The Australian Alps offer some spectacular routes for day hiking and trail running. But beware, this remote and rugged environment demands respect. Keeping weight to a minimum is often a high priority in these activities, but this needs to be balanced against the requirement for safety.
What you would consider essential survival gear for a trip can vary depending on your likelihood of getting into trouble and your access to support. Keep in mind, though, that mountain weather can quickly make almost any alpine environment both inhospitable and inaccessible, meaning that you can soon find yourself relying entirely on your own resources.
Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some key items of gear to consider for survival in the Alps.
Map, Compass and GPS
It’s worth carrying a map and navigation equipment even if you’re very familiar with the route you’re travelling on. Having accurate information about terrain and distances is often really helpful in assessing progress and the likelihood of getting to your destination on time.
A map and navigation gear can be indispensable in poor weather when even a familiar route can become very difficult to follow, or in an emergency when it may become necessary to plan alternative routes or egress points.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
Mobile phones aren’t entirely reliable in the mountains. Although coverage has improved greatly and you will sometimes get good signals in the high ground (especially when in close proximity to towns or resorts), this will often be lost in remote areas and in the valleys.
A PLB is more reliable for emergencies. PLBs do require a clear view of the sky, so bear this in mind if you need to trigger one. Unfortunately with a PLB you don’t get the comfort of confirming a response is on its way, and you also aren’t able to communicate the nature of your emergency. Satellite phones provide a solution to these problems, but are more expensive to purchase and run.
Don’t underestimate the amount of water you need on a hike or trail run in the mountains. Even though it may be cooler in the high country, the air can be very dry, the sun can be intense, and you may find yourself exposed for long periods of time with no shelter. Carry enough water for your trip, or be sure that you can find resupply. Remember that many mountain streams aren’t reliable across all seasons and weather conditions.
Lightweight water filters can be extremely useful. Not only do they clean the water and make it potable, they can also make it possible to extract water from even the smallest of sources, like a soak or small trickle.
First Aid Kit
Take at least some good quality bandages for treating snakebite and strapping injuries. It’s also very useful to have an array of plastic bandages and dressings for treating blisters, cuts, scratches and scrapes, as well as some basic instruments like scissors and tweezers. Carrying a barrier cream for chaffing can often prove worthwhile.
Often it’s relatively easy to keep warm when you are on the go and exercising vigorously. But then it doesn’t take long for a mountain chill to set in when you are stopped still. Considering the potential for injury when you are hiking or trail running in rugged terrain, it is a good idea to have sufficient clothing to keep warm if you’re incapacitated.
I carry a lightweight compressible synthetic jacket on shorter trips. When I’m in more remote regions I take a thick, hooded down jacket to improve my chances of surviving a night. There are also some great lightweight rain jackets on the market. Personally I tend not to go for the extremely ultralight versions as I think features like hoods, pockets and pit zips for ventilation are valuable in Australian conditions.
A space blanket is the minimum required as an emergency shelter. As I’m often travelling solo and in remote areas I prefer to carry a shelter that will, hopefully, see me through some adverse weather. A bivvy bag is a reasonable option, and I’ve used one for decades for this purpose. Recently I’ve switched to carrying an ultralight tent, which offers far more comfort and versatility than a bivvy bag at a similar weight.
With an abundance of challenging trails traversing stunning landscapes, there are endless opportunities for fantastic hiking and trail running in the Australian Alps. Get out there and have fun! But remember that for any trip into this environment you need to be sensible and well prepared with the right skills and gear.