Category Archives: etiquette

Prewalk Etiquette

Things to consider when preparing for a bushwalk

Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential. Will Cuppy

Bushwalking may mean vastly different things from one person to the next. For some, it’s a short stroll into a natural area. For others, it’s an overnight wilderness scrub bash. Bushwalking may include swimming, picnicking, climbing and canyoning, and snow-shoeing.

If participants mismatch the style of the trip compared to their expectations, they can be at best disappointed, or worse entirely put off bushwalking! Understanding the context of the bushwalking trip in advance it is necessary to plan effectively and prepare for the trip and to have the right mindset and expectations from the start. A quick chat with the trip leader before signing up is the easiest way to clarify.

Trip expectations Getting the trip expectations clear in your head

Context
Bushwalking trips can have entirely different purposes. Some are about stopping for multiple coffee breaks, others are about walking as far and fast as possible. Trips can vary in the following ways:

  • A well-worn track with a clear route and a high number of visitors, versus an exploratory trip with unknown route or destination;
  • A birthday celebration with plenty of time for cake and photography, versus a trip with a long day out with many steep ascents and descents;
  • A long road bash to stretch the legs, versus a slow, short trip for wildflower identification;
    A trip that has frequent coffee breaks, versus one that has a clear goal to climb a distant peak;
  • A small group catch up, versus a large tourist group;
  • A public transport friendly trip with kids, versus a trip that must start a location A and finish at destination B (e.g. car shuffle or public transport requirements);

…and so on. The style of the trip depends on what the leader sets out to achieve, and the party prepares and walks accordingly.

Moreover, the same two routes can also be led in two entirely different ways depending on the style of the leader and the people in the group. For instance, a 10 km walk can either be be led as a two-hour trip, with very fast-paced walking, or a whole day outing involving regular breaks and stops to take photos. On a fast trip, packing as light as possible makes it easy to keep pace with the group, whereas on slower paced trip, a high-quality camera or pair of binoculars are great.

Technical skills
Trips that involve cliffs, deeper river crossings or scrub, may require more sophisticated skills than other walks. A person with inadequate skills may lead to higher stress levels in the party, potentially compromising safety. That’s why it’s vital to have adequate skills before tackling more challenging bushwalks.

Acquiring skills to do harder walks takes time. Beginners can be encouraged to build up their knowledge and technical skill set in a methodical fashion by participating in trips that get incrementally more challenging. In general, beginners are encouraged to start with grade 1-2 walks.

Fitness
Fitness is the state or condition of being fit, resulting in good body health and from exercise and proper nutrition. Stamina is the ability to continue high-fitness activities over a long time. Higher levels of fitness and endurance are needed for faster walks, walks with significant changes in elevation and long days, compared to slower-paced, shorter, flatter walks. Running or gym fitness and stamina doesn’t necessarily equate to bushwalking fitness and endurance because it’s a different kind of exercise, using different physical and mental capabilities. Walking with a pack over uneven terrain is not only physically challenging, but mentally challenging too, and this kind of fitness and stamina is harder to train for in an urban context.

Similarly, pack fitness – the level of fitness required to walk with an overnight pack – is something else that is hard to build up by anything other than bushwalking. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when building up bushwalking fitness: distance, elevation and time on the track are needed. For many people, their bushwalking fitness will fluctuate from year to year depending on how active they are and what else is going on in their life.

A group that does not have the appropriate level of fitness can also run into trouble. If it’s been some time since the last bushwalk, start with an easier track first to build up fitness again. Likewise, on the first day of an overnight walk with a heavy pack, have realistic expectations if it’s the first overnight trip in a while.

Group size Appropriate group sizes in the bush

There are accepted numbers for bushwalking parties, which may be set by a bushwalking club or a land manager. Some regions have a limit on the number of parties as well. Four people is a good minimum because if one person is injured, this allows two people to go for help. Groups larger than 8-10 people are harder to manage and can quickly crowd the track. National parks can have different rules on group sizes depending on the region, so it’s best to check the rules before going. For NSW, ring the local park office.

As a general rule, group sizes of up to eight are appropriate for wilderness areas and 20 for others, however, the track conditions, likely weather and terrain determine the group size. A larger group tends to travel slower and has frequent stopping points for the rest of the group to catch up. In cold or wet weather, this slow pace and frequent stopping can get extremely uncomfortable, so it’s better to keep the group small. Also, in scrubby conditions, a small group is easier to keep together. Moreover, some campsites cannot hold large groups. By comparison, on wide popular walking tracks, it’s much easier to take a larger group, although having one or more co-leaders helps the leader. For more technical trips that involve activities such as abseiling, river crossings or remote area navigation, groups of 4-6 people are best.

Packing considerations Packing gear for the trip

The reason why bushwalkers carry most of their own gear is that it gives the group greater capacity to cope when things don’t go to plan. In an emergency scenario where there is already high-stress levels, if each person has sufficient water and warm clothes then the group has more options to problem solve. An individual that does not have sufficient gear to cope with unexpected scenarios quickly becomes a burden on the group, and can dramatically increase the severity of the situation. Therefore it’s essential to pack appropriately for the trip and not rely on others for gear.

On shorter, easier walks, items like a first aid kit can be shared between the group, although food water, food and clothing must be carried by all.

On longer walks, a spare change of clothes for the return journey home is nice. Some drivers prefer passengers to use a change of clothes, which are usually left in the vehicle, to keep their cars clean. If travelling by bus, putting the clothes in the luggage area avoids walking mud into the bus. A large solid plastic bag is good for muddy boots. If using cars, carry enough money to sort out petrol.

Pre-trip communications Things to chat through before the trip

Bushwalking clubs are mostly run by volunteers, and they rely on their passionate and dedicated leaders to keep leading trips. Many organisations would cease to exist without the support of their leaders; however, it can be easy to take their hard work for granted. A trip leader puts in a significant amount of time coordinating the group before, during and after the trip, and is good to show them that their hard work hasn’t gone unappreciated. Cooperate with them so they keep on doing it for a long time to come!

The trip leader is the one in charge of directing the group and will take control of an emergency situation. Ensure there is an open line of communication between members of the group and the trip leader from the start. Leaders will be happy to chat through their expectations of the trip regarding skill and fitness because it ultimately makes for a much smoother trip.

Medical
The leader needs to be aware of any medical issues and medical action plan in case of emergency. Some medical conditions are minor and have no impact, while others are more serious and need addressing. Seek professional medical advice if unsure what’s relevant to bushwalking. Leaders are obliged to keep all medical information confidential.

Cancellations
Although last minute cancellations are a part of life, make sure the trip leader knows as soon as possible. Decide on whether an email, phone call or text is appropriate. For someone that rarely checks their email, a cancellation just 24 hours out is probably best done by phone. But if it’s late at night, then maybe a text is better. Judge this on an individual basis.

Cancelling as early as possible is best because it leaves time for the leader to change plans or find another person to fill the space.

Timing
Being on time is surely the easiest way to win friends at the start of a bushwalk! Some leaders will hang around for a few minutes past the allocated meeting time but don’t rely on it. Aim to be at the meeting spot ready to start 10 minutes early. Being there early gives the group enough time to introduce each other, double-check gear, and make sure that car-owners have their car keys safely packed. If running late, let the leader know, however, don’t assume they’ll wait for latecomers: the leader has chosen the meeting time bearing in mind of the track conditions and group dynamics and they’ll be eager to get started.

On Track Etiquette

Things to consider out on the track

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. Dr Seuss

Everyone has the right to enjoy a bushwalk just the way they like, and respecting other people’s needs makes the trip enjoyable for everyone. A solid team of walkers not only makes it to the end of the track safely but also has an enjoyable and fun time. A group that trusts and respects each other are also in a better position to cope with the unexpected.

Every single person that goes bushwalking represents the bushwalking community to the rest of the community, and so how bushwalkers interact with other track users and land managers will reflect on the bushwalking community as a whole. Courteous and polite behaviour to other track users and land managers will ensure future generations of bushwalkers can enjoy these beautiful places too.

Others in your group Working well as a team in the bush

Work as a team
Sticking together as a group avoids people getting separated and running into trouble. Walkers should not stray off the track or go ahead of the leader unless invited to do so. This will usually only happen if the track is well marked and the next stopping point can be clearly defined. That said, staying together doesn’t mean walking on top of each other. Leave enough space for the person in front. If the path is overgrown, keep a metre or two behind to avoid vegetation flicking back. Point out obstacles like slippery sections or loose rocks. If a stop is needed, let someone else in the group know and then walk together to rejoin the rest of the party.

During the walk, keep an eye on each other. It’s not just the responsibility of the leader to take the group through challenging sections of track, it’s up to everyone to help each other. If someone falls behind, let the leader know so they can adjust the pace. On a challenging section of track (a steep uphill, a river crossing), work as a team to make sure that everyone makes it safely. Having company up a steep hill climb can boost the morale of everyone in the group.

Bringing food to share is another great way to bond and celebrate a great team effort on the track so far. Cakes, biscuits, lollies or chocolates can make all the difference halfway up a hill.

Respect others
Bushwalks are fantastic places to have long chats about life, issues, politics and anything else. Often those that go bushwalking have a similar outlook on life, although inevitably opinions will differ. If a discussion gets heated, then agree to disagree, and take time to cool off. It’s vital that the group stays a cohesive, collaborative unit because this dynamic has a far better chance of coping well if something unexpected happens.

Going to the toilet
If available, use existing toilets, and clean hands afterwards with antibacterial hand-gel. If there are no toilets, find a discrete spot off the track, well away from water. When searching for a place, be a little noisier than usual, as this forewarns anyone else that has chosen the same spot! If unsure about where to go, check with the leader.

Others on the track Respecting others on the track

Many people enjoy spending time outdoors because it’s a way of connecting with nature and taking a break from the rush of modern day life. Many people appreciate a friendly hello but don’t expect a long chat from everyone. If someone isn’t up for a chat, don’t read it as being rude, they are just out for a different experience to others.

On a narrow track it’s courteous to step aside to let a party going uphill through. Wait for a wider part of the track before overtaking slower parties going in the same direction. If there’s a faster person behind, step to one side. Keep 2-5 m from the person in front. Any closer and there’s the risk of being clobbered if they stop suddenly and catching branches as they whip back. Avoid losing sight of the person in front so you can stay as a group.

Bushwalkers also share the use of some tracks with other types of users including horse riders, mountain bike riders, dirt bike riders and 4-wheel drivers. Inevitability, shared use means some compromise, whereby bikes and cars slow down for bushwalkers, and bushwalkers move to the side of the track. Most of the time these relationships are easy to manage by being courteous to the other group, and respecting their choice of transport.

Every single walker on the track represents the bushwalking community, meaning that their interactions with other users groups affects current and future relationships. Bushwalkers are privileged to have access to many wilderness areas and want to continue to have good relationships with other users.

Photography and online content Using photography and online content respectfully

Cameras are a great way of collecting memories along the track, but before snapping shots of others in the group, make sure to ask permission. This is particularly true if the group is swimming or wearing fewer clothes than usual. Be aware that although the odd photo is fine, being on a constant photography shoot can get pretty draining. Good judgement of individuals is needed here.

Following this, how photos are shared after the trip is also a sensitive issue. While sharing a few photos via email is one thing, a public posting on facebook, twitter or instagram is another. Be very aware that some social media platforms own photos after they are posted to a private profile, and can be republished accordingly. Know the fine print before posting, and photos of the group should never be made available on the internet without permission. Simply ask people at the end of the trip if they are interested in seeing the photos and how best to distribute them. Be particularly sensitive of photos of young children, and ask parents for permission before shooting and posting.

Noise and technology Why to avoid loud noise, music, phones and other gadgets in the bush

It’s usually fairly quiet in the bush, just the breeze, birdsong, and a laboured breath as the climb takes its toll. At all times it’s a good idea to keep the noise down. This is considerate for people in the group that value a quieter time, others on the track and in camp, and wildlife.

In the last decade the prevalence of electronics in the bush has increased, and a mobile phone can be an effective emergency device. From higher peaks and ridges it’s now possible to make a phone call, amazing and unheard of before the 2000s. The downside of this is that such phone calls can intrude on the experience of others.

Electronic gadgets are an ever-present part of society and urban-living but bushwalking is about getting away from such things, and taking a slower pace of life. Many people even relish the fact that bushwalks often have no mobile phone reception. Respect that this is a common reason for others to go bushwalking by turning off phones before the start of the walk.

Use any music devices with headphones, if at all, as listening to music means missing out on conversations with the group or natural noises like bird calls. Many people would argue that it’s far better to be fully there, part of the group.

Smoking Smoking laws in natural areas

Smoking is now banned in all national parks in NSW and offenders are subject to on-the-spot fines. Parks aims to reduce littering, the risk of bushfires and offer a healthy natural environment to visitors. Smoking bans also apply to many other outdoor areas too under the Smoke-Free Environmental Act 2000: check the rules before lighting up.
Smoking bans in National Parks do not currently extend to e-cigarettes. Smoking is also permitted in some commercially licensed areas.

Bushwalkers should consider other options to smoking on a bushwalk (e.g. e-cigarettes, nicotine patches, gum etc.). If they still choose to smoke on a walk, they should move downwind from the rest of the group, and use a sealable box to securely contain used cigarette butts and ash. They must carry out all rubbish. Note that irresponsible disposal of cigarette butts on a total fire ban day is an offence, with heavy fines and jail sentences.

At Camp

Things to consider at camp

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in tune once more. John Burroughs

Camping etiquette is about making arrangements that are considerate of others sharing the same space. The key here is being more mindful of other people’s reactions and responses, being respectful of other people’s needs and privacy, but at the same time not isolating people either. Be aware that everyone will have different expectations for the night, and respond to things differently: some people are right at home in their comfort zone in the bush, others are completely outside it. On overnight trips, walkers are more likely to be tired and out of their depth, so a little tolerance can go a long way! Again, the etiquette used around camp isn’t a set of rules, but rather a set of guidelines that are worth considering to help create an amicable, respectful environment.

Be mindful of others by keeping personal gear inside tents or at least tidied away in shared areas. Respect that some people may need a bit of ‘down time’ away from the group after a full day of walking. However, if there is a new person to the group that is quite shy, it might be appropriate to encourage them to join the group for dinner rather than eating alone in their tent.

If tensions arise, often, a quiet chat to the people involved can solve it. Similarly, seemingly obvious questions like “There’s not that much space around my tent, would you mind if I set up my stove next to your tent to cook?” can go a long way to making sure that everyone is comfortable with the campsite arrangement. Usually the leader will be able to answer questions regarding departure times, toileting areas, fireplace, communal dinner and so on. If unsure, just ask a simple question.

Sleeping How to make arrangements that are considerate of others

Campsites are often shared by a few different bushwalking groups, so it’s necessary to work together to effectively share the space, yet give everyone a bit of privacy. Upon arriving at camp, think about what tents are in the group and split up the space wisely. If someone is using a fly and needs to be close to a tree, then free-standing tents should be pitched elsewhere. Make sure beginners have help in choosing a suitable spot, more experienced bushwalkers are generally much better at being creative with space use, so help beginners get settled first.

If space is tight, check with adjacent tents first before pitching right next to them: ideally tents with at least a few metres between them. Alternatively, consider sharing sleeping quarters, or at least do a coin toss for good spots so that whoever is stuck with the lumpy sloping ground has won it fair and square. Lastly, be mindful of others and avoid loud conversations late at night.

A classic example of sleeping conflict is when two bushwalking groups arrive at the same camp but have two completely different ideas about how they want to spend the night. One is there to catch up on sleep, the other is there to stay up all night to party. If this appears to be the case, chat to the other group to find a compromise. This might be as simple as inviting the quiet group to join the noisy group for a shared dinner.

Campfires Campfire considerations

Campfires are used as a social place to gather around to keep warm and cook on. However, careful consideration should be given to lighting a campfire because campfires can have substantial impacts. If you do decide to light a fire, seek out an existing fire site and never start a new site in grass.

A good cooking fire is one with lots of smouldering embers, a warm fire is one with lots of fuel and active flames. If people are cooking on the fire, check before building it up because sudden changes in temperature can easily burn food. Conversely, if people are using the fire to keep warm, then putting several billies on the flames won’t keep the fire warm for long. Basically check with the rest of the group how the fire is being used, and consider splitting it into two sides: a hot built-up side, and a cooler side with embers for cooking.

Most paper rubbish can be burnt on the fire. Plastic rubbish should not be burnt on the fire because of the toxic chemicals it releases. Although plastic is burnt in factories, it’s done at a much higher temperature than a campfire, hence producing different and less toxic gases. Any paper put in the fire should be checked for plastic or foil lining. Foil should never be put in the fire because it does not burn and instead produces tiny flakes of foil material that remain in the fireplace.

Camp clean up How to leave no trace at camp

To avoid polluting water, in general, wash well away from any creek or waterway. Anything that’s been washed in a water supply can float downstream to another campsite, and also impact on aquatic wildlife. Hence, billies and cutlery should be washed well away from water courses and huts. Soap must never be used in creeks, rivers or pools. Some soaps say that they are suitable for use in the bush but such claims should be disregarded and should be used well away from water supplies.

Clean up the campsite before leaving and carry out all rubbish, including tins and apple cores. If there is any additional rubbish lying around at the campsite, carry out as much as possible. Pack up any remaining rubbish so it doesn’t get blown or washed away alert the appropriate park ranger when back home. When breaking camp, check for small pieces of litter, left over tent pegs and so on.

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Leave No Trace

Enjoying natural areas and leaving them in pristine condition

The best and most beautiful things in the world
cannot be seen or even touched -
they must be felt with the heart. Helen Keller

There are many different reasons why people head into natural areas to go bushwalking. Maybe to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday city life, maybe to clear the mind, maybe to get fresh air and exercise, or simply appreciate the beauty of nature. Whatever the reasons for heading into the bush, going there brings a unique connection to it, and nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing natural areas trashed by current and previous visitors.

Natural areas in Australia are important habitat for native wildlife including vulnerable and endangered wildlife. Having negligible impacts on natural areas is more than just carrying out rubbish. It extends to how much noise the group makes – maybe yelling at someone at the front of the group scared away a bird from its nest and young?- or even the smallest disturbance to rocks – perhaps that forced an insect out into an area where it is unprotected from predators.

Visitors to natural areas have a responsibility to help protect these areas from any degradation by following basic minimal impact bushwalking principles. Leave No Trace Australia is an organisation dedicated to inspiring and promoting responsible use of the outdoors through research, partnerships and education. It’s a national non-profit group that runs workshops and courses on the subject of minimal impact bushwalking.

The Leave No Trace guidelines describe best practice for visiting natural areas. They consists of seven principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Consider hosts and other visitors

Check out this interactive website for tips on keeping natural places wild.