.What does ‘ Hike your own hike” mean? Well, in a nutshell, it means ‘You do you and I’ll do me’
The Britannica Dictionary defines hiking as: 'to walk a long distance especially for pleasure or exercise.' Yep, that's all it is. A walk. It doesn't need to be more complex than than.
There is no one way of hiking. The options are endless. You don't have to do it 'this way'.
Seems like a simple concept, yes? And yet, in the world of hiking, there’s no end to the number of people who tell us how we should be doing things (according to the gospel of them).
I’m here to suggest you block out all that white noise and do what gives you the greatest joy.
Before I expand on this, I will say that there is one exception to this. Safety. Regardless of where or how you enjoy your adventures, don’t be flippant or go rogue with safety. You should always carry safety equipment for those unexpected incidents and emergencies. Even if your hike is literally up the road and not far from civilisation. I live in Melbourne near the Dandenong Ranges. The Dandenongs are not remote nor could the terrain be considered dangerous. But, there are mobile blackspots. And the trails can be fairly quiet at times. I’ve hiked there for a whole day and not seen another soul. Just because it’s not far from houses and a fairly busy tourist road, it doesn’t mean you can’t get yourself into serious trouble. The stunning and majestic tall mountain ash are renowned for dropping a branch without warning. If one of them lands on your scone, you’re in serious, serious trouble. There are snakes. You may have a medical incident or break your leg. I always carry my PLB there along with my other safety stuff. Being complacent about safety regardless of how or where you hike is tempting fate and putting yourself and potentially others at risk.
hiking your own hike
Not long after I first got into hiking, I was lucky enough to get chatting with a bloke who, as it turned out, was a highly accomplished thru-hiker. He was the most humble bloke I’ve ever met. Still is, despite everything he’s accomplished. No posturing, bragging or trying to tell me how I should hike. It was refreshing after reading so many posts and comments on some of the online bushwalking forums that can be, frankly, patronising at best and outright rude at worst. Don’t get me wrong, the outdoors community is AMAZING! On the whole, people want to help each other by sharing info, tips and suggestions. Especially when advice is sought. But, there’s that small element that feels the need to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Without knowing anything about you at all. The self-proclaimed experts and braggarts.
I had only been hiking a few months when I met this fellow. I was a solo hiker at that time. I did half day hikes that made me feel happy and alive! I never hiked in groups at that stage. I mentioned to him that I had booked my very first multi-day hike; 6 days on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. He was genuinely excited for me. But then I did that thing that we often do; I minimised how awesome and empowering this adventure was going to be for me by comparing my trip to what others were doing. I told him that I wasn’t going to be staying on the trail each night and I’d 'only' be carrying a daypack. I was almost apologising for not going hardcore. But he was super excited for me. This man has hiked from the top to the bottom of New Zealand amongst other incredible thru-hikes. Here I was talking to him about doing a fairly cushy 6 days. I felt a bit embarrassed. However he didn’t make me feel ‘less than’. He pumped me up and asked me loads of questions which fuelled my excitement again for this trip I had planned. These are the people you want in your life. And in that conversation he went on to say those words that I’d never heard before then but have heard many times since. Hike your own hike.
So that’s what I did. And I loved it! I channelled Frankie and did it my way! A day pack. A comfy bed at night. A hot shower. It was AWESOME!
You Don't Need to Prove Anything
But time passed, I started hiking more in groups and checking out more online forums. And I started to lose myself in what I thought I should be doing rather than what I wanted to do. I should be doing self-supported multi day hikes. I should be hiking 20km plus distances every hike. I should be climbing serious peaks. I should be carrying a certain pack/wearing a certain boot/buying a certain tent/ etc etc. It’s generally implied that you should be doing certain things but you’ll also see people outright saying that what you’re doing is wrong. And there’s enough commentary online that makes one feel like doing less somehow isn’t enough. I know it’s not just me who feels this because I’ve had this conversation with many people, women in particular. You can get caught up in this ridiculousness; I know I did.
You actually don't need to prove anything. Not to yourself and not to others. Listen to your heart and your gut. They'll usually guide you in the direction towards your own happiness.
Back in 2018, I started an outdoor adventures group for women. It’s a fabulous and highly engaged group. But I started to realise that because I founded the group, some of the women looked to me for advice. I was no hiking guru. I never will be nor do I want to be. I just wanted to create a space for women like me who loved getting out there in nature. Most of them are more accomplished hikers than me and that suits me fine! I still learn something new every hike I do with these gals. Anyone who thinks they have all the answers when things are ever-evolving and changing are just not willing to learn. We all constantly learn from each other. Which is the amazing thing about the outdoors community!
But the flip side of this is that we can sometimes allow ourselves to fall into that comparison trap by listening to the sometimes bullish opinions of others. I’ve seen people ask perfectly legitimate questions in forums only to be ridiculed and made to feel ‘less than’ by those with big attitudes and little understanding of others. More on that shortly……….
Back to doing things how you want to do them.
Just over a year ago, I joined some fabulous women on an 8 day trek of the Overland Track in the Tasmanian wilderness. Only a few months out from that, I’d never even done an overnight hike. Yes, I’d done that multi-day hike at Kangaroo Island but I’d never done one where I was to carry all my gear, not shower, and not have a comfy bed! So this was a huge deal for me. I trained hard through doing the online Summit Strength program and I knew I was in my peak physical condition.
Five days into the hike, one of the gals asked me if I was enjoying this adventure. Now, I absolutely loved hiking the Overland! It’s a beautiful hike in pristine wilderness. What’s not to love? But I remember my answer being that I reckon four days is about the limit of what I enjoy. Even in such a stunning location. I realised that anything beyond four days becomes a bit of a chore for me. This has proven itself to be consistent for me since that hike. I’ve done nothing longer than 4 days since and I now always know that once that fourth day is done, I’m ready to go home. This is me doing me. Could I do longer? Sure! Do I want to? No. And I’m really cool with that. Me doing me.
I came home from the Overland absolutely thrilled with my achievement and the achievements of all of us who shared that experience together. Then I went down that rabbit-hole. I started thinking that maybe I should start planning another long multi-day hike. I started researching the Larapinta, the Heysen Trail, the Bibbulmun. I don’t even know where this need to go down that path (pardon the pun) came from. Was it because that’s what you’re supposed to do as a hiker? Only days earlier I’d had the epiphany that I don’t want to do those types of hikes. And yet, here I was……
I got a grip and I stopped looking at these long hikes and started doing the stuff I love again. Solo hiking for a few hours. A solo overnighter or with a friend or small group. Or a multi-day where I don’t have to carry a full pack. This is the stuff I love. It doesn’t make me weak or soft. It makes me the happiest version of me.
It’s taken me nearly 5 years to pretty much go full circle and realise that what I loved about hiking at the start I am now back doing. Because I’ve finally learned to ignore all the ‘shoulds’. I’m hiking for me.
Beware the online Bushwalking Groups and Forums!
Let me preface this bit by saying that social media can be an awesome resource and that people in general are lovely and really want to help. However, that's not always the case. When you get on some of these online bushwalking groups, you'll see all sorts of comments. If you're on there enough, you'll even get good at predicting which individuals will pop up with monotonous regularity when they see an opportunity to show off. They'll be giving advice when you never asked for it or when you've just posted about your awesome adventure because you're proud of yourself and you want to share it. They'll take away your moment in the sunshine. Don’t let them get to you or make you feel you're not good enough. You’ll see them on there. They’ll be the ones who have to tell you that how they do things is the best way to do things. But most of the time, it’s not. It might be best for them. But might not be for you or others. We are all different. We all have our own story. Our own background, doubts, dreams, limitations, desires, fears, physical and mental states. No one knows you like you know you. No one knows the challenges you’ve faced or currently face in life, the things you’ve fought to overcome. All these things make you, you. There isn’t one prescribed way of hiking that addresses all those things that make you unique.
During Lockdown #5 here in Melbourne, like many of us, I needed to find ways to keep on top of my mental and physical health. We were, once again, locked down to within a 5km zone from home. I live in suburban Melbourne so hiking options were almost non-existent. So one day, I decided to throw on my daypack, my trail hiking runners, my usual hiking pants and I carried my hiking poles. My daughter and I headed off on an urban hiking adventure! I must have looked pretty weird hiking along the local streets using my poles! Over the course of our 10km urban hike we explored local bush reserves and checked out some of our local parks and gardens within our urban area. We came home feeling pretty chuffed. This was just what we needed to help us cope in such difficult times. I was doing my own version of the 52 Hike Challenge at the time and I added this urban hike to my tally (I wasn’t registered with 52 Hike Challenge, I was simply doing my own version for a bit of fun). I shared our wonderful escapade on my Instagram and tagged it as Hike #42 of my challenge. What fun!
All of the comments and messages I received were positive. Most people in the outdoors community are like that. Encouraging and supportive. Except one. Someone (who I don’t even know) felt inexplicably annoyed enough by my urban escapade to slide into my DMs to question how I could call my urban hike, a hike. In their opinion, what I did didn’t qualify as a hike. They said that they would feel like they ‘cheated’ if they’d called what I did a hike. Um, what? At first, I felt like I had to justify why I called it a hike. But they were having none of it and continued a debate with me saying that urban hiking isn’t a thing and basically labelling me a cheat! I kid you not! I don’t know why I even entertained the conversation beyond the first comment but I did soon block and delete them. It was the most bizarre example of someone thinking they had the right to define what is and isn’t acceptable in the hiking world. Is there a rule book? Whose rules? Unfortunately, that ludicrous comment put a real dampener on what had been a fun experience in a time where we were all simply doing our best in difficult circumstances. It really pissed me off. That one nasty comment could’ve been enough to stop me doing what I loved doing. But it didn’t. Because no one has the right to tell me or you how you should be hiking. It’s just not up for criticism or judgement.
Let me just say that I'm not directing any of this at people who have your best interests at heart. I have a fairly large core of people I enjoy hiking with. I love that there is no competition and no ego. Yes, they will, at times, try to cajole me into trying a harder or longer hike. It's a fun game and great banter. Sometimes I'll join them and have a blast! And other times I'll bow out if I think what they're proposing just isn't for me. They're always accepting of my decision. And they never, ever put me down or judge me for not doing the stuff that I don't want to do. They'd never, for a moment, criticise me for having a heavier pack or for carrying things that the 'purists' would deem unnecessary. Surround yourself with people like these. They'll lift you up. Hiking should be fun!
You Do You
Hike your own hike. Not somebody else’s. If hiking for days or months on end floats your boat, go forth and enjoy! If ducking up the road for a 30 min urban hike rocks your socks, go get ‘em!
If someone does a 1000km hike it doesn’t make them any better than the person who does a 5km hike. It doesn’t make them worse. It just makes them different. If you love urban hiking (and yes, it is a thing) go out and explore and enjoy your neighbourhood. Don’t undersell yourself just because you see someone doing something different. Don’t compare yourself. Don’t make yourself small. And don’t ever allow others to make you feel small. If it appears they are trying to do that, don’t buy into it. Clearly they have issues that are not yours to bear. Block and delete! For most of us, whilst we love hiking, hiking is not our whole identity. There is so much more to us than pack weights or kilometres walked or peaks climbed or rivers crossed. There are so many different things we do in our lives. Hiking is just one small part. Do what fills your soul.
My first ever hike was 5kms. I had no hiking gear. I wore my heavy bright yellow Speedo swimming backpack, I wore cotton (what a sin!) and everyday runners on my feet. That hike was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had. It was my first foray into hiking and it opened up my whole world in ways I can’t explain. I’ve done lots of stuff since then but that 5km? That would still rank as my Number #1 experience to date. If I'd read some of the comments on social media at that time, I'd have been embarrassed about my little hike. Luckily, I didn't even know those groups existed at that time.
If all your needs are being met, isn’t that what matters? If you can get that by climbing big hills with a heavy pack, go you! If you can get that by taking a slow stroll through the forest and stopping heaps to take in the beauty of nature, embrace it!
If you want to hike for one hour on a flat track, go for it!
If you want to pay a lot of money to have your hike catered in every possible way (apart from the actual walking), go for it! It’s your money. Your choice. Your adventure.
If you want to stay off-trail in comfy accommodation on a multi-day hike, go for it!
If you want to camp under a tarp in a hammock, go for it!
If you want to rough it with all your gear for two weeks, go for it!
If you want to carry a pack that’s heavier because you have pre-packed meals and not ultralight gear, go for it!
You know your body and what you are happy to carry; don’t let others tell you that because they have a pack weight that’s x amount of kgs lighter than yours, you should get your pack weight down. You do you. If you think going lighter will make things better for you, sure, seek advice and go lighter. But if you didn’t ask for the advice and you’re perfectly happy with your pack weight, carry whatever weight you want! Going ultralight is not the Holy Grail of hiking. If you do want/need to carry a heavy pack and don’t want to cut weight, you can train for this so it’s not physically an issue for you.
If you hate the thought of hiking in the rain, don’t hike in the rain. Believe it or not, some people will scoff at you for that. They’ll tell you to get wet weather gear. We’ve all heard that saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” or variants of. If you think that getting good wet weather gear will help you enjoy hiking in the rain, get the gear. But if you hate hiking in the rain full stop, simply don’t do it. You’re no less a hiker. You're not soft. You’re simply a hiker that hikes where, when and how it brings you the most joy. Doesn’t that make more sense than feeling like you have to fit into a certain mould to be classed a ‘real hiker’? You do you. Personally, I hate hiking in summer. So I don’t. I do other stuff in summer which brings me loads of joy. Live life your way.
Gadgets and Gear
It's weird the things people get a bee in their bonnet about. Again, you'll see the online comments about certain items that some people like to take on a hike. Things can get quite heated! There are the 'fors' and the 'againsts' and never the twain shall meet! I read them and roll my eyes because, let's face it, these things are rarely important in the whole scheme of life. So when you see the heated arguments about boots v shoes (no one will EVER win that one because there simply is no right or wrong answer), Garmins, headphones etc etc, just take it all with a grain and salt and scroll on by. Genuine advice, take what you want from that. The rest, either ignore or enjoy watching the comedy unfold before your eyes!
If you want to use certain items to make hiking more pleasant, fun or interesting for you, use them. Things like a comfy camp chair, a wearable tracker (such as Garmin), a big can of baked beans, a female urinary device or a navigation app. These are some of the topics I see come up time and time again on the forums that garner the most judgemental comments that literally have me doing that eye-roll thing again. For the most part, these days I no longer look at those groups. I now get my advice from those that I know are accomplished, humble, encouraging, non-judgemental and understand what’s important to me, not them.
If what you're doing/taking enhances your experience and doesn't negatively impact on those around you, it's a non-issue.
If you love your camp chair at the end of a long day on the trails and that’ll improve your experience, pack it in!
If you’re a data and stats nerd like me, then record your hike on your Garmin and have fun going back over and analysing all the info later! Hmmmm, delicious data!
If you like nothing better than a big tinned meal at the end of the day, throw it in your pack! Not everyone has the time or interest in dehydrating their food. If you do, that's great! If you don’t, also great! We saw a couple of young girls recently doing a 4 day hike at Wilsons Promontory. They made their meals from scratch every night. They had tins of stuff which would have been really heavy to carry. They also cut up fresh tomatoes, added fresh herbs and spices. For them, this was all part of their experience. They knew they could bring much lighter food. They’d done that before. They chose not to. It was really lovely actually, watching them bond over preparing and cooking their meals on a rug on the ground. They said they love doing it that way. Them doing them.
If you’re a woman and you feel uncomfortable, either psychologically or physically, squatting in the bush, and you want to use a female urinary device, use one! Not everyone has the physical capabilities to squat and these devices are a game-changer for those women. Other women feel very self-conscious squatting in the bush for reasons which are personal to them. The forums are full of people making women feel belittled for wanting to use such a device. It’s such an non-issue and yet, unbelievably, there are people who make it an issue. No one knows your story but you. Ignore them. They are white noise. Use the device!
If there’s a navigation app you love to use, use it! Sure, it’s always advisable to carry a paper map. I reckon I have one in my pack on most hikes as a backup but, to date, I’ve never needed to use it. But I love the nav app I use and I use it all the time.
So much stuff and variety! It makes life interesting and diverse. People love some of these things and people hate some of these things. But no one is wrong or right. And no one is better or worse than the other. We are all just different. Imagine if the trails were filled with hikers who are all clones of each other. All doing the same. All being the same. Because someone said that’s how you must hike. And mostly, not enjoying it because it’s not feeding into our individual needs. How dull!
So when someone asks you about your next adventure, be proud of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Don’t feel embarrassed, small, not good enough. You are out there doing something amazing for you. It’s all worth celebrating. You do you. Let others do them. Help each other. But always, hike your own hike and let others hike theirs.
About the Author
Andrea is a coach with Summit Strength, who specialise in helping hikers get strong and pain-free for their adventures.
At the age of 54, she discovered a real passion for hiking. But she also discovered just how limiting physical fitness and pain can be on the trail.
After signing up to one of the Summit Strength signature programs, she discovered just how much of a difference the right training can make to a hiker's enjoyment and comfort on their adventures. She knows that the journey isn't always easy and 'life' can sometimes impact on our training goals. She shares her insights and experiences with us in her blog articles.
These days, as an Online Adventure Coach with Summit Strength, she helps hikers all around the world get fit, strong and resilient for their adventures.
WANT TO GET FIT, STRONG AND RESILIENT
Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.