Why it’s important to clean our hiking gear

As people who love wild places, we’re generally pretty aware of what it takes to keep our campsites clean and to practice good minimal impact bushwalking.

What are some of the issues?

Things like human waste, rubbish and campfires are visible and therefore front of mind when it comes to taking care of the bush. However, there’s a whole other raft of things that we can’t see, but that is just as important. I’m talking about teensy, tiny little things that can have a big impact.

tent pegs being cleaned
Cleaning your tent pegs, ground sheet and tent not only keeps your gear in top condition, but could help protect our wild places.

Apart from diseases that attack our native plants and animals, there are weeds and other pests that can do big damage. 

In many ways, they can be a bit like, ‘out of sight – out of mind’, but thanks to the work of the Invasive Species Council and their, ‘Keep Your Gear Clean In the Wild’, campaign, they’re shining a light on these dark little creatures and providing a whole host of great tips about what we can do to stop them.

hiking boot cleaning station
Boot cleaning station in Barrington Tops NP.

Shoe cleaning stations

Many of us who’ve trod lightly along managed tracks and great walks around Australia, would be familiar with shoe cleaning stations provided by National Parks and Land Managers at trailheads and entrances to sensitive areas.

Looking something like a piece of children’s play equipment, these spray n’ scrub stations provide an easy way for us to ensure we don’t walk any of the offenders into our precious natural places. The great news is that you don’t need to wait for facilities like this to be installed wherever you walk. You can easily create a simple DIY solution by using a spray bottle with methylated spirits (70-100%), bleach (dilute to 25%) or F10 disinfectant solution. 

Download my handy Hiking Boot Cleaning Spray printable tag. It includes the recipes and handy tips!

I keep a bottle in the boot of my car, so whenever I’m entering or leaving a trail-head, I can give them a quick spray. Why not start a thing with your mates by offering to spray their shoes too?

Another key way to avoid bringing in or moving weeds around is to wear sock protectors or gaiters and avoid wearing clothes that have a seemingly magnetic attraction to seeds.

hiking boot
Give the soles of your shoes a good spray with DIY solution.

I’ve been known to spend hours in camp at night methodically pulling off cobbler’s pegs (Bidens pilosa) aka Farmer’s Friends and actually finding it quite meditative. There’s no TV out there, so why not use the time to relax whilst picking off seeds and then carry them out in a ziplock bag.

Helps keep our hiking gear in top condition

With the amount of money that we spend on our outdoor gear (tents, shoes, etc) it makes good sense financially and environmentally that we keep them clean. It not only extends their life, but also the lives of our native plants and animals. Before you head out on your next adventure, wash or brush off the mud and any other hitchhikers from your gear, then let your gear completely dry.

Phytophthora warning sign
Keep an eye out for areas with phytophthora and keep out.

There’s some real gremlins out there. From Chytrid, that can kill off our native frogs, to the well known Phytophthora, that rots roots and destroys native plants. But my personal favourite has got to be the devastating, ‘rock snot’ aka Didymo. This particular little gem thankfully hasn’t made it to Australia yet, but has caused untold problems in rivers and waterways of New Zealand.

Let’s do our bit by thoroughly checking and cleaning all our gear whenever we enter or leave a new location and visit invasives.org.au/act-now for more information.

This article first appeared in Bushwalking NSW.

Bushwalking & Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick

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