You’re sick of staring at a computer all week, can’t bear the thought of another weekend channel surfing on TV. You look out the window, the sun’s shining and you decide it’s time to go bush.
So what are the bushwalking / hiking essentials you need before you head out into the vast unknown?
This list is for those looking for something more than the standard two hour return trip on a National Park marked trail; ie. Four hours or more with some (or all) off-track walking, possibly requiring navigation, bush-bashing, scrambling and/or rock-hopping. If this sounds like you, read on…
Bushwalking / hiking essentials
Things to keep in mind:
- This information is for day-walks only. By starting out with daywalks, you’ll get to know any feet/shoe issues and gain experience with elevation, elements and even vegetation.
- This is written for the inexperienced; someone just starting who may be unsure if bushwalking/hiking is for them and is understandably reluctant to outlay a small fortune for specialised equipment. (As with any sport/activity, with time and experience you’ll soon come to know what gear and equipment will suit your needs. Better to make those decisions later rather than regret hasty and costly purchases at the outset).
- This is prepared with a Queensland climate in mind. I live in SE Qld, so the local conditions (ie. No snow!) and my experience are reflected in my recommendations. This list will not suffice for Tasmania, Australian Alps etc.
- Never walk alone should always be your mantra. In reality this isn’t always possible, or for some, even desirable. However you should ALWAYS tell someone your destination, projected route and expected finish time. The movie 127 hours is a great lesson to us all. If you do go it alone, the following list will have you better prepared should the unexpected eventuate.
Now, down to business, I will outline the basic resources you will need and what to look for in each.
For a daypack, don’t get too caught up on brands/features/materials etc, leave the detailed research for your overnight pack. My current daypack cost less than $40 from a large retail outdoors chain and despite encounters with thorny vegetation and sliding down numerous steep inclines, it remains functional. In reality it will rarely have more than 6-8 kgs, so ergonomics etc are not the same priority as they are with an overnight pack.
Size: A pack size of 30-40 ltr should be more than sufficient. I have a 45ltr pack which is more than enough to carry what I require and water bottles.
Ok, now that you’ve found your pack, let’s look at what you will need to equip your pack for future day-walks.
Whilst not essential if not hiking in or near water, they are ideal for any swim-throughs or when walking across creeks/rivers (insurance should you fall in the water!) and they provide peace of mind if caught in a sudden down pour. I purchased mine from a well known fishing/boating chain store. It has a very durable mesh woven pvc with a fold up top that clips shut. 2 garbage bags folded over should also do the trick. I also find it preferable to a pack cover in the rain, which can easily get caught and pulled off on foliage.
Small waterproof bag
Your packliner should keep everything dry, however I prefer a little extra insurance for electronics such as phone, camera etc. Again made from a waterproof pvc with a fold-over top that clips shut.
This falls in a similar theme to your pack; the choices are vast, as is the price range, so I adopt the same approach – for overnight walks do your research, however for day-walks something more basic will suffice. I don’t recommend spending hundreds of dollars on a goretex lined jacket if you don’t need it, or if it’s going to get ripped on thorns.
It needs to be durable enough to withstand the odd scrape or thorn, but folds up into a compact size and has a hood.
There are two main types of thermal clothing:
Polypropelene: By far the cheapest option. Whilst the material is effective in keeping you warm, it does retain your body odour – not really an issue for day-walks.
Merino wool: Considerably more expensive, but incredible in its ability to repel body odour, often for several consecutive days of heavy perspiration.
Note: cotton is your enemy. Whilst many of us may already have or prefer cotton/cotton blend thermals in regular life, when hiking they are no good. They get heavy when wet and take longer to dry – creating more issues for you and outweighing the benefits.
The thermal top – as with your first aid kit – is insurance against the unexpected. There have been many times I’ve been thankful for its presence in my pack, such as falling into cold water, high winds on a mountain peak or a late finish in the dark with rapidly falling temperatures.
Another item with endless brand/quality/price categories. I predominately use my fleece on a cold morning when first setting off, on a windy mountain top or when stationary for long periods, ie lunchtime on a cool day.
Again, do you research for overnight walks, but for now, get whatever fits your budget.
A zip front style is handy if it’s still cool, but you’re warming up and not ready to take it off completely.
For short walks I prefer to use water bottles (only because they’re easier to rinse out when you’ve finished your walk). However my preferred option is the water bladder and tube with mouthpiece. Both for convenience (not having to stop and reach for water bottle from pack pocket), and regular small sips are less likely to make you uncomfortable in the stomach compared to large gulps from the bottle when you’re really thirsty.
- Water bottles: Anything, whether it be empty soft drink bottles through to BPA free bottles. Obviously make sure they’re light weight.
- Hydration bladder: I prefer the bladder that opens fully at the top and folds over with a slide clip to secure (easier to clean), rather than the model with a large screw cap. I have seen fellow bushwalkers with a bladder that is in an ‘O’ shape with a hole in the middle – theoretically it spreads more evenly between your back and pack.
One tip is to keep the hydration bladder or water bottles on the outside of your pack liner. So should your water bottle/bladder fail, your pack contents remain dry. I also carry a spare bottle, as insurance should the bladder develop a leak. I have been lucky so far, but have seen it happen to others on numerous occasions.
Compass, map and GPS
Learn to use a compass and map. GPS is an excellent tool, especially if you’re returning on the same route. However it can run out of power (especially if you’ve forgotten to charge it prior to your walk).
If you’re walking on marked trails, a map and compass should suffice.
First Aid Kit
Like an insurance policy, you hope to never have to use it, but in the event of an accident, you wouldn’t want to be without it! Everyone’s first aid kit will differ, here’s what’s in mine:
- Fabric Band-aids (plastic ones come off!)
- Snake Bandage
- Bandages – for wounds and sprained/broken limbs
- Elastoplast – for sprained limbs, but can be also be used as an alternative to duct tape to repair hole in tent etc.
- Aquatabs – water purification
- Paw Paw ointment – or any alternative you prefer for chapped lips, scrapes, bites etc.
- Pain medication incl. anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen).
- Nappy pins
- Splinter probe
There are opposing views – boots or shoes. SE Qld bushwalking is predominately peak walking in winter (little chance of rain), and summer being primarily creek walks with wet feet not uncommon. For this reason, I prefer the flexibility of shoes without goretex lining.
If however you know you have weak ankles for example, you may want to consider the extra support of a boot.
For many years I walked with cheap shoes from Rivers, and suffered no ill effects. In fact, I’ve accompanied others who walk even more than I, wearing only volleys or Big W workboots! However as I progressed to longer multi-day walks, I’ve purchased a more reputable brand along with sole inserts to correct my over pronation.
If you’re likely to be regularly walking in cold and/or damp muddy conditions, then goretex shoes or leather boots etc will be a more appropriate choice.
- Shorts/pants: Something sturdy, comfortable and quick drying. I’ve found that an old pair of boardies are perfect. I’ll team these with a pair of gaiters to protect the lower leg from cuts and abrasions. You may prefer long pants, which are just as effective and some also have the option of unzipping the legs to become shorts.
- Shirt: I prefer a long sleeve collared Columbia (or similar) style hiking shirt. The long sleeves and collar protect from the sun and the synthetic material is UV rated, comfortable and quick drying. I’ve noticed some even offer a built-in insect repellent! Again personal preference, along with trial and error will determine what you feel comfortable in.
I won’t get into details re jocks, socks, hats etc – you’ll work it out. Just remember to protect yourself adequately from the sun, chaffing etc…and NO cotton!
For a day-walk, I keep it pretty simple. Muesli bars, sultana packs, sesame snaps, banana bread, fruit and/or chicken/ham/salad roll for lunch. I’ll freeze a fruit juice popper, which is normally defrosted by lunchtime, but still cold. It helps to keep my bread roll cool and a welcome change to plain water.
The possibilities are endless and the effort made by some of my fellow bushwalkers quite impressive. Basically, the healthier options that provide sustained energy are better than junk food, or not enough food. I fall at the lazy end of scale, preferring to reward myself with something yummy at day’s end.
I love taking photos, so my digital camera is always in use. For those less inclined, the camera function on your smart phone may suffice.
I keep the camera in a small camera pouch which sits on the right side of my chest. It’s attached via both the daypack chest strap and also a snap clip – double insurance from dropping. I’ve found by keeping it close to hand and easily accessible, I’m much more inclined to use it, than if it’s stashed away in the pack.
Misc (the rest!), stowed in a small sealed bag
- Headtorch – I always carry one. Injury, an unplanned diversion, or a temporary misdirection (often known as ‘lost’), may mean you do not make it back before dark. A headtorch is small, light and therefore no excuse not to have in your possession. Don’t forget batteries.
- Cigarette lighter/matches
- 2 or 3 zip ties and spare shoelace – Numerous temporary repair possibilities for shoes, clothes, pack etc.
- Toilet Paper
- Notepad and pen – Leave a message, mental notes, swap details with another walker.
- Insect Repellant
- Gloves – My first time off-track in a rainforest without gloves and I spent 3 days pulling thorns out of the palm of my hand. Something sturdy, but not too heavy – gardening gloves from your local hardware store would suffice.
- Whistle – Mine is clipped to chest strap for quick access.
I hope this list of bushwalking basics / hiking essentials helps to get you started and inspire you further in a love of the outdoors.
As a final word, I can’t recommend highly enough the benefits of joining a bushwalking club. The experience and knowledge that can be gained from others are invaluable, not to mention the many secret locations that you would never find otherwise.