Bushwhacking may be the next step as a hiker, but you may think you don’t have the right gear to be successful. With a few key tweaks and some minor small purchases, you’ll be on your way- of course some skills are needed. Take a look to see if your local outing club (like Appalachian Mountain Club or the Sierra Club) offers a navigation class. If you haven’t taken a wilderness first aid course, it’s a must for off trail travel. SOLO and NOLS both offer this two day course.
Below is the gear I take with me on a bushwhack. Much of it is similar to what I take on a day hike, but there are some key items that I take specifically for bushwhacking which I will explain below.
|Packing||Gossamer Gear Type 2 Summit Pack|
|Gossamer Gear Q-Ditty Cuben Pouch||For small essentials|
|Gossamer Gear G-Stow Storage Sack||For additional clothing|
|Clothing||EMS Techwick Crew|
|EMS 1/4 Zip Techwick Long Sleeve|
|Long Underwear/Leggings||I recommend an older pair you don't mind getting ripped|
|Patagonia Barely There Hipster Briefs|
|Moving Comfort Sports Bra|
|Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Micro Running Sock|
|Hooded Down Jacket|
|Bushwhacking Extras||Frogg Toggs Blaze Orange Vest|
|Global Vision Safety Glasses|
|Adventure Medical Kits Emergency Bivy|
|Ben's Bug Spray|
|Rite in the Rain Pen|
|Maps||If you print out an online map of a bushwhack route, make sure to have an additional map of the surrounding area for additional exit options.|
|Other small essentials||first aid, lighter, sunscreen, etc.|
The best thing you can do is take clothes that are fine to get ripped. For warm weather hikes, bring really light layers that will protect you from thick brush. When you bushwhack, you don’t cut through thick growth, you are the one that gets whacked! I like to wear shorts and a t-shirt on the approach and then put longer pants on. I will throw on an old pair of leggings or long underwear that are fine to get torn. I recommend bringing a really airy long sleeve shirt to protect your arms. If it’s too hot, I’ll deal with getting my arms scraped up.
I bring a Buff as it is more versatile and can be worn to cover my ears to prevent twigs and branches from poking into my ears (yes this has happened). I prefer a buff over a baseball hat so I have full visibility. Some people like to wear light work gloves or fingerless gloves to protect their hands. This is helpful in an area with thorny vegetation.
Trail runners are my preferred shoe for hiking and bushwhacking is no different. They dry quickly if submerged in a river or swampy area which is common to deal with when in dense forest.
Make sure to wear protective glasses (ideally that wrap around the sides) to protect your eyes from branches. You will also want to look up the hunting season dates in your area and wear blaze orange. I like to wear a blaze orange vest anyway for better visibility which will help your hiking partner(s) see if you if you are hiking with others as well as search and rescue if an incident ever occurred.
Because your pace is much slower (1/4 mile per hour to 1 mile per hour) while bushwhacking I also like to bring a couple of items for an unplanned overnight stay including an emergency bivy and a down jacket. A really light filter like the Sawyer Mini is perfect to have on hand in case you run out of water. Make sure you monitor your water consumption as there isn’t always a source to filter from.
Notes on Gear:
Make sure you don’t have anything hanging off your pack as it will get caught or lost. Your pack itself should be small so you don’t get easily caught. Make sure there is no/a minimal amount of exterior mesh that would get ripped.
All clothing should be fine if damaged (don’t wear a $150 pair of hiking pants!) and be more form fitting to avoid getting snagged on branches.
Make sure your compass is always in hand. If it has a hole but no string, be sure to add some before your hike so you can either wear it around your neck or wrap it around your wrist.
Bring a map of the bushwhack with notes on it as well as an area map in case you need to make an alternative exit plan.
Bug spray is your friend. Often bushwhacks can be stifling as you are in dense woods with little to no wind. Bugs will want to feast so do not forgo the bugspray!
I typically don’t bring trekking poles unless there is a long approach as they will just get in your way. Make sure that they can be stowed inside your pack if you do bring them.
Technology on the Trail:
Some people hike with a GPS while bushwhacking. They may either enter in coordinates or download another person’s tracks to complete the trek. Some find this cheating but you can make your own decision depending on your moral compass (see what I did there?) Others bring a GPS simply for backup in an emergency situation.
Another tool you may feel you’d like to have is a satellite tracker like a SPOT or Delorme InReach. It may give folks at home peace of mind if you do a lot of longer treks or off trail travel.
Keep in mind that your devices may fail, messages may not send, help may not come. Never rely on a device or piece of gear to save you in a bad situation. Use your best judgement when hiking, especially off trail, and turn around if you feel like you’re getting in over your head. Like they say, the mountains will always be there.
Last modified: September 1, 2017