When it comes being spoilt with outdoor choices, we’ve got it made here in South Africa. There are thousands of spectacular hiking routes around the country, and there’s something for everyone – from gentle, low-mileage walks through to the more technical, longer distance adventures. Thankfully, many of these routes are close to urban areas, so you don’t need to drive for hours to get to the start. We’ve collected some of our best tips and advice for day hiking, along with key gear items to get the most out of your fresh-air experience – and to keep you safe and comfortable on the trails.
This may sound obvious, but make sure you factor in how long you need to get to the start of the trail, how long the route will take, and what the weather is expected to be like (we like using Windguru). Keep in mind that your hiking pace will most likely be slower than your average walking pace as there will be elevated parts of the route, and you’ll be carrying a backpack (which is hopefully not too heavy – see the next point). Make sure you take down the numbers of SANParks or emergency services in the area, and if it’s applicable, alert the rangers or guides at the start of the trail – especially if you’re on your own. Whatever you do, tell someone that you are going for a hike, and let them know where and when. If you need to use GPS, great, but then make sure your battery is charged and you have a back-up, old-school paper map version with a compass. Getting lost is not something you want – stay on the trail, and make sure you know where you’re going if the route is not clearly marked.
Chafed shoulders and a sore lower back are not the memories you want to have from your outdoor adventure. Make sure you don’t pack too much (focus on the essentials outlined below) and choose a backpack that sits well on your shoulders, and which distributes the weight evenly. For day hikes, you are looking for daypacks with capacity around 15 to 25 litres, and ones that offer various storage items. If you have bulkier items like cameras or food items, separate them to balance the load on your back. The goal: to be fast and light, not an overburdened pack donkey! Our backpack choice: K-Way Gradient 22l Daypack. It weighs in at less than a kilogram, and it comes with a handy waist belt and sternum strap to help create a better fit. These help stop the bag from moving around and causing that irritating shoulder chafe. Use the compression straps to keep your contents nice and compact.
Now you have your backpack open and ready; the first thing you need to pack is a decent first aid kit. We like this one: Lifeline First Aid 53. It’s a comprehensive but affordable little kit with 53 items, and it’s ridiculously light. The next step: you need water. You can either decide to invest in a hydration system for your Gradient backpack – we’d pick the K-Way Sprint H20 Belt – or you can choose to carry a K-Way Explore 750ml Water Bottle which you can put into the netting on the side of your backpack. We like the Explore bottle because it’s made from stainless steel, which keeps the water colder, but it’s also a more eco-friendly option that lasts longer than the plastic options. Either way, make sure you’re covered for your whole day hike – check the route, the weather, and make sure you have enough to cover your needs.
A great backpack is essential, but so are your hiking shoes and socks – no one wants blisters or black toenails! Here you can choose footwear to suit your needs, as you can choose lightweight options for more gentle trails, and the heavier, more supportive boots for the longer, more extreme technical routes. We like the balance that the K-Way Scree Shoe provides, as it offers proper support and protection, and The Hypergrip outsole provides superior grip and traction too. – but crucially, it doesn’t affect your comfort. These aren’t heavy, clunky boots that will make your feet sweaty and clammy; they’re breathable and lightweight – perfect for entry and medium-difficulty trails throughout the county. You’ll need to pair them with proper socks too, as old-school wool or cotton socks aren’t going to cut it. The Balega Enduro Quarter sock will keep your feet and toes dry and cool with their signature moisture-wicking fibres and ventilated microfibre mesh. It has a higher cut to protect your ankles, and the toe area has no seams to irritate or chafe.
You need to remember an essential rule: you don’t want clothes that either take a long time to dry or pull heat from your body – which is what cotton does. This is where quick-dry synthetics earn their keep, as they wick sweat and moisture away from your body, and help you get dry and warm quickly. We’re big fans of layers, so depending on where you are hiking, if it can get cold and wet, pack an extra base layer and a waterproof shell jacket. If it’s really cold, look for a heavy-duty fleece or puffy jacket.
Our outdoors needs to be left in the same way that you found it: pristine and rubbish free. Remember to pick up anything you’ve brought with you and check out the excellent work that Love Our Trails are doing.
That ends off our Hiking 101 guide, by now you should be fully prepared through the above six steps, to tackle your next hike safely just like the experts.