Hiking: A rising trend

Hakim Hayat

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that closed borders and restricted international travel, many in Brunei Darussalam are looking for ways to fill their free time with activities.

‘Staycation’, used to describe a holiday spent in one’s home country, is now a trend, with many spots opening up and existing attractions offering attractive packages, much to the delight of adventure-seeking Bruneians and those who need time away from their busy lives.

One particular trend is hiking, where trails have seen a surge in the number of visitors, particularly during weekends. Hiking trails in areas that we may not have even heard of have been opening up for hiking enthusiasts and adventure-seekers alike.

Hiking is an excellent low-impact workout. Studies published by the American Hiking Society show it offers multiple physical and mental benefits. From reducing anxiety to preventing osteoporosis, hiking is an outdoor activity delivering benefits beyond scenic and fun. Unlike walking on a treadmill or paved path, hiking involves more, sometimes unpredictable, variables.

With more and more people taking up the activity here, whether it is for their health, leisure or even peer pressure from seeing people posting up pictures with scenic views at hiking trails, one question remains, especially for beginners – are you prepared for the possibilities that you may face?

A hiker at a hiking spot in Mukim Tanjong Nangka. PHOTO: MUIZ MATDANI

For those who frequent famous trails such as the Bukit Shahbandar Recreational Park in Jerudong, Tasek Lama Recreational Park in the capital and also Bukit Sipatir in Kampong Subok, experience can be their best friend. But for the beginner, it is best to follow the advice of more experienced hikers and even their doctors to see if the activity suits their physical abilities.

With the number of hikers and hiking spots surging in the country, it is not strange that dozens of reports of those getting lost in hiking trails and medical emergencies spiked in recent months.

As a precaution, the Ministry of Health (MoH) recently issued an advisory, calling for members of the public with chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease or diabetes, or who possess risk of high blood pressure, are overweight or have breathing difficulties, to seek a doctor’s advice before going on a hike. “Start with light physical exercise and increase intensity slowly. If hiking, start slow, preferably on flat ground. Bring equipment and clothes as well as shoes suitable for hiking to avoid injury,” the MoH said in its advisory.

The Fire and Rescue Department (FRD) also issued an advisory for the public to be aware of the weather conditions and to not engage in hiking activities after 6pm.

“Hikers are advised not to go alone and to inform family members of their whereabouts. They are also encouraged to bring along a whistle, flashlight, mobile phone and water in case of an emergency.”

For beginners, use the following hiking tips to make your first treks successful:

START SMALL AND CHOOSE THE RIGHT TRAIL FOR YOUR FITNESS LEVEL

Select a hike a little shorter than the distance you can normally walk on a level or paved surface. After you have been out once or twice, you will have a sense for what distance and elevation changes work well for you.

FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE TRAIL

Plan the hiking route early as well as bring along a mobile phone and enough water. Before hiking, it is also advised to bring carbohydrate-rich food like bananas, dates, raisins, and water to avoid dehydration. Once you have selected a trail, try and obtain a map of the area (Google Maps!) and review reports and data. There are some excellent online resources available. Take note of any intersecting trails where you could potentially make a wrong turn.

CHECK THE WEATHER

Leading up to your hike, and again a few hours before, check the weather. If the weather is forecast to be awful, it will give you the chance to change plans instead of getting surprised on the trail.

TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU WILL BE

Avoid being alone and have at least a friend to accompany you. It’s important that someone not on the hike knows the itinerary and what time to worry and call for help. Carry your phone or an emergency device such as trackers in case of an emergency.

WEAR THE RIGHT SHOES AND SOCKS

Painful feet can ruin a hike. Invest in quality hiking shoes and socks. This doesn’t mean heavy leather boots, there are a lot of “light hikers” available. Also, do not skimp on socks and no cotton! Wool or synthetic socks are the way to go. Also pack blister dressings just in case.

DRESS FOR SUCCESS

Once your feet are taken care of, dressing right is key to comfort on your hike. Skip cotton anything, it gets damp and stays that way leaving you feeling clammy and causing chafing. Instead go for synthetics.

PACE YOURSELF

When you first get on the trail, you may feel like powering forward like a hero. However, you’ll be a zero by the end of the day if you do not pace yourself. Instead, pick a pace you can maintain all day. It might feel a little awkward at first, but after a few kilometres, especially uphill, you will be glad you saved your energy.

LEAVE NO TRACE

The beautiful trails we love will only stay beautiful if we care for them. It is up to every outdoor enthusiast to take care of our natural spaces.

The FRD also said is not advisable to hike in the late afternoon or at night. As a precaution, it is advisable to bring a whistle, lamp and light raincoat as one of the basic equipment for hiking activities.

In the event of tiredness, dizziness or difficulty in breathing or racing heart, stop activities and rest. Wait until the heartbeat returns to normal before continuing.

In the event of an emergency, the public is urged to not panic and contact the search and rescue at 998.