A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking

So you want to start hiking huh? Well be careful – you might just become addicted! 

Hiking is the perfect way to get outside and get a good dose of fresh air and exercise.

One of the best things about hiking is that most of the time you don’t actually feel like you’re exercising! You’re constantly engaged by your surroundings, from listening to the sounds of nature to spotting wildlife and finding amazing scenes to photograph. 

Without even realising it, you’re also physically navigating different terrains making hiking a good all round activity that’s relatively low impact. 

Apart from fitness, hiking is fun! As a group hiker, you’ll love the community spirit and social engagement. As a solo hiker, you’ll love the peace that comes with being alone in nature and the quiet space to just be with your own thoughts.

Either way, the feeling of success when you make it back to the car is a great boost to your self-confidence at the end of a long day! 

Whatever the  reason is for your interest in hiking, as a newbie you may be wondering where to even start!

Keep reading for some things to keep in mind as a new hiker!

Just remember that hiking is a personal journey. It’s not about doing what everyone else is doing. It’s about making the best experience for you personally.

Whistle Pipe Gully dog friendly hike
Whistle Pipe Gully

How Fit Do I Need To Be?

This is probably the question we hear most often. But no matter what your fitness level is, there is a place for everyone to get started. It’s just a matter of choosing the right trail for you

If you’re new to hiking (or exercise in general) then choose a short trail with easy terrain.

OTBT had this in mind when we listed the different trails around Perth. You’ll see them listed by distance under the main menu and this link will take you directly to the trails that are maximum 5kms

If you think 5kms seems a long way, you’ll actually be pleasantly surprised! It’s only about 6,500 steps, less than the recommended 10,000 per day! If you have a fitness tracker and you’re a suburban walker, check your stats on your app – you’re probably already walking more than 5kms!

The most important thing to remember is to hike at whatever pace you feel comfortable. Hiking is about exploring and connecting with nature.

Hiking is a journey, not a race! 

As you build up your stamina and your fitness level increases, you can challenge yourself to a longer trail or one that has harder terrain to cover (ie not so flat).

Tunnels falls Eagle Views

How to choose your trail

Always choose a well-known marked trail. Don’t head out into bushland or a forest on what “seems” like a path (great way to get lost!). 

Otherwise, choosing your trail really boils down to the amount of time you have available for your hike and your fitness level.

If you check out all our Perth Trails you’ll see we’ve listed not only the distance but also the average amount of time it takes to hike each one.

Trail Markers – You also want to choose a trail that is clearly marked. Unfortunately not all trails are well maintained. Some trails even intersect with others making it more confusing, especially if you don’t have a great sense of direction. 

The markers are often both colour and picture coded. At the entrance of some trails you’ll find a map up on a board that shows you the trails in the area, as well as the colour and pic of the Trail Markers for each trail. These will be set out at intervals along the trail making it very clear which way to go. All you have to do is keep an eye out for them.

Return or Loop – The map on the board will also show you whether the trail is a return or a loop trail. 

Return trails start and end at the same location and follow a single trail or multiple trails to an end point and then return along the same route, like Kitty’s Gorge in Serpentine National Park.

If you’re on a return hike, pick a turnaround time where, if you haven’t made it to the end by a certain point, you can turn back to avoid being stuck on the trail after dark or over exhausting yourself.

Loop trails, like Rocky Pool in Kalamunda, start and end at the same location and follow a single trail or multiple trails to form a loop.

What to Wear

Honestly you don’t need to go out and buy anything fancy. You just need to keep it light, long and layered. 

Jeans and regular clothes can get heavy and chafe if they get sweaty or wet and there’s not much stretch in them for ease of movement. Generally active/sports wear with moisture wicking is a lot more comfortable all round.

Light – Even on rainy winter hikes you can build up a sweat! Wearing light breathable clothing will help keep your body cooler. 

In summer, light long sleeved shirts are great. So are tshirts and tank tops, although be aware of sunburn (even on cloudy days or walking through shady trees).

Long – Long loose pants in particular will help protect you from sunburn, scratchy plants, insect bites and snake bites. But don’t let that last one scare you! 

While you may see one, snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them. For snake savvy hiking info, check out our Summer Hiking Tips.

Layered – No matter what season you go hiking, the temperature still changes throughout the day. 

If you decide on a sunrise or sunset hike during summer to get away from the heat of the day, the temperature can still get a little cool early mornings and late afternoons. 

In winter you may start out cold but the longer you move the more body heat you generate. So if you’re just wearing a light t-shirt and a heavy jumper, stripping down will be too cold!

Layering up with light clothing gives you the opportunity to put something on or take something off whenever you need and light layers will be easy to stow away in your backpack without taking up too much room.

Shoes & Socks – the right shoes and socks are essential to prevent blisters, which can get infected and make your next few days miserable!

Find shoes that fit snugly and feel comfortable. Don’t fork out for leather hiking boots because they make your feet hot and sweaty which leads to skin chafing. It’s better to opt for trail runners or light hikers that will allow your feet to breathe and keep them dry. Make sure your shoes are well worn in, even if that means wearing new shoes around the house for a few days.

Know how to customise the lacing of your shoes for the best fit. Different lacing styles can help with low arches and wide toes or to stop your socks from slipping down under your heels. 

The socks you choose are equally important for avoiding blisters. Stay away from using bulky wool socks because they build up heat inside your shoes and create “hot spots”, the precursor to blisters. 

Instead, pick a thin pair of sock liners, that are made specifically for hiking, to go under normal socks (we recommend merino NOT bamboo!). These socks fit comfortably, don’t have seams and don’t cut off air circulation.

If snakes seriously give you the heebie-jeebies, you could also invest in some gaiters to provide another layer of defence against snake bites. These wrap around your shins over your clothes and are thick enough to stop a snake bite from penetrating through to your skin.

Helena Valley Views
Helena Valley Views

What to Pack

Hiking safety should always be taken seriously so always take a backpack on the trails so you can carry essential gear. Be prepared as the Boy Scout motto goes!

The Backpack – We highly recommend the Osprey Talon backpack – it’s the only one we use! They have all the bells and whistles and are fully adjustable. They come in small/medium or medium/large so they’re a perfect fit for everyone. The Talon 22 is the smallest and is great for day hikes.

Having said that, any backpack you have on hand will do for a short hike. Just make sure it’s comfortable enough to wear for a couple of hours and it won’t chafe under your arms or give you sore shoulders.

osprey backpack
osprey backpack

Water – The general recommended amount is 1-2 litres if you are on a half-day hike in moderate heat (4 hrs). Using a water bladder makes it much easier to carry a larger amount of water as the weight distributes evenly in your pack and also leaves your hands free. Bladders have a soft flexible drinking tube attached to them, that you can attach to a shoulder strap at the front to give you easy access to sip from. Many hiking backpacks have a tailored hole to poke the tube through. 

Obviously if you don’t have a bladder a couple of bottles will do. The main point is to make sure you’ve got enough water!

Food – If you’re only out on the trail for a couple of hours, do you really need food? 

Hiking burns up energy so you will need to replenish your body. Packing snacks is important for a few reasons…

Firstly, while we don’t recommend hitting the trail straight after a heavy meal (hello heartburn!), heading out with nothing in your stomach, like a skipped breakfast, is going to deplete your energy levels faster.  You’ll grow tired more quickly and probably give yourself a headache to boot.

And secondly, if you get stuck out on the trail for longer than you expected due to an accident, getting lost or just losing track of time, you’ll be glad you brought something along to eat!

We recommend snacks like nutbars, fruit, protein bars/balls and trail mixes because they’re high in energy and will keep your body fueled for longer. Due to their packaging they’ll stay fresh, dry (from any rain) and free of any ants that may get into your backpack.

First Aid Kit – You can actually pick up first aid kits made specifically for hiking. They come fully equipped for most first response situations but they’re small and compact so they don’t take up too much room in your pack.

Normally it’s things like blisters and scratches that you’ll use your kit for, so make sure you restock bandaids and alcohol swabs as they’re used.

Particularly during summer we’d also recommend you consider a Snake Bite First Aid Kit. While snakes don’t jump out to bite you, some species “freeze” if they feel threatened. If you’re not watching where you’re walking you could stand on one accidentally and get bitten. It’s always a good idea to have a Snake Bite Kit on hand no matter the season.

Snake Bite Kit

Sunscreen and bug spray – While trails often have a lot of shade from trees, you’ll still be exposed to the sun enough to get burned so don’t forget the sunscreen! 

The bugs you’ll most often encounter are flies, mosquitoes and midges (sandflies). If you tend to have nasty reactions to mozzie or midge bites, don’t forget to add antihistamine to your First Aid Kit.

Zip lock bags – You’d be surprised to learn how handy these are to have in your kit! Zip lock plastic bags can be used for:

  • storing leftover food or scraps (to take home and bin)
  • keeping things like your phone dry if it starts raining
  • to be able to use your phone or phone’s camera in the rain
  • storing home-made trail mix or other food not prepackaged
  • to store sheets of clean toilet paper
  • to pee in if you don’t want to squat for a bush wee
  • to store stand up urination devices (for the ladies)
  • to store used toilet paper so you can pack it out, take it home and dispose of it properly

Whistle – An emergency whistle can help other people find you in case of an accident. A simple whistle is a tiny investment that has some serious hiking bang for its buck.

Sure you could shout for help. But you’ll be expending energy unnecessarily and you’d give yourself a sore throat which will probably have you using up valuable water if you’re stuck anywhere for longer than expected.

But also the human voice is only about 90 decibels and a whistle is 120 decibels. Most of us can’t yell that loud or yell for very long, while a whistle makes a lot more sound with very little effort.

We’d recommend getting a metal whistle just because they don’t break very easily. Plastic can be bumped and broken by other gear in your backpack and plastic also deteriorates over time, especially with Aussie heat. The last thing you want is to be in a position to need the whistle only to find it doesn’t work!

Toilet Paper – Needing the loo while you’re out on a trail isn’t really the kind of thing new hikers think about or like to ask about 😉 But sometimes you just need to go when there aren’t any toilets around! 

We’d rather you didn’t dehydrate yourself just to avoid having to tinkle behind a bush because it can lead to heat stroke, especially in summer. So we’ve covered the art of the bush wee here as well as other options for Number One’s and what to do for Number Two’s. 

Have a roll or a few sheets of toilet paper in a zip lock bag packed away in your kit – just remember to pack up used toilet paper so we leave no trace.

Helena Pipehead Trail

Solo or group hikes?

There are advantages to both and it’s also a question of personal preference. By mixing it up and doing both, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

What to Consider as a Newbie Solo Hiker

Being out on the trail all by yourself can be very rewarding in many ways.

Spiritual Health – Hiking makes it easy to connect and appreciate your surroundings, be mindful and focus on the here and now. You get to leave the hustle and bustle of your daily life behind and allow “space” for quiet contemplation. It gets harder to focus on the problems you may have at work or in your personal life when you’re walking through a stunning jarrah forest admiring the sunlight filtering through the forest canopy!

Outdoor Skills – Being able to choose your own trail, follow the trail markers, pace yourself and keep an eye on the weather and time are all outdoor skills you learn while you’re out hiking on your own. A great boost to feelings of accomplishment and confidence!

Your Own Pace – Being able to set your own pace allows for your own fitness level without getting the feeling that you’re letting others down. It also allows for personal interests like photography or bird watching. 

Flexibility – Changes to your pace, route, rest breaks, and return time are all at your own leisure and choice. You have complete autonomy. If you’ve chosen a trail you haven’t hiked before and it’s too difficult, you can turn back. If you want to hunt for specific flowers, birds, etc to photograph, you can take all the time you want.

Challenge – Every trail you hike allows you to push yourself both physically and mentally. It’s hard to give up physically when you realise the return point is just around the corner! And of course challenging yourself also builds up your endurance for more difficult trails. 

Meet your Fears – Many of us have fears of doing something we’ve never done before. Some fear is just based on the unknown. Other fears might be a bit more valid like being scared of snakes, heights, getting lost, or just being alone. The best thing about a solo hike is that you can face these fears in baby steps, realising along the way that you’ve actually got this! 

Any decision to hike solo is really just a matter of common sense but also being prepared if something goes wrong. 

  • watch the weather (when in doubt cancel!)
  • choose a trail in a familiar area
  • don’t bite off more than you can chew by setting yourself a big challenge, until you’ve got some experience under your belt
  • make sure your backpack is kitted out with the essentials
  • tell someone where you’re going and what time to expect you back – and let them know when you’ve arrived home
  • follow these extra safety tips when hiking in summer
Stacey’s Loop

The Advantages of Group Hikes

The biggest advantage of group hikes is that we take all the worry out of preparation and safety for you. All you have to do is enjoy the view!

As a group hiking operator, it’s our responsibility to choose trails, check weather, provide gear and food and keep you safe.

But there are other reasons to join group hikes as well.

Take on Unfamiliar Trails – As a solo hiker who wants to challenge themselves on a new trail, joining a group hike will help you get familiar with the terrain, conditions and trail markers. Guides can also point out things of interest along the trail, whether it’s about the wildlife or even the history of the area, giving you a deeper understanding of your locale.

Make New Friends – Group hikes allow you to spend time with people that have a common interest. In places where the trail only allows two at a time, you tend to fall in with someone and end up chatting! Group hikes are also a bit of a team effort! The hike only goes as fast as its slowest member so everyone tends to look out for each other.

Learn From Others – Many group hikers are regulars and they’re happy to answer any questions you have about their hiking experiences. Our Hiking Guides also have a vast amount of knowledge, from specific information on trails and equipment. Often other hikers or guides will even lend you equipment to test out on a trail before you decide to buy something for yourself or they’ll give you the benefit of their experience.

Safety – While we take all the worry out of preparation and safety for you, we also provide Guides at both the front and end of the group. The front Guide leads the way but they also liaise with the end Guide (also known as a Tail End Charlie) to make sure everyone stays together.

Group hikes are also better for personal safety, particularly if there’s an accident. Guides are well trained in emergency response right down to the shortest way off the trail to medical care.

During group hikes OTBT has all the equipment you’ll need. Some are included as part of your booked tours, from walking poles for day hikes, to tents, mats, and backpacks for multi-day hikes. This is great for new hikers because there’s no need to go splurging on loads of gear if don’t know what you like or prefer, or don’t know if you’ll ever use them again.

Everyone on Team OTBT also has their personal favourites or preference in terms of what we wear and use on hikes, so if you are intrigued by something we are wearing or using, don’t hesitate to ask!

Hiking Etiquette

Last but not least, there’s hiking etiquette. Here are some tips on how not to stand out like a newbie on the trail:

  • A hiker going uphill has the right of way, unless they stop to catch their breath.  If you’re on a flat section, just be courteous and move to the side allowing other people to pass.
  • If someone is hiking up behind you and going faster than you, stop and let them pass.
  • Say a simple “hello” when you pass other hikers. Like-minded people tend to be pretty friendly and we’d find it surprising if you don’t get a return “hello”! On trails with a lot less traffic, if you do bump into someone it’s pretty common to have a quick chat about trail conditions in the other direction and what to watch out for. However, if you don’t feel comfortable around another hiker, just keep moving and play it safe.
  • If you’re with a friend or group of hikers, keep conversations down so that the hiker who is 50 metres behind you (that you can’t see) doesn’t have to hear about how bad your work week was.
  • Music is okay if you use headphones. Most people hike to connect with nature and won’t appreciate the “outside” noise. 
  • Stay on the trail. Sometimes it’s easier to walk the outside edge of a rocky or muddy trail but the proper thing is stay on the trail so you don’t widen it and damage the habitat around it. 
  • Take your rubbish out with you. Leave no trace is a guideline followed by hikers around the world to preserve the pristine nature of trails. Leaving rubbish behind not only damages the environment but it’s just plain lazy. Stow your rubbish in your backpack and chuck it in the bin when you get home. This includes any toilet paper you might use as well as food scraps; neither of these decompose as well as you think and they also change the micronutrients of the environment impacting the local plants and wildlife.
Helena Pipehead Trail

Get Off The Beaten Track and get hiking with us!

Joining us on OTBT group hikes is a perfect way to broaden your network and get a feel for hiking in a safe, supported, and fun environment if you have never hiked before. Pick our brains and ask us lots of questions because we love answering them and sharing our favourite tips and trails with you! 

We love seeing so many of our guests come back to do different (and sometimes the same) trails with us, and it is fantastic to see hikers who started out with no hiking experience gradually taking on harder and longer hikes. 

Hike-stalavista and Happy hiking!

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