Introduction to the aus.bushwalking FAQ

Brought to you courtesy of our hosts the Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs NSW and their web master.

For feedback about these pages, contact the FAQ maintainer Roger Caffin



Equipment - a General Overview

A problem with any sport is that you usually need some gear. At the least you will need a pack, some clothing, shelter, food, navigation gear and a few sundry items: they are all listed on these pages. More specialised equipment is also covered. However, don't think you have to spend big to go walking: not true at all. Many walkers start off with very little gear, and only buy stuff when they really need it and feel the cost is justified. For day walks on known tracks with someone who can navigate, little more than lunch, water and a hat is needed.

Once you start to buy gear, venturing into those fascinating bushwalking shops, you will find there is an immense range of "good stuff" available. You can see it in the shops and in the beautiful glossy catalogues. A little too much gear, maybe. The temptation is to buy all the things you might need, and to put them into a large pack. The trouble is that you (not someone else) then have to carry that pack. And so you enter the great debate of what gear to take and what to leave behind. Leaving behind a vital bit of gear can be a problem, but taking too much gear (too much weight) will leave you not enjoying the walk and possibly put you at risk through overload. Too much gear can sometimes be less safe than too little. This is one place where advice from more experienced Club members can help. It's also good for long arguments.

For those who are really concerned about weight we have special resources under the Ultra-Lightweight section. The author admits to some degree of bias here, but it has been in the best interests of his shoulders and back. Hopefully it may make you question the weight of (or the need for) a lot of gear in the shops. You might also like to read a page on why most manufacturers overdesign their gear, written by Alan.



What often happens is that your pack weight creeps up slowly, until one day you really wonder whether you are enjoying walking any more. It all just seems so painful. That's the time to sit down and go through the stuff you are taking, and to ask yourself whether it would be a disaster if you left it behind. But do leave just a little room for non-essential things like a camera. The walls of my house are decorated with enlargements of pictures I have taken while walking. On the other hand, you may not want to go as far as some walkers who carry about 5 kg of photography gear!

How heavy should your pack be? That is difficult. Certainly, over 20kg is getting a bit too heavy unless you are fit, experienced and going on a very long trip. A weight of around 10 - 12kg is quite easy to carry for several days to a week, but getting that low requires some skill (see the ultra-lightweight section below for more on this). For day walks it does not matter so much, but some sense should prevail. For the rest, you need to find your own limits, but a figure of 25% of your body weight is a useful limit to consider - if you are reasonably fit and not over-weight. It often helps to share gear, especially if you have a regular walking partner. And what a wonderful opportunity for the macho males, helping the weaker female members of the party by carrying some of their load. Incidentally, females in general have less upper-body strength than males, so they should be carrying less weight.



You will find that gear ranges in price. Should you buy cheap gear or the expensive stuff - or make your gear yourself? As to the former, a frequent comment on aus.bushwalking is that "you get what you pay for" (YGWYPF). It is very true. But advice from others familiar with a particular item is always useful - is it what you really need? Sometimes a bit of gear will be an overkill, costing and weighing more than you need. In many cases the gear didn't even exist for the early bushwalkers, and they survived without it quite happily. More ominously, some gear (a lot of gear) is expensive but has a terrible design. In these cases you don't even get what you thought you had paid for, and that really hurts! Some general advice is given in this FAQ, but you can always ask about particular items. As to making gear: that is always open to those with the time and skill, and can be very rewarding. See the DIY section later. Many of our Australian equipment manufacturers started out that way themselves.



Another comment you will frequently see is that you should only buy gear which meets the three rules of "Comfort, Comfort and Comfort" (3C). This is for real: you go bushwalking for fun: why suffer agony from ill-matched and uncomfortable gear? Often you will need to test gear for a little while to see if is comfortable: do not hesitate to tell the sales person to go away for 10 minutes while you walk around the shop with the pack or boots on. They will understand; if they don't, shop elsewhere. But be very wary of those who tell you "you will get used to it". What is just "a little discomfort" now may turn into agony a day later. Been there, suffered that.


Fashion vs Function

Before we go on to the detail pages, it is worth making one very general comment. Once upon a time bushwalking was the preserve of a small number of die-hards who didn't care (too much) what their clothing or their gear looked like to the general public. In fact, many bushwalkers clothed themseves from "Vinnies" (St Vincent de Pauls and other second hand or "Op shops"). However, with the increasing popularity of "extreme sports" has come a fashion market. It is very cool to look as though you indulge in these outdoor activities, and the best way of faking that is to wear what the marketing people think is the right clothing and gear. As a result there is a lot of psuedo-outdoors gear on the market. It looks, well, macho and tough, but whether it is likely to be of much use in the bush is Quite Another Thing. It will be referred to as "street gear" or similar, often in a somewhat cynical manner. To be fair to the manufacturers, there are only so many bushwalkers buying gear, and the fashion market is so much larger. The temptation is irresistible (but some of it is still crap).



Where to buy gear is a little simpler. Most good gear can be bought in the standard bushwalking shops: lists of these are given on various web sites including As to which shops are the better ones: that we decline to comment on (for legal reasons), but you will get lots of advice on the newsgroup. On the other hand, shops like K-Mart and Army Disposals and so on are just not going to have much gear specifically designed for bushwalking, and their gear is often a bit heavier too. It may be a little (lot) cheaper, but you have to carry it and live with it (ygwypf).

Finally, this FAQ is not going to give too many specific brand or model recommendations (yet). It isn't here to promote one brand, and models go out of production sometimes. A few names will be given where they have stood the test of time, but only as a reference point. We are pleased to be able to say that most Australian and New Zealand manufacturers produce world-standard gear (mostly). They had better: Australian bushwalkers (and the Australian bush) have a reputation for giving gear a very tough time compared with other countries, while the New Zealand weather has a ferocious reputation. That said, most of our gear makers do seem to be a little (ultra-)conservative, especially in the light-weight area.

Note added in 2005: well, our Australian/NZ manufacturers used to produce world-class gear. Some of them today don't produce very much at all: they just buy the offerings from some Chinese or Asian factory and hope that it will do. Sadly, we have to report that in some notable instances the cheaper Chinese/Asian imports have serious quality or design faults. Snarl, gnash of teeth.

(c) Roger Caffin 1/May/2002