible! The right hiking pack is really important because you have to carry everything on your back. Luckily my parents knew all about what pack to use, so that was one less thing I had to worry about.
Hiking with a pack may seem difficult and uncomfortable at first. I had sore hips and shoulders after my first day walking - but don’t give up, the first day is always the hardest.
What to wear when you are walking in the wilderness. I realised pretty quickly that wearing gym tights, a tank top and cute socks (sorry dudes, I know you probably wouldn’t wear that, but you get the point) wasn't going to cut it. Those clothes weren't going to keep me warm, and free from cuts, bruises, sunburn and blisters. When I was hiking, I'd often brush up against spiky grasses and bushes, and the Ranger told us about that pesky hole in the ozone layer that sits directly above Tasmania, which means a high risk of sunburn. So wearing long pants and a long sleeved top was super important. Gaiters are also a big must for me. You’re in the middle of the wilderness, the most important thing is comfort, warmth and protecting yourself. And you can't carry lots of clothing options. Don’t even consider taking a change of clothes for every day – two pairs of clothes is all you need (not including jackets and wet weather gear). But you do need new underwear and socks for each day. Speaking of socks, I would suggest taking one or two extra pairs. There are loads of outdoor retailers with adequate gear and it’s worth investing in good quality items too – especially wet weather gear.
3. Social Media – Photos not FOMO 📸
Hiking is a time to disconnect from Wi-Fi and embrace the world around you. While you hike through the wilderness, don’t worry about all the streaks you are losing or what you are going to post on Instagram when you reconnect to the bustling world. Take your time to appreciate the spectacular biodiversity and flora around you. And don’t just look at it, see it, feel it, breathe in the fresh air – I know it sounds cliché but seriously it is an amazing feeling. You can catch up on socials as much as you like later, but this hike will be a once in a lifetime experience. Seriously though, take as many photo’s that you can, these memories are ones you are going to cherish forever, but don’t let Instagram aesthetics be in the forefront of your mind. Oh and don’t spam your camera roll on the first day. Depending on how long you are walking for, put your phone to low-power mode, or airplane mode to save battery life AND take a power bank so you can capture moments from the first to the last day.
4. Food - Let's TACO 'bout it 🌮
Ok, I'm a girl that lives for food. Oh how I love a nice gooey chocolate brownie or a pizza - let me be real, you won't get any of that on a hike. Hiking food has to be lightweight, non-refrigerated, high in kJ's and low packaging (because there are no rubbish bins so you carry all your rubbish with you). I was researching for hours about hiking food - "Delicious hiking meals", "What to eat while hiking", "Hiking meal plan" but I could find barely anything, and what I did find was American products we couldn't buy locally. You might be thinking how am I going to survive this without a nice hearty spag bowl? The truth is you can. We took some dehydrated meals for dinners and seriously, I never thought hiking food could be so good. But seriously, when you are walking for multiple hours a day anything tastes good. For example, I ate a whole box of sultanas while hiking, and on a regular day I wouldn't even touch them!
Carrying the right amount of food takes a lot of planning so I'll share a few of the meals I had while I was hiking just to save you the trouble of browsing the internet for hours:
Breakfasts: mostly consisted of muesli, with powered milk & milo, Arnold's Farm porridge sachets and Belvita breakfast bars.
Lunch: Tortillas with fresh veggies and meat on the first day (gotta get the fresh stuff while you can), Vita-Weats with honey+PB or Vegemite and Saladas with tuna (in a sachet not a tin) and my favourite - miso soup.
Dinner: Beef jerky stroganoff, Thai pea curry and dehydrated Campers Pantry or Outdoor Gourmet meals. And the very best thing was a row of chocolate after dinner.
Snacks: Jerky, Nuts, Dehydrated Fruit, Dates, Muesli bars etc.
Also, make sure you keep your fluids up. I would recommend drinking at least 2L of water a day. Usually water on the track is undrinkable without purification. That's nothing to worry about though, just make sure you have some form of water purification device like a Steri-Pen or Katadyn Water Filter. Also, take Hydralyte capsules for a fresh burst of flavour and energy!
5. Toilet tips 💩
Yep. Let's just get it out there - everyone poos. My top toilet tips are: always bring a spare toilet paper roll – it poured one day and one of our toilet rolls got saturated. Luckily we brought a spare. Another tip: try to go to the toilet each day BEFORE you leave camp. Girls, it’s not so easy for us - trust me, you do NOT want to be doing a number two in the wilderness. Taking your pack off and undoing multiple layers of pants and jumpers (especially if it is raining!) is not a fun process. If it has to be done then make sure you have a separate toilet bag on hand with shovel, toilet paper, wipes, hand sanitiser and matches (if the paper can be burnt afterwards).
That leaves us with the 'long drop' situation. When you go hiking you leave the flushing toilet behind and are confronted with the long drop. Same toilet seat we know well, but lift the lid and right before your very eyes is a long drop containing everybody's business. The long drops on the Overland Track are compostable, so to speed up the composting process and keep the smell down you add a cupful of husks after you go. Sometimes you will find a loo that's not too smelly, not too full and other times you’ll get ones you wish you’d never seen…EVER. Ew! Make it quick because you can't hold your breath forever!
6. Walking Games 🥾
Lets be honest, nature is not going to keep you occupied for 5 hours straight while you are hiking. I know I certainly wasn’t in awe of every bush, stick and rock I saw while I was on the trails in Tasmania. I’m not saying the scenery wasn’t amazing, it was. I saw some of the most picturesque scenery I could have ever imagined, it’s just on the long monotonous parts of a hike you need something to occupy your mind. So, here’s a few games you could play with your family (or friends) to keep you focused on anything other than how much you feel like a long, long sleep.
Number 1 – Guess the person/animal/movie. This one’s pretty simple. One person thinks of a person/animal/movie and gives three hints. For example if I chose the Movie ‘Finding Nemo’ my hints could be: “This movie is animated”, “This movie has a male, animal protagonist” etc. Then everyone else in the group asks Yes/No questions to try and guess who/what it is!
Number 2 – Would you rather? This one’s pretty self-explanatory. There was one day when we were hiking and we were craving a home cooked meal so badly so all our ‘Would you rathers?’ were along the lines of “Would you rather have a pizza as big as a football field fall out of the sky or, have it rain spaghetti and meatballs for 20 minutes?”.
Number 3 – Karaoke. Ok, so that’s not quite a ‘game’, but belting out your favourite songs (whether you can sing or not – no one is listening) is a great way to pass the time. My personal favourites were Disney tunes and motivational mood boosters like Sia’s ‘The Greatest’ and Shawn McDonald's ‘We are Brave’.
One other thing - I would suggest bringing a small journal or diary to write in while you walk, because afterwards you won't remember exactly how you felt on each day. You can get one for literally a dollar from Kmart. They are really great to look back on in the future as well!! And a deck of cards to keep you entertained at night.
Overall, if your parents or friends want to go hiking, I encourage you to be enthusiastic. Hiking is an amazing experience and I have loved every walk I've been on! You will create lifelong memories! Hopefully these tips have made you more aware, encouraged or prepared for your hike. Happy hiking!