It’s kind of funny being asked to explain something that comes as second nature to you. “Um, you just do it,” comes the reply from the nuclear scientist who splits atoms for a living.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 10.04.09 AMBut given I’m so often hike-bragging (hagging?) all over social media under the pretense of encouraging more people to hike on their weekends and vacations (in lieu of shopping), I feel it’s my responsibility to actually break things down for those who are wanting to give it a go, some of you for the first time. Anyone doubting the incredible benefits of hiking it’s worth my flagging:

*Research shows that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent.

* Just one hour of trekking can burn well over 500 calories (if calorie counting is your caper).

* Hiking can lower blood pressure by four to 10 points, and reduce the danger of heart disease, diabetes and strokes for those at high-risk.

* Another study found that long distance hiking trips may improve antioxidative capacity in cancer patients.

* And this bit of boffinism shows that using hiking as an additional therapy can help people with severe depression feel less hopeless, depressed and suicidal.

In a semblance of order, here’s how I do it:

I make it all about the hike.

Some people travel to a city or region for a museum, or the café scene, or for the wineries. From there they experience other things (great food, sights, smells). When you really want to give hiking a go, go to where the best hike is and build in other experiences from there. It’s not a bad formula to adhere to. Great hiking scenery generally attracts great food and culture and other experiences. And like-minded people.

I use hiking as the raison d’etre of my travelling. That and eating.

Research your hike thus:

Google: “Best hikes in [insert name of area]”. If you’re really happy to travel anywhere in the world for a rippin’ hike, check out these:

National Geographic World’s Best Hikes 

World’s Top Foodie Getaways

Independent’s Top 50 Walking Holidays

Hiking around Cote d'Azur: I did one around Cap Ferat…I ran it in a little under two hours and jumped in the water at intervals…little beaches dotted the whole way around.
Hiking around Cote d’Azur: I did one around Cap Ferat…I ran it in a little under two hours and jumped in the water at intervals…little beaches dotted the whole way around.

Also check out hiking company websites. They’ll outline areas that are great for hiking. You can then research from there. Some I’ve found over the years:

Sherpa Walking Holidays

Inn Walking

If in Australia: visit the National Parks site for your state or the WildWalks app and site. I also like these Take A Walk books. Elsewhere, these Sawdays books about slow travel might interest.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 10.04.32 AM

Finally, check out my guides:

A slow food and hiking guide to Mudgee, NSW

A hiking guide to Iceland

This is what I came to see...
Hiking through quaint towns in Dorset
The UK is amazing for hiking inn to inn…the paths pass through stunning farmland

A slow hike in Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, UK

Iscala e surtana
Rustic Sardinia hiking. I often tote only a library bag.

A slow food and hiking guide to Sardinia

In Provence it’s all about Auberge to Auberge hiking

A slow food and hiking guide to Provence

Yep, check this shit out…I stumbled into town after hours of hiking to …this! Ronda!

A slow food and hiking guide to Andalucia 

From here, turn the hike into an adventure…

…so the travel there is part of the caper.

An example: I found a hike in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, north of Sydney that I wanted to do. I could get a car and drive there. But better, I found I could train it in and out, with lunch stop-offs (for those interested, catch the train to Mount Ku-Ring-Gai station, do the walk down to Berowra Waters and back up to Cowan station where you can catch the next train back to Sydney).

Lane Cove National Park Sunday morning hike
Lane Cove National Park Sunday morning hike

Another example: The Taronga Zoo to Balmoral beach walk is an amazing romp around the harbour. I make it more of a journey by riding my bike to Circular Quay, catching the ferry to the zoo, hiking to Balmoral, then walking back through the leafy suburbs to the zoo, then ferry and bike home. A spectacular outing.

Also note my comments below about googling “inn to inn hikes”.

You’ll find most hiking/bushwalking guides will note the closest public transport options. Or use Google Maps to work it out for you.

  • Circuit routes are best. Return walks feel disheartening.
  • Incorporate great food. Again, a hike can be given added value by incorporating it into a bit of foodie adventure. I now do foodie/hike trips whenever I head out. Again, I start with the hike, then I look around the area to see what food options exist.

Or I go to some slow living specialists, as I did for my recent Dorset hike and my Spain hike, and ask them to map me out a special route.

Ice walking, in Iceland
Ice walking, in Iceland

The other way to do it is to google “inn to inn hikes” or “pub to pub walks”. They are a “thing”. Again, if you don’t want to join their led group, you can take “inspiration” from the information on their site and build your own trip in the area.

  • Incorporate some ritual. For me, it’s buying a newspaper and a takeaway tea to have on the train on the way there. I also meditate at the half-way mark on a rock in the sun. So that I can really absorb things.
  • Use Googlemaps on your phone as a map. I do. If you’re heading somewhere with no internet connection, download the route first and make sure you scroll all the way to the end of the walk so it’s fully downloaded. The little blue ball will trace your travels along the route, even when there’s no signal.
  • Carry as little as possible. This is possibly the most liberating advice I can give.
My hiking kit for a walk through Spain... all packed into a library bag!
My hiking kit for a trek through Spain… all packed into a library bag!

For half-day hikes, I take nothing but my phone (for safety and Instagram bragging!), some toilet paper (for ablutions), a key and $5 (for tea and newspaper), all of which goes down my bra. I drink plenty of water before I leave (2 litres) and then I’ll often put my mouth under a garden tap near the start of the walk.

For multi-day hikes, I pack just as minimally. I rinse out my under clothing. I wear the same shoes. I use Jojoba oil for cleansing and moisturizing.

Here's what I took for a four day hike in Dorset: Toothbrush and paste, Jojoba oil (for cleansing and moisturiser), ear plugs, eye mask, phone charger, maps, credit card, 1 x undies, 1 x spare shoes, 1 x shoes for hiking in mud (yes, hiking shoes are better but I don’t have any right now and can’t be bothered to buy some), 1 x hike outfit (singlet, thermal layers, leggings), 1 x change of clothes (leggings, shirt), a book. I don’t carry food (I eat a massive breakfast and dinner) and I didn’t carry water either. There, that’s it.
Here’s what I took for a four day hike in Dorset: Toothbrush and paste, Jojoba oil (for cleansing and moisturiser), ear plugs, eye mask, phone charger, maps, credit card, 1 x undies, 1 x spare shoes, 1 x shoes for hiking in mud (yes, hiking shoes are better but I don’t have any right now and can’t be bothered to buy some), 1 x hike outfit (singlet, thermal layers, leggings), 1 x change of clothes (leggings, shirt), a book. There, that’s it.

In most cases, I don’t carry food. Again, I eat up MASSIVELY in the morning and either factor in a lunch stop or save myself for dinner. I appreciate, however, some need to take snacks.

It’s vital to incorporate as much unfussy flow into a hike as possible.

That’s about as much as I can muster for now. Feel free to ask me some questions below. Hike on!

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • I have a question! Will you walk with me on the Mount Kur-ing-gai Station track down to Berowra Waters and back up to Cowan Station? It’s one of my favourites. I will bring food and water (camelbaks are the best, you don’t feel like you’re carrying anything). Lovely piece. 🙂

    • Hi Julie, thank you for the offer. Down the track I might organise some special guided hikes. For now, hiking is my solo time! x

      • Thanks Sarah 🙂 I do understand as that’s what I love about hiking: time out.

  • Lena

    I live in Washington State in the US and the state has a great hiking (bushwalk) website. It shows all hikes as well as up-to-date info on the trails itself and the site also has reviews by others who have taken the hike. It is run by volunteers and funded by donations. I would look at it almost every week.

  • I love hiking too! You see so much more when you’re walking. I might check out some pub to pub walks when I’m in England next year – I wonder if there are any good ones to do with the kids.

    My offspring have been trained to walk long distances (food helps) so we can mix up things they like to do (traditional kid or touristy attractions) with things I like to do which is mainly walking. If I can promise them wildlife that will make them happier about the walk too.

    I am sorry to say I get a real kick out of turning up at a totally off the beaten track hiking destination with my three bare foot kids and seeing other people in spanking new hiking outfits. Love that your photos show you don’t need any special gear, just an adventurous spirit.

    Another tip for newbies is to google a Meet Up hiking, adventure or walking group near you. I just joined a hiking group on the Sunshine Coast that I found on the Meet Up site and plan to join them for a long hike soon because I know we won’t get lost that way and I’ll meet some new like-minded people.

    PS. Julia – the hike sounds great but I’m never sure about those camelbak water pouches – how do you clean them?!

    • Perhaps ask Alison at Foot Trails – she’d be happy to help you out with the kids idea.

    • Hi Annabel, I haven’t run into any problems with my camelbak yet, it’s been better than anything. It’s not the most exciting thing to clean, but you could use hot water and vinegar. You can also use the CamelBak Cleaning Tabs / Cleaning Kit with brushes to scrub and then air afterwards. With that said, you could also replace the bladder if necessary.

  • hugoandelsa

    I’ve been pulling my hair out at the thought of investing in a pair of hiking shoes. Most “experts” say you need ankle support, and some guided walks won’t take you unless you’re wearing them. I note that you wear trainers….would love to hear your thoughts on hiking footwear…

    • I wear the same nike shoes I wear for walking to work and for going out to dinner at night. See the image above. I don’t believe in fancy.

  • Catherine Morey-Nase

    Wonderful post! I adore hiking too and I also often plan holidays around hikes I want to do 🙂 I’m forever grateful to my parents for taking me on a 6 day hike (the Overland Track) in Tasmania when I was a child as it instilled in me a deep love of nature and adventure. Unlike you though I can’t not take a yummy lunch – food always tastes so amazing when you’re being physically active in the bush! And I love stopping and doing a short meditation along the way and really engaging my senses. I can think of no better way to spend a weekend or holiday!

  • Jess

    I love that you are so minimalistic Sarah! I need to be more like that. But what about water when you hike? i get so thirsty when im walking/running that i need to take at least 3 litres of water with me! Do you stop and drink out of streams? Im going to Queenstown NZ for a holiday, definitely going to go for a few hikes when im there, this post has got me excited about hiking!!

  • L

    Hi Sarah,
    I love hiking too! The only reasoning don’t do it more is because I’m not confident to go alone! Do you find you feel safe? Also I can be a little clumsy – I don’t want to be injured & no one find me!

    • Yes, I feel safe. I’m used to travelling on my own so I don’t think about it at all. Best idea – do popular walks where there’s lots of others on the track with you.

  • Kelsey

    Any advice re. Victoria??!! I’m keen but a bit apprehensive to do it alone (and I am the only person I know interested in hiking!)

    • Catherine Morey-Nase

      Hi Kelsey, starting in spring I will be taking small groups of women hiking (approx. 1-1.5 hours out of Melbourne) and incorporating mindfulness and connecting to nature exercises. I used to be the same and not know anyone interested in hiking which is one of the reasons I want to take groups hiking! Just thought it could be of interest. 🙂

    • Emma

      Would love to know too! I’m from Melbourne 🙂

  • Kelsey

    Melbourne, Victoria that is…

    • Anna

      Same goes for me! I’m also apprehensive about solo hikes but would really like to hike more on the perimeters of Melbourne

  • Jess

    Hiking around Nepal is amazing! It’s just beautiful. I did the Annapurna ranges w just a guide. I loved the hours on my own during the day then discussing my trek with other hikèrs at night. Just fantastic.

  • Anne

    Yes Sarah! Guided walks! Where do we sign up?

  • disqus_dSf8TuMRBh

    hi Sarah can I ask why a library bag and not a backpack so you have your hands free

  • Jane

    What happens when you need to go to the bathroom after all that water? Do you just go in the bush? Even on popular walking tracks?

  • Domonique

    Such a relevant post for me Sarah! I’m heading to the US soon and want to finish with a hike in the Grand Canyon. Just me & the big GC. Any company recommendations or suggestions come your way to pass on?

  • Nicole

    Thanks so much for this post – I have been craving the wilderness recently and have wanted to get into hiking, so this is perfect timing! I have done some short hikes on holiday, but living in London I’m increasingly wanting to get out of the city and be in nature each weekend. Your Dorset hike looked lovely – thanks for the inspiration!

  • Debbie Armstrong

    Hi Sarah, on your longer hikes what do you take for a snack, my boys are in scouts and I need to find stuff for them to take on long hikes.
    Thanks, Debbie

  • Kati

    Thank you for this article and all the other enlightening information you share-I am one big smiley face when I see them in my InBox! I wish I lived near to the amazing places you highlight in this piece. I am a newbie to Colorado, USA, though, which abounds with natural beauty…and I am doing my first group, ladies only, hike on Monday-took the day off of work to do it-yay! Thanks for what you do!!

  • I keep coming back to this post Sarah. I love that you make it so simple. Because it is. I just have to take the plunge and know that getting lost is part of the journey 😉

  • rachels

    My best hikes include Annapurnas before the road was built- no guide needed as the trails quite obvious; Kalasha Valley in north-west Pakistan- could not have survived without a guide especially as in one valley we had to negotiate with a nomad family to sleep on the roof even if it was freezing!; Lake Song Kul in Kyrgyzstan and Kilimanjaro. I actually enjoy group hikes and walking with a local guide because you still spend a lot of time in silence ruminating amongst nature on your own but can also share some great memories. For me it is about culture and politics more than food. I bought second hand hiking boots off eBay but I definitely travel with more stuff for cold and warm weather.

  • Bree Leibhardt

    I am a little curious Sarah as to where you sleep on your multi day hikes? do you book into hotels etc. I live in SA and find nothing better than sleeping in the bush! but with that I have to carry my sleeping bag, a mat and a tent. my cooking gear and food.. don’t get me wrong I absolutely love it! but I wish there was a magical genie that could blink all your belongings to you at the end of the day.. haha! Do you have a hiking food guide (what to take on a multi day treck?) people have suggested dehydrating food and taking that, but was wondering about the nutritional value after dehydration? hope you can answer a couple of these questions for me! cheers

  • Jenny

    HEY Sarah we are doing the routeburn in the South Island NZ in march amd I would love a list of things you usually take on a four day tramp with overnights in hits? Also any good hints on food

  • Alexandra Bruggisser

    We are about to commence on a multi day (6) hike from Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls in the NT. Planning to sustain ourselves on your Paleo loaf, chia puddings, Kichari, trail mix, super food hot chocs, turmeric lattes, bacon and egg muffins etc… No fires. No where to leave rubbish. Just us, our packs and waterfalls! Any last minute hacks for us?