Snowys blog covers all things to do with camping, hiking, 4WD and RV Touring, walking, outdoor adventure, travel, and more. It provides all the knowledge and advice you need for your camping and outdoor activities.
New York City is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Love it or hate it, it can’t be denied that this city has everything anyone could ever ask for— a glorious harbour, spacious parks and greenery, 24-hour food and activities, towering skyscrapers offering stunning views, plentiful entertainment—and the list doesn’t end there.
However, because there is so much to do, it can be hard to figure out how to make the most of your time and finances. There are several things I’ve discovered over a few trips to New York, which would have been helpful to know before I set foot in such a large and diverse city.
To help you plan your trip, I’ve put together some tips on what I wish I had known about New York’s unique hidden and not-so-hidden gems before I visited.
New York is one of the world’s biggest cities, so a visit requires planning.
Many people know that New York is crawling with coffee shops. But if you consider yourself something of a coffee connoisseur, you might be looking for somewhere offering more than just the average cup of joe. Funnily enough, Joe is one of the finest coffee spots scattered around New York that offers unique blends and flavours. Stumptown Coffee also comes highly recommended by coffee lovers but has just two locations. Joe is more accessible, offering 15 stores in Manhattan and 2 in Brooklyn. They’re scattered fairly regularly throughout the city, ensuring there is usually one nearby.
There is even a store in Grand Central Terminal, making it an easy stop on the way to wherever you are headed. While Stumptown Coffee is less accessible, it is definitely worth the trip. One café is located in the Ace Hotel New York right near the famous Flat Iron District, and the other is near Greenwich Village situated at 30 W 8th Street.
Starting on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, the High Line is a linear park built on New York’s historic, elevated railroad. At first, I thought it was merely one of the ways to easily get from A to B in the city, all while taking in some great views. Therefore, I didn’t allow much time in my schedule for just enjoying the experience.
While it does serve the purpose of a convenient walkway, it is also one of the city’s public parks. Apart from getting stunning views of the city, you will also encounter beautiful flowers and plants growing through the old railway lines, as well as market and food stalls situated in various spots along the way. Be prepared to take your time, just wander and explore some of the other activities it has to offer. In total, the High Line stretches for 1.45 miles or 2.33 km, ending at West 34th Street between 10th and 12th avenues. There are many different entrances and exits along the way, so you don’t have to worry about entering at one spot and having to continue the entire length of the park.
Like most public parks, it doesn’t cost anything but it does close at night. It is best to check out the closing times online here because even though it always opens at 7 am, the closing times differ depending on the season.
The High Line is a lesser-known public park to consider. Image by: Exploration Hawaii
3. The Statue of Liberty
Planning a visit to the Statue of Liberty usually conjures up images of crowds of people, long lines, intense security checks and of course spending quite a bit of money. In my experience, these images are completely accurate. If you are interested in getting up close and personal with Lady Liberty you can visit Liberty Island, with the option of also visiting Ellis Island along the way.
You can then choose whether you want to visit the base of the statue, known as the pedestal, or walk up 162 narrow steps to the crown. There are certain items such as backpacks, laptops and tripods which you can’t take through, so lockers are available for hire at an extra cost. However, if you don’t have a lot of time or aren’t dying to get that close to the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island Ferry is an easy alternative. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is completely free. You get to head out onto New York Harbor, taking in sweeping views of the city, while sailing past the Statue of Liberty.
The trip only takes about 25 minutes each way and runs regularly throughout the day. If you are solely heading out on the ferry to go past the statue and not wanting to stay in Staten Island, it is good to know that you can’t stay on for the round trip. You can travel back immediately, you just have to disembark and get right back on again. Make sure you check out their website for up-to-date schedules.
The ferry takes you onto the New York Harbor, so you can see the Statue of Liberty.
4. Broadway show
If you don’t spend at least one night on Broadway, you haven’t really experienced New York. Some tickets are very expensive, but if you don’t have a specific show in mind there are cheap tickets available for various productions.
The Theatre Development Fund is a not-for-profit organisation that runs TKTS Discount Booths. These booths offer same-day heavily discounted tickets to various Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. They are usually fairly busy, so it is a good idea to get there as early as you can to avoid long lines.
Even if you do have to wait a while, it is worth getting 20-50% off regular ticket prices. The most popular TKTS booth is in Times Square, but there are also three other outlets throughout the city. Visit here for more information and to check out specific times and locations.
You can get affordable tickets for shows at the TKTS booths.
5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
If you’re heading to Central Park and the Upper East Side from Manhattan’s Theatre District, strolling along Fifth Avenue is the way to go. While it boasts high-end brands such as Henri Bendel, Louis Vuitton, Armani and the famous Plaza Hotel, favourites such as Zara, H&M, Forever 21 and MAC can also be found along this famous shopping strip.
None of these stores, however, can compare with Tiffany & Co., New York’s finest jeweller. Founded in 1837, Fifth Avenue’s Tiffany & Co. is the company’s flagship store and was featured in Audrey Hepburn’s classic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Up until recently, if you wanted to actually have breakfast at Tiffany’s, it would have looked like chewing on a cream cheese bagel from the street while staring at the window displays.
Now, however, Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue has just opened up their very own café called The Blue Box Café. Because it is still fairly new and very popular, you must have a reservation to visit. Reservations can be made online through the events section here.
Don’t get in too early though—you can only book 30 days in advance. Also, it is good to be aware that the menu is constantly changing, depending on the season. The café is open from 10 am to 5:30 pm Monday to Saturday and 12 pm – 4:30 pm on Sundays.
A stroll down Fifth Avenue isn’t to be missed.
6. Central Park
Lose yourself in the beauty of this 843-acre park, right in the heart of Manhattan. One minute you’ll be looking up at skyscrapers towering above the trees. The next, as you venture deeper into the serenity of the park you’ll be wondering if the surrounding city has ceased to exist. There are so many beautiful places to visit in Central Park. These include Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, The Loeb Boathouse, Belvedere Castle and the Central Park Zoo.
Even if you haven’t been to New York before, these locations might start to seem a little familiar. Central Park is one of the most popular filming locations in the world for movies and TV shows. You might remember the beautiful Loeb Boathouse restaurant from romantic comedies like 27 Dresses or When Harry Met Sally or the Belvedere Castle in The Smurfs movie as Gargamel’s secret headquarters. The Bethesda Fountain is the location of a large musical number in Disney’s Enchanted, which boasts filming locations throughout much of the city.
Other movies which offer glimpses of Central Park include Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Spiderman 3, Elf and The Avengers. There are a few tour companies that provide an official movie tour through the park if you want to know more. Otherwise, entering from either the West 59th Street end or the West 110th Street and wandering through to the end will help you cover most of these iconic locations.
You might spot some familiar locations when visiting Central Park.
7. One World Trade Centre
The Empire State Building and Rockefeller Centre both offer amazing views of the city buildings. However, the new One World Trade Centre at Ground Zero offers beautiful views from a different angle of the city. Gaze down at the touching September 11 memorial fountains, or across the city skyline to the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings.
Below the tower, you can also admire the new World Trade Centre subway station. However, as with most of the towers offering viewing platforms in NYC, the line for tickets is usually quite long and almost put me off. Thankfully a worker came past, encouraging people to buy tickets online so we could go straight through instead of waiting. As a tourist, I was thankful there was free wifi available so I could immediately make my purchase. I was then able to go straight through and up to the viewing platform, all in under 30 minutes.
When you are there, just head here on your smartphone or device, and choose the next available time to purchase your ticket and avoid any long queues.
The One World Trade Centre at Ground Zero is not to be missed.
8. Times Square
Although it’s crowded with tourists, cabs, and buskers – this feast for the eyes has to be visited at least once. Stand on the red steps under the Coca-Cola billboard and marvel at the abundance of bright, flashing advertisements.
You can expect to fight your way through the crowds, get your portrait sketched on the street, have a photo with Elmo, a cowboy or a Disney character, and just bask in the chaos that is Times Square. However, also be prepared to possibly run into a celebrity. Times Square is another popular filming location in New York, making it a hive for both fans and celebs. Times Square also plays host to countless musical performances by musicians such as Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.
The popular restaurants Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Café are also in Times Square and are regularly visited by celebrities. Not to mention the Broadway stars who usually delight their fans by taking selfies and signing autographs outside the theatre after a show. Check out the website here for any upcoming events and see if any of your favourite stars might be in town when you are there.
You might be lucky enough to spot a celebrity in Times Square.
9. Dumbo, Brooklyn
One of New York’s most ‘Instagrammable’ spots is in Dumbo, Brooklyn. I had seen these beautiful pictures of the Empire State building peeking through the Manhattan Bridge all over social media, but I never quite knew exactly how to get to the picturesque location. A big clue is actually in the name itself, as DUMBO stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.
With a bit of research, I was finally able to make my way to Dumbo to find this hidden gem. The location you want to get to is the intersection of Water Street and Washington Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The nearest subway station is York Street on the F, Orange line. You can easily get there from the Rockefeller Centre Station if you are coming from Manhattan.
From there it is just a short walk down to the famous photo spot. You can also continue walking through the charming cobbled streets of Dumbo to the water’s edge. There you can gaze up, not only at the Manhattan skyline but at both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
You may have spotted this picturesque location on social media.
10. Comedy show
Comedy shows are a New York staple. There are so many comedy clubs scattered around the Times Square area, and countless people selling tickets on the street. It can be hard to decide who to see, especially when being pressured on the street to purchase discount tickets.
If seeing a good comedy show is something you’re interested in, I recommend doing research beforehand. I ended up in an underground comedy club on the spur of the moment, spending money on a show I didn’t really enjoy.
Gotham Comedy Club is one of the best clubs in the city. It’s got a good mix of both well-known and up-and-coming comedians. Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chappelle are just a couple of the regular A-list celebrities you can spot there.
The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (known as UCB Theatre) is another great comedy club. It offers a range of stand-up, improv and sketches. Kate McKinnon (SNL), Ben Schwartz (Parks & Recreation), Ellie Kemper (The Office, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Ed Helms (The Office), Aziz Ansari (Parks & Recreation) and Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation) are some of the most famous comedians who began at UCB Theatre.
Amy Poehler was actually one of the co-founders of the theatre. Aside from offering great quality comedy, it also serves as a training ground for performers and comedians. You can visit this website for the latest schedules and locations.
There are quite a few comedy clubs near Times Square. Image by: Curbed NY
Enjoy your trip to the Big Apple!
Hopefully, some of these tips will make your trip to New York City a pleasant and stress-free experience. No matter where you are travelling, there are always new things to discover and experiences to learn from.
It never hurts to connect with other travellers, share knowledge and do your research in order to get the most out of your experience. Happy travelling!
What hidden spot did you discover in NYC? Let us know in the comments.
To put it simply, R-value is a measurement of the thermal resistance of a material, or how well it resists the transfer of heat. The higher the R-value, the more insulation it will provide.
More about R-value
R-value isn’t just for sleeping mats, it’s also commonly used in the construction industry. In particular, for those pink insulation batts in the ceiling of your house… they all have an R-value.
R-value isn’t something you need to be overly concerned with in summer when the ground doesn’t get very cold. Using a high R-value mat in warm weather won’t make you hot, it’s only going to put a thermal barrier between you and the ground. However, when the temperatures drop and you find yourself setting up camp on wet or icy ground – R value becomes a very important consideration.
R-value is a factor you should consider when choosing a sleeping mat. Image: Sea to Summit
How is R-value tested?
If an R-value is listed on a mat, it will either mean that it has been tested independently or in-house.
Generally, there are two methods of testing R-value – the cold room test and the hot plate test. Both of these tests involve a temperature sensor on one side of the mat and a controlled temperature on the other. Then there is probably a heap of science involved to arrive at an R-value, but that’s beyond our scope of knowledge. However, there is no universal standard.
As a consumer, which method used shouldn’t be something that you worry too much about. If you’re purchasing from a reputable brand, the lab testing should be fairly accurate and trustworthy.
If you want to use a mat for a technical expedition, it might be worth checking the manufacturer’s website of the model you’re interested in, as they should provide further detail on the method they use.
Does R-value correlate to a temperature rating?
R-value is a measure of the transfer of temperature from one side of a material (in this case a mat) to the other. These values can’t be correlated to a temperature, but there are some guidelines for which R-values are suitable for each season.
R-value measures the thermal resistance of the material, which translates to how well it insulates. Image: Sea to Summit
How do I choose a sleeping mat based on R-value for each season?
As a rough guide, here is what we would recommend for choosing values for sleeping mats.
What R-value sleeping mat should I use in summer?
As a general rule, for sleeping in warm conditions, an R-value of 0-2 will be suitable. However, a high R-value won’t make you hot, it will just insulate you from whatever the ground temperature is underneath. The exception to this is any mat with a reflective layer inside that radiates heat – these may feel hotter in summer.
What R-value sleeping mat should I use in spring/autumn?
In mild weather conditions, a sleeping pad with an R-value of 3-5 will suit. This is the most common range for general use sleeping mats.
Insulation won’t be as important when the weather is warm. Image: Sea to Summit
What R-value sleeping mat should I use in winter?
If you spend a lot of time on cold weather camping or hiking trips, you may appreciate a mat with an R-value of 5 and above.
What R-value sleeping mat should I use in alpine conditions?
For alpine conditions, you will need a mat with an R-value of 6+ and you’ll want to make sure you team your mat up with an appropriately rated sleeping bag and suitable clothing.
Most mats you’ll see are between 0 and a 9.5 R-value rating. An example of the highest rated mats we carry is the Exped Megamat or the Black Wolf Mega Deluxe mats which have a value of 9.5. These self-inflating foam mats are too heavy for hiking and trekking adventures and are best kept for car camping.
Usually the lighter the mat is = the lower the R-value. So you may need to stack a few mats together to reach a suitable R-value for alpine use.
For example, a mat with an R-value of 4 or 5 on top of a lightweight closed cell foam mat with a 1-2 R-value will give you the insulation you need without the bulk and weight, and will also make your sleeping system more versatile.
Winter camping or hiking requires adequate insulation from the cold ground. Image: Sea to Summit
If the mat doesn’t have an R-value, is that bad?
There are plenty of high-quality mats that provide decent thermal resistance but don’t have a value listed. This is likely due to the fact that testing can be an expensive process for the manufacturer.
However, if you want to use your mat for technical expeditions you might want to choose one that is rated to be on the safe side.
How can I increase the R-value of my current sleep system?
There are ways to improve the thermal resistance of your current sleeping system depending on the time of year you want to use it.
You can add a thin foam mat underneath or use an emergency survival blanket or bag to reflect heat back into the mat or your body. Essentially, you just need to add more layers between you and the cold ground. This could even be in the form of leaves or pine needles in an emergency situation.
We hope that answered all your questions on R-value and that you sleep well (and properly insulated) on all your future adventures.
How do you keep warm on your adventures when the temperatures drop?
Itirkawarra was a knob-tailed gecko ancestor who ran away with a woman from the wrong skin group and was then cast into stone over time. The 50m high monolith we know as Chambers Pillar is Itirkawarra, while the woman was transformed into Castle Rock.
For both the Lower Southern Arrernte and Luritja peoples, these formations are highly important symbols in the dreaming stories of their land in Central Australia, located south-east of Alice Springs.
Geologically, we know that after the inland sea receded the sandstone sediments left behind formed the basis of the country we now see. Iron pigments were then pushed to the surface which formed the hard red caps on the exposed layers.
Chambers Pillar is a classic example of this. The soft unprotected layers around the pillar have been eroded away, which leaves this spectacular monolith sitting high above the surrounding country.
For tourers that are not adverse to travelling on the dirt, this formation should definitely be on your bucket list. For more on our experience visiting Chambers Pillar, then keep on reading.
Here they both are in all their glory – Chambers Pillar and Castle Rock in the NT.
Getting to Chambers Pillar is pretty straightforward in planning, but full of surprises in the execution. From the north, the Finke Track can be followed from Alice Springs. From the west, there’s the Hugh River Stock Route and from the south, the Finke Track again, either coming in from Mt Dare or Kulgera. These all lead to Maryvale Homestead and the small store providing fuel and some basics. All these tracks present changing conditions and can be rough and corrugated so be aware of that when driving.
Nearby, the aboriginal community of Titjikala also has some supplies. There’s also a great art gallery showcasing and selling paintings and sculptures created by local artists.
You will encounter some long and deep bulldust holes on the drive.
Conditions of the drive
The last 42 km from Maryvale to the Pillar Campground provides an interesting drive. There are corrugations a plenty, deep and sometimes long bulldust holes, and hard rocky sections on top of rises all leading through a constantly changing vista. Not far from the end of the track you’re then suddenly presented with a steep, rough rocky rise to the top of the Charlotte Range.
It’s not that difficult, but it’s enough that with the conditions and the hard left turn near the top 4×4 low range should be used, particularly if you’re towing. The descent on the other side is a similar experience. From there you can cross a number of sand dunes (which should be treated with care). They’re capped but the track can be narrow, with sudden crests and a few blind bends on the top of rises.
You will then arrive at the Historical Reserve. Then all you need to do is pick your campsite and you can take in the total experience of being immersed in the colours of the Pillar, the sky above and the quiet atmosphere.
Once you get to the historical reserve, all you have to do is pick out where you want to camp.
Camping in the area
There are now two camping areas near the Pillar. The new one is called the Bush Campground, which has been set up to cater for off-road campers. Currently, toilets are the only facility provided, so be aware of that. The other is Chambers Pillar Campground which has picnic facilities, toilets, parking, and a gas BBQ available.
At the time that we visited, a new interpretive shelter was being built to provide visitors with on-the-spot information.
You can also do a walk around Castle Rock when you’re in the area.
The walk around the pillar
The colours and aura of the Pillar are really highlighted as the sun creeps on or off the rock. The National Parks have recognised this in the way that they have set up the walk around the Pillar. Leaving from the original Pillar Campground, it crosses a sand dune before descending into the swale where the Pillar stands.
On top of the dune, there’s a seat and a cleared area for experiencing the sunrise in all its glory. You can also look back and see the colour coming alive on Castle Rock and the surrounding plains. An easy descent and stroll will take you around the base of the column. There you’ll find a set of steps and walkways provided to climb to the bottom of the actual Pillar.
You can catch a glimpse of the walkway stairs around the base of the pillar.
There are also a number of historical engravings carved into the soft rock. These include the initials of men such as John Ross, who was the leader of an exploration party for the Overland Telegraph Route in 1870.
John McDouall Stuart also passed here in 1860 but opted not to carve his passing into the rock. After descending the steps the track passes to the north where again seating is provided. This is so you can view the sunset before making your way back to camp.
There is also a lesser known walk that scoots out into the desert around Castle Rock which you might find interesting as well.
I highly recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset.
Sunset at Chambers Pillar
It’s a mystical experience to sit on the desert floor and listen to the whisper of the wind through the bushes and grasses while watching the full suite of colour changes across the rock at sunrise and sunset.
Sunset is probably my favourite as after the enthralling light show, you move back below the Pillar in the darkness. It’s just a wonderful feeling.
Even if you don’t have a camera you’ll still take with you an album of wonderful pictures in your mind. If you haven’t been to Chambers Pillar, make sure you pass by on your next trip to the Northern Territory.
Chambers Pillar is on the bucket list of many outback travellers, but is it on yours?
The West Highland Way is one of the world’s most popular long-distance walks and is approximately 154 kilometres (95 miles) long. It starts its journey in the town of Milngavie (Mul-guy) and winds its way north through the countryside, past lochs and over moorlands. Along with old rail-lines and through Scottish villages and past farmlands with the famous Highland cattle.
You will finish your way in the town of Fort William that sits in the shadows of UK’s highest mountain, the famous Ben Nevis. The end of the way isn’t necessarily the end of the walk as from here you can continue your journey north walking the Great Glen Way.
A view of the Buachaille Etive Mòr mountain on our trip.
History of the area
Many of these distance walks throughout the UK and Europe have evolved from pathways used before the time of the motor vehicle when the only way to get from one land to the next was by walking. Much of the West Highland Way (WHW) is made up of such pathways and it is steeped in history that goes right back to the 13th century of the McDougall Clan, as well as the Jacobite rebellion in the 17th and 18th centuries.
This was a time of major uprising and many of the old military roads were built for the British troops to quell the Jacobite rebellion. You will also be travelling along old drover’s roads the local farmers used to herd their livestock to town and there are also the old railway lines and coach roads.
The West Highland Way as a walking route is not so old, although its origins show it first being identified back in the 1930s and 40s. The official pathway did not open until October 1980.
You’ll likely pass herds of Highland cattle grazing along the walk.
Distance to hike the WHW
Walking the WHW takes around 7 days, but this depends on what you want to experience along the way as there are plenty of side trips to be explored. It is common to walk this trail from the south to north staying in the quaint country towns.
Although overall, the route isn’t one that is of any great difficulty, there are some sections of ups and downs and there is the element of weather that can add more of a challenge.
If you walk this route, it should take you around a week.
We chose to walk the WHW at the end of our hiking trip in Europe where we had walked 645km (400 miles) of the St. Olav Way in Norway. It was a great way to end our journey especially as we had some dear friends meet and walk with us in Scotland. We chose to take 7 days for this trip as we had very little time left on our holiday, but now in writing this I really wish we had more time to see what Scotland has to offer.
For this journey, we had pre-booked our accommodation before leaving Australia, so we knew that each night we had a place to stay. Though upon arriving, we realised that this wasn’t necessary but still a good idea if you go during peak season.
Us at the start of our Scottish Highland journey.
Maps and guidebooks
These can be easily obtained online or even from any of the tourist centres or outdoor stores once you arrive.
The terrain is not technically difficult, but you will be ascending and descending a fair bit in sections. Expect mud, rocky paths, as well as country laneways and valley walks.
You can expect some rocky paths on this walk – so trekking poles are worth taking.
There is a variety of accommodation types you can expect on this route from hotels/Inns, B&B’s to hostels. You can also book a package service with one of the many tour companies who arrange everything for you from the accommodation, luggage transfers and even packed lunches.
If you want to get the wild camping experience, it is possible, though it’s best to check the ‘bylaws’ throughout the National Park areas. There are also dotted campgrounds along the way. Remember to respect the land you are camping on and leave no trace.
Don’t camp within paddocks and crop fields and stay clear of buildings and historic sites. For more information, check the Scottish outdoor access code site here.
Rowardennan hostel is just one of the places we stayed in.
Choosing one of the many tour companies
There are many companies to choose from to help you with your journey. From organising the whole trip, including accommodation to luggage transfer and meals, to others that are happy just to carry your luggage. Do some research and read reviews about other people’s experiences, and pick one based on what is going to work best for you.
The best time to visit
This is a trail that can be walked at any time of the year, but the best time is during spring or autumn. Do be aware that May is the peak season of the WHW and accommodation can be difficult to get. Another tip to remember is to avoid starting on a Saturday, as this is the favourite day to start and the accommodation could be tight.
If you want to enjoy your time, then walk the WHW in the spring or autumn.
What conditions you can expect
On any hiking journey, you must be prepared for whatever nature throws out and Scotland is no exception. Even though you will not be climbing any great heights, you are at the mercy of the Scottish weather and believe me she can give it all to you. So, whether you are carrying a day bag (and having your luggage transported) or carrying all your gear, be prepared for all weather conditions.
When that wind and rain rips through the moorlands you will feel it, so be sure to have good waterproof and warm clothes like thermals. Always check your guidebook for towns along the way to refuel with food and water, as there will be times you might need to carry a packed lunch and snacks.
You should also carry at least 2 litres of water per day. Be sure to also have your map and guidebook in your day bag rather than left in your luggage – it is no use to you there!
Don’t underestimate how cold it can get in Scotland, even in the warmer season.
Packing for the West Highland Way
To pack for the WHW, just remember it is Scotland and can be wetter and windier, with the average temperature lower than the rest of the UK. May, June and July are their sunniest months with the days being the longest of the year with the lowest rainfall.
In the Highlands, they have an average of 250 days of rain per year. The average maximum temperature during these 3 months is 15-17C (59-63F), remembering wind chill factor is a lot colder. Keep this in mind when packing for this walk and ensure that your clothes are going to be warm enough for the trip.
Also, If you have chosen a company to transport your luggage, then be sure to check with them the maximum weight allowance as well.
2 hats. One for the sun (if it shows) and one for the cold.
Gloves for when it gets cold and that wind blows.
A Buff. This is a great item to protect you from the wind and cold.
Sarong or Shemagh. This is my must-have item and it has many uses including – a scarf, a towel and a wrap for after a shower or can be used as a picnic blanket. You can also create many outfits to wear in the evenings like a top, a jacket, a skirt or even a bag, just to name a few.
Something to sleep in.
A windproof jacket, hiking poles and a day pack are just some of the essentials you’ll need.
Over the years of travel, I have found that the hotels where you start and end your journey are always more than happy to store your excess luggage. We left gear we did not need for the WHW at our hotel in Glasgow and retrieved it on our return.
Your hostel or hotel will likely be happy to store your excess baggage for you.
The route and towns on the West Highland WayMilngavie to Dryman – 19km (12 miles)
This day is a relatively easy one and starts in the centre of town at the large granite obelisk, which marks the official start of the Way. As you leave the urban landscape you head into the Lowlands, through farmlands, pass Lochs and enter the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
Dryman to Rowardennan – 22.5km (14 miles)
Today you will be walking along the famous Loch Lomond, but not before climbing up over ‘Conic Hill’. Hope for a clear day, as the views looking down over the Loch and its many islands are simply stunning when it is.
If there are clear skies, the views from Conic Hill are incredible.
Rowardennan to Inverarnan – 22.5km (14 miles)
Today you will work for your walk a wee bit harder, you’ll also have a choice of taking the high route or the low route. Hint: The low way is not the easy way but well worth the scrabbling along the stones beside the Loch. To end the day, you might want to stay in the allegedly haunted 310-year-old Drover’s Inn. We experienced no ghosts, but we ate a great meal and stayed in the room named ‘Rob Roy’.
Inverarnan to Tyndrum – 19.5km (12 miles)
Today you will pass by ruins of St. Fillan’s Chapel. This is the battleground of Daligh where Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, was defeated by Clan MacDougalls back in 1306. Tip: the whole way along there is some amazing history worth researching about the West Highland Way.
Look out for the ruins of Fillan’s chapel, the site where Robert the Bruce was defeated in the 1300s.
Tyndrum to Kingshouse – 30.5km (19 miles)
This was our longest walk but my favourite day. Along the way, you will walk through some beautiful moorlands as well as on some old military roads. You are now at the gateway to the Highlands! Tip: Kingshouse is one of the most remote places along the way, so if you’re not staying there, you can bus or cab back to your accommodation.
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven – 14.5km (9 miles)
This one is a short day but there are a few hills, including ‘The Devils Staircase’. The name says it all, taking you up to the highest point on the Way which is 550m above sea level. If the weather treats you well the views you receive on the Glencoe mountains is just outstanding. Tip: Beware of midges in the area.
The view of the walk to Kinlochleven.
Kinlochleven to Fort William – 24km (16 miles)
More steep hills today and very open areas, as well as some protection from the elements in the woodlands of the Nevis Forest before descending into Fort William. This is a historical town that has the mountains surrounding it, including the famous Ben Nevis.
Getting to and from the WHW
To start your way, it is easy enough to get to Milngavie as it is only 13km (8 miles) northwest of the Glasgow city centre. You can quite easily catch a taxi that will take around 15 mins and cost approximately $45 AUD or by train which on weekdays runs every 15 mins and every 20 mins on weekends. This option takes approximately 20 mins and will set you back around $5.50 AUD. There are also buses that travel there and take up to 40 mins travel time.
To return from Fort William there are a few train routes available. The rides will take between 3.5 – 6 hrs, so do check with ScotRail to get the one you want. Prices vary as well. There are buses available which take around 3.5 hrs.
If you are needing to get to Edinburgh from Fort William this is possible by train with the average time taking 5 hrs. There are also bus services too taking around 4.5hrs.
Getting to and from this walk is fairly easy from..
In the above picture, we have a 70L rucksack, which is a good sized pack for most hiking and trekking adventures.
The Black Wolf 3D 500 sleeping bag in the image above is a popular style for general camping. It has a synthetic fill and a comfort temperature rating of approximately -5 °C. As you can see it’s going to occupy a significant amount of real estate in your pack.
Even when compressed, as can be seen on the right of the image, it is still a big unit, and what’s even worse is that it weighs in at about 3 kg. This sleeping bag is best kept for car camping trips.
The Latitude LtI Sleeping bag is half the size and weight when compressed compared to the 3D 500 above.
In the above image, we have the same 70L rucksack and a Sea to Summit Latitude LtI which a good all-rounder down-filled sleeping bag. It shares a similar comfort rating as the sleeping bag mentioned above (approx. -4 °C). Even before it is compressed it is far smaller than the camping sleeping bag featured in the top image.
Furthermore, on the right you can see the same bag compressed ready to be stashed in a rucksack. Not only is it less than half the size, at 0.88 kg, it is less than half the weight of the sleeping bag mentioned above.
This is the sort of packed size and weight you should be aiming for in a hiking and trekking sleeping bag.
What’s the difference in design?
Sleeping bags that are designed for camping are usually square in shape, roomy, comfortable and made with tough, durable fabrics. Packed size and weight are generally a secondary consideration in their design.
A hiking bag is usually tapered, often mummy in shape for thermal efficiency (more on this later), are made with lighter fabrics and have a hollow fibre synthetic or down fill material. They are designed primarily to offer warmth at a minimal weight and packed size.
The Trek TkIII Sleeping bag is an example that balances space and weight well. Image: Sea to Summit
What is all the sleeping bag terminology?
Firstly, let’s talk about shapes, which there are quite a few of. Each sleeping bag shape is often also available in different sizes/lengths to suit every individual.
The most common shapes are:1. Square
This offers lots of internal space and can be either with or without a hood. This shape is usually found on general use camping sleeping bags that are made for comfort.
A tapered cut reduces some of the dead space in a sleeping bag which improves thermal efficiency. These are a good shape for those wanting space in their sleeping bag whilst trying to save on weight.
Mummy shapes have a figure-hugging cut, there’s little to no dead space in the bag, so they can trap a layer of warm air right next to your body. These are designed purely for efficiency and are preferred by alpinists wanting the best warmth to weight ratio from their sleeping bag.
This hoodless and tapered design is great for warm weather or hostel use. Image: Sea to Summit
Some of the less common shapes are: 1. Hoodless tapered
Hoodless tapered bags are a good choice for travel when you want a compact sleep solution to use in hostels. These are also popular lightweight bags for summer adventures.
Generally kept for warm weather adventures, the concept of a quilt is that it will provide warmth over the top whilst your mat provides warmth from underneath. They are usually found in the rucksack of an ultra-lightweight hiker as the absence of zips or a hood shaves off extra grams for those who are conscious of how much weight they’re carrying.
3. Women’s specific
A women’s specific bag is usually roomier in the hip area and will be generally shorter in length to prevent any dead space. Women’s model bags will also often have extra insulation in areas, such as the footbox and the torso.
Women may find that female-specific bags provide a tailored sleeping experience for technical expeditions. Image: Sea to Summit
Now for the terminology:Baffles
Simply described, these are the cavities between the stitching on a sleeping bag. This term is often used when referring to a down bag where the baffles stop all the down from ending up at one end of the bag.
Most general-use sleeping bags taper to a point at the end, which, if you are tall, doesn’t leave a lot of room for your feet. A footbox is usually found on tapered and mummy shaped bags where a three-dimensional box creates space for your feet to rest without feeling restricted or pushing against the side of the bag.
Baffles section off the fill of a bag so that you have even insulation and warmth. Image: Thermarest
These insulation filled tubes run alongside the zipper on the inside of the bag. They are designed to fill the insulation gap created by the zipper and minimise airflow through the zipper.
This is situated inside the sleeping bag around the top of your shoulders. It can usually be tightened to keep the warm air from escaping out the top.
This is the bit that goes over or sits under your head. These too can be either flat or three dimensional in their design. You lose about 30% of your body heat from your head, so having a good hood that efficiently hugs your head is going to make a big difference on a cold night.
A 3D hood will add extra warmth when the conditions are chilly. Image: Sea to Summit
Should I get a down or a synthetic sleeping bag?
The fill is what gives a sleeping bag its thermal properties, and there are two types of material used – down and synthetic.
Both of these materials have pros and cons, but both are suitable for hiking and camping. Without getting too technical, I’ll summarise both for you below.
You’ll find both duck and/or goose down in a sleeping bag.
Duck down is more cost efficient, but goose down offers better performance.
Down is differentiated by a loft rating (650, 700, 850+). The higher the rating, the more warmth you get at a lesser weight.
Down bags pack up much smaller and offer excellent warmth to weight ratio.
If looked after, down bags can last for decades.
If down becomes wet it loses all its warmth-retaining properties.
Down bags are expensive when compared to synthetic bags.
Down bags are generally warmer but come at a cost. Image: Sea to Summit
There are hundreds of proprietary synthetic fibres on the market. Some of these include Thermolite, Primaloft, or Hyperloft.
Synthetic fill does not compress as much and does not provide the same warmth to weight ratio as down.
Hollow fibre synthetic offers the best performance for a synthetic fill.
Synthetic bags offer some insulation even if wet and are easy to care for.
If synthetic fill starts to break down, the sleeping bag cannot be rejuvenated.
Synthetic filled bags are more affordable than down.
Synthetic bags can be a little easier to maintain. Image: Sea to Summit
Choosing the right temperature rating
There’s no clear-cut answer here, so the best advice we could give is to make sure you choose a bag with a comfort rating (not extreme rating) that is 5 to 10 degrees lower than the average temperature you expect to be spending most of your time sleeping in.
Remember, a sleeping bag can be warmed up a little with extra clothing and a thermal liner and it can also be unzipped and used as a duvet on warm nights, so sticking to an average expected temperature will give you the most versatility. Check out this article here to help you better understand sleeping bag temperature ratings.
How much does a sleeping bag for hiking cost?
As you’ve probably guessed, there’s no straightforward answer here. For a reliable synthetic filled bag for hiking, prices start at around $120 AUD and extend to above $300 AUD, depending on the make.
For a good quality all-round-use down sleeping bag, you can expect to pay $300-400 AUD, whereas a technical or specialist sleeping bag can set you back $700+ AUD.
Pick a temperature rating that reflects the conditions you’ll be using the bag most in. Image: Sea to Summit
Can I just stuff my sleeping bag back into its storage sack?
Yes, in fact, this is what we recommend. Even though the process of ramming your sleeping bag into its storage sack seems somewhat careless compared to neatly folding and rolling it, it can actually be better for the bag.
This is especially relevant for synthetic filled bags, let me explain why.
When rolling the bag, you often need to fold it in half first, and this fold often ends up being in the same spot every time, which with repetition can cause the fibres to break or separate along the fold and create a cold spot.
The process of tightly rolling a sleeping bag also places tension on the synthetic fibres around the outside of the roll, potentially causing them to break. It also tends to encourage the fill to remain in a flat rather than lofted state.
Stuffing your synthetic sleeping bag overcomes both of these issues. It may look all crinkled next time you pull it out, but it’s going to keep you a whole lot warmer.
As for down bags, stuffing is just far easier than rolling, you just need to be gentle. And if your bag has a waterproof shell, turn it inside out before stuffing so the air escapes from the bag easily during the process.
Check out the video below where we show you how to do this for both general camping and lightweight hiking sleeping bags.
How to Pack a Sleeping Bag - YouTube
In this video, we show you the best way to pack up a down bag and a synthetic bag.
Storage & Care
No matter which type of sleeping bag you have, proper care will ensure you get the longest life out of your investment. Only wash your bag when absolutely necessary, as repetitive washing can contribute to the fill material breaking down.
The use of a liner extends the life of your sleeping bag as you can wash the liner regularly rather than the sleeping bag.
Synthetic bags are easy to care for as they can be placed in a front loading washing machine with normal detergent on a gentle cycle and hung out to dry.
Down sleeping bags require a little more care and consideration, check out this article for a full guide on washing, storing and caring for your down sleeping bag.
That’s all the advice we have for choosing a sleeping bag for your lightweight adventures – whether it be for kayaking, climbing, bike touring or trekking. Whichever sleeping bag you land on, we hope you sleep soundly in it on your next adventure.
When I first thought about writing an article on how to have the best possible time on the Great Ocean Road, I wondered what on Earth I could add that isn’t readily available online.
But, after chatting to a few friends about their real-world experiences, I realised that beyond the usual ‘see this, see that’ advice, there was a lack of practical advice that could take your experience above and beyond.
And, that’s the key! The Great Ocean Road is epic, but it’s hardly an undiscovered secret destination. So if you’re not careful, you can literally be swamped by busloads of tourists and end up feeling completely underwhelmed.
Based on my many trips there, and the thoughts of my fellow explorers here’s the best advice I can offer.
If you’re exploring the Great Ocean Road, here are my real-world tips.
1. The early bird gets the worm & the solitude
We all like to sleep in, but if you get up early and hit the busiest places first, you not only get awesome early morning light, you get to avoid the busloads of tourists that descend at much more civilised times. This is usually between about 10 am and 4 pm.
Wake up early, enjoy the sights in peace, then have a ‘nana nap’ later if you need to, when everyone else is fighting for a view. That early morning light also makes for sexier photos!
If you don’t want to share the experience with lots of people, an early start is a must.
2. Sometimes the best bits aren’t the best bits
You don’t need me to tell you what the most loved highlights are – the Twelve Apostles, Loch And Gorge, the Bay of Islands, The Grotto and London Bridge (even though it’s fallen down) – are all popular for good reasons.
They’re all epic and beautiful and magical. But, in addition to the main viewing platforms, you’ll also find a few random, unmarked turnoffs which offer an alternative, less crowded, view of some of these attractions.
You don’t have to be Burke & Wills, just try a few turns offs and see what happens.
There are so many highlights to visit, but you should explore further as well.
3. The Great Ocean Road is more than a road
Because of its name, it’s tempting to think of this journey as being purely a coastal drive. And, to also envision the main attractions as being along the main road.
If you’re in the neighbourhood, I cannot suggest highly enough that you take enough time to explore some of the surrounding areas, especially the Otways, which is easily one of my favourite natural places in Australia. The Redwoods, the waterfalls – Hopetoun and Beauchamp are two of my favourites but there’s plenty more. It’s all amazing.
As a runner, I’m also quite partial to tipping my hat to the legendary ‘gumboot runner’ Cliffy Young memorial at Beech Forest.
The waterfalls at the Otways are just one of the incredible places to see along the way.
4. Take your time – because you may not have any choice
Whenever I talk about road trips, I always remind people not to be seduced by ‘distances’. It’s easy to see that something is 50km away and assume you can get there in half an hour doing the 100kmh speed limit. Of course, that’s not always the case, and on the Great Ocean Road, it’s rarely the case.
It’s a popular and very winding road at times, which means you’re often travelling way below the allowed speed limit. So, when you’re planning your day, assume you’ll be caught behind a caravan, being towed by a one-legged guy on a push bike.
Allow about 50% more time than you think it will take and enjoy the drive.
Allow more time to get to places, as you won’t be driving at full speed the whole time.
5. The best time to go isn’t necessarily the best time to go
Most people like to go to the ocean when the weather is fine. Makes perfect sense. Who doesn’t love clear blue skies, warm weather, and a bit of sunshine? It’s also when the Great Ocean Road is busiest. For me, there are all kinds of beauty – including stormy skies and rough oceans. These sights are easily as beautiful as a clear summer day. Maybe even more so.
As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. So, get your warm clothes, your wet weather gear, and head out in the off-season to enjoy a different and less crowded side of the Great Ocean Road.
Just drive little slower, turn the heater up a little higher, and keep your camera in a waterproof bag. Another upside of going in winter or early spring is the waterfalls are always way more impressive as well!
Grey skies are just as breathtaking as a warm summer’s day.
7. Are the cafes and restaurants overrated or should you cook your own meals?
I’m a fly by the seat of my pants guy, so for food, I’m just as likely to grab a bag of bread rolls and some cheese before I take off, then improvise along the way. I’d much rather sit and eat in a random, beautiful spot I’ve stumbled across than sit in a crowded restaurant with Instagrammers taking photos of their food because Trip Advisor says it’s good.
That said, I’ve enjoyed plenty of good meals in the more major towns including Torquay, Lorne, Apollo Bay and Port Campbell. There’s all the usual stuff you’d expect including pub meals, pizza places, Thai, and of course seafood – so you won’t be short of choice.
At around 100km in distance, the Apollo Bay to Port Campbell leg is one of the longest (it’s about double the distance between those other towns). So, a quick stop at The Shoppe in the small town of Lavers Hill, which is at the halfway mark, is usually on my agenda. Breaks up the drive nicely, and the food is good. And as an aside, there are also public toilets right next to it which is good to know.
If you’ve never used The Toilet Map before, it’s well worth checking it out if you’re not a ‘go in the bushes’ kind of traveller.
There are plenty of places to eat along the way, but bring some staples to get by. Image: Jack Rabbit Vineyard
8. The best places to stay along the Great Ocean Road
A few final comments on logistics if you’re planning a trip there. The Great Ocean Road takes a total distance of 243km. So, as you can imagine, there’s plenty of places to stay and eat along the way.
As far as places to stay go, there’s the full range of options from camping and caravans parks to fancy places and Airbnbs – so go with what you’re comfortable with. I’ll usually keep it simple and sleep in the back of my car or stay in a caravan park if I want a shower, but Trip Advisor and apps such as Wikicamps are your friends here for the best options.
Just keep in mind during peak season, and especially on long weekends and school holidays, it gets super busy so availability is lower, and prices are higher.
I stayed in my vehicle, or in caravan parks – but there is a range of accommodation options. Image: Cumberland-River Holiday Park
9. Logistics and phone reception
One final tip… if your car is unreliable, or like me, you’re a bit of a dill and miscalculate your fuel consumption, keep in mind that while you’re unlikely to be stranded for weeks, if something goes wrong mobile coverage can be sketchy in places and mechanical help can take a while to arrive. Even in off-peak season, you probably won’t have to wait long to flag someone down during the day, but I waited quite a few hours for the RAA to come and rescue me on my last trip.
So, maybe take a good book to read. For the record, I was driving a very old convertible sports car and the fuel gauge didn’t work properly. I broke down literally only 2km from a fuel stop, but couldn’t walk there and back because of the equipment I had in the car. So I had to wait for the RAA and he was the only person on call covering a very large area! Not ideal.
Make sure you plan for fuel and get your vehicle checked so you don’t get caught out. Image: Visit Victoria
There are two types of packers – the meticulous list-makers who start folding clothes a month in advance, and the overnight rushers who, 99% of the time, forget something. Neither way is right or wrong, but there is another style of packing that’s somewhere in between, The minimalist traveller.
If the mere thought of packing, forgetting something or lugging around 20+ kilograms on your back stresses you out, it’s okay. We’re going to teach you how to turn from meticulous or messy to minimal. First up, let’s define it.
Travelling with minimal gear means more experiences like this.
What is a minimalist traveller?
Okay, you’ve heard of the ‘van life’ movement? Or small houses in the woods? Both lifestyle choices celebrate minimalism. A minimalist traveller is someone who carries very little and chooses quality over quantity. There’s an art to minimal travelling (and probably a science to it, too).
There’s no frantic packing or agonising over a ‘packing list’. Minimalists follow their intuition and won’t listen to any ‘top 10 packing essentials for Paris… or Alaska… or China.’ They follow their gut and remain calm by packing smart with the essentials.
Don’t freak out if you don’t see yourself as a minimalist. It’s an approach to travel (and life) that comes with experience. Often, when you’re being frugal with money, like backpacking Asia in your 20’s. Luxury, all-inclusive holidays won’t always teach you this. But that’s okay – you can’t learn intentionally.
You can adopt a minimalist mindset no matter what kind of adventures you go on.
Adopt the minimalist’s mindset when you pack
To become a minimalist, the most important part is accepting the mindset shift. Don’t listen to that annoying inner voice that tells you ‘pack this!’ It comes with practice. The more you travel, you learn what to value and how to pack according to your destination.
But, if you’re just starting out on your adventures, focus on developing the mindset. A simple tactic is to question yourself. Pick up an item and second guess whether you need it or not. Think of scenarios where you’ll use it. Train your mind to focus on quality, not quantity. It requires a dash of creativity to envision how something can be repurposed.
Like hairdryers, ladies. Do you really need one? If you’re staying in hotels, chances are they have one. If not, do the ‘I’m on holiday’ look and let those waves go untamed. Most toiletry bottles are big and take up a lot of suitcase real estate. Buy small travel-sized bottles and pour your products into them to save space.
Getting into the minimalist mindset is where you need to start.
Know the difference between want vs. need
Get comfortable with simplicity and know how to separate what you want from what you need. It’s simple. If you can still continue your day successfully without that item, it’s a want. For example, ‘will I still be able to read if I don’t have this book?’ If you’ve answered yes (because you’ve got another book or can read on your laptop or iPhone), don’t bring it. Use this approach for everything you pack.
There’s nothing fun about lugging around lots of heavy gear when you travel. You’ll likely pay more for your bag on budget airlines, but more importantly, you can risk missing out on cool experiences. Years ago, after having just got into Prague, I was walking to my hostel and stumbled upon a walking tour. I heard they were good and had some time before check-in, so I joined the group. It ended up being a fun walk and I made friends who were actually staying at my hostel. We went out for dinner that night and to this day, we still keep in touch.
This is what travel is all about: embracing spontaneity. Had I been carrying a huge rucksack, I probably would have thought twice.
Do you really need to pack a bunch of books? Edit down your stash when you travel.
How to pack for all seasons
Melbourne gets labelled as the all seasons in one day city. Trips to places like this challenge the minimalist but there’s one word that will be your secret packing weapon: layers.
Whether you’re hiking in the NSW Blue Mountains, soaking up rays on the Greek Islands or exploring the streets of New York City, layering your clothes will work. Tights can be styled with a dress and worn out to dinner on a cooler night – as well as worn as a bottom layer if you’re hiking. You just need to adjust the layers, based on the temperature.
Pack versatile items and think in the way of layers. What can you dress up or down? What can you wear independently or as a layer, if it’s cold? This should guide you through the packing process. It’s also important to make sure you’ve got the right gear. If you’ve got a huge suitcase, it’s going to be hard not to fill it up. Get your gear right first, then packing will be easier.
I use a 70L lightweight backpack with a small, detachable bag. All my clothes go in the big rucksack, then I store the miscellaneous items (that I’ll want on the plane) in the smaller bag.
Versatile items that can be layered and fit into a smaller bag are what you need.
Here are some of the essentials that are always with me, regardless of the location or season:
Laptop with a protective sleeve (don’t forget this part)
Notebook, pen, and one book (that I haven’t started)
Travel wallet (don’t print anything but visas. The rest is stored on my phone to save space).
(Stylish) sneakers (for exercising & walking around in the day)
Thongs for the day (and also the shower, if I’m staying in hostels)
Clothing for one week, depending on destination (weekly washing is standard for a traveller).
Regardless of the season, I’m always prepared for anything with my edited stash of gear.
Experiences over things
Many studies have shown that experiences bring us more happiness, not things (your new excuse to always travel?) The paradox of possessions is important to explore, especially in your journey to travelling and living minimally. The trouble with things is that the happiness it creates diminishes quickly. Experiences live on in our minds forever, as memories.
When you start looking at life in this way, value-adding through experiences, you’ll find you’re more cut-throat when it comes to packing. Downsizing is a learning curve but over time, you’ll learn to detach from physical items and appreciate travel for what it’s really about: personal growth, new adventures, and freedom. I invest in a few quality items that usually last me for years.
Once you start travelling, you’ll be able to embrace experiences over possessions.
Adapting as you go
If I need to purchase something quick, I’ll do it with the assumption that I won’t have it for long and it’ll probably end up in the bin before my next destination. I only give myself the luxury of this if I’m in a place for a few weeks. Know how much space you have based on your essentials, then play around with that extra room however you please.
When you buy less, this enriches your travel experiences ten-fold – because you can do more, see more, experience more. And, isn’t that what a journey is all about?
Thinking minimally can help you add value to your experiences outside of travelling.
How minimalism can be applied to other areas of your life
Minimalism is a skill that you can use in all areas of your life, not just travel. Don’t let fear or the scarcity mindset rule what goes into your bag.
Give yourself the freedom to let the trip take you to places you could never have imagined… and do it without a heavy, burdensome bag. Oh, the simple life.
Have you embraced travelling with less? Or are you an everything but the kitchen sink packer?
If you want to see the real Australia, you need to get off the beaten track. Having a 4WD is the ultimate way to do this. There’s so much to see and do in this great land, but the best of it is off the bitumen roads!
Building a 4WD up to explore Australia is becoming increasingly popular all over the country. You won’t find any 4WD off the factory floor that is well set up for travelling, camping and exploring Australia, and the ‘build’ refers to various modifications, accessories and changes made to make the vehicle more suitable for touring.
The perfect touring 4WD is one that is self-sufficient, capable and comfortable to take yourself, your partner or your whole family off the beaten track for however long you choose to travel for. For some people, this is a weekend here and there, but for others, it’s travelling for extended periods of time.
Everyone will have a different idea of a ‘perfect’ 4WD.
Not everyone’s perfect 4WD is the same
I can’t stress the importance of building a 4WD to suit your requirements. Don’t throw a heap of money at a vehicle without the relevant underlying purposes. What you end up with may be completely different to your neighbours and workmates.
The build should suit how you use your 4WD, as that’s the only thing you will care about when touring!
A Land Rover is a great example of a touring vehicle.
Start with the right vehicle
Building a 4WD up to tour Australia can be an expensive and time-consuming exercise. The worst thing you can do is start with the wrong vehicle in mind and get too far along the build. I’ve seen a lot of people spend a small fortune in time and money on a 4WD only to realise it will never really do what they want it to, and then you’ve either got to compromise and live with it, or sell it and start again.
You can never do too much research! Have a really good think about what you want the 4WD for, how long you are going to keep it for, what it’s going to cost you to keep and where you want to visit.
If you are into the normal touring then you have a lot of options. If you want to get into the tough touring, or harder 4WD tracks then you need to look a little more carefully.
Choose wisely before you begin modifying. Pictured is a highly modified Hilux.
What’s the real aim here?
The end goal is to build a 4WD that allows you to travel Australia comfortably, safely, easily and with some form of self-sufficiency. What you stay in, who you go with, where you travel and what you get up to form the basis of building your 4WD.
Here’s our new Izuzu Dmax, ready for the build.
What makes a good touring 4WD?
It’s got to make you happy
The more you use your 4WD, the quicker you’ll identify things that frustrate or annoy you. These are the things that you can work on. If cleaning the dishes is a pain because you don’t have access to water easily, or setting your tent up is too hard, you’ll soon become unhappy with it. The perfect touring 4WD meets your requirements and makes touring a pleasure.
Your vehicle ultimately needs to suit you and make you happy.
If you can pack up and head away from civilisation for more than a couple of days, you are self-sufficient. This covers your ability to eat, sleep, go to the toilet and explore in comfort. You want to be able to recover yourself if you get stuck, or repair anything (to an extent) that might go wrong in your travels.
If you have regular problems with your 4WD, then it isn’t self-sufficient. Obviously, you are going to need to call into civilisation to get food, water and fuel, but there’s no reason why you can’t set a 4WD up to spend 1 – 3 weeks away from any shops.
Carrying your own rubbish properly is just one part of self-sufficiency.
Ease of meal preparation and cooking
A big part of camping is being able to prepare meals in a way that is tasty, relatively healthy and without too much difficulty. Some people love cooking over the fire, whilst others prefer a gas burner and one pot meals.
Whatever it is, being able to prepare food and then clean up with ease will form a big part of building the perfect touring 4WD.
A 12V fridge is one of the best modifications you can make to your vehicle for meals.
Quick, simple and comfortable sleeping arrangements
When it comes to camping, the easiest way to ruin your trip is to have a terrible night’s sleep (especially if more than one!). If you are waking up with a sore back, covered in condensation or with frozen feet, things can be improved on.
Whether you opt for a rooftop tent, normal tent, swag or tow a camper trailer, it all forms part of being able to spend a night in the bush in comfort.
A custom built canopy may be something that works for your set up.
Functional modifications for storage and power
The best part about building a 4WD is coming up with ways to make your storage and power functional. A fridge is a brilliant place to start and being able to access what you need regularly with ease will make or break your touring vehicle.
Lights that provide the brightness and angle to suit how you use your vehicle are super important – struggling to see what is in a drawer in the middle of the night is not part of a vehicle that is well set up.
These days, the electrical systems are becoming hugely impressive – you can take your inverters and coffee machines if you really want. Obviously, these cost more money than a basic setup, but if that’s what you want, go for it!
Have a good think about storing water and fuel too. Australia is a big place, so you need plenty of water and often a lot of fuel too.
Spotlights and a bull bar are both additions that you should consider.
Building your 4WD
Make a plan!
If possible, even before buying your 4WD, sit down and work out what you want to do. Write down every modification, who’s going to build and fit it, and how much it’s going to cost. Look at the weights, and ensure you are going to be compliant when it’s all done.
If you ignore the planning stage, you’ll still eventually get it right but it will cost you a bucket load more money and a lot of extra time and effort. If you don’t plan, you will make expensive and time-consuming mistakes.
Do you have safe storage options with your vehicle?
Do it slowly
The more travelling you’ve done, the better equipped you are at making good decisions for modifying your 4WD. There’s no need to throw every accessory under the sun onto your 4WD, especially if it won’t add much value to you.
Start slow, travel with your 4WD and make a note each time you go touring of the things that are frustrating or difficult. When you get home, modify the vehicle to suit.
Other important things to look at:
How heavy is it?
If you build a 4WD up for touring, you’ll soon have to face the battle of weights. Like all vehicles, you can only add so much weight to your 4WD before it becomes illegal. When you plan the build, pay careful attention to what your 4WD can carry and how you use your precious payload.
4WD shows are a great place to get ideas and to also see a lot of gear quickly and easily.
Is it legal?
In order to maintain insurance and stay on the right side of the law, your vehicle must be roadworthy. While a big lift kit and tyres might look great, they aren’t legal without jumping through a lot of hoops (if you are going to do it, get it engineered and do it properly!). The risk of driving an illegal vehicle around is just too high, so keep it legal.
Communications and safety
Whilst travelling, you want to be safe. Think about how you are going to communicate (UHF radio, satellite phone and/or emergency locational devices), what you need for first aid and what to do when something goes wrong.
Ensure there are lots of gauges to help you keep an eye on everything.
I’ve seen some truly amazing 4WDs setup for touring that cost less than $10,000. On the other end of the spectrum, there are 4WDs worth more than my house. If you don’t budget (and do it well) it will bite you badly.
You don’t need the top of the range equipment to have an amazing time touring around Australia. I’ve seen people use office filing cabinets as drawers in the back of their 4WDs. As long as it works, you can’t ask for much more than that!
Here’s an example of rear drawers and a fridge slide setup for touring.
Above all, building the perfect touring 4WD is about having a tool that makes travelling Australia enjoyable for you and those with you. It’s very much a personal thing and although you can learn and copy some amazing ideas from others in the industry, not every 4WD built for touring Australia is the same.
Having a 4WD that is set up and ready to travel at a moment’s notice is one of the best things I’ve ever done. The memories made and experiences had as an individual, with mates, friends and family through a 4WD cannot have a dollar value put on them.
Being able to explore whenever you want will make the process worthwhile.
If you’ve been thinking of touring Australia, I can’t rate it higher. There’s something for everyone and with a well thought out 4WD, you’ll have the time of your life. See you out there!
Do you have your dream touring 4WD? If so, what modifications did you do to it?
It’s a case of “brawn vs. beauty” with these two Victorian mountains. Mt Bogong is the state’s highest peak while Mt Feathertop is one of the prettiest, and quite unlike the others in its sharp, rugged formation.
You could conquer both in separate, long day-hikes. Or you could spend a little more time and enjoy staying overnight in the presence of these two Victorian giants.
Getting there and away
Bogong and Feathertop are located in the Victorian Alpine National Park. This area is easily accessible and well-serviced by the towns of Bright and Mt Beauty. Bright is a 4-hour drive from Melbourne via Wangaratta or 10-hour drive from Adelaide via Swan Hill and Echuca.
This presents opportunities to break up the trip from Adelaide with overnight rest stops along the Murray River.
This entire ridgeline is traversed on the Feathertop Summit walk.
Supplies & shops
Bright is best to stock up on groceries and fuel, or Mt Beauty (a couple of supermarkets and fuel stations). Top up supplies as required at Hotham (The General pub & store open year-round – (03) 5759 3523).
A good place to fill up water drums is at Hotham Village Central in the public service area. Myrtleford Shell service station has a good selection of maps.
Many people choose to visit Feathertop as a long day hike. Approximately 21km return, an undulating trail begins at Diamantina Hut west of Hotham Village and follows the aptly-named Razorback to the summit of Feathertop at 1,922m.
Park your car on the incredibly steep road alongside Diamantina Hut, fill out the visitor book at the trailhead shelter and off you go. If you had any doubts about whether you applied your vehicle’s handbrake it’s probably too late now anyway. Just enjoy the hike and deal with the carnage upon your return.
From the beginning of the trail, the entire length of the Razorback and summit of Feathertop can be observed before you walk it – an impressive and daunting sight. The ridgeline is quite exposed, with little shade or shelter, especially the last section past the Federation hut turnoff.
Weather can change quickly in the Alps, so be prepared with clothing (raincoat & sunhat) and sufficient water.
The view of the final saddle and summit of Mt Feathertop.
Overnighters near Feathertop
There are multiple options for overnight hikes incorporating an ascent of Feathertop. Bungalow Spur is a 10km climb from Harrietville to Federation Hut (~1,100m altitude). Another quality loop is as described along the Razorback to Feathertop, then a hard slog down Diamantina Spur (slippery if brush cutting has occurred recently) and through the valley of the West Kiewa River, camping overnight at Blair’s Hut. The next morning, return to Hotham via Machinery Spur, or alternatively Swindlers Spur and picturesque Dibbins Hut.
There are plenty of wildflowers to discover in the Victorian high country.
As with all huts in the High Country, minimise impact and respect tradition by camping outside the huts. Keep them available for ill-weather and emergency accommodation.
Some water is available at Federation and MUMC huts (not to be relied upon in summer), West Kiewa River, and several hard-to-find springs near Feathertop.
Sign near the base of Diamantina Spur, ahead is a painful ascent or joyous celebration if you’re on the way down.
What Mt Bogong lacks in prettiness (its more of a giant mound than rugged peak like Feathertop), it makes up with incredible panoramic views and inspiring heritage. Access is via Mt Beauty, or drive up to Falls Creek and hike in from the southern side.
The final leg into Hotham via Swindlers spur.
The Bogong day hike is a not-to-be-sniffed-at 16-20km return trip, gaining ~1,300m of altitude along Staircase Spur from Mountain Creek Road, east of Mt Beauty. The trail ascends with switchbacks through forest and heath to Bivouac Hut. However, after passing the hut the route begins on a thigh-burningly direct path toward the 1,986m summit.
I’ve only ever come down this way, and unless pressed for time, I probably wouldn’t bother with just the day hike when there are so many beautiful places to camp overnight on the southern side of Bogong. Eskdale or Granite Flat Spurs are alternatives for day hiking.
Alpine woods south of Bogong – the trees are still recovering from the 2003 bushfires.
Multi-day hiking around Mt Bogong
It’s possible to explore many of the spurs and peaks to the southwest of Mt Bogong. Or you can link up with the Australian Alps Walking Track via Maddison’s Hut ruins. A recommended two-night itinerary is a short (3hr) first day from Falls Creek to Ropers Hut. This has a beautiful flat camping area underneath huge snow gums.
The following day, cross the valley of Big River to Cleve Cole Hut, visiting Howman Falls along the way. And on the final day, summit Bogong and walk out via Staircase Spur. This itinerary does require two cars and a 4-hour shuffle, so consider returning to Falls Creek via Quartz Ridge and Mt Arthur.
Freeze your giblets off swimming in Howman Falls, a half-hour trip from Cleve Cole Hut south of Bogong.
Carry the usual gear as required for day walks or overnight hiking. A 60L rucksack should provide plenty of space if you’re hiking with a partner/group and sharing a tent or stove. Water is usually available from soaks/streams in the mountains, even in the height of summer – treat it or don’t bother at your discretion.
A couple of 1L drink bottles is enough for daily drinking if you camp overnight with access to a water source for cooking. Prepare for chilly nights and for changes in the weather as well.
The Green Tent brigade strikes again – Companion Pro Hiker 2 and my trusty Oztrail purchased from Snowys eight years ago – used on many hikes.
What to Eat
Hiking food is a divisive subject. Most hikers fall into two categories: gourmet MasterChef-style gastronomical pleasure, or just food = fuel! My rucksack is usually full of those five-minute pasta & sauce sachets, a 1kg box of Favourites, a few peanuts, muesli/milk powder and tuna tins. And, not forgetting plenty of tea and coffee.
Each to their own I suppose. But, I reckon as long as you don’t always live on such an unbalanced diet, it helps create heaps of energy and sustenance for an enjoyable walk.
Camping at Roper Hut one trip, I saw brie and crackers followed by a half leg of ham and bottle of wine emerge from one of the fellow’s packs in our group. So, anything is possible if you don’t mind carrying it in! For more on planning meals for your hiking adventures, check out this article here.
Descending Bogong via Staircase Spur – 1,300m of knee-tingling altitude.
Why it’s worth doing
The Alpine National Park area around Mt Bogong and Mt Feathertop offers a myriad of options for exploring and bushwalking.
From well-beaten paths to cross-country bushwhacking, there is something for everyone if you want to experience the beauty and tranquillity of the Victoria High Country.
Is Victoria’s highest peak an adventure you want to undertake?
Standing so powerful and beautiful, Mont Blanc is the grand monarch of the European Alps. Sitting at an altitude of 4,810m above sea level, this is the highest peak in Europe. And, what makes her so incredible is that she’s accessible to all. You don’t need to be an “alpinist” to reach her as there are cable cars that can help non-climbers get up close to experience her from up high.
Mont Blanc is situated on a 40km mountain range that enters 3 countries – France, Italy and Switzerland with her summit being on the French side. There are glaciers that cover around 100sq km of this mountain, which is why she is known as Mont Blanc, meaning white mountain.
Heading up the Col du Bonhomme mountain pass.
I first visited the town of Chamonix in France back in 2010 and saw the grandeur of Mont Blanc. This is when I fell in love with this area. My husband and I spent a few days exploring, playing as happy tourists taking the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi, 3842m high, which is the highest I have ever been.
Up here you have the most stunning views overlooking Italy and Switzerland and on a good day, Mont Blanc shows herself proudly.
Hikers hopping in a cable car up to Aiguille du Midi.
Last year saw us back and ready to experience Mont Blanc in a very different way than we did before. We came back to walk the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), which is known as one of the greatest long-distance hikes in Europe. The walk is around 170km with 10,000m of ascent and takes you through the three countries of France, Switzerland and Italy.
Our journey had us hiking through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery, forest walks, and deep into the valleys. We stayed in a different village every night and sometimes even in a different country!
The Col de la Seigne pass crossing Italy to France.
Hiking the TMB
Many people start in Les Houches in France and travel anti-clockwise. The trail is marked in both directions, so we chose to start in Chamonix and go clockwise. When planning your flight, it’s best to fly into Geneva. This is where there are shuttle buses that can take you through to Les Houches or many of the other villages in the valley. My recommendation is to first check in with the hotel you will be staying at on the first night, as a lot of the hotels provide this service.
The time one would take to hike the TMB is anywhere between 5-12 days, depending on what you choose to do. Some of the paths you will be following are of ancient ones that have been used for many centuries. There are old mule and Shepherd’s pathways, old trade routes, roads of the Roman Soldiers and Celtic tribes. I found it really interesting to learn some of this history as we walked along.
There are several ways you can experience this hike. You can walk it independently or use one of the many companies that offer package deals. These include a self-guided option or a fully guided walk with all luggage transfers and accommodation sorted out for you.
Looking out towards Trient, Switzerland.
The independent way
Maps of this walk are easy enough to obtain if you choose to go this way and the waymarking is very clear as it is a very popular and well-used trail.
You will want to book accommodation ahead of time, as there are so many tour groups going through and they have pre-booked a lot of it, so it can be difficult especially during peak season to find anything despite there being an abundance of choice.
You can camp and there are many campgrounds along the way. I do recommend checking out the camping laws for each country if you decide to free camp.
Hikers trekking through the Col de la Seigne pass.
Choosing how many km to walk per day
Be realistic on the kilometres you choose to hike each day as some sections have quite a significant ascent and descent, this can make a 20km day in the mountains a lot harder than in the valleys.
Food and supplies
Do be aware of where you can obtain food as some of the mountain huts don’t stock food and other huts have a limited amount.
Using one of the many tour companies
The benefit of using a tour company is that they have a lot of choice in how you can walk the TMB. You can go with a guide and in a small group while having your luggage transferred. You can hike the TMB self-guided and the company will arrange all baggage transfers and accommodation. They will also provide you with up-to-date information and help along the way.
Higher up towards Col du Bonhomme.
Best time to walk the TMB
There is a limited season for walking the TMB which does create a bit of traffic along the way. This is a hiking route you cannot do in the winter months due to the harsh weather. It’s only recommended in the warmer seasons from late June to early September. Be aware that Europe have their main holiday time during August/September so expect the trail to be at it’s busiest then.
You must also be aware that the weather in the mountains can be very unpredictable. They can have extreme cold snaps at any time, this can result in snow or blizzards especially on the higher passes. We walked at the end of August, being the height of summer and had a mix of hot and snowy days.
Another important piece of information to be aware of is that the mountain huts on the passes don’t open till mid-June and usually shut down in mid-September.
Trekking high above Les Chapieux – a stopover on the trip.
With some lovely valley walks through forests, climbing up high rocky mountain passes, and even scrambling up sections at different points along the way. Be prepared to do it all and expect to get up to heights of 2,665m.
This is not of altitude that can cause sickness for most people, but it does give you a tough physical challenge nonetheless. Be prepared physically before setting out on this hike.
The view over Col du Bonhomme.
What to pack
To pack for a trip like this where you are heading up over mountain passes, you need to be prepared for all types of weather. Just because it’s summer, there can still be some severe weather at any time. This means that the temperatures drop drastically and fast!
Typically, June to September, the temperature is between 7°C and 24°C. Always check the weather on a regular basis while on this trip and do adhere to any warnings that may be in place. Don’t attempt a mountain pass if you know the weather will be severe. Also, remember the wind chill factor as your body temperature can drop at a fast rate.
If you are using a company to transport your baggage be sure to check the maximum weight allowance as often this is as little as 7kg.
The border of Italy and France along the trek.
Where you can stash your excess luggage
If you are travelling in Europe for a while other than just the walk, speak to your hotel where you will start and end your walk. Often they are happy to hold luggage that you won’t need on the walk.
Preparing for all kinds of weather
Whether you are carrying a day bag (and having your baggage transported) or carrying all your gear, you must have gear for all types of weather. Be sure to have wet weather gear and extra warm clothes like thermals. You will need to carry water, (up to 2 litres), snacks and most days you will need lunch. Though do check the map and guidebook as you may head through a village where you can obtain some food.
Also, carry your map and guidebook in your day bag, don’t leave it in your transferred luggage as it is no good to you in there.
There was snow on the ground when we left the Refuge de la Balme.
3 pairs of underwear. I don’t recommend you pack cotton as once it gets wet, it takes a long time to dry which may cause chafing. Also, once wet it loses all thermal properties. You want a fabric that wicks away sweat to keep you comfortable.
2 quick drying hiking shirts
2 zip-off hiking pants. Hiking pants are not only quicker at drying, having the zip-offs allows you the flexibility to wear shorts if it warms up or long pants when the temperature drops.
Rain jacket, rain pants (optional but highly recommended)
2 hats. One to keep the sun off and the other, a beanie, to keep your head warm when the temperature drops.
A buff. Tip: a buff also helps protect you from the wind and cold.
Gloves for when the temperature drops, I recommend this as I found mine to be invaluable!
Sarong or Shemagh. This I recommend for so many uses, for example – a scarf, a wrap for after the shower, a towel, a blanket to sit on, make into a bag for the evenings, make many different outfits like a jacket, top and skirt, just to name a few.
An example of route and towns that you can stay in
Day 1 – Les Houches to La Flegere. Distance – 18km.Day 2 –La Flegere to Trient. Distance – 19km.
You will find some variants on this day, as well as a chance to ride a cable car and a chairlift. At 14km there is a refuge on the Col de Balme (border of France/Italy). Note that this is an unmanned refuge and there is no food available here.
The sign pointing towards Trient.
Day 3 – Trient to Champex. Distance – 17km.
You will find some variants on this day. One is to take the high and more challenging route over the pass of Fenetre d’Arpette (2665m). Only take it if the weather is good, as in recent years there has been a rock slide. The other choice is to take the Bovine Trail, can be challenging with long ascents and descents but there is a place to stop, relax and have lunch half way. Both are very similar in distance.
Stopping for a rest and some lunch along the Bovine Trail.
Day 4 – Champex to Ferret. Distance – 18km.
There is a choice to stop at 16km and stay in La Fouly.
The view of the Val Ferret Valley in Switzerland.
Day 5 – Ferret to Rifugio Bonatti. Distance – 17km.
Another border crossing and high pass at 2537m. There are a few other options to stay at like we did at Rifugio Elena (approximately 10km) or Chalet Val Ferret (approximately 13km).
We stayed at the Rifugio Elena in the Aosta Valley in Italy.
Day 6 – Rifugio Bonatti to Courmayeur. Distance – 12km.
I highly recommend a day here as it is a beautiful town worth exploring.
Day 7 – Courmayeur to Rifugio Elisabetta. Distance – 18km.
This is dorm style accommodation. The next available accommodation is in Les Chapieux, (not a town) and is approximately another 16km. You do have a choice, however, to catch a bus from Courmayeur to Cantine de la Visaille, where camping is available. This is around 14km which makes it an easier day to continue to Les Chapieux.
Trekking uphill from Les Chapieux.
Day 8 – Rifugio Elisabetta to Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme Distance – 20km.
This is dorm style accommodation, as well. There is a route variant here, there is also a high pass of Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2483m), or you can choose the shorter (4km), but higher route over the Col des Fours (2665m). Only take this route if the weather is good. This is also another border crossing from Italy to France.
You can stay overnight at the Rifugio Elisabetta.
Day 9 – Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme to Les Contamines. Distance – 13km.
This is virtually downhill but be aware it can be very steep in some sections.
Day 10 – Les Contamines to Les Houches. Distance – 16km.
Again, there is another route variant and cable cars. Check the weather for the choice of which route to take, as the high route will take you close to the glacier de Bionnassay, as well as crossing a swing..
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