Advice on bushwalking clothing
Bushwalking clothes must feel comfortable. Any tight-fitting or heavy clothing such as jeans will get uncomfortable very quickly, and even more so when they’re wet and dirty. Choose light, loose clothing that feels comfortable to move and sweat in.
Shorts and shirt work well, although some people prefer long pants to protect their legs from vegetation. Collared shirts are preferable for sun protection because of the extra layer of fabric around the neck. Quick-dry materials are also helpful for keeping warm after a big hill climb (and sweating session) or a river crossing.
Some people get chafing between their thighs, caused by skin rubbing together or on clothing. It can be extremely uncomfortable but avoided by wearing protective clothing (e.g. lycra bike pants, long merino underwear) or using anti-chafing cream.
Like clothes, choose comfortable shoes. Use normal running shoes to get started, and only consider upgrading to a more heavy duty shoe after some research and chatting to other bushwalkers.
All bushwalking clothes and shoes will eventually get dirty and damaged, so use clothes and shoes that can afford to be ruined! And remember to pack swimmers if you’re going near water!
Hot weather Clothing in hot conditions
For warm to hot conditions use clothes that give good sun protection, but are made from materials that can breathe easily and prevent overheating. Use extra loose clothes to stay cool, and long-sleeved shirts for extra sun protection. Avoid fabrics that are old and worn because they are less effective at protecting from UV radiation.
Starting the walk in hot weather? Double check the forecast and bushfire alerts. Start walking early in the day, and aim for a long shady lunch break (preferably near water) when the sun is at it’s highest.
Cold weather Clothing in cold conditions
Layering – using multiple layers of clothing – is a more effective way to stay warm than using a single thick layer. Each layer traps air and together provide an effective insulating barrier to the cold. Layering also makes it possible to add or remove items as temperatures changes throughout the day.
Clothing provides warmth by trapping a layer of insulating air between the fabric and skin. This works well until the fabric gets wet from rain or sweat. How effectively a piece of clothing continues to insulate, depends on how the fabric behaves when wet.
When cotton gets saturated with sweat or water, it loses all insulating properties because it can no longer trap a layer of air next to the skin. By contrast, fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin are effective insulators. They take water away from the skin and up through the external layers keeping the layer closest to the skin dry. Wool is a natural wicking material, and polyester and polyethylene are synthetic ones.
Thermal tops and bottoms are popular in the outdoor community. They are lightweight, made from materials that are excellent insulators when wet, and can be used as layered clothing. They also come in some pretty groovy patterns, colours and designs.
Beware of certain materials’ stink factor. Synthetic materials tend to have higher odour than natural fibres because they harbour smelly bacteria and wick smelly oily sweat to the surface. The disadvantage with natural fibres is that they require careful looking after and cleaning and can be expensive. The good news is that certain products can be used to help ‘de-stink’ synthetic clothing.
Woolen or synthetic hats (aka beanies) are effective, lightweight clothing for bushwalks. Around 10% of body heat is lost through the head, which is roughly the surface area of the head relative to the rest of the body.
Beanies are small and easily crushable, not taking up much pack space, and can make a substantial difference on a cold day.
Starting the walk cold? Take a look at the weather forecast before leaving and adjust the number of layers you carry and wear to suit. Often, starting the walk heavily layered up means stopping and stripping off only 5 minutes into the walk!
Wet weather Clothing in wet conditions
In wet conditions, wear clothes that are still effective insulators when wet (e.g. polyester, polyethylene, wool), and use layers to keep as warm and dry as possible under a raincoat. Some people use waterproof pants to keep their lower half dry. Others prefer quick-dry shorts, keeping their legs free to negotiate the track in more challenging and slippery conditions. Most importantly, keep the vital organs (i.e. the top half) warm.
A waterproof jacket is a water-resistant jacket that can keep out driving rain. Water-resistant jackets are appropriate for some walking experiences while waterproof jackets are needed for others. Using a cheap water-resistant rain-jacket on short trips saves wear and tear on the expensive waterproof one: consider owning multiple jackets rather than aiming for a ‘one-size’ fits all approach.
There are three broad categories of raincoat:
- The cheap and light one, for short easy walks. This is for warm, spring summer days to keep off a short rain shower or two. It’s primarily for comfort but doesn’t need to be too fancy because it’s not in use for long or in extreme weather. It’s cheap enough to be used regularly and thrown around a bit: it can also double up as a picnic rug! Avoid disposable ponchos because the loose material can easily get caught (and left behind) on trees and bushes.
- The expensive, light one that packs down well. For use on longer day walks, walks in remote areas and overnight walks. Choose a material that is unlikely to rip, but is still lightweight. The jacket must be reliably waterproof in case the group gets caught in weather or is late back.
- The heavy duty expensive one. This is for multi-day trips in wet or alpine environments: thick, heavy material with excellent waterproof qualities. For use on trips where you are mostly wearing it or can store it at the top of the pack under the lid pocket.
Other useful equipment in wet conditions includes:
- A broad-brimmed hat to keep the rain off head, hair, ears and eyes. Hats with leather or wax coatings repel water.
- An umbrella! As ridiculous as it sounds, quite effective at keeping the rain off when you’re going for a stroll in the bush (providing the track isn’t overgrown).
Glasses wearers may consider using contact lenses in wet conditions: foggy lenses with raindrops makes for difficult walking! Alternatively, a clean dry cloth to regularly wipe the lenses is essential, and a broad-brimmed hat may somewhat help keep rain off.
Download our complete Day walk gear checklist.