Hiking Trip Leading Basics

"Let's go on a hike this weekend!" a mate of you mentioned while enjoying a good meal at your friend's favourite cha chaan teng. The baked rice is spot on, the pineapple bun is crispy, and your friends are all having a good time with the classic Hong Kong food. Something seemed a bit off for you. I've been on many hikes, but leading one? Will my friends like where I go? Your friends, knowing that you hike a lot only through Instagram stories, expect quite a lot from you. This article goes into exactly what your friends want- how to lead a trip and enjoy a great day outdoors.

<-- Your friend soon picks up trip leading from you, and now leads his own trips. At least one less person bothers you now, and you can finally sleep well tonight.

The ability to plan and lead a trip goes very far, beyond just a weekend in a bush. See those expensive organised tours or outdoor excursions people advertise to you when you travel overseas? As long as you have a car and a group of friends, you can self-guide everyone through, explore another country's nature, and cut hundreds of dollars off your travelling expenses. After all national parks or wildlife is entirely free to enjoy, and the joy goes beyond the park itself. People also find the towns they pass through, the cafes they stop by, or the pizza place they get dinner from, to be sometimes more memorable than the hike itself.

NOTE: This page focuses on hiking / bushwalking / hill walking / trampling / whatever you call it. Other activities such as canyoning, rock climbing, stream trekking, abseiling, caving, canoeing, kayaking, leading a speedboat trip etc might share similar skillsets but are not what this article intends to cover.

1. Understanding the difficulty 

The first thing you think of after the "let's go on a hike" question is where to go. Before you head off and draft a plan you first need to know how hard the hike is. Why does it matter?

The main thing you first consider is who you're bringing to a hike, and what type of difficulty suits them. Is it a group of adventurous friends who all know what they're doing? Or is it with your parents or relatives on a family gossip trip? Be on a couple of hikes with your friends, know where they struggle, and you'll gauge where they are. If you've never been on walks with them, then start off with something as easy as a walk in the park, and level up from there.

An easy way to guess is to see whether they have done something similar before. Those who have done 20km walks will very likely be fine with 20km walks, and those who have done 15km walks will also likely be okay, but those who have never been on a hike... maybe? This is where you'll take a gamble. There are always people who are very fit, have done other sports before, or somehow just go shopping a lot where they can handle walking for long distances. Some might struggle for the first km and can become a liability down the track.

Leading a public trip, such as with a bushwalking club? Then this usually goes the other way, plan the route first, understand the difficulty, and set expectations. There will always be people fitting to the level you are looking for after all.

Quantifying difficulty

A couple systems come into play. The most layman one is Beginner - Intermediate - Hard on a common sense approach. Beginner is usually a walk in the park, with well-paved concrete tracks no longer than 10km. Intermediate usually refers to a full day of walk, 15-20km on dirt tracks. Hard walks will involve all sorts of terrain- usually rock scrambling and off-track bushbashing.

Beginner - Bondi to Coogee Walk on Sydney's eastern shoreline is a popular tourist destination. It is well-paved with concrete and short with few gradients.

Intermediate - Robin's Nest, Hong Kong. It's a long walk but the track is easy to follow. Requires a bit of physical strength (500-700m of elevation gain) but nothing too technical.

Hard - Can you climb up this? You'll need to find your own way with a lot of trial and error. Anything very technical, from hard scrambling to thick bush, will require a lot of experience for a safe trip.

Australian Walking Track Grading System, Link

National parks throughout Australia classify its walking track on a 1-5 grade. There's an official explanation but in general:

3- Easy-Intermediate, 4- Intermediate, 5- Hard 

or 3,4: Ok lah, 5: hard. You'll almost never see grade 1 or 2 tracks, which are easy tracks.

The purpose of the system is to advise you on what skill is expected of you on a bushwalk. The main thing to take note of is on a Grade 5 track navigation skills will be expected. For other grades, normal trip-leading skills will suffice. National park-maintained tracks are usually in very good condition, easy to follow and well-signposted. Never rely on the grades itself as it is not really an accurate reflection of how hard a walk is. The hardest walks you've heard of usually involve unofficial tracks created by fellow hikers, and will not appear on national park websites. Sometimes you can find grade 5 tracks easier than grade 4.

This is a grade 4 track since the way to summit is well signposted. However reaching the top involves lengthy scrambles up rocks, requiring a bit of skill. Beginners can do it but will struggle.

This is a grade 5 track since there is no signages on the track, but the way to summit is quite obvious. Volcanic rocks are also easy to find good grip and it's an easy scramble.

Hong Kong: the obnoxious stars, from 1* to 5*. The more stars you get the harder it is.

This is a very useless way of telling someone how hard a walk is as there is no official definition. Everyone gives out the stars randomly and it is not necessarily backed by evidence.

A common saying among hikers is that everyone has their own set of stars (ie. difficulty). For the same walk some might rank it 5* while some might say it's 3*. Instead of relying upon what someone says you should determine how hard a walk is based on your own judgement, and perhaps what skill you used in that hike.

Figuring out difficulty (for participants)

Two main things come into play: 1. Distance and elevation gain, 2. track conditions and terrain

People making their way through thick bush. It can be quite physically demanding.
This hill over there is still at least 600m above sea level. That can be a long climb for those who have never hiked before.
Not all hikes have to be that extreme. Bring beginners on a easy well-paved walk instead. There's usually something for everyone.

Trip leaders: understand your ability, be realistic

If you can't do a walk yourself then you can't expect everyone else to do it. Obviously, as the leader the authority is on you and you can always make decisions to turn back, but why bother planning the entire route if you don't intend to finish it? 

Being a member on trips you might have done some really hard walks, but it usually requires much more skills to lead a walk than to be on one. Have you been on enough of them so you know what people normally struggle with? If something unexpected happens, such as accidentally walking off-track (in places where this could happen), are you confident enough to come up with instant solutions?

For trip leaders, there are usually two skills you'll need in addition to the expectations of participants. 

Different maps: Google maps, Alltrails, a NSW topographic map loaded into Avenza maps. Obvious distinction in the level of detail they offer. Don't forget: Topo maps work offline but Alltrails will be asking for an expensive subscription to enable this feature.

If you have the slightest doubt of the route you want to lead, don't lead. People getting lost on trips can happen, and has happened before. Not confident of your ability? You can always find someone to help out. This, however, should be arranged before a trip, not on the trip. As someone on a trip you will never want to get lost, and so as you as the leader.

Remember: not all good trip leaders have to be hardcore, but all good trip leaders know themselves and stick to their abilities.

2. Planning a walk - Preliminaries

Where to go

Another day, another walk. The easy way to start is to ask a friend and there are usually places they'll suggest. In the olden times it goes more like this:

Paddy Palin's shop, in an old crumbling building in George St near Wynyard, was the information centre of the bushwalking fraternity in the early post-war years.  Shortly before Christmas 1949, I saw a notice on Paddy's board inviting anyone interested in joining a walk from Kosciuszko to the Victorian Alps to ring Frank Peters.
--SUBW: 50 years of Bushwalking

Nowadays the internet has everything, but if someone has been there lately what they suggest will still be far more up to date than most online sources. Plenty of websites offer information on where to hike:

National Parks

The official source of walking tracks and related info. Can be quite lacking if you're looking for more advanced walks

Bushwalking NSW, Walkhighlands etc

Local association for hiking activities can provide detailed info on walking tracks

Hiking route websites

Privately run websites that provide info. Can provide good suggestions but should not be fully relied upon

Personal blogs

This website also falls in this category. Gives more updated info on track conditions but often lacks practical info on route.

A common thing people do is to go up to Alltrails and find a route. This is a good idea to find places to go but Alltrails info and difficulty should not be relied upon. You should always cross-check info with an official Topographic map, and read more sources for its difficulty.

Alltrails will try to send you off a proper track so always make your own decision. It's a good place for route suggestions, but not for on-trip navigation.

Some other less typical ways of finding places to go. Few people do this but can be fun to explore.

Instagram

Whenever you include a location in a post it goes up here. It's fun to see how others pose themselves and do cringey write-ups.

YouTube

Hiking vlogs are a unique category of videos in Hong Kong, detailing the route of the walk. Can be a good source of info to watch before going.

Facebook

Facebook groups still serve a purpose of community building after many years, despite being the social media for old people.

Random news websites

Good place to start with but not something you will rely on.

Usually, a common point to start (out of all those sources) is to ask yourself: what do you want to get out of the walk? Hiking is for everyone and different people might be looking for different things. Some might want to enjoy wildlife, some wish to challenge themselves, some will be seeking good scenery and some prefer a social walk more. There's no right or wrong and multiple purposes can be stuffed into a walk, eg. a walk to a scenic lookout with some wildlife spotting. However, knowing what you're trying to seek will help a lot in finding the perfect route. Imagine how exciting it is knowing that you will enjoy the walk before even going on it.

Generally, people look for places with good scenery and plan a walk. Eg. Ruined Castle in Katoomba looks cool, and there is a walking track to Scenic World which is well connected to public transport, so let's go there. Know where the cool stuff is, then plan a route linking the good stuff. Usually, mountain summits or lookouts will have good views, but it can also be at something unexpected like the track itself.

First step of research

For every trip there are always these points to gather:

It's important to do this in sequence so if the conclusion of one step is a no there won't be effort wasted. It's frustrating to research on a track then knowing that it's closed. Difficulty of a track is covered in the section above.

Track closure: check national parks before heading off

If you're doing a track not managed by national parks, or other activities such as canyoning, then this will likely not impact you. However as long as your walk involves even a tiny bit of national park tracks it is still good to check.

Look up for the national park you're going, then go to "Local Alerts" or "Issues". Nat. parks of different states follow the same format. 

There will then be a list of what is closed. Avoid them and you're all set.

"But that feels pretty alright to me!"

Head to a track marked closed and you'll likely be faced with these barriers. It's always tempting to jump over and keep walking but this is always risky, particularly when heavy machinery is used. Sometimes tracks are closed just because of a landslide and rangers might be cool with it, but it's best not to try your luck.

Going there: Train, bus, ferry or car?

Most of the time it's quite straightforward- catch a train, perhaps change to a bus and you're there. Driving to a walk is another topic and will be covered below.

In Sydney the only special case is Bundeena in Royal National Park. Take a train to Cronulla and catch a privately operated ferry. The fare on the ferry is reasonable and is a unique way of getting there.

In Hong Kong, many bus routes lead right to the start of the trail, with just two popular exceptions: Sai Wan Pavillion served by an expensive shuttle that you might be better off going by taxi, and East Dam of High Island Reservoir where a minibus runs only on weekends.

Plan ahead as many hiking trailheads are only served by infrequent public transport.

Train timetables can be easily found on the website of major transport operators. 

In Sydney head to TransportNSW.info or google "[Train line name] timetable". Try to use a timetable and not google map directions. Also check for weekend trackworks in the same website or by planning the trip and see if the exact train departure shows up. There are only 4 regional intercity rail lines in Sydney: BMT - Blue Mountains, CCN - Central Coast & Newcastle, SCO - South Coast and SHL - Southern Highlands.

Any public transport ride to a hike is a good ride. No more parking problems and it's better for the environment.

Length and Duration of walk: Give everyone an estimate

It's much more easier to understand if you tell your mate we're going on a 6-hour walk, than telling them we're going on a [walking track name]. The duration of the walk comes from two factors: distance and elevation. Some hiking websites will provide this but if you plan your own trip this can also be easily estimated. Deduce the duration of a walk using given info on these two parameters, or by looking into a topographic map (detailed later below).

A super easy estimate of duration out of distance:

Anything more than this is considered running and is out of the question. This includes short water breaks so stopping briefly will not impact the estimation. However long breaks, such as a lunch break, will.

Elevation can also be estimated with a similar rule, and added to the duration based of distance:

For every 100m uphill it takes 10 minutes to complete.

Downhill can generally be accounted as normal walking speed, however for steep downhills this will take longer and extra time should be allowed.

Read more: Naismith's rule

Respect private property

Just that a track (or a road) is marked on a map does not grant you access. There are times when walking tracks transverse through private property (this is clearly signposted), but other than that hikers should steer away from private property.

In Australia trespassing through the fence of a farm presents a biosecurity risk for the owner. It has become a very significant issue lately where farm owners often turn down casual visitors. Many farms have sensors around their fences and trespassing acts will easily be detected. This includes their driveways- stopping, parking, and doing u-turns are often not welcomed.

Six Foot Track in Megalong Valley transverses through multiple private property. Entering private land in this case is permitted as long as rules are followed: No camping, respect livestocks
Notice the sensors on the fence? This video for a uni assignment is filmed the correct way, outside of private property boundaries. The owner of the farm even came out and said hi.
The canola crop field looks very instagrammable, but trespassing tourists have been a massive headache for land owners, potentially spreading diseases. Every year there are news stories of frustrated farm owners and misbehaving tourists, so don't be one of them.
See something interesting? Pull over away from the road, stay outside the fence, and spend as much time taking pictures.

More progressive places such as Scotland allow open access to most of the country's nature, including farmlands, for recreational purposes. Still, a common sense approach applies when in private land- no camping, respect livestock and leave gates as they are. This includes national parks in Britain as well, which double as grazing grounds for livestock. If gates are open, leave them open, and if they are closed, close the gate after passing.

In Hong Kong, walking tracks often pass through villages. Enter and leave quietly through public roads, and support local businesses where you can. Some hikers cause a nuisance to local residents and some villages have started to put out signs deterring visitors. More respect creates a brighter future, and it will be unfortunate if ignoring signs becomes a necessity.

A sheep in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales. National parks are grazing grounds for them so fun encounters can occur in the middle of a hike.
You are now entering a village in Lin Ma Hang, Hong Kong. While the villagers are friendly, hikers should always remain quiet and respectful.

3. Reading a Topographic map

Many governments (All states in Australia, or Hong Kong) publish topographic maps for public use. The maps detail hiking tracks for use by bushwalkers, and terrain for off-track uses. Another webpage covers old topo maps for fun and this focuses on practical uses.

An old sketch map vs a modern topographic map. Topographic map is now the standard of bushwalking yet sketch maps are still frequently used in canyons.

In most parts of NSW, a ratio of 1:25k is used. Occasionally bushwalks in regional NSW will involve the use of 1:50k maps but this is unusual, with the main example being Warrumbungle Nat. Park. Hong Kong uses an odd 1:20k but in practice, this slight ratio difference doesn't impact actual use. 1:50k and 1:25k will see a massive difference in terrain detail and the ability to zoom for details.

Topo maps can be purchased from major hiking gear shops. Popular maps (eg. Katoomba) will be well-stocked but others are mostly printed on demand.

A topo map in a public signboard in Hong Kong. 
A topo map of Sydney CBD

Finding a topo map

Average topo maps cover a large area and multiple walking tracks will likely fall within the same one. Having some general ones (eg. Katoomba) in your phone storage is a good idea. Searching based on the topo map catalog is one way but alternatively if you're loading them onto Avenza it can be easily done on the Avenza Maps app. Go to shops > search on map and find where you're going

There are usually two options: The community-contributed Getlost Map and the paid NSW topo maps (or in some states maps are published for free). Getlost maps have more tracks and NSW topo looks more fancy. Either way they both serve the same purpose.

The same can be done when travelling overseas- download a hiking map for your own reference. They are way better than tourist brochures and most importantly tells you where you are and how far you are to the summit.

Looking into a map: One box = 1 km

The brownish lines are called contour lines and denote the elevation. There's a saying "follow the contour" which means walk at the same elevation, not uphill and not downhill.

Contour lines are in 20m intervals (for 1:20k or 1:25k maps ONLY). This means going up one contour line means a 20m height difference. An easy catchphrase to remember this is:

1, 2, 3. 1 contour line, 20 metres, 3 mins walk

Being in 20m intervals also means that geographical features less than this are not documented. Even a 10m elevation equals roughly a 3-storey building so this should be taken into account when reading one.

Cliffline (black solid line and lines pointing out) indicates the presence of a cliff, a sheer drop in elevation. These should be avoided but can also be useful features to look for.

As usual on a map north is up. Jay foreman has a good video explaining why this is the case.

Walking tracks: Solid dotted lines indicate a well-maintained track, dotted lines indicate a decent track that is narrow but likely easy to follow. Grey dots are minor tracks which are likely non-existent or hard to follow.

Not to be confused with solid lines which are roads.

Major track
Minor track

Using the contour lines (and in some maps contrast in colouring) helps with imagining and making sense of the terrain around you. A hill can then be identified with contour rings from the base to the summit. Some contour lines have their height marked which helps to determine whether this is an uphill or downhill slope.

Some hilltops are marked with elevation numbers which can be prominent geographical features to spot on. Some are named (eg. Maxwell Top in Kanangra) and most are not named.

It is also easy to tell the steepness of a hill out of contour lines. The more spaced out the lines are, the less steep it is. The more packed they are the more steep it is. Contour lines can be counted (one = 20m elev) to know how much elevation to climb.

Scrambling up or down into a valley: Use gullies or spurs.

Gullies and spurs are similar things with slight difference. They both are stretched-out grooves in a toungue shape, running downhill in a narrowed form. Gullies have water running through them (as in the red one) and spurs (as in yellow) have no water running down.

Knowing the basics of topographic maps we can now plan our walk using it. Let's say you are heading off on a walk to a scenic lookout for some of the best sceneries in Barrington Tops National Park. The furthest you can drive up to is the red cross, and the lookout is at the orange cross. A simple yet very rough estimate will be counting the boxes, since the track is mostly straight.

We counted 9 boxes so we can estimate a distance of 9 km.

This is not a very accurate measurement so allow 1-2km of error. When accuracy matters there's always an option to draw a line on digital maps, or on paper maps use a measuring tape.

Using a tool on avenza maps we've drawn a line of the track we are taking. It's 9.31 km, fitting fairly well into our estimation of 9 km.

There are some curvy bits that do not align well on the grid but imagine the line being transposed - there's still minimal difference in distance between grid counting and the actual distance.

9 km will equal roughly 2 hours of walk. However this track will normally take more than 2 hours due to its elevation. To see how much a hiker has to climb we zoom in and look at the contour lines.

Our starting point is between the contour lines of 660 and 680m. Let's take 680m in this case.

Our destination, Careys Peak, is one contour above 1520m. Therefore it is 1540m.

That will be 860m of vertical ascent. We can estimate that the vertical climb will take 1.5 hours, bringing it to a 3-4hr hike one way depending on the fitness of the group. 

All these estimations can be done not just in pre-planning but on trips. When someone asks how far are we from the summit, count the elevation. When someone asks how far are we from the carpark/campsite, count the grids and tell them we're already halfway. Knowing how we're tracking maintains morale and aids decision-making.

Walking off-track? There's typically only two scenarios where you need to go off-track: 1. You are, for whatever reason, returning to the proper track. 2. You are going to a landmark, be it a summit or a creek.

Off-track walking is usually really slow. Thick bush presents an obstacle to even the most experienced and at times you'll be moving at less than 1 km/h. A lot of places people go to have at least some form of track so this is usually a last-mile option rather than something done regularly.

1. You are, for whatever reason, returning to the proper track.

This can happen at the end of the day when you're returning to the carpark, ending the hike, or simply leaving the track by mistake. A walking track or firetrail is a long clearing that is normally easy to identify, ie. you got out of the bush, you saw a track-looking thing and you'll know you are back on track.

In this case only a generic sense of direction is necessary. People will set compass bearings for reference but they do not have to be accurate and it does not have to be strictly observed. Why?

Let's say you are at the red cross on the map. You are going back to Link Trail, the black dotted line. All three yellow arrows, while being different in directions (and compass bearings), all get you back to the trail. The left arrow will take longer than the right arrow, but given that 1 grid = 1km, the difference in distance is far less than 1km and is very insignificant. 

In most cases, a generic direction will work. Formation of the sense of generic direction can sometimes come with terrain as well, eg. in this case the trail is higher than your location (red cross). As long as you keep going uphill you are back on track, and going downhill may mean going the wrong way. In this case the slope is smooth and elevation change will be fairly hard to sense.

After an hour and the help of our rough estimation, we got back to the track, just before sunset. There's simply no way to miss this track.

This is all logical deduction, using a topographic map to give yourself a picture of the nearby terrain. Sometimes you might hear stories of
"Oi young folks, you know I've been up on that hill? There's no track so when I headed back all I did was walk downhill, and I popped out in the middle of the track. Everyone was surprised by how I ended up here!"
No GPS and compass was even used, just knowledge of the terrain and a bit of logic.

2. You are going to a landmark, be it a summit or a creek.

Let's take this example. You are at the orange cross, and you know where you're going is on the far eastern creek. There's no track but it's very easy to get there. No compass was even used, why?

From the map we can see a steep slope and at the orange cross we are standing on a plateau. The slope is so steep where it's almost impossible to miss. That's a landmark that we can follow, and as long as we follow that slope, cross a couple creeks, and we'll end up somewhere on far eastern creek.

We are going to the red pin but as you can imagine, a creek is also a landmark that we can follow. Now we are at the creek and the only thing we need to do is to scramble down the creek and we're there!

Example 2: navigating to a place, ie. a summit, a scenic lookout or a campsite

There is some common sense knowledge that helps us imagine what to expect. On a campsite, we'll expect a massive opening and campfire places people have used. In this case, we are going to a lookout at Mt Caley, which is on the side of a cliff. Your tripmates just want a good view so it doesn't matter which cliff edge they end up in, as long as there's a view. 

You are at the red cross and your destination is at the yellow cross. In this case, there isn't a clear landmark to follow, so you set a compass bearing and start walking. (the image below is a 1:50k map but one grid is still 1km)

Heading back since the cliff edge is a prominent landmark it was followed until it vanishes to the left. At this point a compass bearing back to the red cross is set, and the group made it back to a proper track.

Bushbash the way up
The view from Mt Caley looks... emm... alright?

Example 3: We're going canyoning, and we've got a gpx file from someone who has done the trip before. Gpx files simply contain a series of dots (with coordinates) which are joined together to form a route. Starting from the campground it was a hard scramble up and the gpx file assisted with where an upward route might be.

Then we got to the blue arrow. A canyon is a fairly obvious landmark where it descends down in a gorge, and without even using a map we identified the landmark. The canyoning continued till yellow arrow where we exited the gorge. Time to head back to the campsite, we thought. The gpx file tells you to go right but this is not necessary- from the map you see the slope is gentle, so all you have to do is to simply go straight. A river and the massive opening of a giant campground helps you identify that you're home.

Blue arrow where the gorge starts. This heart-shaped rock is a landmark stated in the tracknotes for where the canyon starts
The group got out of the canyon. They were finding for the final abseil but this is not needed, since navigating the way down is very easy through gentle slopes.

4. Plan the unexpected

Now you've done your first 4 steps of research and know which way you're going. You're confident with your route and you might already have invited your friends. Now you have to tell them the key info- when to meet. You know how long the walk will generally be but there's one more thing that has to be accounted for.

Have an escape

A lot of unexpected things can happen on the walk. The weather might be hotter than expected, people have become really tired, or a technical bit took longer than planned. They are not emergencies but it's simply not the best choice to keep pushing on. People who are in various states of fatigue will obviously not regain all the energy within minutes. Pre-trip work will minimise this but they are not fool-proof and this will still happen.

You won't really need a solid plan B, but you will need to know how to form a plan B, or exit plan if it happens. 

Let's say you've planned a full day of walking on this orange track. You get to Grassy Hill (in red) and your friends can no longer bear the hot weather. You look at your map scrambling up a plan. 

The obvious way will be to get back to where you started. Even heading back has multiple options to pick from.

If going back was too hard your exit plan might also be heading to wherever there is public transport. In this case from Grassy Hill alone, there are already multiple points of exit. When considering which route to actually take, look into your team and see how much further they can go, and weight against difficulty of the walk out. If your team is already very exhausted then pick the closest way out, but if they're still fine you can go for the one with more public transport options (in this case, Chek Nai Ping or Fo Tan).

Not all exit plans are formed when no one can go any further. You can always alter the route mid-way depending on the ability. In this case continuing on there will be an ascent to a 900m hill, and you know your team won't make it. Therefore you went a bit forward with the plan then took an exit down to Ng Tung Chai.

Being flexible with your plan will help you think through these unexpected scenarios. Coming up with a solid exit plan usually isn't needed and all that's needed in pre-work is knowing what are the potential ways out. In this case you know all the places you can divert to, and on the spot you pick the best one and go for it.

Not all escape plans are as easy as this and most of the cases it'll be heading back on where you came from. Let's say you are in ruined castle (red circle), your plan was to head up to Mt Solitary but you need to head back from here. The only way back is the way you came. In this case it's a short walk so there's no big deal, but if this is longer you'll need to call an exit plan way earlier.

Having a bubble

A time bubble is the extra time you plan for your walk in case something happens. Slower than expected pace plus unexpected scenarios such as getting lost or tackling an obstacle will use up your time. 

Normally 1-2 hours of extra time will be allocated in addition to the expected trip time in case of that. This bubble should be adjusted on trip and in case of a slower group, extra buffer will be needed.

A bit more time also means less stress. If someone is slow you can afford to let them take their own pace, and you can also take more breaks when the exhaustion starts to kick in.

There are many ways to include a buffer (or bubble) in your trip. Get a long lunch with good views in the middle of your hike, and adjust the time of your lunch depending on the progress. Take a full break if time is good, or a shorter break to absorb some delays.

Altering plans - making the call

Trips have a time limit of when it has to be done or when the group has to get to a campsite. This is mostly at the time of sunset, but in general these scenarios will require a decision to head back to be made.

Sun setting is not the end of the world, and a lot of things, off-tracking included, can be done in the dark. When daylight is running low it will need to be used productively, getting through the hard bits and leaving the easy bits in the dark. When planning the trip the time of sunset has to be taken into account and if daylight is relatively essential for a trip, there needs to be a rough idea for when to make the call to head back (or speed up). 

The time to make the call is usually the time needed to get back to the proper track/ time needed to end the hike, plus a time bubble of 1-2 hrs. Keeping track of the progress on the trip can help deduce this, but a lot can still be pre-planned, eg. if we don't get here at 1 pm we need to go back.

Quick example: You are at the red cross and it's 3pm. The sun sets at 5pm. You've decided to start heading back to the track since bashing through the bush will take roughly one hour, plus another hour in case things happen [time bubble]. 

You made it up in an hour and waiting for another beginner took an extra half an hour. If the time bubble wasn't added then the beginner will have a horrific experience finding the track in the dark.

Why was the call to head back done at 3pm, not earlier? This is because the T3 track, being a main track, is fairly easy. This means it can be easily done at night. The only thing that needs to be done in daylight is getting back to the main track.

First person view of the scramble. This is not something you want to do in the dark, especially if you are a beginner
Got back onto the track right before sunet! The sky is getting dark but the group is safe
Hitting the road a lot later at around 8pm.

Hot weather: expect a crawling pace

It's not uncommon to see temperatures of up to 34 degrees nowadays. Long ascents can take very long under these conditions and there is simply no way to force things through.

Normally for pure steep ascents, one can do 600-800m per hour. At 30 degrees this becomes 300-500m, and at 32-33 degrees this will become 200m per hour. Summitting a 600m tall peak will therefore take 3-4 hours under this condition, triple that of the normal pace. It is normal to find yourself taking a break every 15-20m of climb, and a long break every 50m. Your body simply needs time to cool down and frequent breaks plus drinking water facilitates that.

Be realistic with your goals when you plan: On normal days you can do 20km without issue, but on a very hot day this becomes 10km.  You simply do not have the energy and water to continue further. If you really wish to do long hikes, start with something simple and push yourself bit by bit. Plan more breaks, and prepare to carry large amounts of water.

Craving for a swim on a 30 degree day. On this really hot weekend there are also other hikers suffering from dehydration requiring emergency services.

Bring enough water. People can run out of water and suffer from dehydration or even heat stroke on a hot summer day. No water, no trip. It is completely normal to turn people away if they do not bring enough water, for their own safety and the wellbeing of the group. Water is also the few things that needs to be strictly enforced on day hikes. A general rule for how much water to bring:

1 hr hike = 500mL water

This means a 6 hr hike will require 3L water, and 8 hr hike will require 4L. Water can be heavy but is an essential part of hiking in hot weather. This is for reference as some people consume less water, and some consume way more. As usual it's entirely fine to mix and match drinks- a bit of tea, a bit of juice, a bit of energy drinks, as long as the total volume reaches this required level. Remember that the amount of water to carry is proportional to the duration of the hike, not the distance.

Has someone run out of water, or does not have enough water to sustain the remaining hike? Call for exit plans, and prepare to end the hike.

5. Driving to a hike

Automobile has gained popularity since the 70s and hitchhiking is no longer a common occurrence in hikes. While cars are inefficient and driving is one of the most meaningless types of labour, it's still sometimes essential.

While driving seems harmless, remote areas are still remote areas and planning for the route often extends onto the driving bit as well. Is your car capable of the road you're going? Will we be able to walk the road if it's closed? Navigating on roads is easier than on a hike but offline navigation is still sometimes needed.

Countries using the American system tend to have recommended curving speeds. Usually, it's okay to go 10 km/h above, but there are exceptions (such as here in hilly parts of Victoria).

Animals can appear on road at night, dawn or dust. This is particularly common in National Parks and in minor roads. If wildlife encounters are common slow down to ~60km/h or lower.

Avoid fatigue driving. Take a rest every two hours, and include that as part of the trip plan. For Sydneysiders trips that go beyond Lithgow will typically need at least one break.

Road types: Sealed, Unsealed, Fire trail

Sealed Road

Roads that are sealed with asphalt, typically grey in colour and comes on a smooth surface. These roads are weatherproof and suitable for all cars.

Unsealed Road

Roads that are covered in gravel or even dirt. Normal 2WD cars may go on them without issue but will struggle around potholes. Road also gets muddy when wet.

Fire trail

Similar to unsealed road but with the width of just one vehicle. 2WD may be fine for short sections but usually has huge bumps requiring a 4WD.

2WD (wheel-drive) vs 4WD: What's the difference

I'm a 4 wheel drive. The vehicle has higher ground clearance than a normal vehicle, and most importantly all 4 wheels are powered, gaining extra traction on dirt or rugged tracks. Sometimes 4WD mode is toggled on a button as the rear wheels are only essential at very few circumstances. 

The cheap 2 wheel drive rental car meets its friend in Mungo National Park. Only the front wheels are powered and the car's clearance is still adequate for the region's dry unsealed roads. However if it rains, the road will get boggy and this car will get stuck.

Never underestimate a normal city car on 2WD- they can handle way more roads than you can imagine. Many fire trails and unsealed roads are fine for 2WD vehicles and 4WD while bringing extra comfort is not essential. Only under these cases will you consider having a 4WD:

2WD vehicles are mostly fine on fire trails to reach a campground or a carpark of a popular trailhead. Still it'll be safe to have a backup plan, such as a 4WD where passengers can transfer onto for the toughest part, or plans to walk part of the fire trail if road conditions become too bad.

This fire trail is very overgrown and will certainly require a high clearance vehicle
This river crossing looks ok for 2WD. However if the water level goes up a 4WD will be required. 2WD can easily lose traction on slippery surfaces like this.
Don't let dirt roads scare you off. This 2WD is doing perfectly fine at the same speed as a full 4WD vehicle.

Road conditions can be read from a topographic map and planned beforehand. 

6. Screening and Packing

Now people have seen your planned hike and wants to come. There's always people who are well experienced, and people who might still be beginners. 

7. On the trip

10 Greatest Lies on Mountains in Hong Kong:

This essentially sums up what to expect on a trip. Communicating with tripmates, checking on everyone, making sure everyone is on time, and most importantly having fun. 

Get to know everyone before the trip- it's a part of socialising and also a way to identify potential candidates for stuff-ups. Is someone saying they have just one bottle of water? Have they partied overnight? Do they feel unwell even on the train? Do they not have any food? These are signs that something needs to be done. Check on and rectify issues before you're in the middle of nowhere and it becomes too late. It's easier to send someone home at a train station than at a carpark deep in a national park, and once on the hike it'll be hard to get them to turn back.

Learn how to love, mind what you leave

Face masks, tissue paper, packaging warps, take them home. There are no bins on walking tracks and all bits of trash should be a boomerang- if they come from you, they go with you.

Did someone accidentally drop a plastic bottle? You can help keep the country clean by taking it home.

Don't forget your orange peels, seedlings and organic waste. Those should go with you as well. Imagine this- if someone chucks some orange peels on the floor of your home, will they go away tomorrow? No. Plus you'll be attracting a lot of flies and wild animals into your home. Take them home just like other trash. 

A hiker found a radish in the middle of Kanangra-Boyd National Park. This likely came from some other people disposing of waste on the ground. 

Don't think this will happen? Think again.

This thing tastes bitter as hell, so no one will appreciate your effort bringing crops into a national park.