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What Hiking Gear Do You Need for Bushwhacking?

Hiking Gear for Bushwhacking

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
  • Gloves
  • 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.
Many trailless mountains have logbooks where you can record your summit
Many trailless mountains have log books where you can record your visit.

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

See Also:

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 10,000 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 3000 articles as the founder of, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip has hiked all 650+ trails in the White Mountains twice and has completed 12 rounds of the 48 peaks on the White Mountains 4000 footer list with over 576 summits in all four seasons. He is also 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. Click here to subscribe to the SectionHiker newsletter.


  1. I find trekking poles immensely valuable while bushwhacking for checking footing, especially in steep areas where moss or other things may hide holes, water crossings, spider webs, knocking water from branches, and moving vegetation aside. If you use straps you can just let them dangle for a minute if you need your hands for anything. I set the lengths of them pretty short so they aren’t as cumbersome. I can see where the pacer poles might be a pain in the ass, though.

  2. You need to consider if bushwacking is worth the risk of injury. For some years, I was proud that I could still follow the remnants of an old logging road that I used to drive in my 4Runner before it was abandoned and blocked with tank traps by the Forest Service. A couple years ago, I climbed carefully over the tank traps, crossed the creek and look at the maze of deadfalls ahead of me. I decided it was too difficult and not worth the risk, especially with my GSD on leash.
    I miss not being able to backtrack to the memories of this area, but there are plenty of other beautiful areas to visit. Besides, most of the Hemlock trees I admired are now dying or dead.

  3. Hi Philip!
    Even though I try to be careful about my foot placement, I wind up banging up shins quite a bit while hiking off-trail, mainly when I’m maneuvering between downed trees and large branches. I wear long pants and gaiters, but they don’t provide enough protection for me. Have you ever considered or experimented with some kind of shin guards for off-trail hiking? If so, do you have any recommendations?

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