If need is the mother of invention, then we can thank the long distance walk for giving rise to the lightweight hiking movement. More distance to cover invariably means a longer, harder fight with gravity, and so necessitates the (sometimes obsessive) occupation of scrutinising and trimming down gear.
Keen the beat the scales? The truth is, there aren’t too many lightweight walkers out there who managed to crack the 5kg mark on their first trek. Packing featherweight loads that allow you to float along trails like a Sindarin Elf is an art learned predominantly through trial and error. And further to that, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. No matter how much you’d like to nail it first go, the only way to become the MacGyver-meets-Marie Kondo of your hiking circle is to get out there with your gear and start trekking!
Australia’s long-distance walks may not get the same press as the 3000km monsters in the USA, where upon cross-continent trails like the Pacific Crest and the Appalachian the lightweight community (plus many excellent books and movies) was born. But make no mistake that Australia is still an awesome place to get your lightweight, ultralight or super-ultralight education. And that’s before considering all the wonderful hut-to-huts across the ditch.
Gorge-ous scenery in the MacDonnell Ranges
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could pack it all in and take off on a 60-day 1000km pilgrimage along the Bibbulmun Track from Perth to Albany – but who’s got time for that? Section hiking, where possible, is a method you can use to tackle longer routes in bite-sized chunks and turn a daunting mission into a doable one (and still keep your job!) Anywhere upwards of three days and two nights on the track is plenty of time to start reaping the rewards of a lean load: reduced stress on your feet, knees and back, and saying buh-bye to raw shoulders and bruised hip bones.
A few days is also long enough to experience the negative side to over-zealous cutbacks. ‘Perhaps a tent with four enclosed walls would’ve been nice after all’, you think to yourself as you swat dino-sized mosquitoes from beneath your tarp which you’ve pitched with your one pair of hiking poles. What will you fight dropbears off with now, hmmm?
Hut to hut
Booking yourself on a long distance trek that’s connected by wilderness huts is an easy way to experience the freedom of walking with less, especially if you hike with kids and end up carrying enough camping gear for three.
The fee usually reserves you a bunk in each hut, plus use of a basic kitchen and in some places, even bathrooms and heat sources. It’ll depend on the extent of the facilities provided and whether or not you’re still required to carry a tent (as is the case with the Overland Track in Tasmania), but generally speaking a hut-to-hut walk allows you to carry less by way of shelter, cold weather clothes, and cooking supplies. This in itself could easily take you 3kg closer to that gleaming ultralight zone… and further from the likelihood of needing knee or hip surgery in the long term.
The Overland Track is Tasmania's foremost hut to hut walk.
Long distance walks in Australia
Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly three-nighter, or to go up against the elements for a month without intervention from mod-cons of any kind, Australia’s got walking itineraries that allow you to be some degree of self-sufficient for as little as one night or as long as a year. Here’s just a few of our picks!
Three Capes Track, Tas
Distance: 46km Duration: 4 days
Wide, well maintained and just a little bit luxe, the route that starts in Port Arthur and finishes in Fortescue Bay is chosen by many walkers as their first multi-day trek. The three purpose-built eco cabins along the track have kitchens with cooking equipment, running water, bunks with mattresses and nearby toilets, so the whole experience is much more comfortable than most overnighters and allows you to walk without the burden of a tent, mattress or stove. At almost $500 per person this walk ain’t the cheapest but you certainly get what you pay for.
Six Foot Track, NSW
Distance: 44km Duration: 3 days
The Six Foot Track is worthy of a mention not least because the designated campsites enroute are reachable by car, so you could complete the walk as an inn-to-inn and carry nothing more than food, water and clothes. It’s a great track for building backcountry confidence too, as the road access gives you a bit of additional peace of mind. The Megalong Valley scenery ain’t half bad either.
The Green Gully Track, NSW
Distance: 65km Duration: 4 - 5 days
As NSW’s first hut-to-hut, The Green Gully Track certainly stirred excitement in the walking community when it first opened in 2011. Booking yourself on this walk means you’ll be one of only six walkers per day and guarantees you basic lodgings in the historic cattlemen's huts along the way. The walk itself has got some steep slogs and a bit of creek walking (the gully that gives the walk its name), but the way it’s managed means you get the best of everything: adventure, solitude and the comfort of carrying a tent-free load.
The Great Ocean Walk, Vic
Distance: 104km Duration: 8 days
We won’t deny that it’s a spectacular drive, but it’s much easier to be immersed in Victoria’s dramatic coastal scenery when you’re limited to the pace of your own two feet. The route stretches from Apollo Bay to the famous Twelve Apostles and is a great introduction to walks that’ll put a few more miles on your boots. Access to civilisation – and bricks-and-mortar shelter each night if you are so inclined – is never far away, but the more intrepid can still opt to do the whole lot with a tent.
The Overland Track, Tas
Distance: 65km Duration: 6 days
This iconic long distance walk takes a bit more planning than those at sea level due in part to Tasmania’s unpredictable alpine weather. We’re talking chances of snow even in summer. So if carrying less weight is your goal, packing for the Overland is the real challenge. Beds in the huts can only be claimed on first-come basis (and in summer there can be 200 hikers a day), so you still have to carry some form of shelter. Add in the optional side trips and you could blow this trek out to upwards of 80k’s. It’s certainly not one to be underestimated.
Larapinta Trail, NT
Distance: 223km Duration: 12 - 20 days
Another relative newcomer, the Larapinta Trail has done a lot of the heavy-lifting when it comes to solidifying Australia as long-distance walking destination on the world stage. Starting in Alice Springs and traversing the West MacDonnell Ranges, it’s a fully self-sufficient tenting trek that can be completed end-to-end or in smaller legs. Expecting day after day of kicking through red dirt? Perhaps most surprising about the Larapinta Trail is the lush terrain which is characterised by the park’s oasis-like creeks and gorges.
The Bibbulmun Track, WA
Distance: 1000km Duration: 54 days
Now we’re talking a walk of epic proportions that takes a real time and planning commitment. Complete the whole thing from Perth to Albany and you even become part of an official certified group of end to enders. The Bibbulmun may seem like a daunting undertaking – perhaps something to work your way up to – but with a maximum of four days between permitted access points it’s easily conquered in sections.
Epic views stand in wait at the end of Victoria's Great Ocean Walk
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