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Hiking is the ultimate winter pastime

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

Chrissie Fearon on Bluff Knoll in Western Australia

Crisp mornings, clear and sunny days and cool afternoons make cooler weather perfect for long-haul walks. “Bushwalking (hiking) is definitely on the upsurge,” says Dave Osborne, who has been involved in Western Australia bushwalking clubs, is president and acting executive of Bushwalking WA. “Research has definitely shown that if people have been exposed to bushwalking when they’re young, they almost invariably tend to come back to it. They go through their other, (things like) have families, get into team activities, then come back to it later in life in the over-40s or even close to retirement. That’s a recognised phenomenon: drift away then come back to it.”

Last year the trend forecasters predicted that hiking would become the biggest new fitness trend of 2019. Hiking, is finding a growing audience among younger people. No longer just an activity for older people with sticks, hiking is catching on with a new generation. Buoyed by fashion houses including Gucci and Louis Vuitton putting walking boots on the catwalk and a proliferation of young Instagram models posing in Californian canyons, style blogs declared hiking to be so hot right now.

That may have come as news for anyone spending their lifetime using their feet unfashionably, but the stats bear it out: while going out-out has undergone a generational decline, going to the great outdoors has seen a marked uptick among millennials.

The Ramblers, the UK walking charity best known for attracting an older demographic, counts more than 50 groups nationwide for people in their 20s and 30s – and they are growing rapidly; the Glasgow Young Walkers’ membership increased by 28% at the start of 2019 and the Stag Walkers’ (covering Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire) by 14% in the same period. Instagram is filled with photos of beautiful craggy coastlines taken by an array of young, part-time hedonists, part-time hikers. One example is Laura Doling, 25. “Everyone talks about mental health a lot, but I think, massively for young people, it’s a great outlet to be in the hills in solitude,” she says. “Everything else becomes insignificant when I’m walking; the world carries on and it slows everything down.”

Hiking marries physical benefits and the soothing effects of nature. Perth personal trainer Kate Gibson founded The Hike Collective while bushwalking to manage anxiety. “My clients started coming along and they brought friends and they brought their friends,” Gibson says. “I realised there was a real space there for people to connect and actually move in nature, rather than my background as a personal trainer in the gym."

“Once people start to relax and feel more comfortable the muscular system changes ... they can relax and use their body in a more natural way.”

The surge of interest in the outdoors ties into broader consumer trends: we want experiences rather than more stuff. More memories, fewer hangovers. The attraction has especially grown in the last decade because people want to get away from the hustle and bustle of an increasingly frenetic daily life in the city. Everyone is surrounded by technology and ‘on’ all the time; getting outdoors is a chance to put that down and reconnect with nature. It’s a mental escape as much as a physical one – and it’s good for you. “I did the clubbing scene,” Doling says. “I don’t think it’s healthy, and I think it’s a waste of money. I can go out at a weekend and camp out in the hills, where you sit and have a decent conversation. It takes away from the superficial problem of worrying what you look like or what you’re wearing.”

Group walks and guided hikes provide camaraderie and safety. Groups suit walkers who seek adventure not solitude. “Bushwalking clubs are a really good place to start,” Osborne says. “Because they do have that good framework of good safety practices and risk management, and help new walkers develop new skills. If you’ve been bushwalking for some time, you may be looking to increase intensity. Altitude is one way to step it up. At 1099m above sea level, Bluff Knoll is the highest peak in WA. “It’s an arduous climb but it’s straight forward. Some of the other peaks are a bit more challenging,” Osborne says. “Before (bushwalkers) do it, they should know they’re capable.

“One of the more challenging walks in the Stirling Ranges is the Stirling Range Ridge Walk. It’s basically an unmarked route and you have to carry your own water so you have a heavy pack. But it’s a fantastic walk.” If you’re not keen on hill climbs, go for distance or varied and testing terrain — from soft beach sand to pea gravel — to push yourself. “Figure out the reason that you are hiking,” Gibson says. “It might just be that you want to get out and about, which is fine, or increase your fitness.”

Gear up: Hiking essentials

Bushwalking is an inexpensive pursuit but there is equipment that will make the journey safer and easier, including:

  • Hiking shoes or boots provide more stability than gym shoes or sneakers.

  • Walking poles are another stability booster.

We recommend setting concrete goals based on your reason for hiking and consider an expert-designed personal training program to prepare you for challenges.

Based on original article in the West Australian 24 May 2019

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