You’re tired of the pavements, the car fumes and seeing that same old corner house in need of a paint… right? It’s time to take a hike. “Me? A hike? You’ve got to be joking,” you might be saying. But you won't not look back if you take up this challenge.
There is nothing more liberating than having all you need to survive on your back and heading out into the mountains, inhaling fresh, unpolluted air and absorbing breathtaking views. No cell phones, no appointments, no technology. You’ll feel like a new person on your return, not to mention being a much fitter one too.
Where to start
There are many excellent books on the market detailing day walks, weekend trails and well-known hikes such as the Otter, Outeniqua, Boland and Tsitsikamma to mention but a few. Here are just two excellent titles to read:
Weekend trails in the Western Cape by Mike Lundy (Publishers: Human and Rousseau)
The complete guide to walks and trails in Southern Africa by Jaynee Levy (Publishers: Struik)
You could start off with a day hike. But this doesn’t really give you the sense of freedom and inner peace that a hike lasting for a few days, elicits.
What do you need to get started?
If you are uncertain whether you’ll enjoy hiking, you might want to loan or hire equipment for your first hike, but I’m prepared to bet on the fact that you’ll love it.
Should you decide to invest in a few items, here are a few guidelines:
1. Hiking boots
Wearing comfortable, supportive boots can make the whole hiking experience much more pleasant. If you are planning to invest in equipment, this should be the first item on your shopping list.
Shops such as Cape Union Mart, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Camp and Climb have a great selection. You can expect to pay between R400 to R700 for a good pair of boots. Some are waterproof, others water-resistant - see which fit you best and if necessary, you can always apply a “waterproofing agent” to water-resistant boots.
2. Thick, absorbent hiking socks
Thick socks can be worn for two consequent days. Wear a pair of thin socks (like knee-high’s) underneath, which you change every day.
If you are doing anything up to a five-day hike – a 65-litre backpack should suffice. Basically, your packed back-pack shouldn’t weigh more than a third of your weight (men) and a quarter of your weight (women).
Men might prefer to carry a larger pack (up to 85 litres or so). Back-packs cost anything from about R500 to R1000. It is important to get one where the straps and waist/hip-band are well-cushioned.
4. Sleeping bag
The lighter the sleeping bag, the better. Sleeping bags weighing only 1kg are available (filled with hollow-fibre), for about R400. These are perfectly adequate for hikes where temperatures aren’t going to drop below 0 degrees Celsius.
Should you plan to hike in extreme temperatures, you might want to invest in a down sleeping bag, but expect to pay R1000, or more, for this.
5. Some other essentials you will need to loan/purchase
A water-bottle (500ml – 1000ml). I carry mine around my waist in a band that also has little pouches where I keep a supply of glucose-rich sweets (e.g. sparkles). These are great for when you are tackling hills and need a little spurt of energy.
A mini-medical kit
There are many other items you would need to pack, but the key is always to consider the weight of these items. Each day, as you become a little more tired, each kilogram seems to weigh a little more.
Therefore some final tips:
Take as little clothing as possible (everyone will smell equally bad!). However, remember to pack a waterproof top (thin version) and a warm top.
Pack enough food. Choose high energy light snacks and share evening meals with others to lighten the load.
Pack some foam sponges - they can be used as extra padding under the shoulder straps and waistband of your back-pack.
Pack mini-bottles for shampoos, creams and other toiletries.
Don’t forget the firelighters.
Finally, enjoy the experience. You probably won’t want to return to suburban life too quickly and will find yourself desperate to plan the next hike!