Bushwhacking is a form of off-trail hiking that usually involves hiking through forests and densely vegetated areas. It’s called bushwhacking because the bushes whack back, often tearing up your clothing and drawing blood from exposed portions of your hands, arms, legs, or face. The purpose of bushwhacking, other than self-flagellation, is to reach a destination, usually, one you can’t see, by using as little energy as possible to get there. This involves planning a route using topographic maps, navigating the landscape, and making real-time judgments about the easiest way through, over, or around obstacles.
Most people carry a slightly different set of gear for bushwhacking than what they use for day hiking or backpacking on well-marked trails. This includes navigation tools, old clothes, durable gear, sturdy footwear, protective clothing, and a healthy sense of humor.
- A compass on a lanyard, which you can quickly refer to on the move without falling on your face.
- A second compass if you lose your first one.
- A topographic map in a ziplock plastic bag or waterproof map case.
- A backup map, in case you lose the first one.
- A GPS Smartphone navigation app or a GPS device to track your route so you can backtrack if necessary.
- Plastic safety glasses
- Loud whistle, so you can find your bushwhacking partners in dense vegetation even if you can’t see them.
- Gaiters to keep forest duff out of your shoes and protect your shins
- Long sleeve shirt
- Long pants
- Bug dope
- Brimmed or billed hat
- Old raincoat
- Old rain pants
- Most people wear boots to protect their feet although it’s not always necessary
- Heavy-duty backpack with a minimum of external straps that can catch on vegetation
- First aid kit
- Water filter and bottles or a reservoir
- Satellite messenger, in the event of a medical emergency.
- Blaze orange clothing, during hunting season.
Gear You Don’t Want to Bring Bushwhacking
- Trekking poles – you need your hands free to protect your face
- Ultralight backpacks – easily ripped to shreds.
- Any clothing you value
Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He also volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.