Once you get the hiking bug, there’s no turning back. If you’re starting to get comfortable with longer day hikes, the natural next step is to kick it up a notch with an overnight hike. Overnight hikes are, as the name suggests, completed over 2 days with a night spent camping in the wild. Overnight hiking can deepen our connection with nature and get the adrenaline pumping in a way that is wholly different to a standard day hike. Unlike regular day hiking, there are a lot of additional factors to consider when spending the night at one with nature. Where will you camp? Do you know how to pitch your tent? Are there water sources on the route? What will you eat for dinner? Find out how to plan your first overnight hike in 9 easy steps so you can hit the trail in no time.

1. Be Realistic

First things first, you’ll want to keep it simple. For your very first overnighter, one night is plenty. It can be tempting to go all out with a multi-day expedition that you’ve seen all over social media, but there’s a lot to learn with overnight hiking and it’s likely that even one night will be a shock to the system. It can be a good idea to start with a local area that you are familiar with – perhaps even hiking to a location where you have already been on day trips. You’ll want to keep the distance each day relatively short, with enough time on the first day to have at least an hour left of daylight at camp so that you can set up and eat before it gets dark. Try to choose a campsite that has running water and toilet facilities to minimise things to worry about.

Hikers at sunset

2. Choose Your Dates

Let’s face it, there’s no perfect time to go hiking – unexpected downpours happen all the time, right? At the same time, it wouldn’t be wise to plan your first overnight hike in the depths of winter or height of summer, so choose your month wisely. The weather conditions can really affect the enjoyment of your hike (we’re willing to bet you won’t be ecstatic about hiking in the freezing cold, excessive rain, or scorching heat). Aim for dry conditions and a temperature in the low-mid 20s, especially for your first overnight experience. Check the sunrise and sunset times too, so that you can plan your arrival and departure from camp.

If the forecast isn’t on your side, don’t be afraid to reschedule. Once you’ve built up some experience, then unfavourable weather conditions will be less an issue and more something to make sure you are prepared for. You need to make sure that your sleeping bag, shelter, layers, and rainwear are sufficient for the conditions.

Additionally, make sure you pick a free weekend when you don’t have any other plans. Rushing to get there or hurrying home will take your mind away from the incredible experience you’re about to have, and can quickly turn a slightly stressful situation into a catastrophe.

Hikers setting up a tent

3. Find Your Route

There are a lot of great resources out there for finding overnight hikes. Never underestimate the value in speaking to people – pop in for a chat with a Paddy Pallin staff member and ask them if they can recommend some beginner overnight hikes in your local area. If you want to explore a specific region or national park in-depth, investing in a guidebook is invaluable for providing the nitty gritty detail. Usually though, some thorough online research will usually help you find everything you need to know.

Start by plugging the location you want to hike into Trail Hiking Australia or All Trails for inspiration and find a hike that suits your abilities. For your first overnight hike, we’d recommend looking for something graded easy (around a Grade 3), with well-marked trails. Try not to hike more than 15 kilometres per day – even the most experienced day hikers can struggle when carrying a fully loaded pack across long routes and rough terrain.

If you find a trail you like the look of, check out the state Parks website for more accurate information around trail length, grade, and start/finish points. They’ll also have the most up to date information about any areas or sections of the track that are temporarily closed or damaged. If you’re unsure, give them a call. They should be able to answer your questions and give you more information about water sources, camping and fire restrictions.

Once you’ve decided on your route, take a closer look at the map to work out where important features like water sources, toilets, and camp spots are located. It’s worth noting that many “rivers” cannot be relied upon in Australian summertime, so double check that there are reliable water sources on the route, or better yet, at the campsite.

2 overnight hikers in forest

4. Recruit Trustworthy Trailmates

You might want to ask your partner so that they can be involved in the planning process, or you may want to recruit your friends after you’ve decided on an exciting route and can entice them in with some shots of the breathtaking views. Either way, for your first overnight hike, don’t go it alone. Make sure you embark on a hike with people you can trust and work well with in times of stress. It might also be  a good idea to recruit people who have completed overnight hikes before so that you can lean on their expertise.

Ultimately, group hiking is about communication. Poor communication can turn an exciting trip into a grumpy slog. Make sure to sit down with your hiking buddies and work out who’s bringing what, how far you’re going to hike, and how you want to hike. Are you going to be up and out by the crack of dawn, or wake up slowly over hot breakfast and a coffee? Identify the emergency procedures and each other’s limits to understand when it’s time to call it quits if things don’t go to plan. Ironing out the details before you begin will mean you’re able to enjoy the hike a lot more as you know you won’t have forgotten anything.

Group of overnight hikers

5. Gear Up Properly

Heading out without the right gear is simply asking for trouble. There are a lot more kit considerations to make when transitioning from day hiking to overnight hiking – tent, sleeping bag, pack and cooking equipment, the list goes on. You won’t know exactly what kind of equipment you want straight away, so it might be a good idea to borrow from friends and family to get a feel for the type of gear that suits your hiking style. It’s a good idea to build up your overnight setup over time to figure out which items you’re willing to invest more in, like a quality tent, and which small luxuries you can manage without, like an inflatable pillow (even if they do make sleeping on the ground feel like a five star hotel).

Whether you’re borrowing, hiring, or buying, your overnight hiking essentials are:

Check out our comprehensive hiking packing list here.

Hiker inflating sleeping mat

6. Hydrate & Fuel

One of the most important things to consider on the trail, whatever length of hike you’re setting off on, is to stay adequately fuelled and hydrated. This can be tricky when trying to minimise weight, and as such takes a bit more preparation and planning than simply packing lunch and snacks for a day hike.

The general rule of thumb is 3 litres of water per person per day, but this will vary depending on conditions and environment. If you are working hard, or experiencing hotter temperatures, then water intake will need to increase accordingly. You’ll also need extra water for cooking and cleaning up your cooking equipment. Water adds significant weight to your pack, so make sure that you research water sources ahead of time and pack a water treatment solution, like a purifier or a filter, to ensure that any water you collect on the trail is safe to drink.

When hiking, it’s important to prioritise lightweight yet nutrition dense foods that provide slow-release energy (so, leave the instant noodles at home). Packaged dehydrated hiking meals are a great place to start, and once you get into the flow then you can even start dehydrating your own recipes. If you don’t like the idea of eating out of a bag, then non-perishables like pasta and sauce or tinned foods can work for just one night, or you could prepare something tasty at home to bring in a container. Porridge is a hiking breakfast staple, but if you’re looking for something quicker (and, let’s face it, tastier) then muffins and pastries work a treat. In terms of snacks – everyone has their own vice, but try to balance the chocolate and lollies with some bars, dried fruits, and nuts for a more nutritionally balanced energy boost. For more camp recipe inspiration, check out our cookbook.

2 hikers eating breakfast

7. Nail Your Packing Method

Even the most experienced of backpackers still feel they need to make adjustments to their pack and packing method, and it might take you a while to dial it in.

For an overnight hike, you’ll probably want to opt for a pack of around 30-50 litres in volume, depending on your setup. You may want to invest in something a little bigger that will work for longer backpacking trips too – remember you don’t need to stuff your pack completely full every time. Check out our article on pack fitting to ensure your pack fits properly and won’t cause any pain or discomfort.

Before you head on your hike, practice packing your backpack to ensure that everything fits. Read our article on how to load your pack for tips on how to pack for maximum comfort and efficiency on the trail. Before your overnighter, take your loaded pack out for a day hike so that you can get used to the weight and make any adjustments to your set up.

Friends adjusting Osprey backpacks on the trail

8. Skill Up

It’s important to have the necessary skills required to spend a night in the wilderness: namely navigation, first aid, and gear set up.

Whether you’re using a map and compass, a GPS device, or an app on your phone, you need to know how to navigate. Although we’d recommend embarking on a trail you are familiar with for your first overnight hike, there’s always a risk of getting lost or taking a wrong turn. Check out our introduction to navigation if you need a place to start, and local outdoor clubs will often run useful navigation workshops to give you some practise in the field. It’s essential you feel comfortable using your chosen navigation device before you head out on the trail overnight.

First aid is also an invaluable skill, for life in general, but on the trail in particular. You should know how to treat cuts, burns, snake bites, and hypothermia before you set out on your first overnight hike. If you lack some of these skills, there are plenty of online resources and first aid courses to learn from. Make sure your first aid kit is fully stocked and well-equipped for the environment and conditions.

Finally, it’s essential that you learn how to use your equipment before you go, even if you’re going with someone else who is more experienced than you. Make sure you practise setting up your tent, turning on your stove, and using your water filter at home. Trust us, there’s nothing worse than fumbling around in the cold and dark when you’re tired from hiking.

Hiker lacing up boots at campsite

9. Set a Home Base

The final step before you leave on your exciting adventure is setting a home base. A home base is a trusted person that will not be on the trip, who can sound the alarm in case of an emergency. You should tell them exactly where you’re going and what time you’re expected to return. When you get home, give them a call to let them know you’re home safe.

It’s also a good idea to register your trip with the police by filling out a trip intention form. In some areas, like the Blue Mountains, you can borrow PLB’s (personal locator beacons) for free, and in other parts of the country, they are available to hire for a small fee. This will give you peace of mind when you’re entering the bush, as a PLB can alert the authorities even in remote areas with no service.

Overnight hiking is a great way to get further into nature and explore places that can’t be accessed on a day hike alone. With a little preparation, a few key skills, and the right gear, you can enjoy weekends spent exploring the bush, desert, coast, or mountains.

Where are you heading on your next overnight hike? Share it with us over on Instagram @paddypallin.

About The Author

Darcy Smith

Darcy is an outdoor lover from the east coast of Scotland who is trying out life in Australia. Having travelled through much of Europe and Asia, her favourite place in the world remains the Scottish Highlands. Darcy loves hiking, camping, bulldogs, brunch and sunsets.

One Response

  1. Pru

    Nice post. Hopefully it will encourage beginners to give it a go. Regardless, in the end that first step is the beginning of a learning curve but the main thing is to get out in nature.


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