Bushwalking and Weather

Using weather forecasts to plan a bushwalk

“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Weather conditions can totally change a bushwalking experience. For some, a rainy trip can be a magical way of seeing the trees jump to life under different lighting conditions, for others, it’s enjoying the eery silence as all wildlife take shelter and the birds stop singing.

Taking into account likely weather conditions is a key part of the planning and preparation process. It affects our decisions as to what to wear, what type of equipment to carry, how much water to carry and so on. Together, it’s part of how to make a bushwalking experience a safe and comfortable journey for everyone involved.

From planning a short day walk to a multi-day wilderness trip, it is a good idea to check the latest weather forecasts and weather warnings before departing to stay safe. Remember, weather conditions change, so keeping alert and being able to quickly adapt to changing conditions is key. Part of the planning and preparation process is making sure that you have enough gear with you not merely just to survive out there in the bush, but thrive!

The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology posts radar and satellite images, weather maps, tide predictions, sea temperature, tsunami warnings and cyclone maps for the whole country. It’s a great way to understand how weather patterns form and influence our lives. One metric that is particularly handy for bushwalkers is the Wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT). It’s a ‘feels like’ temperature based on actual temperature plus humidity, wind chill and shade. The probable WBGT provides a more accurate indication of the temperature as perceived by humans and can be used to plan which walk to do and what gear to carry.

Recognising extreme weather patterns How to recognise extreme weather patterns

Extreme weather patterns do occur in Australia and can happen at any time of the year. These are the conditions that you should seriously consider postponing or changing bushwalk plans, as there are high risks involved for bushwalkers and search and rescue operations:

  • Thunderstorms: danger of being struck by lightning or caught in heavy rainfall or flooding.
  • High winds: danger of exposure, tree falls or being trapped.
  • Elevated bushfire conditions: danger of exposure or being trapped.
  • Floods: danger of being washed away or being trapped.

Use the website checklist to check for any extreme weather patterns in your area before heading out on your bushwalk.

Bushwalkers can get caught out in extreme weather conditions, so be prepared by checking out our post on coping with extreme weather conditions.

Handling non-extremes Enjoying non-extreme weather patterns

It’s obvious to avoid going into areas with extreme weather conditions – fires, floods and storms.

But weather is highly variable and often we have minor flooding events and medium wind strengths. So the key question here then is how do I make the call to go or stay? How minor is minor? What are the safe boundaries to look for?

Well, there isn’t any hard and fast rules here. There isn’t a rule out there that says: “if it’s over 34 degrees, or has rained more than 100ml in the last 24 hours then don’t go bushwalking”, which is of course, incredibly frustrating for beginners learning about whether or not it’s safe to go bushwalking!

Our advice is to find a mentor who you trust and is an experienced bushwalker in the terrain that you want to visit. Chat to them about the weather conditions and forecasts and get their advice. Monitor weather forecasts over time, understand how it impacts the local environment such as how weather patterns affect things like creek levels and land temperature.

It is also always worth checking park closure information. Parks may be closed during extreme weather and can also be closed (partially or fully) due to other reasons such as prescribed burns, pest control, infrastructure damage or bush regeneration.

The most important thing is this: if in doubt, play it safe. It’s simply not worth the risk you put yourself and any rescue operators that may have to get involved.

Checklist List of websites to check before going bushwalking

Never ignore weather and fire warnings. If in doubt, common sense prevails – Better safe than sorry!

For weather warnings: check with the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. You can also access it from your mobile device on http://m.bom.gov.au/.

For bushfire warnings: check with the NSW Rural Fire Service publish details of bushfires and hazard reduction burns online. You can also download the NSW Rural Fire Service Fires near Me app on iTunes or Android for information on the go in New South Wales and the ACT.

For park alerts/closures: check with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) before you set out.

If your track involves river crossing, or river activities such as kayaking, check out river conditions on Bureau of Meteorology.

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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.



Everything you need to know about bushwalking shoes

Follow your feet. Unknown

Suitable footwear makes for a far more enjoyable bushwalk, and nowadays there’s a vast array of footwear options to choose from. Bushwalkers can be seen using anything from runners through to medium-weight boots depending on temperature conditions and terrain, but each shoe type has trade-offs around comfort, protection, and weight to name a few. Views vary, from walkers being very keen on their type or brand, to accepting anything that fits their general requirements. More experienced walkers may have a range of footwear, and select the pair best suited for the trip. It’s important that all footwear is well fitted and kept in good condition before, during and after walks.

Car Sharing

NPA policy on sharing of car expenses

The NPA policy on sharing of car expenses for travel to the start of walks is as follows:

  • Estimate the cost of the petrol used.
  • Double this cost as recognition of the extra expenses in running a car.
  • Divide by the number of occupants of the car (including the driver).
  • This is the cost to be paid by each person.

(As an example, if petrol costs $30 and there is a driver and one passenger, then the cost to each is $30. In this case, the passenger, in effect, pays for all of the petrol and the driver pays the other costs. In the case of a driver and two passengers, the cost to each is $20, i.e. each passenger gives the driver an amount of $20.)

Any extra costs, such as road tolls, are shared equally between all occupants.


Foot Care

Looking after your bushwalking feet

Be sure you put your feet in the right place,
then stand firm. Abraham Lincoln

Feet take a lot of wear and tear in day to day life and even more so on a bushwalk: the whole weight of the body is supported by feet as well as the additional weight of the pack. It’s easy to forget to look after your feet, but it’s important to carry out regular maintenance and checks to keep them in the best possible condition.


Sun Protection

How to protect yourself from the sun

The Cancer Council’s “Slip, slop, slap” campaign is one of the most successful in Australian advertising history and has become part of Australian contemporary language. “Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat” was the original campaign in the early 1980s, and was more recently extended to include “seeking shade” and “sliding on sunglasses” too.

Being well protected from the sun is an important part of bushwalking safety. Bushwalkers need to limit sun exposure to avoid dehydration, heat stroke, fatigue and skin cancers. Selecting good sun protection products such as hats, other clothing and sunglasses is essential. It assists to make sensible behavioural choices like planning the walk to avoid excessive sun exposure, having a well-shaded lunch spot, and making sure that everyone in the group is coping with the weather and the pace.

Spending time planning the walk and selecting comfortable and effective sun protection puts a bushwalking group in a better position to have a safe and enjoyable trip.


Drinking Water

How much water to carry on a day walk

All the water that will ever be,
is right now. National Geographic, October 1993

Water is critical for life: humans need water for all basic biological processes to happen including muscle and nerves to function. These processes are all crucial for feeling good and making good decisions on a bushwalk.

Figuring out how much water to carry starts back home in the planning and preparation stage. Water requirements increase in hot and humid conditions and when active. Part of the trip preparation process involves looking at the weather forecast, figuring out what terrain the trip involved and also dressing appropriately for the conditions.


Water Treatment

When, where, how and why to treat water

We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one Jacques Cousteau

Water treatment is the act of cleaning water to make it safe for drinking. Clean, fresh drinking water is essential for survival and healthy living, yet access to the equipment and technology to do so is not something to take for granted. A 2007 study found that 3900 children died a day due to unsafe drinking supplies[note]Montgomery, M. A. & Elimelech, M. “Water and sanitation in developing countries: including health in the equation.” Environmental Science Technology. 41, 17–24 (2007)[/note]. More recent studies fear that due to water scarcity the situation will only get worse, and engineering companies are working hard to develop technological aids to combat the situation.[note]Shannon, Mark A., et al. “Science and technology for water purification in the coming decades”. Nature 452.7185 (2008): 301-310.[/note]

Adequate safe drinking water is something that is easy to take for granted in developed countries because the process of how clean drinking water gets to a household tap is hidden. In Sydney, 80% of drinking water supply comes from the Warragamba Dam. The rest comes from a variety of sources, including a small amount from the Kurnell Desalination Plant. Sydney Water, the supplier of Sydney’s drinking water supply, follows the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) to provide a clean source of water.

The first principle listed in these guidelines states “The greatest risks to consumers of drinking water are pathogenic microorganisms. Protection of water sources and treatment are of paramount importance and must never be compromised.” Therefore, ensuring access to clean water supplies is also important on a bushwalk. Sometimes this means searching for clean sources or water, and at other times this means treating water.

In the end, the choice to treat or not treat water is a personal one based on knowledge of how clean the source is and what the individual’s immune system can handle. If unsure, err on the side of caution and treat water before using.


Water Collection

How to find and collect water in the bush

Access to good drinking water is essential for human life. The human body can last for several weeks without food but only a few days without water. In developed countries, most urban-dwellers take potable water for granted – turn on a tap and water is there – but outside of cities, and especially in remote areas, reliable water sources are precious.
Not all campsites have water, so walks must be planned such that everyone in the group carries sufficient water supplies or collects water from reliable sources en-route. Hence, managing water on a bushwalk requires adequate research and planning regarding the itinerary and gear requirements (e.g. water containers to collect and carry enough water), the expected pace of the group, campsites and water sources.
It’s common that daywalkers carry all their water supplies, but since every extra litre of water adds an extra kilo of weight, it’s extremely challenging to take sufficient water supplies for more than a day or two. Overnight walkers ideally select campsites close to water or organise water drops at regular intervals along the track.
The amount of water an individual needs to carry depends on the distance to the next reliable water source, the effort to get there, the air temperature, and individual needs, but as a general guideline, when walking in moderate spring conditions allocate half a litre for every hour of walking. On hotter days, ideally aim to hit a water source towards the middle of the day. On overnight trips where bushwalkers don’t expect to find additional water supplies, they tend to carry 4-6 litres of water.
Over time, individual water needs will become known, and it becomes easier to estimate water requirements for particular tracks and conditions.

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On-track Navigation

Learning how to navigate along a pre-existing route

When you think about navigation, thick impenetrable scrub and vast empty wilderness spring to mind. But navigation is not only for off-track walking. It’s just as important when following established routes, that is, on-track walking. Unlike other parts of the world, not every route is signposted in the Australian bush! Also, routes fade, reform and change over time. Following a track, trail or path blindly can very quickly take you to somewhere completely different to where you intended.

Typical navigation decisions that bushwalkers face on established routes include:

  • “Do I take the right or left fork at the junction?”,
  • “Does the track continue on the other side of the creek now”, and
  • “Is this the last water source for 10km?”

On-track walking means using pre-existing ways to get from A to B. On-track navigation involves planning a route that links these ways together. By comparison, off-track navigation is where bushwalkers plan and walk their route without following established ways. Both types of navigation rely on following the plan, staying found and recognising reliable map features.

Famous on-track walks in and around Australia include: the Great North Walk, the Overland Track and the Larapinta Trail.