Setting Hiking Goals
Remember that first really nasty hill you encountered hiking, the one that made your lungs and legs burn and had you wondering whether this hiking gig was actually gonna be good for you?
Most of us on that hill would have stopped regularly pretending to take in the view, when all we were really doing was trying to get our breath back!
Those stops were hiking goals! Ok so they weren’t planned but the truth is, in a way hiking forces us to make goals whether we realise it or not.
With the start of a new year, and possibly some new hiking goals for beginner and regular hikers, we’ll be providing you with a host of tips for helping you break things down into bite size pieces to make those hiking goals a reality.
Why set goals?
No matter how small they are, setting goals gives you the steps and motivation to make it happen.
Being able to measure your successes builds your confidence and gives you the opportunity to celebrate your new skills.
When it comes to hiking, SMART goals help you consider the many aspects of hike preparation that you may not have thought about. Some of this preparation will actually keep you safe on your hike.
SMART goals also get you thinking about new skills or gear you haven’t considered before.
SMART goals may even help manage physical and mental wellbeing.
Here’s an example of how to use the SMART acronym when setting your personal hiking goals:
- Specific: What distance, difficulty and location are you planning your hike?
- Measurable: How will you track your fitness level, your endurance, or your mood levels after spending time in nature?
- Achievable: Do you have Everest in your sights or just looking to get out more in nature?
- Relevant: What new ability or achievement or feeling will you get out of this hike?
- Time bound: Do you have a set date to work towards a challenge or a dedicated amount of time set aside to achieve this goal?
All goals are definitively personal. For some people their goals are motivated by competition (with themselves, others and that damn hill!). Other people are motivated by satisfying trail time which may not even look like a “hard” hike to someone else.
Tips To Achieve Your Hiking Goals
Lock it in
Whether you have a major challenge in your sights or just looking to get outside and enjoy some fresh air, creating time to actually do it is obvious but for some of us making time is hard.
One way to lock in time is to book a paid hiking tour (we happen to know an AMAZING Tour Operator with over 70 different experiences too). That financial investment and the expectation from others to show up is great motivation (and in some cases, a good excuse).
Setting SMART goals to “make it happen” may look like:
- Organising a calendar
- Identifying or freeing up time slots on a regular basis
- This may look different from season to season when hiking early in the morning or late in the afternoon is preferable during summer
- Taking on a hiking tour once a month
- Finding a hiking buddy to go hiking with regularly
TIP – Having your hiking gear already packed and ready to go means less chance of making excuses.
Fitness training tips
There are many different aspects to fitness when it comes to hiking, including how to avoid injuries.
Improving your fitness – starts with your current level of fitness right now and Getting Hike Fit provides some training tips for both new hikers, as well as regular and endurance hikers.
- SMART goals have long been used in the fitness industry to improve physical fitness
- Use SMART goals for any training program you begin, particularly to record your improvements as this will help you know when to take on bigger hiking challenges
Using hiking poles – can help with balance, loss of energy and weight distribution on uneven ground. OTBT offers free use of hiking poles on our tours, giving you the chance to experience them and ask questions of our guides.
- For those of you that get knee pain, particularly going up or down hills, hiking poles reduce the compression in your knees by as much as 25%
- Heading uphill? Hiking poles can help cut down on muscle strain in your legs and reduce the risk of rolling an ankle by providing an extra point of contact
- While you’re walking on flat ground adjust the length of your poles so that your arms are at roughly 90 degrees
- Increase the length of your poles going downhill to give you more reach and stability.
- And decrease the length of your poles going uphill, to reduce how high you have to lift your arms to place your pole points. Instead of pushing uphill from an “arm raised” position, which will tire your arms more, you’ll be pushing uphill with more of your bodyweight over the poles which is less fatiguing.
Whether you’re using SMART goals for fitness training and/or to meet your hiking goals, setting SMART goals will help you balance not biting off more than you can chew with making things too easy.
It’s actually a bit mind blowing to find out people go hiking on an empty stomach! Some types of exercise on an empty stomach are beneficial, but hiking definitely isn’t one of them.
Your body is the vehicle that takes you “four wheel driving” over uneven terrain. With no fuel it’s going to lose energy fast and something is likely to “break down” even if it’s losing your balance and rolling an ankle or making a poor decision.
Have a balanced meal before hitting the trails. Balanced meals include a source of protein, carbohydrates and fats. This might look like a breakfast of porridge with walnuts, chopped fresh fruit and greek yogurt.
Regular hikers need to maintain a healthy diet to also help with recovery as well as fuelling their trail exploration. Recovery could be for tiredness, swollen feet or blisters, sunburn, muscle stiffness and scratches.
A healthy diet is nutrient dense, and those nutrients, from vitamins and minerals to protein and carbs, are the tools your body uses to repair itself.
Those same nutrients optimise your body.
Good quality fuel produces good quality results. helping you meet your goals and giving you the ability to aim higher.
Set yourself some SMART goals like:
- A healthy eating plan
- A good night’s sleep before and after your hike
- Finding nutrient dense snacks to keep up your energy on the trail
- How to make your feet feel better after an endurance hike (like a soak in epsom salts)
If mental wellbeing is the goal of your hiking you’re definitely onto a good thing!
- Natural landscapes are full of negative ions that help balance out the inflammatory positive ions in our bodies
- Being within nature provides mental downtime and
- Boosts feel good hormones like oxytocin
- An activity like hiking, or just trail exploring, can be used as a technique to find a meditational state
Hiking can reduce anxiety and depression or just give you time out from the daily grind or things outside of your control.
The skills that come from hiking also promote self-esteem and confidence.
Your SMART goals may include:
- A 1-2 hour, easy hike on a very pretty trail, at a slow exploratory pace, once a week.
- A hike in, seated meditation session, then hike out.
- Consider adding a sunrise or sunset hike for a super oxytocin boost
- Mushroom photography during winter or flower photography during spring
- Hiking in (light) rain is surprisingly beautiful
While hiking can be a vigorous activity, the opposite can also be the case. Just a morning or afternoon of meandering amongst tees can be some awesome self care.
Taking enough water should be part of your routine no matter when, how or where you hike.
Not drinking enough water, particularly during summer, causes dehydration which, at the very least, leads to poor energy and poor decision making, putting you in danger of injuries or getting lost.
Some of your goals this year could be:
- Simply drinking your full water quota over the duration of your hike
- Finding ways to flavour your water if you’re not a big water drinker
- Putting electrolytes in your first aid kit
- Investing in BPA free water bottles or a hydration bladder
- Learning how to sterilise or filter water from creeks to make it potable
Sunburn avoidance should be on every hiker’s mind, particularly here in Australia where the sun hits hardest due to irradiance.
Even a mild 24 degree day here in Perth can lead to some nasty sunburn.
You don’t want your hiking goals hindered by sapped energy and sunburn recovery and also we need to keep in mind the effects of long-term sun damage.
To maximise your time on the trail, one of your smaller goals could be regular sun protection:
- Long, loose clothing
- A hat to shield your face, neck and ears
- Sunglasses to protect your eyes
- Hiking in the early morning or late afternoon when the UV Index is low
Hiking goals come in many shapes and forms from a casual meander along Whistlepipe Gully to tackling days and nights on the Cape to Cape.
Having the right equipment for your particular goal will help you achieve it.
Your essential equipment for any hike should include:
- 2L water
- Trail snacks
- First aid kit
- Good hiking shoes
Here are some other equipment ideas to consider for different types of hiking goals.
Fitness – hiking poles, fitness app
Skills – navigation app, offline (or paper) maps and map reading, first aid kit and training
Endurance – added weight to backpack during regular hikes
Overnight – check out our post on how to pack for an overnight hike for a full list
Long Distance – large capacity backpack, hiking stove, sleeping bag, hiking meals
Being better prepared for your hiking goals means that you often learn new skills, gaining more knowledge, which all leads to more or bigger or different hiking experiences.
You may even find a new and complimentary hobby out of a new hiking skill such as dehydrating food to create your own hiking meals.
While there can be some big costs associated with hiking, most of your investments, particularly in equipment, are one off. The trouble with hikers is that we can turn into “gear heads” and go a bit overboard!
However, hiking doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby. If a tent, sleeping bag and camp stove from Kmart get you on that overnight hike you’ve been dying to do for ages, then you have met your hiking goal!
Other economical hiking ideas may look like:
- Hiking local
- Carpooling to save on fuel
- Hiring equipment, eg a personal locator beacon
- Booking an all-inclusive hiking tour
- Borrowing equipment from friends or family
- Picking up beautifully worn in hiking shoes from Facebook Marketplace
- Making your own – trail snacks, hiking meals, first aid kit, snaplock bag to waterproof your phone
Focusing on smaller goals helps you achieve your end goal; it also helps you pace yourself.
Not the one we tend to talk about outside of our own heads, the biggest emotion that gets in the way of our hiking goals is Fear.
Which comes in a lot of unpalatable flavours:
- fear of the unknown
- fear of being judged by others
- fear of letting others down
- fear of failing
- fear of physical discomfort or pain or injury
- fear of danger on the trail
- fear of damaging a relationship if you pursue your goals
This is why it’s so important to set realistic goals. Each goal needs to be bit sized. It can even remain inside your comfort zone to start with; your wins and celebrations will build your confidence and lead you to move further outside your comfort zone.
Make a Plan
Here’s a way to make your hiking goals a reality (and add a bunch of photos and memories to your hiking treasure trove).
- Break goals into achievable mini goals
- Enlist help
- Prepare for obstacles
Make Mini Goals
Here’s a couple of examples, some of them you may even be able to combine.
For Beginner Hikers
- Find short hikes close to home. Regional Parks are a great option as they’re all throughout Perth
- Make a list and gather your hiking essentials (backpack, water bottle, good shoes)
- Give yourself boundaries that you won’t break (take trails in familiar suburbs, turn back if you feel you might get lost)
- Make a list of all the trails you’d like to explore and check them off one by one as you do them.
Depending on your goals Regular Hikers might:
- Choose one trail out of four hiked, for extra distance or more difficult terrain (and build up from there)
- Start a training program at home to improve your cardio fitness
- Learn navigation skills to prepare you for a solo hike
- An example: If you’re set on one hike in every National or Regional Park within 200 kilometres this year, decide if you want to cast your net wide at first, or start hyper-local.
Experienced Hikers looking for a challenge:
e.g. Hiking the Cape to Cape
- Get on board with a regular healthy eating plan
- Take on regular endurance hikes
- Implement a recovery plan for training hikes
- Research gear for overnight camping, make a list and work towards acquiring your needs
Remain flexible and patient with yourself!
Enlist Some Help
Support comes in many forms. It could be that your partner is happy to take up the slack at home when you make time for your hikes; or a snake bite first aid course; a neighbour to dog-sit while you’re out on the Bib for three days.
Support provides the tools you need to help you reach your hiking goals:
- A hiking buddy if you don’t want to hike out solo
- Trail knowledge can be gained from taking an OTBT tour (our Guides are happy to answer any of your questions)
- A personal trainer can help keep you motivated to build on your leg strength
- A physio to help with nagging calf pain
- A friend happy to lend you their tent
Who do you know that can help you toward your hiking goals?
The reality is that you might run into some obstacles when you’re trying to achieve your goals.
That could be financial or an injury or illness or just life!
It could just be flagging motivation.
Setting mini goals can help you with many obstacles. Maybe your mini goals have aimed too high.
Getting creative and using your support may help overcome some obstacles.
Lagging motivation is one of the tough ones! Which is why SMART goals are as much about realising your overall dream as it is about tracking and celebrating each and every one of your small wins.
Celebrate Every Achievement
When you reach the top of “that” hill without getting all huffy puffy or hiked every Saturday morning for 8 weeks, take the time to bask in the satisfaction of your achievement. Absorb the implications; new skills, more confidence, better fitness, a longer hike, a peaceful mind, a camera full of spring flowers.
Observe the progress you’ve made towards other goals.
Every win is a win in it’s own right.
And every win leads you onto the next one.
You’ve got this, fabulous fellow hikers!