Hiking Safety: How do you choose the right hike or bush walk for you? And how do you make sure you have fun while staying safe in nature?
Luckily for you, we’ve pulled together our best advice to make sure you have a great hike. Not only will it be fun, you’ll also be reaping the proven physical, social and mental health benefits that come from spending time in nature.
1. Choose the right hike
One of the key factors in having an enjoyable hike is choosing the right trail. There are a wide range of walks in Victoria’s parks, from short jaunts to multi-day treks, so you’re sure to find one that fits your interests and fitness level.
To make this easier, the Australian Walking Track Grading System (AWTGS) is used to give you an idea of how challenging a track is. The system consists of five grades, with Grade 1 being the easiest and Grade 5 the most difficult. The grades take into account factors such as experience required, the number of steps, gradient, path quality, and signage.
When researching your hike, look out for the grade symbols online, in visitor guides, and on signs, so you can get an idea of what you can expect and make sure you’re choosing a trail that is suitable for you. Before you head out, be sure to also familiarize yourself with what the different grades mean.
Planning and preparing for your hike is just as important as choosing the right trail. Ensure you have the right gear, clothing, food, and water to keep you comfortable and safe while on the trail. It’s also important to inform someone of your planned hike and expected return time, just in case of an emergency.
Here’s the checklist of things to plan and prepare for your hike:
2. Plan and Prepare for your hike
- Check the weather forecast. Remember to check the forecast again on the day you plan to hike in case your plans need to change. If it is hot make sure you have adequate water for your trip.
- Ensure you have the right gear for your hike. This includes proper shoes, sun protection, water and safety equipment.
- Research your walk and make sure everyone is comfortable with the planned route.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. Parks Victoria recommend that you fill out an trip intention form and leave a copy with a reliable friend or family member. Other states and territories also have similar ways to report your trip plans.
- Be bushfire aware — if walking during warmer weather check Fire Danger Ratings, fire restrictions, and Total Fire Bans for your route and your destination. Make sure you have an emergency plan in place
- Download the VicEmergency app and set up watch zones for the areas you are planning to visit
- Check the latest conditions and park closures before you leave home.
- Go at the pace of the slowest person and don’t overestimate your abilities.
- Where possible, walk in groups of 3 or more people. In an emergency one of you might need to wait with the injured person while the other gets help.
- Check the difficulty. Some walks need rock scrambling and abseiling skills. If you’re not sure of the difficulty, contact the local parks office.
3. Dress and pack appropriately
Wearing the right clothes, a hat and shoes to provide protection from the elements. Sun protection and hydration is so important when hiking, especially in warmer months. Make sure to also pack:
- Water bottle or water bladder backpack.
- Sunscreen (don’t forget to reapply it if you’re out for several hours!)
- Snacks and food like muesli bars, nuts, apples. If you are taking longer trips, you’ll want more substantial food.
- A first aid kit and medical supplies for allergies and bites
- Spare clothing for all weather conditions
- A fully charged smartphone. Use GPS location services and take a photo of a map before you set off or download an offline park map from Alltrails
- In a natural environment there may be pests such as mosquitoes, ticks and insects around. Wear long, loose clothing to prevent bites, spray your clothing and exposed skin with an insect repellent and reapply as directed.
- We also like to take items to signal for help if needed, a portable battery charger for phones and basic emergency kits (including emergency blanket, matches, torch, and a mirror). More detail available here.
For gear recommendations and reviews see the review section of our blog.
4. Respect the Environment
When out on the trail, be mindful of the environment and follow Leave No Trace principles. This includes carrying out your rubbish or putting it in the bins provided, staying on the designated trails, and respecting wildlife.
Always stay on the marked trails while hiking. Walking off track damages sensitive vegetation, can disturb Aboriginal culture heritage artifacts, compacts the ground and can spread plant diseases.
Stay safe by following park rules, being aware of potential hazards (fire, flood, heat, cold, landslides, wildlife…), and being prepared for changes in weather conditions.
Observe all safety signs and do not climb over barriers, they are there for your safety. If you’re unsure about the trail conditions, talk to park rangers for the most up-to-date information.
5. Beat the heat
If walking in warmer months, the heat is one of the biggest factors to consider when planning a hike. Ensure your hike doesn’t end in disaster through these tips:
- Time of the day – Plan your hike for early or late in the day to avoid the hottest hours (which is typically 10am-2pm)
- Hydration – Make sure to carry enough water, 3 to 4 litres per person for a full day hike. It’s better to be prepared, even if some hikes have water sources along the way.
- Protective gear – Watch out for snakes during warm and sunny weather. Wear sturdy shoes and consider wearing gaiters to protect your shins and ankles.
- Rest and shade – Take frequent breaks and find shade when possible to avoid heat exhaustion.
- Knowledge – Be aware of the symptoms of heatstroke and heat exhaustion, so you can act quickly in an emergency.
With these tips in mind, you can have a safe, fun and uneventful hiking trip!