What is the Oxfam Trailwalker? – Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

After all, it is an ultra marathon. If you are reading about Oxfam Trailwalker for the first time, please read on as it may inspire you to take part in this extraordinary event just once in your life.

Disclaimer: This is not the official Oxfam Trailwalker website – this is my own personal website and this post was created to share my experience of the Oxfam Trailwalker Event with visitors who are looking for a participants point of view. I share some tips that may help another team or walker. I have participated over 10years as a walker, support crew and checkpoint support. My teams’ goals were to participate with the intention of finishing within the allocated time safely. I have never participated in a racing team for this event.

What is the Oxfam Trailwalker?

Oxfam start Banner

It is an international event, a wilderness trail and an extraordinary person.

It is also a fundraiser for a charity and a race – racing is optional, but you must endeavour to finish within the allocated time, e.g. 48hrs.

There are other benefits such as team building, pushing personal boundaries, making new and lasting friendships, leadership training, outdoor activity, planning, scheduling and time management, physical fitness and exercise.

You will explore places you’ve never been – its an endless list and everyone who has participated has an unwritten list.

I am going to break it down including facts and insights from this experience in case you have come here looking for some information from a participants point of view.

If you have read my profile, you will know that I am by no means athletic nor an extremely fit person. I entered this event with assumptions and some blissful ignorance, and it changed my life forever.

On our very first attempt, we failed to finish. I chose to enter again two years later, then went on to participate many times over.

I was never in any of the first finishing teams but nor was I in it for the race, I was incapable of racing, but I was not incapable of participating or completing it within the designated time – so don’t ever think you cannot do this.

The eye is on the finish line right from the beginning and you challenge yourself, ‘why not have a go at this?’ gather a team, set out a training plan, fundraise for the cause and walk the talk.

The Event – some of the basic facts
Here’s a brief foundation for the event to give you an idea of the scale on which Oxfam operates and the magnitude of what they represent and what you are potentially engaging in.

Japan Oxfam - Start Line "Warming Up"
Warming up at the start – Japan!

 

International Countries for the event.
The event takes place in several countries around the world, originating in Hong Kong in 1981 joined by UK 1997 then later Ireland(Trailtrekker), Australia(Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane,Perth), New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, India and Korea – still adding more countries over time.

 

Oxfam Trailwalker Map Sydney

Trail distance
The trail is 100km(62miles) and must be completed within a designated time, typically 48hrs, depending on the location and degree of difficulty. A team consists of 4 people who must start together and attempt to finish together. The trail is broken up into sections, e.g. seven sections, each section terminating at a checkpoint managed by Oxfam. The number of sections can vary across locations.

Note: Oxfam has more recently introduced 50km(31miles) trail walks for some locations. Some people may wish to trial this distance for their first Trailwalker. The challenges remain the same.

 

Early Registration
Oxfam usually limits the number of teams that participate, e.g. 250 teams. Therefore, registrations should be submitted at the earliest opportunity if you hope to get a position for your team.

Team number limits are mostly due to the capacity to support the event over the given terrain, and some countries have limits to how many people can walk on the trails at any given time due to environmental impact.

Fundraiser for Charity
The event is a fundraiser for Oxfam, a charity which has a strong mission to alleviate poverty on a global scale. Teams must pay an entry fee, e.g. Australians in 2019 are paying $700 per team for registration, and they must also raise a minimum of $1600 as a team collectively. Entry fees and fundraising limits will vary across countries.

If you want to learn more about Oxfam’s charity work here is a link: Oxfam charity

Race and prizes
The Oxfam Trailwalker is also a race with a prize. Racing is an option, but teams must still finish within the designated time regardless of whether they are racing or not.

Prizes in the past have included travel for the winning team to visit Oxfam in one of the countries where they are actively working and making a difference.

There are prizes for fastest teams and highest fundraisers and awards for Teams and Support Crews. The prizes vary across countries and can change each year.

Oxfam Trailwalker Origin
The Oxfam Trailwalker has its origins in Hong Kong where Oxfam was invited to organise an event for the British Queens Gurkha Signals as a training event and civilians were permitted to participate. More information is available here: Oxfam Trailwalker origin

Participating in the Oxfam Trailwalker event – how do we go about getting involved?

The three ways to participate are:

  1. walker/runner
  2. support crew
  3. checkpoint volunteer

1) Participating as a walker/runner

  • location – find out where the nearest event is to your location
  • team – get a potential team together: family, friends, colleagues – you need four people
  • register – register with Oxfam
  • map – get a map of the trail profile and download any useful guides, such as training and nutrition

Location – Finding your nearest potential event if you are a walker or runner
Finding your nearest possible event is necessary before you can plan anything else because you need to recruit a team, such as your family, friends, colleagues, who are prepared to meet the requirements, in a nutshell, ‘100km within 48hrs, 4-6mths training, $175 each to enter, $1600 minimum fundraising per team’. Here is a link to the Oxfam Trailwalker Worldmap

There may be travel involved, and the date of the event is essential for planning – planning is about to become an extension to your name.

At some stage, you will also need to recruit a support crew who will need to become familiar with the location. More on that later.

Overhanging rock
Get to know your track during daylight so you can navigate safely at night

Allow 4 – 6 months of training before the event. Although you will train for approx.14 weeks, build in enough additional weeks where you will be away from training due to other factors in your life such as family, holidays, sickness. Consider the nature of your occupation as this may impact your training regime, e.g. shift work, weekend work, business travel – then find every option possible to make it work.

You may have to train away from the event track if it is in another city or country. In this case, you should attempt to visit the track at least once before the event so you know where you are going, as you can be in the wilderness at night with only your headlamps. It is easy to lose your way, even in the daylight.

If you are a visitor to the region don’t rely on other teams being on the same stretch of track with you, you will be surprised how dispersed they become over the distance of 100km.

Visiting teams can tag onto local teams but at some stage may need to tag onto different teams – it can work but don’t rely on this strategy, aim to be independent and navigate your own way.

Whether you are just beginning, moderately experienced or a seasoned Trailwalker, your training program will require a gradual build-up for the event to avoid sickness and injury – except for teams that have a year-round fitness regime as part of their lifestyle, such as, the phenomenal group called The Queens Gurkha Signals.

If you cannot set aside this amount of time for preparation, consider participating the following year or register for a different role such as support crew or checkpoint volunteer.

Team – Get a potential team together
Once you have decided there is enough time to train a team, give some serious consideration to potential teammates. With your very first Trailwalker Event, you are not likely to know how to choose a team, and while there is no perfect guide, there are a couple of things to consider. My first team was the most mismatched group, but we learned some valuable lessons from it and did things very differently the next time – I will share some tips with you as a result.

If you belong to an already fit group, such as runners, walkers or sports group, then you have potential team members. You can put the big question out there ‘Who wants to join me in the next Oxfam Trailwalker?’. If you are entering this event as an absolute newbie to trailwalking here are some tips:

  • start asking around until you have several interested people with the intention of building one or more teams
  • ensure everyone knows what the event involves and what the commitment is for training and fundraising
  • organise a short training walk together – this is not for exercise it is to get to know each other on the trail
  • see who turns up
  • see if you are compatible personality and attitude wise
  • check the pace of the walkers – long/short striders and fast/slow walkers
  • take note of strengths and weaknesses – good on uphills/downhills
Team on the trail
Compatible personalities make an endurance event so much better

When you are building a team, the members you start with are not necessarily the ones who will be there on the day which is why it is essential to try and gauge more interested members in case some cannot continue with the training for any number of reasons.

Oxfam has an excellent solution for teams that are short of participants or overstocked with participants- they create space on their website for interested people to express their wish to join a team or teams looking for an additional person or people.

Having more members is also great for training out on the tracks when others cannot make it, you need at least two people if training in the wilderness.

Training includes exercise during the week outside of the team walks. The Training Guide that Oxfam Trailwalker provides on their website has some great guidelines. Example: Trailwalker Sydney planning guide

You will make up a team of any combination: family members, friends or colleagues from work, sports or social groups.

From those that are interested, you may want to collectively select a leader, someone who organises the team walks, is the contact person for Oxfam correspondence, communicates with and coordinates everyone.

With the first few team walks, provided the leader communication has been satisfactory, you will have a fair idea who your serious candidates are.

You will get to know each other rather quickly – ensure that you team up with people that you get along with because this is an endurance event and personalities are intensified during the longer training walks and more so during the actual event.

Walking in pairs
Breaking up the team into walking pairs – working with strengths and weaknesses

It is not unusual for people to pair up during training walks and if that works then run with it. The pace at which you all walk should be similar; otherwise, the faster walkers are going to become frustrated, and the slower walkers are going to become disheartened.

If the pace mismatch is extreme, then try to group people into potential teams. Also, be aware that faster walkers may have weaknesses on uphills/downhills or tire quicker while slower walkers may keep a consistent pace throughout and be enduring regardless of conditions so it may still pan out OK – you get to figure this out quickly after your first few walks on the trail together.

Register – Register with Oxfam
Register your team with Oxfam as soon as you have a potential team. You can change team members right up to the week before the event – the important thing is to register early.

On their website you may see several different options:

  • Register your interest
  • Save a spot – deposit required
  • Register your team

Some locations book out quickly, so I recommend you communicate with Oxfam if you are not registering your team straight away – they will advise you accordingly!

Have a team name ready when you register – you can change it later if you wish.

Map – Get to know the trail!
The map provided by the Oxfam Trailwalker website for your location is an essential tool for planning. It is downloadable as a PDF, and an overview is visible on the website. Checkout Sydney, Australia Oxfam Trailwalker trail guide

Walking in pairs
A fire break forms part of the trail

If your team is fortunate to live near an Oxfam Trailwalker trail, then you will be able to include all of the sections in your training plan. One weekend you can do Section 1, the following weekend Section 2 then mix it up and do several sections as you extend your training distance.

During training you will need to organise transport to the start of your section for training and a way of getting home from your exit point – some people walk so far then turn around and go back to where they started.

Depends on your transport options – walking in the opposite direction to that of the event is not beneficial to get to know the track but is useful for trailwalking exercise.

If you need to get to know the track then walk the direction the event will have you walking – enter at one section and exit at another – you could cover three sections in a day of training so be strategic as to how you plan it.

Landmarks on trail
Landmarks are a great way of breaking up the larger sections

Become familiar with landmarks along the way so, on the day or night of the event, there is comfort in seeing a familiar landmark, knowing you are on track and breaking the section up for you further achieving landmark-to-landmark.

Oxfam provides markers on some of their tracks during the event – I’m not sure if this happens in every country and I recall only seeing them on the night time sections.

Trailwalking gear – what do I need?

Every Oxfam Trailwalker website for the country/region you plan to walk will have a recommended gear list. Utilise it as it is specific to the climate and conditions you are likely to experience.

Here is an example of what to expect: Gear list Sydney

Thank you for visiting this website ‘Lighten the Hike’ which is all about minimising the weight we carry. Much of what I have already posted about has come from experience with The Oxfam Trailwalker event – when pushed to extremes we analyse everything we do on the trail to ensure we are doing all we can to make the walk the best experience for our team.

Summary

Oxfam Trailwalker website
If you get involved, I encourage you to utilise the Oxfam Trailwalker website for your location. There is detailed information, and everything they include is relevant. Follow their advice, learn the rules, use the tips, stay informed.

Oxfam Trailwalker Support CrewThis post has covered the basics for newcomers who are curious or looking for an inside view of the event history, how to get a team started and participating as a walker or a runner.

There is so much to this event. I recommend you keep an eye out for my next post which gives some insight into two more participant roles for those who will not be walking or running: Participating as Team and Checkpoint Support’

The Spirit of The Oxfam Trailwalker
With the fundamentals addressed in the previous posts, the real-life experience is the absolute pinnacle of the Oxfam Trailwalker. Keep an eye out for my final Oxfam Trailwalker post which captures ‘The Spirit of The Oxfam Trailwalker’.

Trailwalker team fun

A glimpse at what to expect in the post entitled ‘The Spirit of The Oxfam Trailwalker’: The hills still have the glow of twilight around them but it is so dark down in the gully we reach into our bags to find our headlamps. No sooner do we light up the track ahead and a group comes up behind us asking if they can follow us out of the gully – they don’t quite know the way.

They are a team from interstate and have never walked the track before, we are impressed at their courage and determination. We don’t tell them how often we have become lost in broad daylight, instead, our team simultaneously answers ‘of course you can tag along with us’ – we had suddenly become the brave and unlost!

Warning: This amazing event might change your life.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments field below.

While out in the wilderness 
take only photos
leave only footprints!

18 comments

  1. Thanks for the write up, would love to participate with a group of friends that love hiking as well.
    This seems like the event we are looking for, doing what we love while also raising funds for charity.

    Also thanks for that gear list, had no idea what gear to go for.

    Keep up the good work Chrissie!

  2. Great information on this unique event. I never knew it existed. Also, that’s great that it goes to a charity. If you factor in the eight hours of sleep you would get, you would only need to walk around 2 mph to complete the course in the given time. That isn’t too bad. I’ll pass this on to anyone I think may be interested.

    1. Hi Justin, yes it’s amazing how some teams do actually stop for 8hrs to eat, shower, sleep while some continue non-stop. Thanks for passing the word around its a fantastic way of raising funds for charity!

      Chrissie

  3. Very interesting, and informative article on the Oxfam Trailwalker. I used to run a lot, a former marathoner, but in recent years have slowed down some and become a walker/hiker. This distance would be somewhat of a challenge to finish in the allocated time. I would need to train a bit in order to feel confident that I could accomplish it. I may look into perhaps pursuing this at some point. Thank you for all of the detailed information. Tom

    1. Tom, you are welcome and wow! to your marathons – you will already have the mental endurance required and yes the training is key for this event but is the absolute fun part getting out on the tracks with friends. Thanks for stopping by!

      Chrissie

  4. Seems to be an interesting event, I didn’t know it exist. I am passionate of hiking so I’m pretty sure it is an event I would love to participate. Thank you for sharing some tips on various subjects. I’m from Canada, do you know if it occurs in this country?

    1. Hi Audrey, if you like hiking you will love this – it is the best excuse to get up early on weekends to go with friends to hike with a purpose!
      There doesn’t appear to be any in Canada – your nearest I think is UK or Spain but that doesn’t stop you from training at home. Here is a tip, if you know anyone from the Trailwalker locations they can become part of your team or teams – you train at home and on the day of the event, you meet up with them and they guide you because they have been training on the trail. 3 of us trained in Australia to join our work colleagues in Japan who then guided us for the Japan Oxfam. We then reciprocated the following year by guiding them for the Sydney,Australia Oxfam Trailwalker. I must include this in one of my posts. Meanwhile here is a link so you can see the map for the Trailwalker countries – goodluck Audrey! https://www.oxfam.org/en/oxfam-trailwalker

  5. Wow! I am so happy to have come across this article. I did not know anything about this but I saved it to my bookmarks. This will be a lot of fun to do with family and friends. I’m glad the charity is reputable and strong. I honestly look forward to participating in this one day–added to my bucket list!

    1. Melissa, that is fantastic I’m so glad it interests you and it really is fun exploring the tracks and wilderness with good company!
      Good luck with that bucket list 🙂

      Chrissie

  6. What a nice post you wrote! I really enjoyed reading it and I could not be silent about your post so I decided to leave my comment here and say Thank You! For sharing this quality post with others.

    Actually this is exactly the information that I was looking for information about what is the oxfam trailwalker and when I landed on your website and read this post, it answered all my questions in details.
    So I’m happy that you decided to write about this topic and share it with people. It’s very useful and can definitely be used as a great source for everyone who is interested in this topic.
    I will come back to your website again for sure and I’m looking forward to reading your new posts.)

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Ali, you are most welcome. I’m so glad the topic is of interest to you as it is a great charity and event. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      Chrissie

  7. What a nice event!! I didn’t know Oxfam Trailwalker existed.. thanks for sharing this information! I love hiking, but I am currently located in Finland, so I hope they’ll be expanding soon… in the meantime, I could perhaps plan a trip to the UK 🙂 )

    1. Hi Margherita, it certainly is a nice event and the more people that know about it the more beneficial it is to them and Oxfam. Yes your nearest location would be the UK or possibly Belgium with France just a bit further away but who knows, one day it may come to your country!

      Chrissie

  8. This sounds awesome. I’d love to participate. Hopefully, this event will be held next to me at some point. Great event for a good cause. But, you do need training and preparation. Great article, learned a lot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *