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.