Lotsafreshair is all about sharing tips, tricks and adventures in the great outdoors. Encouraging one another to get out into the freshair, maybe try something they haven't done before. The blog provides bushwalking and hiking tips from an unexpected outdoors chick, Caro Ryan.
So much has changed on our wonderful, blue-green planet since 2012 and I’m not just talking about our climate. Sure, that’s not great, but thanks to a whole lot of thoughtful and smart people, there are now lots of easy ways that we can change our behaviour and contribute to a better planet by reducing single use plastic from our lives.
How can we reduce (and remove) single use plastics from our packing?
Why 2012 you ask? Well, that was the year I started this blog/site and YouTube channel and back then I used to think very differently about how to carry food and other items in the bush. I confess that I am embarrassed at the amount of ziploc bags I used to use in the outdoors… and often just once.
We all know that harsh and sudden change is never easy, but over the last couple of years I’ve been gradually cutting back and finding smarter ways of carrying food to reduce single use plastic from my bushwalks and hikes.
I’m certainly not a shining example of doing absolutely everything I can to reduce my use of plastic overall, but I’m making step changes along this journey. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise I haven’t bought a box of ziploc bags for years and I’m amazed at how I never thought I’d do without them.
Here’s what I now use instead:
Reuse : Product Bags
This is my number one tip and how I managed to reduce my single use plastic bag use significantly. Although the super-hard-core types will see this as a compromise, I truly believe that it’s the little-by-little, step change that helps bring about long term success. Fact is, I still buy products that come in plastic bags – conveniently for me – most of these have ziploc closures. The best part is that these bags are incredibly tough and can withstand much more wear than a standard ziploc. My favourites include:
I currently keep my fire-lighting kit in a frozen berry bag and also use them for trail breakfasts (pre-packed with muesli, milk powder and dried fruit) and dinners. These are the most robust of any bag I have. I also use these for my toilet waste bag.*
These bags are manufactured and approved for food in the first place and can withstand use after use. Bomb proof!
I’m also a fan of the Simply Fine Food Company brand of wrap bread, as they come in re-usable, re-sealable coated brown paper bags.
Re-use bags that your favourite products come in.Use : Wax Wraps
Depending on the season and temperature that I’m going to be walking in, I can usually get away with keeping some things in wax wraps. I’ve found them particularly good for fresh greens for lunches as they don’t cause the veggies to sweat. Because there’s a bit of rigidity to the wrap, it creates spaces around the items you’re wrapping (unlike a mesh produce bag) and so helps to protect the food from damage. I’ve had success with:
Wax wraps for fresh produce depends on the season and temperature you’re hiking in.Reuse : Lightweight Plastic Bottles and Jars
There are some types of food that don’t do well when squished between your first aid kit and your stove… that is of course, unless you want to make your own fresh tomato sauce as you walk.
I’ve been re-purposing a few different varieties of plastic product bottles (again, originally manufactured for food) to carry things like felafel balls, cherry tomatoes and chutney or pickles to go with lunch. Given the choice, I would try to buy these types of foods in glass or BYO container to a co-op, but if not available, I know I can repurpose the containers from these products:
Yoghurt containers (Jalna brand has resealable lids)
Gatorade or Staminade powder containers (500g-ish)
Tinned fruit in plastic jars with resealable lid (eg. peaches, apricots)
If you’re trying to keep the weight of your backpack down (that should be most of us!), then unfortunately, you’ll find the commercially available re-useable silicon bags to be quite heavy.
The best I’ve found in terms of weight is Stasher brand. I’ve been using a sandwich size one for scroggin for a couple of years and like the easy seal and at 75 grams is one of the lightest I’ve found.
I’ve also tried Kappi brand, where it’s sandwich size bag (including it’s separate slide closure) weighs in at a hefty 132 grams. Although very robust, having a separate closure doesn’t really make good sense in the bush… just another thing to carry or get lost. I’ve relegated this test bag to my kitchen for storage there.
When it comes to re-usable silicon bags, my preference is Stasher brand.Other Options
As more and more of us decide to make little changes, there are smart folk out there coming up with new solutions. Some other options that might work for you are:
Nalgene (or similar) containers come in loads of solutions
Tupperware or similar style containers
Reused Takeaway food containers
Recycle / Compost
Harder to find and potentially more expensive in the long run are biodegradable bags. These are generally breathable (so not good for waterproofness/leaky stuff), made from plant start and can be put in the compost bin.
If you find that there are some items that you can’t manage to store or carry in the above options, or that you can’t pull yourself away from traditional ziploc bags, try looking for bags made from tougher plastic (and plastic alternatives) that can be washed and reused many times. There’s a few options in this style:
The last couple of years have seen a huge growth in the trend for pack-free multi-day walks. Sure, this style of walking opens up opportunities for people who for various reasons don’t want to (or can’t) carry a full pack for days at a time, but my big hope is that it doesn’t stop people from picturing themselves moving self-sufficiently through the bush, moving from campsite to campsite on epic multi-day journeys.
Tasmania’s South Coast Track – a 6-8 day odyssey through wild country, with Macpac Cascade 65L. Pic: Andrew Rankin
The rewards these types of trips can bring are enormous and touch on not only the obvious sense of achievement in reaching a goal, but is also deeply connected to the things that are really important in life… away from clutter, connectivity, consumerism and our addiction to stuff. Carrying an overnight pack shines a light on our basic needs of food, water and shelter.
If you’ve been thinking of stepping into overnight hiking, here’s my top tips to help you build up to being a turtle and how to train for a heavy backpack.
Preparing your body for carrying extra weight takes time. Making a last minute decision to hike the Larapinta Trail a week before, with no training is asking for trouble. Ideally, start 8-12 weeks out so you’ve got time to build up gradually. This will help prevent injury and make the journey to being pack-fit more enjoyable.
A two day pack to Gardens of Stone NP with Macpac Fiord 40L lightweight pack. Pic: Jon BellResearch & plan your pack weight
There’s many different approaches and opinions about how much weight you should carry in a pack. However, what is unquestionable, is that you will have a much better trip if you’re carrying the lightest weight possible. There’s old traditional approaches around percentage of body weight, but with modern gear and packs, these formulas seem unnecessarily heavy. The weight of your pack will be determined by the type of trip you’re planning on, the number of days food you’ll need to carry and access to drinking water. It could be anywhere from <10kgs for a two-day trip, to possibly 20kgs for a couple of weeks. So plan and train for the pack weight you intend to carry and set yourself a challenge to have it as light as possible through smart equipment choices and clever food planning. Your body and long term joint management will be much happier too!
Build up gradually
Let’s assume you’re planning to do the Overland Track in Tasmania with a planned pack weight of 16kgs. With 8-12 weeks of training, head out on walks every few days with your normal day pack weight, then add 2kgs each time (bags of rice or bottles of water are good), until you are at the goal pack weight.
Going light… Macpac Fiord 40L for 4 day Christmas/NY trip to Victorian High Country.Train with your actual backpack
The Nirvana of every multi-day bushwalker is to feel ‘at-one’ with your pack. If you need to buy (or borrow) a new pack for your adventure, make sure you do this early so that all your training is done with this pack. As you gradually build up the weight you’ll become familiar with how the pack behaves and how the straps respond to the increasing weights.
Hills and stairs are your friend
They might not feel like it now, but by gradually adding in hills and stairs to your training walks, you are fast tracking your body’s changes to the new routine. Going steadily up stairs and slowly controlling your descent downhill, will help build strength in not only your ankles and knees, but also your core – a key in overall stability and comfort for carrying a heavy pack.
If possible, set yourself up for success by using a pack that has been properly fitted by a professional in-store with weights equivalent to your end goal weight. A properly fitted pack will transfer and distribute the weight of your pack off your shoulders and down onto your hips. If you feel you’re ‘shouldering’ the weight, then they need adjustment.
CARO TIP: Most pack straps and buckles will shift and move whilst you’re walking, so it’s really important that you learn how to adjust them – they aren’t ‘set and forget’ from your initial fitting. Get the shop assistant to teach you what each strap does and how they affect the feeling overall. It makes a HUGE difference and learning to adjust your shoulder straps and load-lifter straps can help you go up and down hills!
Consider walking poles
Research from the Journal of Sports Sciences tells us that hiking poles can reduce up to 25% of force and compression on knee joints, especially when going downhill. In addition, the increase in balance that they can bring when lugging a heavy pack across mixed terrain is a huge benefit.
Being able to carry your house on your back, you open up opportunities for multi-day adventures in more places. Pic: Andrew Rankin.And finally…
Anyone who has ever carried a heavy pack will tell you that there’s some magic and mystery that happens around day 3. It’s when your body has found this new normal and for some wonderful reason it doesn’t feel as heavy or cumbersome as day 1. So if you’re struggling on day 1, just remember… day 3 is coming.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got your go-to hiking snack for days out on the track in wild places. It might be scroggin or a favourite commercially available muesli bar type thing.
Blitz until the almonds are breaking up.
I recently tried these tasty pistachio cranberry Munch things and thought they were pretty good… but at about $4/100g and with ingredients sourced from all over the world, I wondered if I could recreate these at home, with products from my local co-op. Turns out… I could!
It took a bit of experimentation, but by making some educated guesses based on their ingredients list (plus adding cacao nibs!), I’m pretty stoked with the result. Oh… and BTW, it’s an accidentally vegan hiking snack!
1 cup unsalted cashews
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup pistachios (shelled)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried blueberries
1 tablespoon cacao nibs
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 cup rice malt syrup
1/2 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 180c.
Line a 27 cm x 17 cm x 2.5 cm oven tray with baking paper.
Place all ingredients (except the rice malt syrup) in a bowl and mix to combine.
Working in batches, place the nut mix into a blender and blitz until the larger nuts (like almonds) are broken down (see image 1). Be careful not to over-blend to powder – chunky is nice.
Place the nut mixture back in one bowl and pour over the rice malt syrup.
Stir to ensure all the ingredients are well coated with the syrup. [It can get a bit sticky and messy!].
Turn the nut mix onto the oven tray and push down firmly with the back of a spoon to create a flat surface. Make sure you get it into all the corners and edges.
Place a sheet of baking paper over the top (to cover the stickiness) and using the rice malt syrup jar as a rolling pin, press down firmly, rolling across all the mixture to create a solid slab.
Bake at 180c for 20 minutes, or until the nuts start to turn golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tray completely.
Lift the cooled slab out onto a chopping board and using a robust kitchen knife, cut through the slab into desired portion sizes. [I cut mine into similar sizes to the commercial product, being 6 x 9 rows in the slab, each weighing approx 10g = 54 pieces.]
To store: I’ve placed the pieces in an airtight plastic container in the freezer. Whenever I need a snack for a trip, there’s no more last minute rushes to the supermarket, they’re there!
Oh dear… only 3 pieces left. Time to make some more!
In 1987 pioneering Aussie bushwalker and businessman Paddy Pallin wrote a book called, ‘Never Truly Lost’. It’s a classic from the traditional style of bushwalking (what many now refer to as ‘hiking’… oh, the controversy!) and as a statement, touches on the soul of what it means for many of us to be in the bush. For the well equipped and experienced bushwalker, it means that if we find ourselves navigationally challenged or geographically embarrassed, it means we are still at peace – even when things go pear-shaped.
If it’s safe to do so, getting up high can help you ‘get your bearings’ again
Whether you’re a track walker or wild walker who prefers to make their own way (regardless of your years of experience), chances are that at some stage you will find yourself questioning where you are.
If you’ve ever been in that situation, you’ll know the feeling of blood suddenly draining away and that near-miss-car-crash adrenalin whoosh that comes from realising you are not where you thought you were and aren’t quite sure what to do about it.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. (Well, maybe you are!) Most of us have been there at one time or another.
The truth is, with the technology available to us today and by applying some basic principles, there’s no reason for us to stay lost for very long or for it to end in tears.
Here’s the essentials of getting un-lost:
Before you leave
Always tell someone where you’re going. Get specific and let them know:
what track or route you’re planning to take
who’s with you
when you’ll be back
and then don’t forget to let them know when you’re out safely
Give this person a plan of what you’d like them to do if they don’t hear from you by a certain time. Eg. ‘I expect to be out by 5pm with mobile coverage and will send you an SMS or call. If you don’t hear from me by 10pm and can’t raise me on the phone, call xxxx’ [other friend on the trip, local police station, etc].
Download a smartphone navigation app AND the relevant topographic map for the area you’re going. [Hot tip: Go to flight mode and check the map loads correctly and you can see all the details.]
At the first hint that something’s not right, stop and check.
Then, when you’re out there and at the very first hint or hunch that something’s not looking right, stop. Don’t just go with it and hope the route will work out. There’s a saying that people will start to, ‘bend the map’ or ‘bend their compass’, to try and make what they’re seeing and experiencing on the ground, add up to the map. Don’t leave it… act immediately. Assess your nav, check the map, a GPS or nav app before you keep going.
“If something doesn’t seem right, chances are it’s not.”
Sergeant Dallas Atkinson, Blue Mountains Police Rescue Squad
Once you realise you’re lost
Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic. Sit down and calm down so you can think clearly – don’t rush to make a decision. It’s important that you think and act calmly and methodically, so you can make well thought out decisions. The SAS teach their soldiers to sit down and make a cup of tea! It’s actually a great idea as you’re not only hydrating, but forcing yourself to stop. Let’s face it, when was caffeine ever a bad idea especially when it’s a comforting and warming cuppa!
You have two choices:
Attempt self rescue or
Call in the Cavalry
Stop and assess all your resources. Be calm.
Attempt Self Rescue
Note: the time (a good reason for having pen and paper in your kit! Perhaps even a ‘Rite in the Rain’ notebook and pen or pencil you can whittle to a point if it breaks).
Take stock of your resources and current situation (food, water, weather/temps, clothing/layers, shelter, time of day, fatigue or injuries).
Think: When was the last time you ‘knew’ where you were? When did you stop paying attention to your surrounds?
Recce: If you think you may know which direction the track is or where you need to be, set a time limit and recce to check it out eg: “I reckon the track is just over there somewhere, I’ll go for 15 mins and see if I can find it”.
Look: Is there high ground that you can safely get to so you can look for clues or try for mobile phone coverage? (Eg: Man made structures like power poles, can you hear roads, people, trains?)
Reassess after the 15 minutes. Have you ‘found yourself’? If not, do you still have adequate resources and daylight to attempt another recce in a different direction? Will delaying calling the cavalry affect the well-being of yourself or the group?
Monitor: Your mobile phone coverage and battery: If you move from this location to attempt self rescue, you might lose coverage and then not be able to call the cavalry if you need to. Waiting until you only have 10% battery left isn’t ideal.
Check your resources, including hours of daylight.
A watch is a crucial piece of navigation equipment. Every hiker should have one.
Calling the cavalry
Knowing when to call for help can be a tricky thing. Some people are scared of putting the emergency services out or ‘Don’t want to be a bother’. The thing to keep in mind is that although 000 is for life threatening emergencies and you currently may not be in that situation, if you delay, it could quickly lead to that through hours of remaining daylight, availability of water, injuries, fatigue or changing weather conditions.
The best bit of advice I have heard is from Sergeant Dallas Atkinson, the Co-ordinator of the Blue Mountains Police Rescue Squad:
“If you’re thinking that you need to call in the cavalry, you probably should.”
Sergeant Dallas Atkinson, Police Rescue, Blue Mountains
Try calling 000 and ask for the Police using the Emergency+ App. It displays your location in latitude longitude that you can give to the 000 operator.
If you have limited phone coverage, try sending an SMS to the friend you gave your intentions to or another trusted buddy. Ask them to contact 000 with the details of your trip.
If there’s no coverage and you have a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), activate it by the instructions on the device. Important: Don’t turn it off once you’ve pressed the button. Emergency Services must respond to every activation and if you turn it off and move away, they will keep looking until they find you.
Once you’ve called for help STAY PUT, don’t move from your location.
Make yourself visible to helicopters by laying out bright coloured clothing, tents or reflective emergency blankets. You can signal helicopters with a torch, a camera flash or mirror or even light a small signal fire. Just make sure you can control the fire and put it out completely as soon as the helicopter has seen you.
Various satellite emergency communication devices. Read my comparison article here.
What if you don’t have phone reception, a PLB or didn’t tell anyone where you were going?
Check your resources again and make a plan for your food, shelter and water.
Try to position yourself in a clear area to make yourself visible to aircraft (see 6 above) and STAY PUT.
Water is a key to surviving an extended delay to rescue. Take stock of your resources and where nearby creeks are.
Myths about calling 000
You need to use 112 on your mobile phone: In Australia, use 000. 112 is an older system and now those calls are simply re-routed to 000. However, 112 is a number that can be called from any mobile phone, anywhere in the world and will connect you with the local 000 equivalent.
112 gives you priority over 000: No, it doesn’t. You are simply redirected to 000.
000 or 112 can be called even when there is no mobile coverage: Unfortunately, no. You need to be in an area of mobile coverage (any carrier) to be able to make an emergency 000 call in Australia. However, if you have no coverage with your network, do still attempt to call 000 if needed, as if there is some coverage with a different carrier, the call will still be connected.
112 uses satellites to call not mobile network. Sorry, nope.
You can send an SMS to either 000 or 112: Nope. No you can’t. Although 106 is the text relay service, it is connected to TTY equipment on a landline only. You can’t contact the Australian emergency services through SMS.
911 does not get re-directed to 000. In Australia, you must use 000. As there are landlines which begin with 911X-XXXX, the Aussie network recognises 911 as the start of a full number.
If you’re one of over 9,000 people who walk The Overland Track in Tasmania each year, you’ve probably already heard something about Austrian immigrant Gustav Weindorfer and his impressive Tasmanian wife, Kate Cowle.
“Cradle Mountain district is not the place for holiday makers intent on lazing away the days in easy chairs with books and iced drinks. Rather it is a spot for those whose energetic souls long for a brief respite from the cares of civilisation and the daily newspapers and to spend their holiday in the wholesome open air among unspoilt nature. For those whose bent is walking… there are no made roads and one direction is as good as another.” From Gustav’s draft for Waldheim Brochure.
What you may not realise, is that you’ve been the beneficiary of not only their years of dedicated work in the area, in opening it to the world through one of the first eco-tourism ventures (their humble, yet comfortable Waldheim Chalet) in 1912, but their fundamental commitment to, and deep love of nature, particularly plants and botanical studies. This led to passionate lobbying to the Government and the declaration of the area as a Scenic Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary in 1922. The forerunner to what we know today as Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
“The pity is that we Australians often regard our native flora as weeds and a nuisance, that we pay high prices for imported plants or rather aliens which in many cases in their native lands are nothing more than weeds.”Gustav Weindorfer, ‘Native Plants’, The Australasian, 12 Dec 1909
The journey of these two unlikely lovers, goes much deeper than the geographical stretch of distance. Through her book, Kate Legge beckons us to sit alongside the fire at Waldheim and to observe the relationship of man and woman, humans and nature, race, fear and discrimination and cultural expectations, especially those on women.
“Their unusual arrangement intrigued many in the district, who were perplexed by what on earth this couple had found up there to warrant enduring the discomfort, the cold and the separation anxiety.”Kate Legge
Cradle Mountain appearing in the background by Dove Lake [Pic: Caro Ryan]
Curious to find out what questions their story raised in author Kate, I posed her some questions of my own:
What did you know/understand about Gustav and Kate before you started your research?
I knew of their pluck and their passion for the natural world which lit a fire in me to find out more. What I didn’t know when I began resurrecting them from the archives was their role as advocates for native flora and Australian horticulture. Waldheim, their chalet, served as a laboratory for pioneering scientists all over the country who came in search of rare specimens, drawn by the biodiversity found in this landscape. Gustav and Kate were botanists. Gustav also created a weather station in the front yard so he could monitor rainfall and climate. They were the first to promote the idea of a place for science and scenery. Waldheim also became a hub for a brilliant crop of wilderness photographers whose work influenced the campaign for a national park. These pictures weave a visual narrative through the pages of Kindred.
Waldheim Chalet [F.Smithies Collection]
There’s something quite modern about their relationship for a couple who were living in the late 1800s/early 1900s. What can we learn from how the two of them ‘did’ marriage/their relationship?
They were unconventional at every turn. Kate was ten years older than Gustav, regarded by society as a “spinster”. She climbed mountains when few women dared. How lucky was she to find a thoroughly modern man who could cook, quote poetry, sing opera, and swing an axe to build their forest home from scratch. Once they wed they experienced weeks apart as he laboured at Cradle and she minded the farm at Kindred. They were equals at a time when women were confined and housebound. They carved their own path deaf to the doubters and straighteners, setting an example that was radical then and still striking today.
How has studying them so deeply affected the way you now experience wild places like Cradle Mountain?
Gustav and Kate have taught me so much about the natural world and my place in it. When writer Nikki Gemmell read Kindred she sent me an email to say she’d just taken a walk through her inner city Sydney neighbourhood seeing it for the first time through their eyes. Australians still tend to regard the landscape as “bush” not seeing the trees for the forest. These botanists showed me how to seek out and identify the particular traits of plants and trees and habitats.
Pandani of Cradle Mountain [Pic: Caro Ryan]
What can the modern eco-tourism industry learn from Gustav and Kate’s legacy?
Eco-tourism operators could learn from their legacy by enriching the experience of walkers and guests through a gentle education about the plants and rocks and history of the landscape they are showcasing. Gustav and Kate had a rapacious curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Their enterprise was never just about getting numbers through a turnstile for a bumper profit. They had a bigger brief that sought to awaken Australians to the beauty of native plants and the geological history of Cradle’s pinnacles and crags.
What can we as bushwalkers, hikers and lovers of nature learn from Gustav and Kate?
Bushwalkers and lovers of nature are already on their wave length but what they could learn from Kate and Gustav is that Earth is not man’s rest. Wild places are diminishing when they need to be preserved and our desire for convenience and comfort should not compromise the pristine values at their core. Wilderness by its very definition implies remoteness from mechanical infrastructure and requires a level of physical exertion that is part of the experience.
Delicate mosses in Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park [Pic: Caro Ryan]
If you could sit down and have a cuppa in Waldheim with Kate, what 3 things would you ask her?
How I would have loved to share a coffee with Kate beside the inglenook at Waldheim followed by a guided walk through the valley so I could witness it through her eyes. I would ask her deeply personal and possibly inappropriate questions about their relationship! Did she ever curse his absences and resent having to run the farm in the early days when Waldheim was being born?
If Gustav and Kate were alive today, what do you think their careers would be?
If they were alive today they would be scientists or researchers working on climate change. In the early 20th century science was the preserve of passionate amateurs. Gustav had ideas even then for studying the growth rings of trees to ascertain whether the Tasmanian climate had once been wetter. When he died in 1932 he left behind 14 pine chests of plant specimens that the state trustee valued as “nil”. His sister Rosa was devastated. “Botany was his life,” she wrote. “Possibly even more than Waldheim.”
Gustav Weindorfer and his dog Flock [F.Smithies Collection]
One of the biggest changes to my bushwalking and hiking experience came when I finally learnt how to navigate with a map and compass.
It wasn’t just about the theory of how to take bearings or even understanding how to read a topographic map, it was when the lights started going on and everything started making sense.
It was a bit like when you learn to drive a car. At first, everything is new as you learn how to control the car, read the conditions and juggle the pedals. But once you’ve got the basics down and start the hours of practice, moving from L plates to P plates, that things start to fall into place, become more natural and importantly, you don’t have to rely on Mum and Dad to get you from A to B. You are the driver.
Caro with the mandatory leaf pointer [pic: @SpartaJen]
Why should I learn to navigate?
It’s pretty easy to head out on an adventure when you just follow along behind a leader. Chitty chatting, looking at the views and not really paying attention to the terrain, distance or where you are – you’re an observer in the experience. That’s fine if that’s all you want to do, but what if you became an active participant? What if you could start planning your own trips, bringing others with you or even offering assistance and help when a leader or navigator gets lost, injured or just a bit navigationally challenged?
What if you built your confidence to ask the right questions, make good judgements or were able to look at a planned route and decide if it was going to be too hard (or easy) for you? What if you could always answer the question, ‘How much further is it’? ‘How long until we get to camp/river/pub?’ and importantly, ‘Where the (bloody) hell are ya?’
Look closely! How to navigate when you can’t see where you’re going! [Pic: Stefan Bath]
Barriers to learning to navigate
A big part of what stops many people from taking the reigns and learning to navigate is fear of getting lost and perhaps bad experiences in the past where well-meaning people have taken over and perhaps not provided a supportive environment for learning.
If you’re used to going bushwalking with confident people, in clubs or groups, sometimes it can be hard to get someone to teach you, really teach you, navigation.
Recent student showing me where we’re going
Yay! I’m teaching a navigation course
I love teaching navigation to kids in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Watching the aha moment as things start to make sense is great, so I’m completely stoked to have now been given the opportunity to teach grown-ups!
I’ve been leading and guiding trips for over 17 years and have been a volunteer with Bush Search and Rescue for 15 years, where I’m now a Search Commander and Team Leader. Needless to say, I’m passionate about connecting people to nature in meaningful ways, that not only keep them safe, but our precious wild places safe too.
I am so excited to be working with Blue Mountains Climbing School (who incidentally run some great courses for climbers and canyoners of all levels) to bring a two day navigation course to life.
I love teaching navigation! [Pic: @SpartaJen}
What you’ll learn
Over two jam-packed days, you’ll learn the foundations of navigating with a map and compass for tracked and untracked areas. Topics will include:
Reading, understanding (and falling in love with) topographic maps
Learning to ‘read the ground’
Demystifying stuff like datums, projections, scales, declination and the ‘3 different norths’
Becoming best friends with your compass and learning how to use it
Route planning and finding
How to figure out where you are
Estimating time and distance
All of this is backed up with practical exercises and workshops in the field. We’ll also briefly touch on:
Lat Long (Latitude Longitude)
Smartphone apps and GPS for navigation and hiking
Fall in love with topographic maps and become besties with your compass
Who is this course for?
We are going to start at the very beginning and not assume any prior knowledge, so don’t feel that you’ll be ‘the dumb one’, ‘or holding everyone up’.
This navigation course is all about the fundamentals and giving you all the tools and theory you need to go out and practice, practice, practice so that you can become more confident in the bush.
So if you’ve never done any map and compass navigation before, or have done some and forgotten it, this course is for you and applicable for:
Bushwalking and hiking
Rogaining and orienteering
How to create a route plan and why ‘as the crow flies’ isn’t always the best
Go camping with Caro & other accommodation options
Not only do I get to share the foundations of navigation over two days, with tips n’ tricks about the dark arts of nav, but I’ll also be camping out on the Saturday night. So if you want to share a few yarns around dinner, talk about adventures and wish lists, before we disappear into our tents / hammocks / bivvy / fly’s (we can talk about shelters and equipment too!), then it would be a lovely opportunity to get to know each other a bit more.
If camping isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of accommodation choices in the area ranging from cosy pubs, quaint Blue Mountains guest houses or schmancy hotels and resorts… not to mention a bunch of AirBnB’s on offer.
Accommodation choices are up to you and not included in the cost of the course. Camp with Caro (Free! BYO everything) or relax in Blackheath.
Crowds queue up for their ‘Lone hiker on Roys Peak’ shot. [Pic: Matt Zhou]
With hundreds and thousands of people now trying to re-live someone else’s moment in time, I can’t help but wonder if they’re disappointed to find that their hoped for moment of #bliss has been replaced with a sense of box-ticking and a notch in the Insta-bedhead when reality fails to live up to the fantasy.
As an image maker, story teller and (shudder) influencer, the problem Land Managers like National Parks or councils face in dealing with environmental and safety impacts from visitors are at the forefront of my mind.
It’s a conundrum and fine balance between sharing images that inspire people to get outside and connect with nature in meaningful ways, experiencing the benefits to their physical and mental health, whilst not wanting to drive the problems that are occurring due to social media.
The past ten years have seen dramatic changes in technology and the democratisation of image making. It’s now available to everyone, instantly, in their hand and has propelled traditional viewers and audiences into becoming creators and storytellers.
Back in the day when photography was corralled within the hands of professionals and we viewed photos in magazines, posters and postcards, there was an other-wordly, out-of-reach sense to these places laid bare for us. Landscapes, like those created by Ansel Adams of the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite in the 1950s and 60s were as ethereal and unreachable as our thoughts of owning a camera or being able to visit these magical places.
For the moving image, Hollywood was where dreams came true and fantasy lives of glamourous stars were forever out of reach. What we saw on the screen was never something we could aspire to – we pressed pause on reality and kept our distance from the big screen, sitting quietly in the darkened stalls, letting someone elses fantasy play out. We knew our place as observers, eavesdroppers and audience.
We were captivated by the mystery of technology, the ‘how did they do that?’, blended with the glamour of the people we saw on the screen. We wanted to believe these stories and incredible locations were real and that these people were living a life that was better than our nine to five grind in urban jungles.
There is a concept in cinema called The Fourth Wall. It’s where the actors breakaway from the story unfolding on screen and interact with the audience. It’s the moment in Deadpool where we remember that Ferris Bueller spoke directly to us like that in the 80s and Wayne’s World did it in the 90’s, just maybe not as good. But it was Woody Allen’s ‘Purple Rose of Cairo’, where Jeff Daniels steps through the screen to whisk Mia Farrow away from her sad and lonely life that touches on the heart of why Insta-worthy destinations are driving tourist visitation.
The disappearance of financial and physical barriers to travel and a culture that tells us we can have it all, that we’re powerful enough to write our own story, means that people believe they’re not only able to step through the fourth wall and experience the fantasy world created by the captured image, but dammit, it’s their right.
The control on image making is no longer held by the rich, the talented or the lucky and offered as visual dream-fodder for the masses, we are now our own image gods and control how others see us.
As we see a captivating image of a sunrise from a mountain top, a pristine waterfall tumble over an escarpment and a lone hiker wistfully gazing across their domain (#bliss) we are thrown back into audience mode, left wondering what that must feel like, channeling ourselves into that location.
And now, thanks to technology and culture, we don’t have to just visualise and fantasize, we can realise.
We can go and stand in that same spot, frame up the same way, push it through Lightroom or Photoshop or apply a filter, and posting our digital graffiti can proclaim, ‘I am a god. I control my destiny. I’ve crossed over. I live my dream life that is better than the one I left behind. I am.’
Dorrigo National Park [Photo: Bobby Hendry]
But if this is all there is, if this is what drives the crowds to line up at Roy’s Peak or to hike precariously through the Royal National Park unprepared and in thongs, then we’re missing a point about the power of our true selves and our minds.
The power of wonder, discovery and exploration. The power of understanding and learning, the power of disappointment and failure. The power of waiting, the power of being still. The power of effort and the power of a reward that only you may ever know about.
The truth is we are all influencers. And although many may think that because their following or social circle is small and therefore Stan Lee’s adage, ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ doesn’t refer to them, my message is don’t wait for the great power, before we show great responsibility.
Our wild places are not a Hollywood set or created in CG. We can’t call in the Props or the Greens Department when the trees and plants have been trampled by a thousand extras or radio the Safety and Stunts team to protect us from cliff edges, it’s up to us to protect these places and ourselves.
It’s up to us to #shareresponsibly and share the bigger story of why. Why it’s important to spend time in nature and how we can keep ourselves and these precious places safe.
With the announcement, from the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, of a 60% increase in visitation to NSW National Parks in the last few years, we must do something.
Although it’s a small flag to raise, #Nogeotag is one I’ve started flying. Whilst still including the general region, district, managed track or National Park, it indicates that I won’t be sharing exactly where an image was taken unless it has the infrastructure and government funding to manage it properly.
My intent of sharing images is not so people can come and recreate my moment in time, but to inspire and encourage people to learn, explore, discover and create their own.
The Green Gully Track is a 65 km, 5 day hike through the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park in NSW, Australia.
It’s approximately 1.5 hours drive from Walcha and roughly half-way between Port Macquarie and Tamworth.
The Green Gully track is unique in that it is the only multi-day, hike in NSW National Parks with hut-style accommodation. Not only that, but it traverses a Declared Wilderness Area which traditionally does not feature any man-made structures. Bookings are essential, which helps to retain the sense of isolation (you won’t see another person out there!) and you don’t need to carry sleeping mats or stoves, as huts feature camp cots and gas burners. One of them even has a hot shower!
For full trip reports, with photos and tips, check out my trip reports here:
Canyoning is the adventure sport where you follow ancient water courses down through deep rocky slots. It can involve a mix of sliding, jumping, swimming, walking and even abseiling over waterfalls.
These mysterious formations are often narrow dark slots, formed where water has run through the sandstone plateaus of the Blue Mountains over millions of years. Hidden away, these mystical places are a cross-between Avatar and Jurassic Park.
As a sport or adventurous hobby, canyoning has a strong tribe and community feel about it, as though canyoners are all part of a secret society (they’re hidden from view most of the time!).
Canyoners tend to keep the knowledge and maps for canyons fairly close to their wetsuited chests because they are keen to help protect these precious places and teach low impact canyoning to newcomers.
Canyon Safety & Code of Ethics - YouTube
How to get started
Because canyons are generally where the sun don’t shine, the water is very cold all year round. Although there are some dry canyons, it means that the season runs only October to March, when there’s less chance of getting hypothermia.
So apart from a trusty wetsuit to keep you warm in these dark and magical places, there’s a whole bunch of essential kit that you’ll need. The great thing is that when you go with a guided tour, they’ll provide all this for you, so you can just focus on the epic adventure and discovering this hidden world.
You’ll need to pack everything you should normally take on a hike, like food, water, first aid kit, warm clothes and a personal locator beacon, but you’ll need to keep everything dry and safe inside a waterproof dry bag. Your experienced guide will be able to provide you with one of these, along with teaching you all you need to know to keep you (and our canyons) safe. Trust me… everything will get wet!
There’s a good bunch of licensed professional guiding companies in the Blue Mountains that have all the right gear, with highly experienced (and super friendly) guides, to take you through some of the best canyons around, to show you the ropes (literally) and even carry them for you!
If you’re after a rush of adrenaline, with the ultimate adventure of wonder and discovery, sliding your way through a secret, hidden world, then canyoning is for you!
Canyons often feature an off-track bushwalk in or out | Photo: @lotsafreshair
Throughout the day you can expect to be walking through cold water, scrambling over slippery rocks, sliding down small waterfalls and feeling the rush as you do water jumps or abseils – all whilst constantly in awe of this incredible Avatar-esque environment.
For most of the trip you’ll be going downhill, but that means there’s usually a solid uphill hike back out, so a good level of fitness is best.
Because these environments are so protected from the outside world, you can expect to see plants and animals that don’t grow or live anywhere else. These truly amazing places need museum-style protection – so it’s super important to leave no trace and reduce our impact. By going with a licenced guide, NSW National Parks can keep an eye on the number of people who are entering the canyons and help ensure the sustainability of these fragile places. Not only that, but these qualified and experienced guides love these places almost as much as the creatures that live in them and want to help teach people how to protect them, by following the canyon code of practice.
Canyoning is an adventurous activity for sure and there are risks with abseiling, swimming, cold water and slippery surfaces, so for those new to canyoning it’s essential to go with experienced guides or groups.
Apart from a map and compass, one of the most important tools for navigating in the bush is a watch. Just a humble, everyday, bog standard, time telling watch. It helps you work out how fast you’re travelling, how long it will take to get somewhere and offers clues to your location and finding your way. [And if you’re a bit old school, you can use the time to work out which way is north!]
These days, a watch can be so much more than just a timepiece and like choosing a mobile phone (dumb or smart), the same options exist for watches.
Garmin Fenix 5S and Suunto Baro HR
After wearing a Casio Protrek dumb watch (circa 2000) for years, I went looking for a replacement in 2018. I got to test the top of the range offerings from the leaders in the market, Garmin and Suunto. Here’s my report on the Garmin Fenix 5S.
How did I test these smart watches?
I came into these tests blind, having no expectations (or really any understanding) of what they do, their capabilities or the ways in which they can have the ability to change or affect behaviour. I tested the watches over a period of 6 months and wore at least one every day. This included sedentary office based days, urban walks or runs, bushland trail runs and hikes, easy canyons and climbing, weekend bushwalking adventures and even the epic 9 day South Coast Track in Tasmania’s Wilderness. Oh… and sleeping too.
South Coast Track, Tasmania with Garmin 5S. Photo: Andrew Rankin.
What did I look for in a watch for the outdoors?
I’m a simple, no nonsense kinda bushwalker. Reflecting on the functions of the Casio Protrek that I used the most, I wanted:
Time (I know, right?), day and date
Altimeter (how far up this massive hill am I?)
Barometer (is the air pressure dropping? Is that dirty big cloud bank heading our way?)
Stopwatch (am I getting up this massive hill quicker than I did last week?)
And that’s kind of all I went looking for at the start. Simple. Basic and no wonder that the old Protrek can do this on solar power and never missed a beat in 18 years. So in case you’re wondering what that means, I’m not really that interested in any GPS or navigation capabilities, as I use navigation apps on my phone as a GPS and am also pretty wedded to my trusty map and compass.
Yep, that was a big hill! My body says so and so does the Garmin 5S.
What changed after using the smart watches?
There’s been a huge shift in my awareness of how often I move and by tracking this I’ve been able to see improvements to my overall fitness. It’s not just the pedometer on the face that reminds me instantly that 1500 steps around my office isn’t really going to balance out the almond croissant at hangry o’clock, but the gamification of syncing with the Garmin app (and more recently the cult of Strava) provides a nice journal of adventures where you can add comments and photos.
I really surprised myself how much I love a smartwatch. It’s like flying business class (not that I do that), but once you’ve tasted life in front of the curtain, it’s hard to go back. Now I know what a watch can do for me, I won’t be going back to a dumb watch.
What type of a test did I do?
There’s lots of types of gear test reviews available out there. From the super-techy that goes into the minutiae of specification details (mostly written by men, strangely enough), to the “Did they even try it out?” review that simply acts as a thinly veiled attempt to hide affiliate advertising to Amazon shops and is laden with SEO.
Easy to read screen. Basic ‘Hike’ activity screen.
My reviews are neither of these. Mine are personal opinion based, borne from actual use in likely environments and circumstances, where you would expect the product to perform as advertised. I’m not one for eensy-weensy techie detail, so if you’re looking for that type of review, I can suggest this wareable review.
What I didn’t expect
There’s been a lot of talk about the benefits of sleep over the last couple of years. The watch made me super aware of the hours and quality of my sleep, as well as stress levels. Although I wonder at the science behind the measurement of stress, anecdotally I found it accurate during a period of high stress.
Sleep Tracker Dashboard in Garmin Connect Phone App
The first time the Garmin Fenix 5S caught my eye it was on the wrist of my accountant. This should tell you a couple of things:
My accountant is an active chick
This watch can go from useful outdoors gadget to office chic.
She had it teamed with a white watch band, which along with the white body and chrome button and bezel detailing, gave it a classic, crisp look.
As a lover of colour, I prefer the citrus yellow, silicon band that came with my test unit. As my particular style of hiking, bushwalking and search and rescue work usually puts me off-track, in scrub bashing, dirt-loving environments, I’d be worried that the white band would show the dirt.
As it turns out, I found that the easy to use, silicone QuickFit band, did tend to hold stories of past trips in the millimetre wide dimples that cover it, however being waterproof (to 100m), I found that simply wearing it in the shower and using a bit of shampoo on the band, easily brought it back to clean.
It certainly must be a challenge for smart watch designers to be able to cram multitudes of features inside a very small space. However, the Fenix 5S doesn’t look or feel chunky at all. With a 42mm round face, standing at 14.5mm thick and weighing 67 grams (with silicone band), it has the ability to pack a featured sporty punch, whilst retaining classic lines and feminine styling. Interchangeable bands add to the options available, giving you more choice to match your mood, outfit or personality.
Having put it through several challenging paces and spaces, over the past four months, I can see that the angled stainless steel bezel of the face is hiding some subtle scratches within the surface and I somehow managed to put a tiny chip in the sapphire crystal face against the bezel during a particularly tough adventure. Otherwise, it’s stood up well. Miraculously, the white fibre-reinforced polymer of the body (with metal back) has stayed very white and clean.
There are five raised buttons, three on the left and two on the right. The top right button is slightly larger and as the key button to activate or pause an activity (when you might be running), this makes good sense.
Apart from the ability to switch out the bands, like many smart watches, you can choose from a variety of OOTB (out of the box) watch faces all downloadable from the Garmin Express desktop app. Depending on your preferences, you can change the type of data that is seen on the basic face, the colour, font and styling or even use a photo as a background.
Over 300 apps available for the Garmin 5S
Apps and Widgets – Garmin and Third Party
One of the standouts of the Garmin Fenix range, is the huge number of 3rd party (and Garmin) apps that you can download, adding extra features, information or designs to the watch.
To be honest, this isn’t something that I thought I’d use, however when I found that there were features I was looking for in the watch that it didn’t come with, I was happy when able to find them in the App Store.
I chose to download a basic Sun and Moon time (always handy to see what time sunrise and sunset is when you’re out in the bush) and also a basic weather. Whilst the Sun & Moon app works standalone, the weather one required a sync with the Garmin mobile App Garmin Connect, to draw down the latest forecast.
Summary on phone app of Hiking Activity
If apps and extra features are what floats your boat, then you’ll find everything from an app that can give you a 3D fly-thru animation of your outdoor activity (eg. Trail run or hike) to simply adding your favourite photo to the watch face. The most popular apps are currently:
The most popular Widgets tend to be weather or additional stopwatch/timers, but there’s also random selections like Air Quality Manager and WaterLogger to help you monitor your water intake.
Menus and basic user interface navigation
The standard out of the box menu navigation, is what gives away the heart and soul of this great device as something designed for athletes and those with fitness as their main goal.
Heart rate (including previous 4 hrs in graph) / line chart average resting heart rate last 7 days
Training Status and load (including what I’ll call, ‘The Arrow’* / VO2Max / Recovery / Training Load / Race Predictor (cough)
Last sport (summary of distance, time, ascent) / History
Steps for the day (number and visual representation of percent completed towards goal) / bar graph of last 7 days steps / bar graph last 7 days distance
Calories burnt (active and resting) / bar graph 7 day history
Compass // Altimeter // Barometer (one screen)
Altimeter profile (including previous 4 hrs in graph)
Notifications (Bluetooth connection to phone, eg: emails, Messenger, podcasts, SMS)
Temperature (including previous 4 hrs in graph)
As a multi-sport watch, it comes with activity settings for many sports and activities, but its strengths sit with running, cycling, trail running, golf and hiking.
Behaviour change and the gamification of fitness
The Arrow and Training Effect
The blessed arrow. This is within Training Status and is a quick visual look at how you’re doing overall. If the arrow is up… you’re training is up. If it’s horizontal… you’re maintaining and if it’s down, well.. the couch or Netflix has been calling louder than stepping outside the front door. I’ve found it a tiny psychological weapon in firstly making me feel crap, but then motivating me to move that arrow to a better position.
Heading in the right direction
Similarly, the Training Effect data lets you know how effective each activity has been on both your aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
VO2 Max and Race Predictor
A VO2 Max test (when done under scientific conditions) is a gold standard in measuring cardiovascular fitness. Although, simply wearing a smart watch is never going to give an accurate measure of this, I have still found myself checking in with this measure as an indicative result of how my overall fitness is improving. I’ve fallen for the psychology of gamification and the visual design of how it’s represented makes me want to push on to the ‘next colour/next level’.
Garmin does comedy! Hysterical.
So whilst I like the VO2 Max approximate measure, I still laugh when I see the race predictor. Seriously, no. This is waaaay over estimating my abilities and assumes I’d be up for a marathon (cough).
Smartphone and Desktop App
Garmin Connect is the phone app (iOS and Android) that allows you to sync your watch via Bluetooth and see all the data from your activities represented visually. It’s intuitive and if you’re into data analysis, offers history and details of your activities and performance.
If you the type of person motivated by badges (is anyone?) you can find all that kind of stuff in the app also. However, if you’re really wanting to track and compare your performance, then I’d recommend joining the cult of Strava and the rabbit hole that it opens up for you. The Fenix 5S connects easily to Strava.
Badges… if they’re your thing.
For when you’re back at home, the Garmin Connect desktop app offer all the capabilities of the smartphone app and more. To drill down into your performance, plus reflect back on your adventures/activities (like a journal) it can be a great time waster!
Garmin Connect Desktop App
What I liked
Being a visual person, I like the clean colourful screen interface on a white background and the graphical representations of data.
The basic functions available have proved more useful than I thought. I now use them all the time.
Size (and weight 67 grams) is good for a womens wrist and works for business and play. It doesn’t scream, ‘I’m a sports watch!!’ It’s completely wearable.
I’ve (unexpectedly) fallen for the gamification of fitness and found it very motivating.
During a hiking, running or trail running activity it displays ascent, but not descent.
What I didn’t like
It doesn’t show descent in metres of an activity, only ascent.
The smaller screen and emphasis on great graphics means that you can’t see all the data you might want on one screen, so you need to scroll through for extra info. This is different to the Suunto with it’s huge real estate offers lots of valuable data at a glance, however it comes as a massive package overall.
I found the menus and buttons not as intuitive as the Suunto and it took more focus to get going with it out of the box.
Battery life when running an activity. It didn’t last a full day (12 hr) activity [The Ironbounds on the South Coast Track]. Although it can go up to 9 days on a single charge in smartwatch mode, pushing it to record and reflect data dynamically throughout a full day in the wilderness really sucks the battery.
When you pause an activity you can’t see the time of day
There’s loads of features and settings that I never used and lots that I probably don’t even realise it has. Things like being able to store around 500 songs (which you can play via Bluetooth headphones, dear God not speakers) and the GPS capabilities (you can’t load maps onto the 5S, but can with other Garmin models).
Overall, this watch packs a load of features (which the average user won’t ever see the limits of) for keeping an eye on and motivating your fitness journey, all within a user-friendly, smart package.