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What to Wear

Advice on bushwalking clothing

Bushwalking clothes must feel comfortable. Any tight-fitting or heavy clothing such as jeans will get uncomfortable very quickly, and even more so when they’re wet and dirty. Choose light, loose clothing that feels comfortable to move and sweat in.

Shorts and shirt work well, although some people prefer long pants to protect their legs from vegetation. Collared shirts are preferable for sun protection because of the extra layer of fabric around the neck. Quick-dry materials are also helpful for keeping warm after a big hill climb (and sweating session) or a river crossing.

Some people get chafing between their thighs, caused by skin rubbing together or on clothing. It can be extremely uncomfortable but avoided by wearing protective clothing (e.g. lycra bike pants, long merino underwear) or using anti-chafing cream.

Like clothes, choose comfortable shoes. Use normal running shoes to get started, and only consider upgrading to a more heavy duty shoe after some research and chatting to other bushwalkers.

All bushwalking clothes and shoes will eventually get dirty and damaged, so use clothes and shoes that can afford to be ruined! And remember to pack swimmers if you’re going near water!

Hot weather Clothing in hot conditions

For warm to hot conditions use clothes that give good sun protection, but are made from materials that can breathe easily and prevent overheating. Use extra loose clothes to stay cool, and long-sleeved shirts for extra sun protection. Avoid fabrics that are old and worn because they are less effective at protecting from UV radiation.

Starting the walk in hot weather? Double check the forecast and bushfire alerts. Start walking early in the day, and aim for a long shady lunch break (preferably near water) when the sun is at it’s highest.

Cold weather Clothing in cold conditions

Layering – using multiple layers of clothing – is a more effective way to stay warm than using a single thick layer. Each layer traps air and together provide an effective insulating barrier to the cold. Layering also makes it possible to add or remove items as temperatures changes throughout the day.

Clothing provides warmth by trapping a layer of insulating air between the fabric and skin. This works well until the fabric gets wet from rain or sweat. How effectively a piece of clothing continues to insulate, depends on how the fabric behaves when wet.

When cotton gets saturated with sweat or water, it loses all insulating properties because it can no longer trap a layer of air next to the skin. By contrast, fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin are effective insulators. They take water away from the skin and up through the external layers keeping the layer closest to the skin dry. Wool is a natural wicking material, and polyester and polyethylene are synthetic ones.

Thermal tops and bottoms are popular in the outdoor community. They are lightweight, made from materials that are excellent insulators when wet, and can be used as layered clothing. They also come in some pretty groovy patterns, colours and designs.

Beware of certain materials’ stink factor. Synthetic materials tend to have higher odour than natural fibres because they harbour smelly bacteria and wick smelly oily sweat to the surface. The disadvantage with natural fibres is that they require careful looking after and cleaning and can be expensive. The good news is that certain products can be used to help ‘de-stink’ synthetic clothing.

Woolen or synthetic hats (aka beanies) are effective, lightweight clothing for bushwalks. Around 10% of body heat is lost through the head, which is roughly the surface area of the head relative to the rest of the body.
Beanies are small and easily crushable, not taking up much pack space, and can make a substantial difference on a cold day.

Starting the walk cold? Take a look at the weather forecast before leaving and adjust the number of layers you carry and wear to suit. Often, starting the walk heavily layered up means stopping and stripping off only 5 minutes into the walk!

Wet weather Clothing in wet conditions

In wet conditions, wear clothes that are still effective insulators when wet (e.g. polyester, polyethylene, wool), and use layers to keep as warm and dry as possible under a raincoat. Some people use waterproof pants to keep their lower half dry. Others prefer quick-dry shorts, keeping their legs free to negotiate the track in more challenging and slippery conditions. Most importantly, keep the vital organs (i.e. the top half) warm.

A waterproof jacket is a water-resistant jacket that can keep out driving rain. Water-resistant jackets are appropriate for some walking experiences while waterproof jackets are needed for others. Using a cheap water-resistant rain-jacket on short trips saves wear and tear on the expensive waterproof one: consider owning multiple jackets rather than aiming for a ‘one-size’ fits all approach.

There are three broad categories of raincoat:

  • The cheap and light one, for short easy walks. This is for warm, spring summer days to keep off a short rain shower or two. It’s primarily for comfort but doesn’t need to be too fancy because it’s not in use for long or in extreme weather. It’s cheap enough to be used regularly and thrown around a bit: it can also double up as a picnic rug! Avoid disposable ponchos because the loose material can easily get caught (and left behind) on trees and bushes.
  • The expensive, light one that packs down well. For use on longer day walks, walks in remote areas and overnight walks. Choose a material that is unlikely to rip, but is still lightweight. The jacket must be reliably waterproof in case the group gets caught in weather or is late back.
  • The heavy duty expensive one. This is for multi-day trips in wet or alpine environments: thick, heavy material with excellent waterproof qualities. For use on trips where you are mostly wearing it or can store it at the top of the pack under the lid pocket.

Other useful equipment in wet conditions includes:

  • A broad-brimmed hat to keep the rain off head, hair, ears and eyes. Hats with leather or wax coatings repel water.
  • An umbrella! As ridiculous as it sounds, quite effective at keeping the rain off when you’re going for a stroll in the bush (providing the track isn’t overgrown).

Glasses wearers may consider using contact lenses in wet conditions: foggy lenses with raindrops makes for difficult walking! Alternatively, a clean dry cloth to regularly wipe the lenses is essential, and a broad-brimmed hat may somewhat help keep rain off.

Download our complete Day walk gear checklist.


Getting started

Getting ready for your first few walks

I am excited that you are here and keen to learn more about how to bushwalk. Learn 2 bushwalk is not simply a survival guide. We don’t go on bushwalks to merely survive, we head out to have fun, explore and thrive. I trust that you will find this a very practical guide that steps you through all you need to know to thrive in the wild.

Packing What gear do I need?

 What clothing to wear?

Practical and comfortable clothing is key. Go for light, loose clothing: this helps you stay cool and comfortable. Avoid tight fitting clothes and/or jeans. We recommend:

  • Collared shirt (sun protection)
  • Long, loose shorts
  • Sunhat, glasses and sunscreen  (sun protection)

Check the local weather forecast to gauge how hot/cold it’ll be on the walk and tweak your gear to include extra layers if it’s cooler, and more drinking water if it’s going to be hot.

What shoes to wear?

Again, comfort is the key here. Start with a pair of sports shoes that you’re comfortable in and your feet are used to. For your first walk we recommend:

  • a pair of light and comfortable runners
  • ankle length socks

What to pack

Don’t rush off to expensive camping stores to buy fancy gear for your first trip – you’ll probably find that you’ve got everything you need sitting at home. Find a small, light backpack to carry:

  1. Water2 Litres is usually enough, split between a few old soft drink bottles.
  1. Food: Morning tea, afternoon tea and lunch. Carry food that doesn’t need preparing and snacks that are easy to eat on the move.  e.g. sandwiches, fruit, nuts, muesli bars & lollies/chocolate to boost energy levels. Pack a few extra snacks in case you get back later than planned.
  1. Personal medication (e.g. asthma inhalers) – your trip leader will have a first aid kit.
  1. Everything else for Grade 1-2 on our complete gear checklist.

Lastly, if you’re worried about gear getting wet, just double wrap it in garbage bags.

Choosing your first walk What makes for a good first walk?

Where to find out about our walks
There are many great sources of walking experainces out there.
NSW: Wildwalks — yeah I know I am biased 🙂
Australia: Bushwalk Australia — A forum of expearinaced bushwalkers.

Think about transport. Loop and return walks start and end at the same point, that can make driving easier. Consider walks where you use public transport, this is especially handy for one-way walks where you can use a bus, train or ferry to get back home again.

The nature of the walk
Everyone walks for different reasons, and everyone leads their own walks a bit differently. Some people prefer fast-paced walks, others like leisurely strolls with plenty of time for lunch breaks and photos. Some like to name every plant, and others like to enjoy broad vistas.
Spend a few minutes thinking about why you want to go bushwalking. Chat with your walking buddies about why they are coming and make sure you all have a reasonable expectation of how the walk is going to go. It can be really frustrating for someone who is expecting a walk to improve fitness to discover the trip is slow paced with lots of coffee stops — a quick conversation can fix this.

Walks are graded from 1 to 6 where 1 is the easiest and 6 is the hardest. If you’re new to bushwalking, it’s a good idea to choose an easy walk (grade 2-3) to start with to help settle in. If you’re relatively fit and have done some walking in the past then you might feel okay tackling a grade 3 on your first trip. More about walk grades.

Day before the trip
On the day before your trip make sure you hydrate well by drink plenty of water and get a good night of sleep.  Double check the weather forecast and for any disruptions to your travel arrangements (e.g. rail track work).

Things changed & you can’t make the walk anymore?
We know that life gets crazy at times. Please just let your leader know if you can’t make the walk anymore.

On the day Get the most out of your walk

On the morning of your walk
On the morning of the trip, here are a few tips to help you feel great and start your walk smoothly:

  • Enjoy a good breakfast, and double check your gear and walk details.
  • Aim to be at the meeting point and ready to start walking 10 minutes before the actual starting time.
  • Go to the toilet before arriving – many meeting points don’t have a toilet.

On your walk
On the walk, have fun and enjoy yourself, but just keep a few things in mind:

  • Stick with the group, and if you’re finding it hard to keep up then chat to your leader.
  • Leave nothing in the bush, no rubbish not even orange peel.
  • Be mindful of other people on the track: give other groups plenty of room to pass

After your walk
At the end of the walk, remember to say thanks to your leader – they are volunteers and put in a stack of effort to organise the logistics of getting people out into the bush. If someone has given you a lift, then it’s nice to offer them some petrol money or shout them a coffee instead.

You may also want to exchange contact details with a few people you met on the trip. You may find some people that live close by and can share transport to the start of walks.

Getting into it Enjoying a life long love of walking

What worked for you?
When you get back home from any activity, have a think through what parts of the trip you enjoyed most. Was is the walking pace, views, coffee, people or other things? Then flick through the activities program to find your next adventure!

Frequently asked Questions

  • Are there toilets?
    Walks start from many different meeting places, some with toilets, but many without. So make sure you go, before you go!
  • Do I really need to bring lunch?
    Yes, always carry lunch with you. Even on short day walks it’s a good idea to carry lunch or at least a substantial snack. This gives a buffer in case the trip takes longer than expected, or you end up enjoying yourself so much out there that you stay for a bit longer!
  • I am an experienced bushwalker, can I do a grade 5 for my first walk?
    We always recommend that you start with an easier grade walk on your first walk. This gives you a chance to get used to the group and find your feet. For most people, start with a grade 1-2, for those with some previous bushwalking experience and good general fitness a grade 3-4 may be more appropriate.

Gear for Day Walks

Suggestions for things to pack and wear on a day walk

Gear for day walks varies on the length and grade of the walk as well as weather conditions and how remote the track is.

Walks become more remote the further they are from roads and mobile reception. In remote areas and on longer/harder walks carry more emergency supplies and stuff to help cope with the unexpected. On short, easy walks, just carry the basics.

Day-walks can be split into three types:

  • Well marked tracks, not too steep or long: Grade 1-2.
  • Longer tracks, steeper sections, but still on well-defined tracks: Grade 3 walks.
  • Longer, remote walks, with steep difficult sections. Can be part or all off-track: Grade 4-6 walks.

For Grade 1-2 walks carry basic gear including any personal medication. For grade 3 walks, carry a more comprehensive kit to cope with changing conditions. For grade 4-6 walks, pack a full gear kit.

The group can share certain items (e.g. first aid kit), although on longer, harder walks, it’s best for everyone to carry at least some items to help cope with the unexpected (e.g. whistle, space blanket, backup food).

Carry a PLB on walks that go outside mobile phone reception regardless of the grade or length.

Download the Day Walk Gear Checklist.


Walk Grading System

A guide to understand how walks are graded

Walk grading is a bit of a contentious issue among the bushwalking community given the high level of subjectivity involved. We have adopted to use the guidelines of our peak Bushwalking NSW body. These are based on the Australian Standard for walking track classification.

A grade is a helpful bit of information but needs to be considered in the context of other bits of information such as the walk description and potential hazards.

Here is a breakdown of the grades.

Grade 1 Well-marked and even tracks or footpaths, some steps.

Grade 1 – Opportunity for a large number of walkers, including those with reduced walking ability to walk on well marked and even tracks. Tracks are man-made and may have a few steps. Should not be steep. Suitable for beginners. Distance should not exceed about 10km.

Grade 2 Mostly on well-marked and not very steep tracks

Grade 2 – Mostly on tracks of low gradient. Opportunity to walk easily in natural environments on well-marked tracks. Tracks should not be steep. Distance should not exceed about 15km.

Grade 3 Some rough and hilly sections, suitable for beginners

Grade 3 – A walk with some hilly sections and/or rougher terrain. Opportunity to walk on defined and distinct tracks with some steep sections requiring a moderate level of fitness. Suitable for fit beginners. Distance should not exceed about 20 km.

Grade 4 Steep and rough tracks, may be some off-track, need some experience.

Grade 4 – Steeper, rougher terrain and may have off-track sections (no more than one-quarter of the walk) or a longer distance track walk. Opportunity to explore and discover relatively undisturbed natural environments mostly along defined and distinct tracks. Tracks can be steep. There may be short sections of rock scrambling involved. Leaders should have map reading abilities and/or ability to use a compass. Distance depending on circumstances. Not suitable for most beginners.

Grade 5 Mostly off-track, some rock scrambles, for experienced bushwalkers

Grade 5 – Off-track or difficult terrain. Opportunity for walkers with advanced outdoor knowledge and skills to find their own way along often in distinct tracks or off track in remote locations. May include steep sections of unmodified surfaces. There may be rock scrambling, creek walking and crossing involved. Distance should not exceed 30 km, but may be short and difficult. Not suitable for beginners.

Grade 6 Off track and hard going, for very experienced bushwalkers

Grade 6 – Strenuous off-track walk or very long distance. Opportunity for highly experienced walkers to explore remote and challenging natural areas without reliance on managed tracks. Terrain may be steep, uneven and no track. There may be rock scrambling, creek walking and crossing involved. Distance covered is unlimited, but may be short and difficult. Only for experienced walkers and not suitable for beginners.

Learn to Bushwalk