Bushwalking Safety Checklist
Experienced bushwalkers know that you should never take Australian conditions for granted and you can never be over-prepared for a walk. Here are some tips to keep safe when walking and hiking in the bush.
The Three Capes Track (Credit: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service)
If you head out on a walk or hike in any of Australia’s iconic tourist hotspots, you’ll notice two types of walkers — those who are prepared and clearly know what they’re doing and those who are massively under-prepared.
A few years ago, I was walking through the Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory when busloads of tourists turned up and folks headed out walking wearing thongs, no hats and carrying no water — in 30°C plus heat. Not only were they under-prepared, but so were their young children. It’s a recipe for disaster — particularly in remote locations when help is far away.
Prior to setting out on any bushwalk or hike, check with the local national parks service for current information on track conditions and closures, and weather conditions. They can also provide you with maps and information on walking times and distances. Also, pay attention to signs that are located at the start of walking tracks. These can be a great guide as to what kind of conditions you might encounter.
Also consider the time of day before you start walking. Even though a walk may only be four or five kilometres long, it may take you two hours to complete because of the rough terrain. Start early as you don’t want to be walking in the hottest part of the day nor do you want to still be walking as darkness falls.
Walks are generally graded easy, moderate or hard so you should choose depending on your level of fitness. Those with physical or medical conditions should follow the advice of their GP. Those who don’t normally do a lot of physical work are advised to either not attempt a particularly challenging walk in the first place, or undertake a focused, monitored exercise regime for some time in advance.
Kanangra Walls from the plateau in Kanangra-Boyd National Park, NSW
The gear carried with you should be able to cope with any contingencies:
If you plan on doing lots of bushwalking, invest in a pair of good hiking boots. Thongs and sandals aren’t suitable footwear for bushwalking. They offer no support to your foot and no grip on the ground meaning that the chance of injury becomes higher. Even some sports shoes are not great for this activity but are certainly better than thongs. Smooth-soled shoes or boots should not be worn either. Wearing enclosed footwear will also prevent injury from sharp sticks and rocks.
Wear multi-layered clothing that will keep you protected and warm in all weather conditions. Weather can change rapidly in many areas of Australia, including the Gold Coast Hinterland. In particular areas like Mt Kosciuszko in NSW and Cradle Mountain in Tasmania can be fine one minute and snowing the next.
A broad-brim hat or beanie, sunglasses and rain/spray jacket are also essential.
On longer hikes, a properly water-proofed, good-quality hiking tent is essential in any season.
A fully charged torch is handy when setting up at night. Waterproof matches are good for longer, multi-day hikes.
A quality first aid kit, basic medication, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, camera and a water bottle seem obvious considerations but should be added to the pre-walk checklist.
Mobile phones should also be carried, although reception cannot always be relied on and the phone itself won’t be of much use anyway if the battery goes flat. Extra batteries or power banks can help.
Always carry topographic maps and a compass on longer walks, especially unmarked tracks.
Water and food
The amount of food and water to be carried are major considerations on any walk whether short or long. Always carry ample drinking water, even on shorter walks. Don’t rely on drinking water being available at camping and day-use areas, they can run out for various reasons.
You should plan to have enough food and water to extend beyond the time you expect to be out in the bush. Always pack a few snacks as well. Fruit, muesli bars or some cheese and crackers are good. If it’s a longer, multi-day hike you will need to plan all the meals that you’ll need to carry with you.
Solo is a NO-NO
Never walk alone. Always walk with another person or in a group of three to four.
If you become lost or an accident occurs, always stay together. This will increase your chances of help finding all of your group quickly.
Lush Lamington National Park (Credit: Getty Images)
Always let someone know where you are going to be walking and how long you think you will be gone. Some longer walks require you to register your trip at selected police stations or national park offices. Inform your contact when your group has safely returned.
In an Emergency
Bushwalking NSW suggests planning what you will do in an emergency and maintaining a current first aid qualification so that you know how to handle illness and injuries.
Do not rely on your mobile phone in the event of an emergency. Many places have limited mobile reception.
If possible, carry a satellite phone as it has global coverage and will allow you to inform emergency services of your needs. Otherwise, carry a mobile phone, but be aware that it may not have coverage in remote areas or national parks. Consider battery life and take a recharger if necessary.
For longer walks, you may want to consider carrying a first aid kit and Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Your PLB must be registered with AMSA and is essential in wilderness areas.
If in distress, contact the emergency services on Triple Zero (000). If you are in distress and need assistance and have no other means of communication, set off your Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Remain near your PLB and be prepared with food and shelter to wait for a response. This may take several hours, or longer if conditions are not suitable for flying or if a ground team needs to reach you. Make yourself visible from the air with a brightly coloured clothing item.
Mini Palms Gorge Purnululu National park, WA
Leave no Trace
As with camping, there are guidelines for ‘treading lightly’ so you leave as little impact on the bush as possible:
- Always stay on the marked track
- Don’t cut corners or walk too many abreast or you will trample plants and possibly cause erosion
- Never cross fences or barriers
- Watch where you are walking to avoid stepping on plants and wherever possible walk on rocks and firm ground — this is especially important where there are no marked walking tracks
- Be quiet to avoid disturbing wildlife
- Don’t leave any litter — even organic waste like fruit should be carried out
- Don’t wear heavy bushwalking boots around your campsite, lighter footwear will cause less damage.
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