Hiking Safety: How to set yourself up for hiking success

Caro teaching navigation on Overland Track | Luke Hall
Caro teaching navigation on Overland Track | Luke Hall

by Caro Ryan / LotsaFreshAir.com

Caro Ryan is a navigation teacher, expert bushwalker and has over 20 years as a volunteer searching for missing hikers. She runs bushwalking and hiking website, LotsaFreshAirShe has hosted trips with us along the South Coast Track and Overland Track, whilst teaching navigation and a whole stack of hiking how-to’s. 

We caught up with her recently to discuss her book, How to Navigate - the art of traditional map and compass navigation in an Australian context and to go through her hot tips of how to ensure a great experience in the Aussie bush.

What does success look like when it comes to hiking or bushwalking?

We go bush for many different reasons: physical, mental or emotional well-being, a sense of community, to challenge ourselves and have adventures, for discovery and exploration or to enjoy incredible natural landscapes.

●      Success can look different for everyone, but I reckon the recipe for a great hike is finding yourself moving within your physical limits, that wonderful Goldilocks place of not too hard or easy.

●      You have everything you need such as great food, the right clothes, enough water, first aid;

●      You didn’t get blisters… but if you felt one coming on, knew what to do about it;

●      Saw amazing things;

●      Weren’t scared of getting lost; and

●      Came back wanting more.

What are the common mistakes that people make when heading out for a hike? What barriers do they have to a great experience?

The most common complaint we hear in search and rescue is people finding themselves out of their depth. This usually happens when people set out on a walk without doing some preparation and especially when choosing something that is beyond their physical abilities or experience. 

The other thing that can really ruin your day (or worse) is running out of food or water - this is super important in hot weather. And of course, if people get lost or injured, bad weather or become disappointed with park or track closures.

The great news is that most of these are avoidable! 😃

Caro Ryan presenting a navigation course in the Blue Mountains |  <i>Rachel Diamond</i>

OK, so how can you avoid these pitfalls and have a great bushwalk?

There’s a great little campaign called Think before you TREK, created by NSW Police Rescue Squad and NSW National Parks & Wildlife, to help us remember what to do and set ourselves up for success.

The heart of the campaign is the acronym T.R.E.K.

Take what you need

Register your intentions

Emergency beacon/communications

Check forecasts, fire danger and closures*

Know your route and stick to it

*I like to add a C in there too… not just for Caro but for Check!

How do you know what to 'Take'?

I always refer to a packing list to make sure I’ve got everything I need for the day (or weeks!). I’ve got a day and overnight list on my website that you can download for free. That includes food, water, first aid kit, map and compass (or navigation app), appropriate clothes (including raincoat) and a handful of other things. 

If it’s been a while between hikes, then make sure you check that everything is still in good condition and choosing bright coloured clothes in the bush is a great idea if you need help… it makes you much more visible to helicopters.

One of the things I like about your trips is the comprehensive gear list that is provided well in advance.

Register your intentions

This is just a fancy way of telling someone where you’re going. It’s important to be specific though. Tell a responsible person exactly which track you’re doing, who you’re with (+ their emergency contacts), where you’re leaving the car (and the registration), when you expect to be out and what you want them to do in case you don’t return and at what time. 

Some state national park websites have a trip intention form, like this one from NSW NPWS.

How to Navigate with Caro Ryan |  <i>Caro Ryan</i> Caro Ryan |  <i>Ben Cirulis</i> Caro points out features with students on the Overland Track |  <i>Andrew Ford</i> Caro Ryan in the Blue Mountains |  <i>Ben Cirulis</i>

What type of emergency beacon or communications device should I take?

There are two main types on the market: a simple Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or 3rd party satellite communications devices, such as Garmin InReach, SPOT or Zoleo. Do your research to work out which is best for you. I always carry one with me in remote areas.

What types of things do we need to check before heading out?

Checking the weather should be pretty obvious, but there’s other things that can also make the difference between a great day and a miserable one.

●      Tides if you’re going to be crossing any river mouths or narrow beaches

●      River gauges for any crossings, particularly after/before wet weather

●      Fire danger

●      Park (or track) closures

●      Your gear (is it in good nick?)

●      Your own health (do you feel 100% healthy? Nursing any injuries or ill health?)

●      If using navigation apps, check you’ve downloaded the map for the area you’re visiting

Know your route?

It’s important you don’t change your route without letting your responsible person know, otherwise if emergency services need to come and find you, they’ll be looking in the wrong places!

Make sure the track you’ve chosen is right for you - that it’s not too hard or outside your expertise. Remember… you want to enjoy… not endure!

Importantly, take a map, download a navigation app, read all the signs and get in touch with the local National Parks office to ask for advice.

And lastly, I reckon some of the best things to take with you on a walk is common sense, a couple of good mates and your sense of wonder.

bushwalking tips, hiking safety, Caro Ryan

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