1. Set a goal. Do you want to do day hikes or are there longer walks that you’re aiming for. If you don’t know any experienced bush walkers, consider joining a local walking group or signing up for a guided walk. Never go into the bush alone.
2. Find a steep hill. For those of us in the city of Melbourne, you need to travel to find the real thing. The best-known spot is 1,000 Kokoda Memorial Trail in Upper Ferntree Gully. Or for something a bit quieter try the Bellview Terrace track instead. The walk is a little longer and steeper than the steps, with the bonus of spotting a wallaby or two.
3. Get your footwear sorted. Before you start your training program try on your old boots or invest in new ones. Ankle support is really important for off road hiking. While the newer fibres don’t need to be broken in as much as leather boots, it’s still a good idea to wear them on all your walks. Pay attention to how your feet feel walking down a steep incline. It’s worth investing in new boots if they’re not comfortable.
4. The sooner you start, the better it will feel. Factor in a minimum of six weeks training for a multi-day hike, but longer if you have the time – the earlier the better.
5. Mix it up. Nothing beats the hill walking to get into shape for your first big hike but some days are too hot and wet to do it. Don’t forget to take the stairs, dance energetically to your favourite music or swim for some variety in your training.
6. Walk at your own pace. It’s not a race. Why run when you can walk? The best thing about bushwalking for me is spending time in nature. Taking the time to smell, see and fully experience the wonders of the bush is the perfect for practicing mindfulness.
7. Carry good quality fuel. My favourites are nuts, dark chocolate, dried fruit and instant miso soup (when you have access to hot water). If you’re vegetarian/vegan prioritise protein. Also consider topping up your iron with a supplement for a few weeks before your walk, if your levels tend to be to being on the lower end of normal.
8. Take more water than you think you can drink. For a day walk carry at least twp litres of water with you. “Camel packs” (bladders with a drinking hose) are a good investment.
9. Invest in poles. For a rugged walk, up and down hills or on uneven tracks walking with two sticks can take 20% or more of the pressure off your knees.
10. Have fun. There’s no point in heading to the bush if you loathe it. But at least give it a go once before deciding whether you like it or not. Spending time in nature is a great way of practicing mindfulness and being in the moment (even when that moment can be physically uncomfortable!).
Note: camel pack, good boots, gaiters for river crossings and wet days, two poles, layered clothing including polypro thermals, pack sitting well on the hips and a big smile.
This article first appeared in the March 2012 City Natural Therapies newsletter. If you’d like to receive a monthly update with original articles, recipes and interesting links on health and wellbeing click the free newsletter sign up.