The right clothing can make the difference between having a nice day hiking in the bush and a day of discomfort. Bushwalking clothing has to take account of a number of factors, including:
- Comfort in hot, cold, wet and windy weather
- Strength to resist wear and tear
- Pockets to contain frequently used items
- Protection of your skin from bushes and sun
- Comfortable enough to wear for extended periods
It is best to layer clothing so that you can add or remove layers if the weather conditions change. Always pack additional layers in winter or when bushwalking in mountainous regions.
Clothing is made from natural fibres or synthetic. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages in the bush. Natural fibres tend to be more comfortable to wear, and are often thicker than synthetics. They are however, very slow to dry if they get wet, and can often chafe.
Synthetic clothing is usually lighter and stronger, and dries more quickly.
Hiking clothing should generally be lightweight and loose-fitting for most conditions in NSW, to assist with keeping cool.
Denim jeans are particularly troublesome as they tend to restrict leg movement, more so if they get wet.
A waterproof and windproof jacket is essential on any bushwalk or hike. Depending on the weather you may also pack waterproof trousers. Cheap nylon jackets are unsuitable as they do not breathe. High quality waterproof jackets can be constructed of either a membrane or a coated fabric, and have sealed seams to prevent water leakage.
Gore-Tex fabric is a popular choice, but there are numerous other technical fabrics on the market which wick moisture away from the skin. Gore-Tex is a waterproof, breathable membrane which is bonded to an outer layer of fabric (two-layer clothing) and can also be bonded with an inner lining (three-layer fabric), which helps prevent abrasion of the membrane. Alternatively, some technical fabrics are coated with a water repellent, but this will wear off over time and the jacket must be re-sprayed when it becomes less effective at keeping out the rain.
You will also need a woolen jumper or synthetic fleece zipped jacket. Fleece is manufactured from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and comes in various weights suitable for different weather conditions. 100 is best for base layers, 200 is suitable for cold conditions in temperate climates, and 300 is worn in extreme cold or alpine regions in winter. Fleece is breathable, light-weight, machine washable and quick-drying. Choose a fleece jacket from a reputable outdoor gear supplier, as cheap fleeces are not constructed of quality technical fabrics.
Factors to consider include how susceptible you are to sunburn, how fragile your skin is, whether you can afford to go to work with scratches and scars on your legs, what the weather is like, and so on.
In all cases, you must decide what is right for you.
If sun or skin damage is a concern, long trousers and long-sleeved shirts are advisable. If the track is clear or shaded, shorts and T-shirt can be more comfortable.
In warm weather, make sure clothing is light and cool to prevent overheating, but make sure to take something warm in case the weather changes.
In cool or windy weather, wear warmer clothing. A light windproof jacket can keep you warm when it is windy.
Bear in mind that there are sticks, rocks, logs, etc in the bush, and your clothing is likely to get torn or damaged. It will certainly get dirty. Do not wear expensive or fashion clothing in the bush.
It can be useful to take a change of clothing to leave in the car, in case you get wet on a trip. Sometimes, it is just nice to get out of the old, dirty clothes into something fresh for the journey home.
In most cases you can wear your normal underwear. However, on hot days you might find you develop chafing, and it may be worth looking at other styles of wicking underwear more suited to active pursuits, particularly if it is a multi-day trip.
In really cold weather, thermal underwear can help to preserve warmth.
Most bushwalkers wear hats to protect them from the sun. Styles of hats are many and varied, ranging from baseball caps to floppy cloth hats to broad brim hats. Each has their place.
In cold conditions, it may be necessary to wear something warm on your head. This could be a beanie, fleece hat, balaclava or scarf.
Again in cold conditions, it may be necessary to wear gloves or mittens to protect the hands from the cold. Gloves can be found in almost any fabric you can imagine, from silk to cotton to wool to fleece and more exotic combinations. Wear waterproof gloves in wet conditions, or pack a spare pair. Never dry leather gloves with heat, but allow to dry naturally.
Gardening gloves can also be useful in un-tracked bush to protect your hands.