Water Collection Points

Where to find water in the bush

Bushwalkers usually collect water from natural sources like creeks, rivers, lakes, and soaks they find on the route or a short way off it. These supplies change with season and rainfall, and some are more reliable than others – often those rivers that are fed by smaller creeks.

Care must be taken to choose sources that are reliable, and backups must be in place in areas where water availability is variable. Sometimes, bushwalkers might have to carry enough water supplies to get to a backup water source or walk out. In some regions with high numbers of visitors or unreliable water supplies, tanks have been provided by management.

Natural water sources How to find reliable natural water sources

Natural water sources include creeks, rivers, lakes, and soaks that run over the ground, natural collection points such as cave drips and tree crevices, as well as water sources that run deep below the ground.

Where to look:

  • Check the map to determine the lay of the land. Dotted blue lines represent seasonal (non-perennial) creeks, whereas solid blue lines are more permanent (perennial) waterways, although these can also run dry. Examine the topology and watch out for steep edges or cliffs that are impassable. Small catchments are more likely to be a clean source or water, whereas larger creeks with more sources of input are more likely to be running. But beware of relying too heavily upon a map for information: water courses can change, and constructed features such as mines and farms can dramatically affect water flow in natural areas surrounding them.
  • Places where water naturally pools such as low-lying areas, valleys or gullies.
  • Always go downhill. Water follows gravity downwards, so when looking for water follow the lay of the land downhill. Gullies that appear dry higher up often start to flow at lower elevations. Often, following a gully downwards can lead to water.
  • Search rock crevices, tree crotches, rock pools, drips from cave overhangs, or other natural water catchments where rainwater may have collected.
  • Patches of healthy green vegetation, plants typically found near water (e.g. wattles, she-oaks) and damp or muddy ground. These all indicate some source of water which may be possible to access by digging.
  • The presence of animals: mammals, insect and birds tend to stick close to water sources, and these are often places where animal tracks converge. Birds often circle watering holes, and the flight direction can be used to detect water sources. The formation of seed-eating birds changes as they approach water from a random clustering to an ordered and neat formation.

Ideally, water should be collected from clean sources, that flow from pristine natural areas, but if there is doubt, then treat water. Treatments for water sources contaminated with pathogens include boiling, chemical or UV treatments.

Pathogen contamination can come from:

  • Farms: Animal faeces
  • Popular campsites and huts with many visitors: human faeces

Water contaminated with toxins, fertilisers and heavy metals cannot be treated in the field, and bushwalkers should avoid these water sources. Examples of this kind of contamination include:

  • Mines and factories (e.g. above the Wolgan River)
  • Pesticide and fertiliser run-off from farms (e.g. Cox’s River downstream from the Megalong Valley farms)
  • Towns that are above walking areas, such as in the Blue Mountains

Handy tips:

  • Check with local land managers or authorities about current water conditions on the track. Find out as much information before heading out into the bush.
  • Share information about water sources with other walkers on the track.
  • When filling up at water sources, try to drink as much as possible (if the water can be treated and drunk immediately), before filling water containers as this maximises the time needed between water sources.
  • Listen out for flowing water. Keeping an ear out for trickling water is an easy way of locating a water source. Although traveling down a gully can be an effective way of finding water, it can be challenging due to the thicker scrub and vines that tend to grow there. Sometimes it’s easier to follow a parallel ridge downhill and listen for flowing water and only duck into the gully occasionally to check for water.

Special environments:

  • Desert: never walk in desert conditions without being confident about water availability. Water is rarely found running on the surface, but can be dug for in a dry river bed: preferably choose a section where the river is under shade for most of the day and dig into the outside of the bend. Digging can yield some water, particularly if there has been flash flooding and water has been stored beneath the surface. However, digging for water can be energy intensive and yield poor results, so apply caution. It may be better to conserve energy resources and focus on doing things that maximise the chance of rescue.
  • Alpine environments tend to have high rainfall where water is often trickling close to the surface. Hence, it’s possible to find running water at high elevations. Snow can be melted and used as drinking water.
  • Coastal: Care must be taken to select fresh water sources as drinking salt water leads to dehydration and higher concentrations of salt than the human body can handle. Potable water can be found above the high tide mark, where fresh water and salt water sources cannot mix. A small cascade above the high tide mark is a good place to start looking for water. Large bodies of water near oceans can have salt water for some distance upstream, so the chances of finding potable water increase dramatically when looking for a smaller source, perhaps one that feeds that larger body of water. According to “The 10 Bushcraft Books” by Richard Graves:

“Fresh water can always be found along the sea coast by digging behind the wind-blown sandhills which back most ocean beaches. These sandhills trap rain water, and it floats on top of the heavier salt water which filters in from the ocean. Sandhill wells must be only deep enough to uncover the top inch or two (2.5 or 5 cm) of water. If dug deeper, salt water will be encountered and the water from the well may be brackish and undrinkable. It will be noticed, too, that the water in these wells rises and falls slightly with the tides. These sand wells are a completely reliable source of water all over the world. When digging it is necessary to revet the sides with brushwood, otherwise the sand will fall into the well.”

water collection_1

“On coastal areas where cliffs fall into a sea a careful search along the lower edges of the cliff will generally disclose soaks or small springs. These in general follow a fault in the rock formation and frequently are evident by a lush growth of ferns and mosses.”


  • Avoid stagnant or coloured water sources, as these are more likely to be contaminated.
  • Avoid drinking urine until it is a life or death scenario. First, extinguish all other sources of clean or dirty water.

Taps and tanks How to find reliable taps and tanks on a bushwalk

Hunts and formal campsites usually have taps and rainwater tanks, however, it’s not always easy to get information on the current condition of the tank or how full it is. Tanks are susceptible to damage from wild weather, corrosion and contamination from animals (faeces or dead animals falling in), and water can become stagnant is not refilled and emptied regularly. Also, how full a tank is depends on precipitation and the number of users. Low rainfall, a high number of users or both can lead to a low tank.

The best way to get information on tank conditions is to ask someone else that has visited the site recently (preferably within the last fortnight). Alternatively, national parks websites may give current information on water availability at population sites, but a short phone call to the appropriate land manager or ranger is likely to be more reliable. Beware of relying on maps that show constructed water sources: in general, printed maps are made using data that is several years old, and infrastructure out in natural places can quickly change.

Since the water in tanks comes from the runoff over rooftops and guttering, it’s a good idea to treat it because these structures are likely to collect animal dropping and other natural waste. Likewise, tap water in campgrounds is usually pumped from a nearby water source that is likely to be contaminated from the toileting facilities nearby.

Tank water is a precious resource and bushwalkers must take care not to waste it. Use tank water for drinking and cooking, but avoid using it for excessive dishwashing or showering. For example, when washing billies use a small amount of water, and perhaps use that water to wash other items. There’s also the problem of poor hygiene, with people washing their hands and touching the spout of the water tank. Certainly, it should be kept clean, but if the only available water is from a tank, then wash with as little water as possible, and never directly from or near the tank; use a personal water container, at a distance.

Lastly, if relying on a constructed water source (e.g. tank, reservoir), take into account that parts break. Apart from just wearing out, alpine environments are not kind to tanks, pipes and taps, which can burst when water freezes. In summer, there’s not a lot that can be done in the field if a water tank with a solid lid has a seized tap. Best to find another water source and report any damage to the park manager as soon as possible.

Other water sources How to source other types of water supplies on a bushwalk

With some skill and effort, water can also be obtained by engineering constructed tools to collect rain water or transpiration from plants, and also by breaking open tree roots or eating certain plants (e.g. succulent plants).

Rainwater run-off
Rainwater run-off is an easy way to obtain water: just leave a few billies out overnight and after a moderate rainfall, they’ll be full in the morning. If collection containers are limited, it’s possible to rig up the outer fly of the tent so that water drains more quickly and directly into a billy or pot. Likewise, collected rain run-off from huts is an effective way of collecting water, although most huts have a rainwater tank that is more efficient.

With some patience, snow can be melted to produce drinking water providing the group has sufficient gas and time to do so. In most cases, snow should be melted and the water boiled to treat for contamination by pathogens.

Sufficient dew may collect overnight in areas where there are few or no trees so that it can be possible to collect enough of this water to survive. Run a rag or tufts of grass over the dew on the ground and squeeze out the moisture to drink. While this technique doesn’t produce much water, it may assist in emergency scenarios.

Pig Weed, Pig Face (Carpobrotus) and Ice Plant (Parakylia) contain enough moisture to drink from. It’s also possible to obtain water from tree roots, although the process is undoubtedly damaging to the tree, and only to be used in emergency situations.

Plants transpire water throughout the day as they absorb sunlight and convert it to energy via photosynthesis. It’s possible to collect this water by tying a bag over the leaves of a plant.

Moisture condensation
A solar still can be used to collect water by using the heat of the sun to evaporate, cool and collect it. Using the sun to collect water is an emergency technique that takes substantial setup but can yield between 0.5-2.5 litres depending on conditions.

Predicting Water Availability

How to reliably predict water availability in the bush

Natural water sources can be perennial (flow all year round) or non-perennial (intermittent). Whether a natural water source contains water depends on physical variables like temperature, rainfall and humidity. A bushwalking group looking for a water source has to decide on how likely a watercourse is to contain water, if the water is in sufficient quantity to collect, if the water is accessible (i.e. not down a steep embankment or with a wall of blackberries), and ideally, not needing treatment.

Natural variables How do natural variables affect water availability

A crucial natural variable for the amount of water availability in the bush is the amount of recent rainfall, which varies with:

  1. Location: Coastal and northern Australia and Tasmania experience higher levels of rainfall than central and western Australia.
    au rain fall
    Therefore, walking the Overland Track in Tasmania is less likely to present water issues than the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory.
  2. Season: Australia contains both temperate, tropical and arid regions that have different rainfall regimes. In general, the northern parts of the country have summer rains, and the Southern have winter rains. The east coast has moist temperate conditions with hot summers, but thunderstorms with rainfall are common during the summer months too. Cooler months mean less evaporation of potable water sources.
    In general, rainfall across Australia is low and seasonal with many water courses only appearing after rainfall.
  3. El Niño and La Niña Phenomena: The air pressure index between Tahiti and Darwin is used to calculated the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). El Niño is characterised by a strongly negative index, often leading to lower winter and spring rainfall in eastern Australia, and a weaker monsoon up north. By contrast, La Niña is characterised by a strongly positive index, with higher winter and spring rainfall in eastern Australia and higher rainfall during the tropical wet season.

Other important factors are:

  1. Altitude: water flows downhill and is more likely to collect at lower altitudes than higher ones.
  2. Area of the catchment: the larger the catchment area, the more likely the source is to contain water because it has a larger area feeding into it.
  3. Soil type: soil absorbs water at different rates depending on the porosity and permeability of the ground. Hence, the total amount of groundwater available and where other water sources can surface in that environment is a function of the soil type there.

Global warming is leading to drier conditions, and availability is changing and decreasing in some places[note]Letcher, T.M., Climate change: observed impacts on planet Earth. 2015: Elsevier[/note].

Accessibility and availability How do predict water supplies in sufficient accessibility and availability

Adequate planning before a bushwalking trip allows the group to devise ways to manage obstacles like sheer cliffs, blackberries, and thick scrub that may obstruct water sources. In general, going along the riverbank may lead to easier access. The group may find a secondary source that has less flow but is accessible.

In practical terms, predicting water accessibility and availability comes down to good knowledge of the land, experience with how local weather patterns affect flow, and an understanding of how clean that water source is. While this knowledge can take years to accumulate, a good starting point is talking to land managers and other people who have recently walked in that area.

How to Collect Water

Information on how to collect water from a natural water source

Compared to finding a water source, collecting water is usually the easy part. Water collected from swift flowing sources must be taken with care, and different techniques can be used in streams with low flow to get water efficiently.

Collecting from well-flowing water sources Strategies for collecting water from well flowing water sources

A creek, stream or river makes water collection easy. Avoid stagnant water by aiming to collect from flowing sections. Hold the water container in the flowing water and the water bottle should fill.

Sometime near campsites, where water sources risk becoming contaminated by the sheer volume of visitors toileting in the catchment area then go upstream for a few minutes, cross the river on rocks, and get water from a stream that has only dense bush above.

Choose a collection point where the water source is running and is easy to reach with a water bottle. Avoid loose rocks or cliff edges, as these can be difficult to traverse up and down. Aim for flat, stable banks, and for fast flowing water make sure to be stable enough not to fall in. Sometimes, it might be worth traveling 5-10 mins further up or downstream to find a safe collection point.

Still water sources like soak or lakes are also great collection sources, however, if at all possible, avoid using water that’s flowing very slowly or is stagnant. Stagnant water is a collection point for toxic runoff and laden with decaying plant and animal matter and associated microorganisms. Avoid water sources with excessive algal growth and foam on the surface as these are signs of contamination from agricultural or industrial runoff. That said, if the group is out of options, then stagnant water may be better than nothing. It’s important to weigh up the risks of dehydration and illness carefully. In these cases, fill water container deep underneath the surface of the water to avoid the nasties on top and treat the water. In short, there’s no easy way when water sources are scarce; it’s better to have more reliable sources.

Collecting water from swift water sources can be extremely dangerous: there’s a serious risk of falling in and getting swept away. There’s also the risk that the bank may collapse. Try to find a spot that has a gentle slope to the water; leaning over a drop is awkward, even if it’s not high. Better to find a slower flowing side creek to fill from, or a still eddy on the edge of the river. Likewise, care must be taken when collecting water in cold or snowy conditions: ice on river banks can make edges slippery, and bushwalkers are vulnerable.

Lastly, taken into account environmental considerations when collecting water: avoid creating new paths to water sources by encouraging the group to spread out as they reach the water source. Care should be taken not to damage the river bank as soil and vegetation are prone to erosion.

Awkward to reach and low flow sources Strategies for coping with low flow and awkward to reach water sources

In dry regions, or after a period of low rainfall, small water sources may run very slowly making them much harder to find and collect. These sources are hidden gems but can take some time and patience to fill water containers.

There are a few ways to manage water sources with low flows or that are awkward to reach. If the flow is strong but shallow, consider making a hollow or dam and using a mug to scoop out water. Note that some small creeks have a lot of soil and sediment build up due to the low flow. Collecting from sources with high sediment can be challenging as the sediment can get stirred around and end up in the water container. One way to reduce the amount of sediment in the collection process is to put the mug or container into the water source gently with the opening upstream, just enough to let water go in but not the sediment.

Another way to fill a container of water from a natural water source is to get a curled piece of bark and use that as a pipe. Once this is set up, let it flow until sediment stops. It helps to wedge the bark at the top with rocks or sticks to keep it in place.

Bark runner
Farm ridge water

For subsurface rivers with no clear stream of water, it’s still possible to collect water from the wet sand or earth. Place a flattened wine cask or groundsheet in the sand with slight V-shape towards the middle, and the edge of the ‘V’ poking out. Hopefully, there will be a flow of water from the V, enough for the night.

Accidental sediment collection is typical from water sources with low flow and has the unfortunate side effect of making some forms of water treatment less effective. Course filtering at collection using a piece of clothing or coffee filter paper can help.

Collection devices Useful water collection devices

There are many types of water collection devices, each with their own merits and flaws depending on the water flow, need to treat the water, and collection time.

  • Soft plastic and hard shell water bottles: these include old soft drink bottles and reusable hard plastic water bottles. Wide-mouthed containers are easier to fill from low flow water sources, but can be harder to drink from. Narrow-mouthed bottles take longer to fill up: using a spare mug to assist fill up can significantly speed things up.
  • Collapsible water bottles: these water bottles can be rolled up and stored at low volume in the backpack. They are slower and harder to fill up, are at greater risk from puncture than a hard-shell PET water bottle, and harder to drink from because they lack rigidity. However, they make good backups and enable the user to greater increase their capacity to collect and carry water without much extra weight or volume in their pack. Again, using a spare mug to assist fill up can significantly speed things up.
  • Billies: easy and quick to collect water from due to the large opening but hard to carry far without spilling water, so only used when retrieving water from a source close to camp.
  • Pack tap or old goon bag. Lightweight and effective way to collect and carry large volumes of water, particularly when not camping directly next to a water source. The nozzle is broad enough to fill quickly from reasonably flowing water sources, but for smaller flows using a mug to assist is easier. These bladders are not designed to be directly drunk from but rather to be decanted into a more drinkable water container. Carrying a bladder like this is an excellent backup to increase the carrying capacity of water in the group dramatically.
  • Yabby straw: A yabbie straw, or yabbie tube, is a piece of flexible tube used as a straw to suck water for drinking from anywhere that would be difficult to get water out by other means. Effective in places where water is ok to drink untreated and water sources are regular enough that the drinker can satisfy their water needs without having to collect water.

Back at camp, have a system in place to separate treated from untreated water. Dedicate a 10L tap pack of untreated water for the group to use to wash hands, cooking containers and so on.


Tips for safe water collection

Sometimes a water source is right next to the track or campsite, but other times access can be more involved. If going more than a short distance to get water, always take another person and leave details of the intended route with the rest of the group.

Although it’s not necessary to carry an entire overnight pack when looking for water, consider taking a few essential items as a fallback in case of unexpected delay:

  • Map and compass
  • Torch if it’s late in the day
  • Warm layer or blizzard jacket
  • First aid kit
  • PLB in remote areas
  • Snacks

On multiday trips, it can be useful to carry an additional small, lightweight daypack for these such occasions. Alternatively, leave overnight gear at a base camp and only carry essential gear items in the overnight pack: using a proper pack with good straps is best when collecting and moving large volumes of water (e.g. more than 5L to take back to base camp).

Rules when for looking for water:

  • Don’t split up: it can be tempting to split up and search a wider area. Don’t, always stay within earshot.
  • Navigation: if exploring off the track down a gully for a water source, have someone in the group that has sufficient off-track navigation experience to ensure that they can return safely to camp.
  • Be realistic: set a reasonable timeframe to search for water before heading back to camp to reassess. If the group does not find a water source, reconsider where to camp or when to walk out.
  • Watch for sunset: keep a watch on the sun and if it’s starting to get dark before there are clear signs of water, stop and reassess the situation. It may be better to head back to camp, conserve water supplies and walk out at first light the next day.
  • If necessary, treat water before drinking.

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

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 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.

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.

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.

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.