At Core Merino, we are all about getting out there and being active. Hiking is one of our favourite outdoor activities as it offers something for everyone to enjoy. However, also a hiking trip needs some planning and consideration. Therefore, we have put together this ultimate hiking guide for you to ensure you have a marvellous experience during your next hiking adventure. In this guide, you will learn how to plan, what to wear and pack as well as how to ensure your safety and a good experience for everyone.
How to plan for your hike?
Even though things often don’t go according to plan, when it comes to hiking, planning does help ensure you have a good and positive experience.
When is the best time to hike?
First up, you should consider the best timing for your next hiking trip based on two factors.
1 How many days do you want to spend hiking? You may just want to do a hiking trip over the weekend close to where you live, or you want to travel a bit further to a National Park. You will need a different number of days depending on the hiking trip, including arrival and departure times.
2 When do you want to go hiking? Is the month or season when you are planning to go hiking suitable for the hiking trail you have set your eyes on? Some trails may not be accessible during the winter months, during a rainy season, or might be overcrowded during the peak season. Inform yourself about the local recommendations of the best time to hike certain trails.
Who will join your hiking trip?
Some hikers prefer to be hiking on their own, but often hiking in nature with a good friend, your family or even a hiking group can elevate your experience even more. Find out who will join you and consider the number of people in your plan. Can’t find anyone to join you? Try searching for a hiking group on Facebook or Meetup or ask for guided hiking tours at the National Park or local tourism office.
Where to hike – South Africa Hiking trails in National Parks
You can find information about all the hiking trails available at our National Parks in South Africa by clicking here, but here are a few of our favourites:
Eastern Cape – Addo Elephant National Park – Alexandria Hiking Trail
Close to the home of Core Merino, the Alexandria Hiking Trail is a 32 km, two-day circular trail. The first day is 18.5 km and the second day, 13.5 km. The trail, located in the Woody Cape section of the Addo Elephant National Park, is a meander through untouched wilderness and almost unparalleled biodiversity. Hikers traverse three distinct environments: ancient forest, dunes, and coastline with magnificent views of the bay, Bird Island, and almost endless dune fields. Birders and nature-lovers can expect to be endlessly fascinated by the birdlife, changing scenery, and pristine environment. This coastal hike in the Addo Elephant National Park is for serious hikers who enjoy the natural beauty and open space of the Eastern Cape.
Northern Cape – Augrabies Falls National Park – Klipspringer Hiking Trail
There is no better way to truly experience the geology, flora, and fauna of Augrabies Falls National Park than hiking through the park itself. The Klipspringer Hiking Trail offers the chance to do just that, with 39.5 km of some of the most beautiful scenery you will find in the Northern Cape. After visiting the mighty Augrabies Falls, you can embark on one of the most breathtaking and satisfying journeys available in this part of South Africa. The trail consists of three days of hiking. The first day is 14 km, the second day is 13 km, and the third 12.5 km. This hike can be quite demanding, so it is necessary to plan for quite a rigorous trip.
Freestate – Golden Gate Highlands National Park – Rhebok Hiking Trail
This two-day hike takes you through the incredible 28 km stretch of the Maluti Mountains in the Free State and is only suitable for fairly fit hikers. The circular route passes numerous streams, rock pools, ravines, and waterfalls. Also, be sure to look out for plenty of wildlife in the park, which includes eland, black wildebeest, blesbok, springbok, and zebra. Hikers may also spot grey rhebok, mountain reedbuck, and oribi. The overnight hut is situated in an incredibly scenic spot next to a stream. Start early on both days and pack for changeable weather conditions – anticipate thunderstorms in summer or snow, sleet, and mist in winter. If this rigorous trail is not what you are looking for, Golden National Park has a number of other day trails, for those after a shorter walk.
Inform yourself about the requirements to complete the hiking trail
Some hiking trails require some good planning ahead for you to successfully and safely complete the trail. Inform yourself about how many days are needed and what the lodging possibilities are, as you may need to bring a tent if there is no accommodation you can book in advance.
Another important factor is water supply. This means you need to find out if fresh drinking water is available throughout the trail or if you need to bring water for the entire trip or have a water filter at hand. The same kind of planning goes for food. Finally, you also need to think about the bathroom situation. Most likely toilets will not be available along the trail, therefore inform yourself about the local loo etiquette and plan accordingly.
Collect local knowledge and maps
Once you decided when and where to go, it is time to acquire some maps of the trail and surrounding area. Most likely mobile phone reception will not be available in the remote areas of the trail, therefore consider acquiring actual paper maps or download maps to your phone, but bring an extra set of phone batteries for the latter. In addition, do some research on the internet on local websites or blogs where fellow hikers have documented their experience of the trail you are considering. Any detailed knowledge about the area, the wildlife, things to see, places to eat will help you make the best out of your trip.
What to wear on your hike?
Another important factor to ensure you have a positive experience is planning what to wear. Keeping your body comfortable and well protected from cold, heat, sunshine, and rain has a direct influence on your energy level and your mind. There isn’t an ultimate list of what to wear as it depends on when you hike and for how long you are planning to hike. However, here is a list of essentials that will most likely be part of your hiking wardrobe from top to bottom.
- Hat to protect you from sun or rain
- Sunglasses – even in wintertime when you are high up in the mountains or close to the ocean, you will need to protect your eyes
- Sunscreen – despite if you are expecting the day to be cloudy, protect your skin from UV radiation at all times
- Underwear that will keep your skin dry (merino wool is here a good option)
- Merino wool t-shirt – short sleeve or long sleeve (or any other moisture-wicking shirt that keeps your skin dry in hot and cold conditions
- An extra layer in case of weather change e.g. a rain jacket, or a windbreaker
- Hiking pants or shorts
- Merino Wool Socks to keep your feet dry and free from blisters
- Comfortable hiking shoes with good grip and support for your ankles
What to pack for your hike?
Packing for your hiking trip is never easy, as you want to avoid carrying too heavy a load on your back, but you also don’t want to miss out on any essentials you may need. Watch the scene of Reese Witherspoon in the film ‘Wild’ when she packs her backpack for her 1000 miles hiking trip to better understand what we are talking about: https://youtu.be/3YBNNfPF7o8
Here is a list of things that may be handy depending on local conditions and length of your trip, these are in addition to the list above of what to wear:
- Additional layers of clothes for when the weather changes such as mid-layer garment, warm jacket, gloves, or beanie)
- Change of clothes (although with merino wool clothes you will need less items)
- Maps, compass, or GPS device
- Snacks or meals if required
- Water bottle (and if needed a water filter)
- A rubbish bag to collect and store your rubbish
- First aid kit including an emergency blanket
- Matches or firelighter
- Tent, sleeping bag if needed
- Insect repellent
- Toilet kit (tissues/wet wipes or even a trowel)
- Phone with camera
How to stay safe during your hike
After you did a lot of planning and are finally out and about hiking, there are a few things to consider on the trail to ensure you and your hiking buddies stay safe.
- Know your fitness level and hiking abilities. When you reach a point that may be too hard for you to complete, do not hesitate to turn around, safety always comes first.
- Tell someone where you are going and when you estimate to be back. Consider wearing a personal locator beacon.
- Inform yourself about the weather forecast and any local changes along the path that may alter your trip, e.g. a flooded or closed path.
- Stay on the trail whenever possible. When you need to leave the trail, try to stay on durable surfaces like rocks, gravel, or sand.
- Camp on durable surfaces during the night.
- Inform yourself about local wildlife and appropriate safety precautions.
How to be considerate of nature and other fellow hikers
Finally, there are also a few rules to follow to ensure you protect the beautiful environment around you as well as ensuring everyone on the trail is having a good time.
- Never leave any rubbish behind and pick up any rubbish you find on the way.
- If you have to go to the toilet without there being a toilet, bury your waste in a little hole that is at least 60 meters away from any water source, trail, or campsite. On some trails, this is not permitted, and you will need to take your human waste with you.
- Leave everything as you found it. This means avoiding damaging any plants or trees and leaving natural or cultural objects where you found them.
- As South Africa is in most regions a very dry country, you need to be careful with any campfires and reduce campfire impacts as much as possible. For example, use existing fire rings or consider using a camp stove instead. Never leave a campfire unattended and make sure it is entirely extinguished when you move on.
- Watch any wildlife from afar only. Move slowly and without making loud noises. Do not touch, feed, or pick up any wildlife as this can be harmful to the animals as well as for yourself.
Besides nature and animals, you will also be meeting other fellow hikers. Just like you, they are there to enjoy themselves, therefore keep some basic courtesy rules in mind:
- Make way for anyone passing by including bikers.
- Say hello to anyone passing by to ensure a friendly atmosphere on the trail.
- Make yourself be known if you are bypassing someone from behind, so they do not get startled.
- Ensure you have your dog or other pets under control at all times.
- Avoid yelling, loud music, and any other loud noises on the trail.
- If you are hiking in a bigger group, walk in a single line behind each other, to make way for other hikers. Never take up more than half of the path. Don’t walk next to the hiking path, so you can walk next to each other, as this damages the soil.
We hope this hiking guide provides you with some useful tips for your next hiking adventure. Is there anything we missed, do let us know in the comments below.
Take a look at our Core Merino hiking collection here.