August 17, 2015 / Comments (5)

Bushwhacking and Off Trail Gear List

bushwhacking gear list

bushwhackBushwhacking 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.

bushwhacking gear list
CategoryGear Selection Details
PackingGossamer Gear Type 2 Summit Pack
Gossamer Gear Q-Ditty Cuben PouchFor small essentials
Gossamer Gear G-Stow Storage SackFor additional clothing
ClothingEMS Techwick Crew
EMS 1/4 Zip Techwick Long Sleeve
Running Shorts
Long Underwear/LeggingsI 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
Rain Jacket
Hooded Down Jacket
Bushwhacking ExtrasFrogg Toggs Blaze Orange Vest
Global Vision Safety Glasses
Adventure Medical Kits Emergency Bivy
Suunto Compass
Ben's Bug Spray
Petzl e-lite
Leatherman Multitool
Rite in the Rain Pen
MapsIf 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 essentialsfirst aid, lighter, sunscreen, etc.
HydrationPlatypus Hoser
Sawyer Mini


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.

Safety Gear:

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

5 Responses to :
Bushwhacking and Off Trail Gear List

  1. Hey, thanks for bringing our pen along on your adventures.

    Nice summary of your equipment.

    1. allison says:

      Thanks for making great stuff Rite in the Rain! I like to use your notebooks for trail maintenance notes or keeping a journal on longer adventures.

  2. Rudy says:

    Nice write-up. I carry two compasses because on one bushwack through some particularly uncooperative spruce trees my compass, which was on a cord around my neck, untied and fell to the ground. Luckily I heard a soft noise, looked down and found my compass looking up at me. My second compass, also on a cord, rides safely inside my pack. I also carry two water filters, one an MSR Trail Shot and the other an Aquamira Frontier Filter Straw. The Aquamira is my go-to filter because it is so quick and easy to use, but it is somewhat fragile and tends to simply fall apart at the end of its useful life. The MSR, while bulkier, can refill water bottles.

  3. Florian says:

    Hey Allison,

    thank you for sharing these informations. Do you always use Trailrunning shoes? In the summer I want to do some bushwhacking in Greenland. The bushes there are extremely dense and there are also sharp rocks. You are primarily “walking” on the bushes, not on the ground. My hiking boots are very heavy, so I’m thinking about switching to Trailrunning shoes. What do you think?
    Are you also wearing your Trailrunning shoes while crossing a river or do you change your shoes before (or going barefoot)?

    Thank you very much for your time.

  4. Rudy says:

    I came to your article after over 3 years and was surprised to see that there had been only one reply. I guess that bushwacking is not for the faint of heart, and a lot of our fellow hikers are faint of heart! Just wanted to say that I had been using an Osprey Talon 22 for my bushwacking adventures, but it has gotten pretty well beaten up, so I recently switched to an Osprey Hikelite 18. The design is awesome. I’m not a large person, but the pack does not extend beyond my hips, which allows me to get through tight spaces very nicely, especially between Spruce trees. And the pack only weighs a pound and a half, which let me get my base weight under 7 pounds and my total weight to 10.5 pounds. Anything to make a nasty bushwack a little more enjoyable. Happy bushwacking!

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