I always say that adventures seem to find me, and my adventure in the Fish River Canyon turned out to be exactly one of those. Earlier this year I won an instagram giveaway and an adventure of a lifetime… a trip down the Fish River Canyon. I thought I would write a guide for regular hikers who would like to read some hints and tips before they go. I need to just say, right at the start, this post is not for super athletes, just regular folk like myself, who want to experience this incredible journey…
Se7en’s Complete Guide to Hiking the Fish River Canyon.
Prepping for the Hike
- Travel Documents: You need them, make sure you have all your paperwork for entering and exiting Namibia way in advance. Also take a black pen with you for the border crossing, because they require endless forms to be filled in with black pen ONLY, and they don’t have any lying around there.
- The Medical: There is a very comprehensive medical test to take before you are allowed to start your hike… you have to do it in the days before you travel. This is not a last.minute.dot.com requirement. Download the forms, and get a doctor to fill them in… loads and loads of weird and wonderful questions, basically if you survive the medical you are good to go.
- Get Informed: This is the time to do your research and lots of it. Don’t just read articles, but talk to folk who have done it before. I learned so much from friends far and wide. Where to get special items that I didn’t even know that I needed and also learned about a lot of things that I didn’t need. So take all those tips and use the ones that are valid for you. I popped lots of resources at the end of this post.
- Upon Arrival near the Start of the Trail at Hobas: You will be asked to hand in your medical form and your conservation form and then fill in the register, with your medical aid details. Only then will you be able to drive through to the start of the trail, either in your own car and organise to ferry it back amongst your group, or with the shuttle (that is available at a price).
- There Will Be Bugs and Beasts: We saw lots of incredible plants and flowers, loads of weird and wonderful creepy crawlies, not nearly as many mosquitoes as expected, one snake and quite a lot of scorpions. Everyday I had a wonderful and reviving swim in the river at lunchtime, but on our last full day of the hike I spent lunchtime sitting in the river, this was an error of judgement, I was eaten alive by horseflies and a week later, long after I was safely home, I was still covered in itchy bites!!!
- Training: I heard the week before that I was going, so I was relying on my everyday fitness to carry me through. On a given week I run/walk 2-3km everyday, a parkrun and a longer hike in the mountains, I also swim. So my basic fitness was fine, but what slowed me down was definitely strength work. IF I WAS GOING TO TRAIN FOR IT: I would include more strength training, getting up and over rocks and wading through sand is really hard work. And basic mobility… I kid you not: When last did you sit on a sandy beach and put your socks and shoes on with out getting sand in either your socks or your shoes?
- Gotta Say If You Have the Opportunity, Grab It: Stop waiting for a good time to take leave, until you are fit enough – nobody is ever fit enough, or until you have all the gear, I literally borrowed everything, except a water bottle and shoes. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, I battled over boulders and literally crept along the sandy river bed… but it was totally worth the struggle. It was hard, but I am so much better for this adventure… swimming in the green Fish River waters, sleeping under the starriest sky and my goodness, just saying, wow, I have done it. If you ever get the chance, say yes, and think about it later.
Top Tips For Hiking the Canyon
- Go With Someone Who Has Been Before: Hands down the most important tip… someone who knows that the first few days are slow and tricksy, someone who knows a good spot for lunch is just “around the corner”… someone who knows where to look for short cuts, because no matter how feisty you think you are at the start, you will cry if you miss one of the shortcuts.
- Don’t Put Your Pack Down Until You Know Where To Sleep: The first thing that you want to do when you get to your campsite is to plonk your pack on the ground… don’t do that… decide where you are going to sleep and put your pack down there.
- Pack the Contents of Your Pack As You Will Need Them: When you have everything you are taking with you laid out on the kitchen table and you pack it all into your backpack so that it looks great… trust me that’s not how you use it, you will feel unbalanced, and you will have to unpack everything at every single stop… which means you will be unnecessarily slow at the stops and no-one will be especially happy with you. Put the things you need at a moments notice right at the top, like your groundsheet and your lunch. Put the things you need at night with your sleeping bag, my head torch, my battery pack, my sweater. Put the things that you need at every stop – right on top. And put things you are taking for “just in case,” somewhere in the middle. I got much better at this after a day or two… you will speed up at getting up and out of camp every morning.
- This Is A Good Time To Listen To Advice: You have to walk a long way everyday, you will be hot and you will be tired and lets just say… when friends offer suggestions on what might help, for example, how about using those hiking poles… At least try them. Honestly, it took four days to get me to try the poles and I will never look back. Never.
- Many People Have Hiked This Hike Before You: You have to believe you can do it… because there will be moments when you want to just give up. Apart from having an extremely encouraging team, one quick look at the escape routes and you will know that you would rather hike all the way out of the canyon than navigate the escape routes, that look extremely treacherous at best.
- Know Your Weakness, Accept It And Ask For Help: I know that a cool and hydrated self is a much nicer person to be around. I also know that bending down to fill up a water bottle, while precariously balanced on river stones, with a large back pack on my back is a recipe for disaster. For myself, I would just leave it, and keep on plodding, but in a desert where staying hydrated is not just a fashion, but key… I had to ask for help nearly every single time I needed a re-fill. Massive thanks to the team.
- Leave Nothing Behind: You will be out in pristine nature, the only way for it to stay pristine is for each hiker to carry their own rubbish out with them. I used the ziplock meal pouches to collect my litter for the day… they fold up small and it was easy to save my litter for a eco-brick when I got back home.
What you Need to Pack
So many people had so many suggestions on what I needed to take… there were quite a few things that I took, that I never used, I put that down to inexperience, and I guess that is why you do several hikes building up to a hike like the Fish River Canyon. I never needed a mattress, blow up or not. I had no problem sleeping, I was the best kind of tired each night, after a long day out in the wilds. I was very grateful for my head torch… a lifesaver in fact. I did not need more than one battery pack to keep my phone and my watch charged – one was enough, but it was great to be able to have something of value to share. I never needed an extra pair of shoes for when my feet needed a change, my feet were fine and I didn’t need slops either, really they just sank in the sand. There is going to be sand, a lot of it… for five or six days, things are going to be ultra sandy and that’s part of the fun.
- Life Straw Water Bottle: I gifted myself with a Life Straw Water Bottle before I left Cape Town, this is a bottle with a life straw inside it… which means that you can fill up the bottle with any water and drink it through the filtering straw immediately. No need to boil water, or use tablets… it was fantastic. I drank a lot of water on the trail, far more than I would normally do at home… and this literally saved hours of time on the trail… not having to boil water or wait for water purifying tablets to work.
- Ground Sheet: Store this at the top of your pack, whenever you sit down for breakfast/lunch or supper… first thing out is your groundsheet and you can create an almost sand free zone to rest up on. I borrowed a ground sheet, but this is the first thing I am adding to my essential camping gear for future trips.
- Shoes and Socks and Gaiters: I obviously wore my best balega socks, my favourite pair of hiking socks have been on so many trail adventures and the Fish River Canyon did not miss out. I bought myself new trail shoes for the adventure… I was in desperate need of new trail shoes and a pair of Salomons were an absolute dream, light, great grip on slippery rocks and sand, and they dried after river crossings really quickly.
- Slingsby Map: There are free online maps, they are really sketch maps. For a detailed map, specific directions to the short cuts, the route, kilometer by kilometer is plotted on the map, the Slingsby Map is invaluable and you really should have one in your group.
- First Aid Kit: I never needed plasters; bees wax for dry lips was nice; Rennies are brilliant for cramps – I know this and yet forgot to pack them; Rehydrat also helps with cramps… I found that when we sat down for lunch, it was almost impossible to stand up again half an hour later… but having some Rehydrat as I sat down really helped. Otherwise I had a small tub of arnica cream that I used to wake my legs up in the morning before we got going.
- Battery Packs: Electronics are a fact of life, I could have chosen to go free for the week, but actually I love documenting the journey. So battery packs would be something I am prepared to carry. You are going to be in the canyon for days… and I made sure that I had battery packs to keep my phone charged, I wasn’t going to miss any photos – this is a once in a lifetime event. I had one solar panel battery pack and two others that I charged from that. Turns out the solar panel was way more than enough and I was able to lend my battery packs out to fellow hikers – nice collateral, when I needed to my water bottles filled, for example.
- Forever Fresh Food and Snacks: The Forever Fresh meals that we took were absolutely fantastic… and we really didn’t need more food or snacks at all. I did drink a ton of water, from the river… and would take something like Game Powder as a treat for next time. I also packed a snack pack for each day: It contained 2 Rehydrat sachets, 1 coffee sachet, 1 hot chocolate sachet, one rooibos tea bag, one small energy bar and a small packet of sweeties. The rehydrate I quickly learned to drink at the end of a long hiking session, as soon as I sat down. I had a coffee in the morning to get going and a hot chocolate in the evening and a cup of tea, before heading to sleep. I enjoyed the energy bar late morning, but the meals alone were really sufficient, I didn’t need the sweeties and shared them out towards the end of the day of walking.
Se7en + 1 Things To Love About Forever Fresh Foods
- The most important thing of all is that the meals are really tasty and delicious, there is nothing better than at the end of a long day of hiking to have a warm and hearty meal. Forget trying to make a meal out a couple of crackers and bits and pieces… you want a filling and hearty meal at the end of the day and these meals are exactly that. Nutritious, delicious and satisfying meals, there was no need to snack between meals at all.
- So many fine flavours… from stews and curries for supper to bean salads for lunch and the best frutiest breakfasts ever…
- The meals are really, really light – ridiculously light. The less weight you have to carry the better, so these meals are fantastic for multi-day hikes, actually any hikes.
- The meals are made from great quality, locally sourced ingredients and then freeze dried to preserve them. There is no need to for any weird preservatives to be included in the ingredients.
- Because the meals are freeze dried there is no need to worry about them staying fresh or refrigeration, these meals are guaranteed to last for twenty five years.
- The meals are so easy to prepare, you add a cup of hot water or cold, wait a couple of minutes and your feast is ready.
- The meals come in food pouches, like ziplock bags that you can rinse out, clean and take home. Actually I found them really useful on the hike for keeping bits and pieces along the way.
- Forever Fresh are a company that is truly trying to have the least effect on the environment… and they have designed a system for returning their food pouches to drop off spots for eco-bricking. Take a look at this link, to see their #walkwithus program in play.
Actual Packing List:
This is a guide of what I pack for overnight hikes now… you may add or subtract from it as you wish. I just thought it might be useful to have it all in one place.
- Ground Sheet & Sleeping Bag
- Shorts and inner gym shorts (that prevent chafe and work for swimming)
- T-shirt and sports bra
- Socks (and spares), shoes and gaiters
- Yoga Pants and Core Merino fleece to change into at night
- Puffer Jacket for cold nights
- Cap and small quick-dry towel
- Forever Fresh meals
- Daily snack pack: mini energy bar, coffee sachet, hot choc sachet, rooibos teabag, rehydrate & mini-packet of jelly sweets.
- Mug and Spork
- Head torch
- Phone & Watch
- Battery Pack and cables
- Space Blanket & Rain Poncho
- Insect repellant
- Rennies & Painkillers in case
- Beeswax for dry lips/chafe etc.
- Loo roll or biodegradable wet wipes
- Slingsby Map
- Satellite Phone
- Camp stove and gas canisters
- Pot for boiling water
(Rinsed my clothes from the day in the river and dried them in a tree overnight)
With the Group:
Follow The Journey By Clicking on the Links Below
Day 0: The Descent
Day 1: To the Vespa…
Day 2: To the Palm Springs…
Day 3: To Somewhere Far…
Day 4: To the German Soldier…
Other Useful Resources…
- The Getaway Guide to the Fish River Canyon.
- The Best Hike in Africa…
- No Speed Limit has a fantastic Guide.
- Hiking South Africa has a great review…
- The Stingy Nomads have a Guide to the Fish River Canyon.
- The Hottest Walk on Earth in the Guardian.
- And Wikipedia, of course.