I’ve learned a lot about planning and preparing for a walk over the last few years since I started this walking lark. I’m by no means an expert but I do follow a general process when planning a walk that I thought would be useful to share. I’d love to hear your feedback.
I’m always looking for new walks. I spend my train trip to work plotting and researching, choosing and rejecting routes. I even set out a plan at the start of each year for the key walks I want to tick off each month. It’s my way of staying engaged and motivated. Once I have decided on what I want out of a walk, whether it be a short walk with a view or a multi day trek, I follow these steps to turn my research into an actual plan:
1. Plot the route to find the distance, total climb and total descent
2. Calculate the walking time
3. Revise the route
4. Plan bail out points
5. Check conditions
6. Choose gear and supplies
7. Tell someone and stick to the route
Plotting the Route
I plot my routes using either a mapping app or a physical map or sometimes both.
A good app, such as my favourite “Maps3D”, will allow you to plan a route using a series of waypoints, then will automatically align the route to actual tracks and roads. It will then be able to provide a distance measure and the total climb and descent.
If using a paper map I simply count the squares up and across then multiply by the scale. If a path is diagonal in the square I use a 1.4 multiplier on the scale. This gives an estimate of the total distance. It’s not perfect and proper plotting and measuring could be down to figure out a more accurate distance, but I find it is enough for generating a basic plan. Reading the climb and descent is tougher but I estimate them in each square using the lines of elevation and simply add them up.
I will study the maps closely to figure out where to expect challenging terrain.
Calculate the walking time
Once I have the distance, climb and descent I can then estimate the time it will take using a simple rule of thumb called “Naismith’s Rule”.
I’ll use my average trail speed and multiply by the distance. I’ll then add an hour per 600m of climb and half hour for 300m of descent. Adding it all up gives the total time. That sounds like a lot of math and may be off putting to some. I’ve started using an online calculator at WildWalks.com which allows you to enter the walking speed, distance, climb, and descent to give you the duration of the walk.
Note that on a flat road on the walk home from work you may manage 5km/h or more. On a rough trail this can easily fall to 3km/h.
A reader also noted that it is worth knowing at this point is how long it will take to get to and from the start and end points. The method of travel can seriously change a plan. If it takes half a day to drive to the start then there is only half a day left to walk so the plan must accomodate this.
Revise the route
At this point I’ll know whether the walk will take four hours or twelve! I’m not a fan of night walking and I like to get to camp an hour before sunset so the sense check for me is whether I can do my walk completely in daylight hours. You will have your own personal conditions to meet. When planning last years four day section of the Great North Walk I spent a lot of time revising my route to ensure I reached camp with enough light. I started out wanting 25-30km days but the climbs and descents brought some reality into the mix. My plan worked a treat but I definitely had to revise the route many times to find a solution that could work in the four days I had available.
Plan bail out points
Examine the map and identify points where you can exit if you run into trouble. This is especially important on longer walks. These points should be communicated to someone who could meet you if you need to use them. Make sure their vehicle can handle the terrain- no point in sending a hatchback down a 4WD route. I select points that are on actual roads to which I could reasonably walk. I also look at whether there are buses or cabs servicing the area and I also check for mobile reception. The Telstra coverage map for Australia is here.
I always check weather, fire danger, hazard reduction burn schedules and track closures.
The Bureau of meteorology in Australia puts out regular alerts and has good forecasts out to five days. Longer range forecasts from any weather service are more likely based on averages rather than a true prediction so should be treated as such.
The local or state fire services update the fire danger level and provide alerts and also schedules of hazard reduction burns. In NSW I use the RFS “Fires near me” site and app.
For track closures I generally use the National Park websites. The NSW alerts are here.
I also review blogs and track notes written by other online to see if I can glean any useful information.
Finally, I overlay my personal conditions. I hate walking in over 30 degree heat and would prefer to avoid storms.
At this point I will alter my plans based on the projected or current conditions including outright canceling my walk.
Choosing Gear and Supplies
Obviously a day walk won’t need a tent or sleeping bag and an overnighter needs more than a thin T-shirt. The point here is to choose the right gear to keep you safe. Warm socks and puffer jackets for cold days and nights, sun protection always, thinner clothes for warmer weather etc. I don’t need to provide a full list just make sure the choices are appropriate and if you don’t have the gear then revise your plans.
A Personal Locator Beacon should be carried, especially in more remote areas. I don’t yet own one but I do pick one up from Jindabyne visitors centre before heading into alpine areas. I want to buy one though. They are sold at Wild Earth among other places.
Water: A minimum of two litres. Note water sources along the route and plan accordingly. Carry more on hot days. If it has been unusually dry expect water sources to be dry and carry more. I carried three litres at a time on the four day Great North Walk trip last year and I’m glad I did as most creeks were dry and one of the water tanks was dry. I found enough to keep me going though and didn’t need to use a bailout point.
Tell someone and Stick to the route
This is extremely important. I often want to head off on side trails and little off track adventures but I really have to stamp down that urge. I have communicated my plan to my partner and if i change the route without telling them then it’s less likely that I’ll be found if something goes wrong. Tell someone the route. Tell them your bail out points. Stick to the plan.
That is pretty much everything. I do spend a lot of time studying my route, even if it is a well trafficked trail. I do this not only for safety, but to ensure I have the best possible experience.
I’d love to know what you do to plan your walks. Let me know in the comments- I’m always looking for new ways to do things.
Thanks for reading.