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Drinking Water

How much water to carry on a day walk

All the water that will ever be,
is right now. National Geographic, October 1993

Water is critical for life: humans need water for all basic biological processes to happen including muscle and nerves to function. These processes are all crucial for feeling good and making good decisions on a bushwalk.

Figuring out how much water to carry starts back home in the planning and preparation stage. Water requirements increase in hot and humid conditions and when active. Part of the trip preparation process involves looking at the weather forecast, figuring out what terrain the trip involved and also dressing appropriately for the conditions.


Water Treatment

When, where, how and why to treat water

We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one Jacques Cousteau

Water treatment is the act of cleaning water to make it safe for drinking. Clean, fresh drinking water is essential for survival and healthy living, yet access to the equipment and technology to do so is not something to take for granted. A 2007 study found that 3900 children died a day due to unsafe drinking supplies[1]. More recent studies fear that due to water scarcity the situation will only get worse, and engineering companies are working hard to develop technological aids to combat the situation.[2]

Adequate safe drinking water is something that is easy to take for granted in developed countries because the process of how clean drinking water gets to a household tap is hidden. In Sydney, 80% of drinking water supply comes from the Warragamba Dam. The rest comes from a variety of sources, including a small amount from the Kurnell Desalination Plant. Sydney Water, the supplier of Sydney’s drinking water supply, follows the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) to provide a clean source of water.

The first principle listed in these guidelines states “The greatest risks to consumers of drinking water are pathogenic microorganisms. Protection of water sources and treatment are of paramount importance and must never be compromised.” Therefore, ensuring access to clean water supplies is also important on a bushwalk. Sometimes this means searching for clean sources or water, and at other times this means treating water.

In the end, the choice to treat or not treat water is a personal one based on knowledge of how clean the source is and what the individual’s immune system can handle. If unsure, err on the side of caution and treat water before using.


Water Collection

How to find and collect water in the bush

Access to good drinking water is essential for human life. The human body can last for several weeks without food but only a few days without water. In developed countries, most urban-dwellers take potable water for granted – turn on a tap and water is there – but outside of cities, and especially in remote areas, reliable water sources are precious.
Not all campsites have water, so walks must be planned such that everyone in the group carries sufficient water supplies or collects water from reliable sources en-route. Hence, managing water on a bushwalk requires adequate research and planning regarding the itinerary and gear requirements (e.g. water containers to collect and carry enough water), the expected pace of the group, campsites and water sources.
It’s common that daywalkers carry all their water supplies, but since every extra litre of water adds an extra kilo of weight, it’s extremely challenging to take sufficient water supplies for more than a day or two. Overnight walkers ideally select campsites close to water or organise water drops at regular intervals along the track.
The amount of water an individual needs to carry depends on the distance to the next reliable water source, the effort to get there, the air temperature, and individual needs, but as a general guideline, when walking in moderate spring conditions allocate half a litre for every hour of walking. On hotter days, ideally aim to hit a water source towards the middle of the day. On overnight trips where bushwalkers don’t expect to find additional water supplies, they tend to carry 4-6 litres of water.
Over time, individual water needs will become known, and it becomes easier to estimate water requirements for particular tracks and conditions.


Bushwalking Etiquette

Being considerate to others in the bush

Etiquette is the invention of wise men to keep fools at a distance. Richard Steele

Different cultures around the world have wildly different customs to others, and sometimes when people go traveling outside their own cultural, they can go into cultural shock, a feeling of total confusion about how to act or behave. Some actions viewed as exceptionally rude in one culture are highly complementary in another. For example, in Japan it’s standard practice to slurp when eating a bowl of noodles, whereas it’s the height of rudeness in Britain. These examples highlight different cultural norms around the world.

Within any culture there are sub-cultures, and these too have customs, rituals and expectations. These practices form the expected etiquette of that community and can vary in place and time. These practices are often ingrained and followed unconsciously. Etiquette guidelines strongly reflect the culture they’re held in, and getting these unspoken expectations correct can make a big difference to how easy it is to feel accepted by that community.

The bushwalking community is a good example of an Australian subculture with its own set of unique etiquette. In the bush, while the core etiquette ideas are similar, clubs (and states) have their own expectations and unique culture. The point of this etiquette article is not to dictate a set of rules, but rather to provide guidelines. Etiquette isn’t about being right or wrong, but rather it’s about knowing what the expectations of that community are so that if people stray from the norm, they do so knowingly.

Bushwalking etiquette involves being considerate to others before, during and after the walk and includes people within the group as well as others on the track. The etiquette around bushwalking is all about respecting how other people want to experience natural places and taking care of each other on the track.

While a walk is usually organised by a single leader, it’s not up to one person to make the trip a success. It comes down to every single member of the group being well prepared, turning up with the right expectations and equipment, and being an inclusive, respectful and courteous participant. These ideas all highlight that the actions of an individual can dramatically impact upon others and this is the focus of this etiquette article.


Map Reading

An introduction to map reading

Maps are a fantastic resource to bushwalkers, and many love them for their simplistic detail. Maps can tell details as simply as the name of a road, right through to the side of a rock which a river flows past. An entire rescue operation can be planned and executed based on the knowledge of grid coordinates alone, and many people owe their lives to the wealth of information that users can extract from a simple map.

Learning to read a map is like learning a new language. Individual features are like words, and how the features are presented together create sentences. Being able to extract meaning from these sentences involves understanding what particular features represent, and putting them all together. This interpretation enables the reader to make sense of how the environment fits the map, and the map fits into the environment. Map reading is one step towards being able to navigate with confidence through the bush.

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On-track Navigation

Learning how to navigate along a pre-existing route

When you think about navigation, thick impenetrable scrub and vast empty wilderness spring to mind. But navigation is not only for off-track walking. It’s just as important when following established routes, that is, on-track walking. Unlike other parts of the world, not every route is signposted in the Australian bush! Also, routes fade, reform and changed over time. Following a track, trail or path blindly can very quickly take you to somewhere completely different to where you intended.

Typical navigation decisions that bushwalkers face on an established routes include:

  • “Do I take the right or left fork at the junction?”,
  • “Does the track continue on the other side of the creek now”, and
  • “Is this the last water source for 10km?”

On-track walking means using pre-existing ways to get from A to B. On-track navigation involves planning a route that links these ways together. By comparison, off-track navigation is where bushwalkers plan and walk their route without following established ways. Both types of navigation rely on following the plan, staying found and recognising reliable map features.

Famous on-track walks in and around Australia include: the Great North Walk, the Overland Track and the Larapinta Trail.