Bushwalking/Hiking Etiquette or How to make friends in the Bush (The Unofficial List!)

So, here’s my tips for creating a bunch of happy campers aka The UNOFFICIAL list of Bushwalking or Hiking Etiquette:

  1. Don’t be late: For the leader who has planned out the walk, they may have calculated times for all sorts of things, including returning to cars/making camp by sunset or witnessing the once annual mating call of the Southern Yellow Crested Tit* that can only be heard when facing 178 degrees south at 11.57 am on the peak of Tit Hill. This type of thing is even more important if they’ve had to take things like tidal charts into consideration if crossing river mouths or walking along edges of tidal rivers/streams/beaches. What with modern technology as it is, a call or sms is appropriate if going to be late. In the circles I move in, it’s readily accepted that you wait for 15 minutes at the start for someone, then leave.
  2. Ready and raring to go: Being on time isn’t just about turning up at the start point, it means being ready to start at that time. I’ve had some people turn up for a walk and need to change clothes, call their Mum, eat breakfast, etc whilst everyone else is waiting.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 – 6 7 8 9 10 – 11 12: Our National Parks and Wilderness Areas are pretty special. It’s for this reason (and safety) that there are rules around the size of groups allowed out at the same time. Generally speaking, in Aussie National Parks it’s 12 people and 8 in Wilderness Areas. There are some very grey (I call them dodgy) times where some people believe it is OK to split the group up if they’re over subscribed. I’m not a fan of this.
  4. Burn baby burn: It’s a given that you never leave any rubbish anywhere in the bush. What’s not a given, is everyones feelings about what is acceptable to burn on a fire (if you’re having one). Some people are happy to burn plastic (green smoke and all), whereas others will let out a shrill cry if you so far as waft your noodle packet near the sacred flame. Simply ask before you burn… oh and always wait until people have finished cooking before burning.
  5. So long and thanks for all the fish: If you’re taking tins of tuna or other fish, a handy way to stop the stink is to burn the insides of the tins on the fire. Just don’t forget to dig your tin out of the ashes in the morning, along with any other bits of foil.
  6. No-one likes a gate crasher: Generally speaking, National Parks in NSW have a party limit of 12 and declared Wilderness areas of 8. This means, your Leader is probably keeping a close eye on the number of people booked on their trip. So if you’ve booked and then pulled out, don’t just turn up – not such a nice surprise!
  7. No-one likes a scab: One of the great things about bushwalking/hiking, is discovering how to be self sufficient in the wilderness. So always plan to bring all your own stuff or share food/tents/fly’s, etc with others BEFORE the trip. Don’t turn up at camp and announce, ‘Who am I sharing with?’ or ‘Does anyone have any spare food?’
  8. Leeches – The gift that keeps on taking: When removing leeches, make sure you throw them a good distance away from other people. Then move on promptly.
  9. Be honest about your experience and fitness

    The fish was ‘this’ big: … and I’m ‘this’ fit. Don’t over-estimate your fitness and experience in the bush. If it’s been a year since you’ve been out bushwalking, let your leader know. Oh and going to the gym once or twice a week, does not mean that you’re pack fit for bushwalking for 9 hours on rough tracks. Also, be honest with your leader. If you’re struggling – tell them early.

  10. No-one likes a tight arse: Some bushwalkers are notorious tight wads. So if you’ve been lucky enough to grab a lift in someone’s car – offer them a reasonable amount of cash towards the petrol and running costs. If they won’t accept it, maybe consider popping it into their glove box for a treat when they least expect it.
  11. Say Cheese: Most people are keen on taking a couple of photos on their bushwalks. But there is a limit… like the time when I was in a party escorting a group in difficulty back to their cars (the other half were lost in the Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness and I’d activated a Police Search) and one of their party was stopping to take photos… lots of them. Simply be aware of the rest of your party. If everyone else isn’t taking a cazillion of shots – then maybe you should tone it down too.
  12. Karma-Tentra or Tentra-Sutra: You know that really awkward moment when you bump into your neighbour at the letterboxes, the day after you’ve heard them having really loud and presumably athletic sex during the night? Now, imagine the side-ways glances around the breakfast fire or during the day when everyone heard you going for it through the night. So perhaps either exercise the “Boarding School cone-of-silence” or Catholic School abstinence, to avoid the call of ‘AWKWARD”!

    Tents in close proximity at Splendour Rock

  13. Shout out loud: Everyone likes to feel appreciated, so why not buy the Leader/organiser a drink or meal if you stop somewhere on the way home.
  14. Beans means you’re at the back: There’s nothing quite like taking a big deep breath of fresh, wilderness air – Ahhhhh. Unless the person in front of you has been adding to the planet’s methane levels for the last 2 hrs. Of course, it’s better out than in, so if you know you’re having a bit of a windy day down there… volunteer to be ‘Tail End Charlie/Charlene’. If you’re really interested, there’s research that says runners (and other athletes) produce more farts than non-athletes.
  15. Smoking in the bush: Even worse than a lung full of fluffy intestinal-air-pillows is a tasty gulp of tobacco. If you’re addicted and feel the need to smoke when in the bush, use a patch or please move down-wind from everyone, at a good distance away and carry your butts out in an old film canister or similar. And if you are someone who has a penchant for, ‘the green, green grass of home’, remember that quite a few people don’t appreciate another dope on the trip.
  16. Responsibility of the Flickee: … not the Flicker to ensure that you’re not hit in the face with a branch that springs back. You shouldn’t walk so close to the person in front ie. it’s your fault if you cop a mouthful/eyeful/faceful of flora.

    The Flickee

  17. Stick it to em: Along the same lines as above, if the person in front is using walking poles, watch out! However, on this one, there is a bit of responsibility on the Pole-er to ensure they use them correctly and don’t wave them about with no clue.
  18. Windows to the Soul: Sure, you’ve got two of them, but your eyes are so precious and fragile and damage to your eyes in the bush is tricky to treat. If you’re planning on walking through scrub off-track, especially in areas notorious for the spiky and thorny forms of Hakea, wearing a pair of safety glasses is a great way to protect yourself.
  19. Draw breath: Everyone walks for different reasons. The niche group of solo walkers enjoy the silence and solitude. If you’re a ‘walker n’ talker’, consider that not everyone needs to hear your voice all day. If you keep talking, you might find your leader suddenly changing course to ascend a 1000m climb, just to shut you up.
  20. Mobile Phones: If there’s no reason for you to be contacted for important reasons on a walk, please switch them to silent or turn them off. If you’re on call for work or family reasons, just an explanation to everyone at the start might be appreciated by some. Also, a subtle ring-tone might be good, rather than having a bit of GaGa suddenly sprout from your pack in the middle of a quiet rainforest moment.
  21. iPods/MP3 Players: Some people don’t like these at all on walks. But I feel that if the volume isn’t loud enough for others to hear, why should they care if someone wants to listen to music rather than their chatter? On a recent trip up Perry’s Lookdown someone brought out the tunes to help them keep a rhythm and get up quicker. Great idea. Likewise on an extended trip with a lot of road bashing, I’ve been known to listen to podcasts or audio books to pass the time.
  22. You’ve been warned: There’s nothing worse than

    Perfect Lunch Spot on Splendour Rock

    realising that everyone is ready to leave the lunch spot and you still need to pee, re-apply sunscreen, finish reading The Odyssey. The leader should call a 5 minute warning before expecting everyone to be up and walking again. Even better, establish the duration of a rest at the start, eg: “We’ll be having a 40 minute break for lunch”, and then call a series of warnings at 10 mins, 5 mins, etc

  23. Make the hour happy: By now you’ve realised that I’m a big fan of happy hour. That time when you can kick back in front of the fire and chill out after a great day outdoors. Bring a nibble to share with the group and before you know it, you’ll have no room for dinner.
  24. Deer in headlights: When you’re new to wearing a head torch, it’s easy to forget that when you look up to speak with someone (it seems to happen most around the fire or when cooking dinner), you’re shining the torch right into their eyes. Unless you’re a qualified Opthalmologist who does this sort of caper for a living, please desist.
  25. Yes, you smell: It’s a bit of a tradition in my club to head to the nearest pub for a meal and a shandy after a walk. We’ve been known to be shunned from some establishments when we appear covered in leech blood and charcoal after walking through burnt out spots, so it’s a good idea to keep a change of clothes in the car. Whilst you’re at it, a small hand towel and a chux is a good idea along with a bottle of water. Oh… and if you’ve been lucky enough to get a lift with someone in their car, it is always a good idea to change before putting your stinky, dirty, bloody body into their car.
  26. Water, water everywhere: Keep a bottle of water in your car for times when you return after a trip and have run out of water. This is also handy to use with the towel and chux for a bit of a cleanup before hitting the pub.

Q: What are your ‘Unofficial’ etiquette tips for bushwalking or hiking?

* If anyone has ever seen (or heard) a Southern Yellow Crested Tit, I’d love to know.

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  1. Ken says

    Announcing that you need to be back in Sydney by 5pm or any other time. Throwing plastic on the fire when people are close by.

  2. hugh ward says


    Will there be a supliment on lliaison with other walking groups? Like the people walking uphill have right of way, and not to set a tent up on top of another groups without asking etc…

    • says

      Indeed. Maybe there should be something about… If someone is faster than you and clearly going to pass you going up a hill… Deal with it. Let them pass, with grace and a smile.

  3. says

    That’s a great list. There is nothing worse than someone following so closely behind you you feel stressed and anxious. It sometimes happens to me at swimming if a particular bloke turns up. He likes to swim behind me but not too far behind me. Every time I do a tumble turn he’s right there waiting for the collision.

  4. says

    Hi Caro

    A few comments:

    3/6: Party size – In NSW at least, you’ll find that party limits in national parks are generally 20 for bushwalking. It’s usually 12 for cycling, 12 for non-abseil canyons, 8 for abseil canyons, 8 for any activity in wilderness areas, 4 for rock climbing. Phew!

    4: Burning plastic – Interesting. I’d have said that burning plastic was just a no-no full stop, but I have to admit I’ve seen enough of it to know that it goes on against my protestations. But given that it leaves residues that don’t combust (as well as being more polluting than wood alone), plastics should just belong in the “pack it in, pack it out” category.

    15: Smoking – And keep in mind that you can’t light up at all on days of total fire bans

    Other things to consider
    – if you’re doing group meals, pitch in and do your share (whether it’s cooking, washing up etc)
    – if you’re at a camp site without an existing fireplace, help to make your fire ring disappear before you go
    – you can probably extend that to pretty much anything on a walk … help out in whatever way you can – navigation, coiling ropes, hauling packs, … even if it is just tidying up, everyone can do something
    – be nice to the leader!

    [PS: it’s opthalmologist – 2 l’s :)]

    • says

      Hi Tom, thanks for your comments!

      On the max numbers, thanks for info… Good to know.

      Burning Plastic: it’s a funny topic and everyone has their own feelings. Recently, I was on a trip and someone spoke about the varying “Eco-effects” of burning vs. landfill (ie. carrying out). I’d never thought of it this way. I’m still undecided on this, the small amount of gas released vs. landfill that takes a long to to break down. Hmmm. Thought for another day me thinks.


    • Eddy says

      Why is it necessary to build a fire ring ? With the groups that I walk with we usually dig a small trench approx. 6-8 inches wide and about two feet long and lay the fire therein.
      This ensures everyone in the group has access to the fire for cooking. Of course if the group is large, a longer trench is required.
      After meal time the fire is used a center piece for good conversation and it goes without saying, in the morning ashes are sifted for cans and the trench is back filled restored to pristine condition.

      • says

        I agree Eddy, I’m not a fan of “fairy fire rings”. Your concept of a trench is interesting. There are some survivalist concepts of invisible fires that are semi underground, but I’ve wondered with a trench or pit that it must take a bit of care to ensure that there is enough air circulation down at the base to get the fire going and keep it that way. Have you ever had difficulties with that?

        • Eddy says

          Hi Caro, ref your enquiry regards oxygen to fire in trench, NO, never had a problem.
          However, I guess a little bit of pyromaniac experience as a kid, (boy Scouts) gave me a good understanding of what makes a fire work in all kinds of weather.
          With the trench idea, it’s important that the ends are not closed off with a straight up wall, but allow a slope gradually rising to the surface, this way lots of oxygen gets to both ends of the fire.
          The trench idea is also excellent for sticks of wood a meter or a meter and a half long, thus no need to chop or break down the wood.
          It also helps to pile the excavated material onto one side of the trench, ensure it doesn’t fall back in, this will then reflect the radiation back to you for warmth. When no longer needed, simply shovel the spoil back into the trench. Bingo, no footprint.

        • David M says

          Caro, you need to talk to some longstanding SBW members. A “long fire” in a trench has been used for many, many years.

          Long fires also are much better for cooking than circular ones. Apart from the easier access for several people, you also tend to get a flatter platform to sit the billies on.

  5. Graeme says

    I’m not sure what’s the bigger problem. The body being too old to do the sort of walks I like to do, or the brain being too old to remember all the things I shouldn’t do!

  6. says

    ^ What are the chances someone would go hiking on a Total Fire Ban day anyway?

    Great post, though. I am a novice hiker and enjoyed reading this immensely. I must admit that I’m guilty of taking too many photos on hikes so I must learn to tone it down!

    • says

      Thanks for your encouragement! I’ve been known to venture out on a Total Fire Ban day (doing a canyon or a creek/river walk), but sometimes a Fire Ban is called when you’re out on a multi-day trip. Tricky thing here is how you find out that it has been called… hmmm … Happy New Year!

  7. says

    A very very important one is to admit when you are wrong or lost while navigating. Communication about navigation is incredibly important, as is ensuring people know where they are in case the navigator gets into trouble.

  8. Jon Moake says

    My number one pet peeve is people not cleaning up after themselves. With our hut system in NZ I am constantly arriving at a hut to find food scraps, mess, paper, food stains etc. left all over the place. Not only is this un hygienic it also attracts mice and rats, and who wants a big old rat running over their face at 2 am in the morning. Dirty pigs!

  9. Doric Swain says

    Great list Caro! (as always you present great ideas really well). I would add:

    Toileting – observe the etiquettes strictly, including burying or packing out everything, and being careful not to leave toilet paper on the ground, free to blow around. Preferably go a LONG way from camp.

    Rubbish – along with what’s already been said, I find some people will pack out large rubbish items, but don’t seem concerned by the smaller items, such as small lolly wrappers, the little corners of plastic that are ripped off form larger packs, chuppa-chup sticks and so on. Also apple cores, banana skins and orange peel don’t belong in the Australian bush.

    Stream etiquette – swim downstream from water collection spots. Don’t stir up mud in small streams before water collection. Wash up pots in a sensible place

    Walking pace – walk at the pace of the slowest, without impatience, negative comments or snide observations. If you’re the slowest, be aware of that responsibility – don’t waste time unnecessarily – stopping for snacks, tie your shoelaces properly etc.

    Alcohol – be sensitive to the situation and the group – nothing’s more boorish than one or two drinkers within a group that wants an early night, or don’t enjoy the off-tune singing. if everyone’s in the mood, then fine (as long as you’re not disturbing other nearby groups.

    As well as being self sufficient with food, same for equipment – don’t look around the group desperately when everyone but you pulls out a raincoat as the thunderstorm approaches; don’t complain on cold nights when the others are snug and warm and you only have shorts and a t-shirt; and asking others to carry part of your load because you’ve over-packed and can’t manage your pack weight is a real offence!

    Singing in general – unless you sense the group are happy to hear your off-tune renditions of Rolling Stones classics, only hum to yourself. Group singing should also be done only with a consensus agreement – even if unsaid .

    Pre-existing injuries – if you’ve turned up for the hike with a stiff ankle (or similar injury), and then it disrupts the hike, you won’t be appreciated by others.

    Casual nudity or skimpy clothing – you may be comfortable in your own skin, but others may not be happy to share that! Be sensitive to how you make others feel.

    Navigation and other decision-making processes – stay civil, polite, calm and respectful. These arguments can become really heated, and that is when poor decisions are often made. In times of stress or crisis, work hard on avoiding conflict.

    Photographs – try to be sensitive about photo-bombing, taking group photos, taking pictures which may embarrass, and so on. Only post on social media if you have appropriate consent, or are very confident that it would be given. Delete photos of people when asked.

    There’s a ton more that could be said, I could go on, but this is a good start, Thanks again, Caro,



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