Tag Archives: Safety

Bushwalk Leadership Training | Is it necessary?

Do bushwalk leaders need training from qualified instructors? Can you learn on-the-job?  Will formal leadership training spoil the informality of Club walks?

First of all, I have to admit that I need no convincing of the benefits of skill training for the outdoors.  I have always believed that training from qualified and experienced practitioners is the best and quickest way to develop skills and confidence in the outdoors. Whenever I have wanted to broaden my outdoor skills,  seeking qualified instructors has always been my first step, and I have then applied this training in my own environment and refined it to suit my personality and goals.

The argument about whether young adults should be taught to drive by their parents or by a qualified driving instructor is similar in my view to how you should learn a new outdoor skill? When I decided to get a small  bus licence a few years ago, my employer paid for some lessons and this taught me that parents are not the best instructors for a learner-driver to have. I soon found that I had developed lots of bad habits over the many years since I first sat for my own driving test, some of which would have been sufficiently serious to fail me in my bus driving test, if not corrected. What if I had tried to teach my own children to drive? Would I have passed on my bad habits to them?

Learning-on-the-job is often the best way to learn, but only if the mentor has kept up-to-date with recent advances and has broad experience outside the Club. Many Clubs have a leadership structure where “leaders-in-training” are assessed and coached by experience Club members, almost all of whom have had no formal training and most of whom, have learnt from other “senior” Club members, who in turn have learnt from other “senior” Club members. There is a real risk that bad habits are passed from one generation of Club members to the next and that this “in-breeding” becomes a Club tradition.

Some Clubs are openly antagonistic to ideas from outside which threaten the status quo and challenge the Club’s way of doing things. Sadly I can recall many years ago, when I was about to attend my first Club walk, being warned never to mention I had any formal bushwalking training.

In many Clubs things have not changed.

Formal leadership and skills training should not spoil the informality of Club walks, rather it should improve the enjoyment and safety of all.

Visit other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Does your Bushwalking Club Need a Training and Safety Officer?

 Does your bushwalking Club need a Safety Officer and what would their role be? Does your Club need a Training Officer? Can the two roles be combined?  Who could constitute your Training and Safety sub-committee? What could be included in the job description of a TSO?

I  believe that if your Club is going to take the training of leaders and new members seriously then you need a Training and  Safety Officer.  I believe the one person can and should fulfill both roles as the two are integrated; maintaining a culture of safety during walks benefits from a training program.

The Training and  Safety subcommittee could include:

  • the “Walks Secretary” or his/her deputy
  • someone who has had some formal bushwalk training or for South Australians,  a rep from Bushwalk Leadership SA
  • the “New Members Secretary” or their deputy
  • someone with recent involvement on a Training or Safety committee in another bushwalk club, preferably with knowledge of the Adventure Activity Standards (AAS)

This makes 5, but as you know it is rare to get full attendance at any Committee meeting.

Summary of the Role of the Training and Safety Officer

  • chairing the Training and Safety subcommittee,  
  • ensuring compliance with AAS
  • attending Committee meetings.
  • auditing current leadership practices
  • development of a leadership development program
  • encouraging a change of culture if needed 

Template Job Description: Training and Safety Officer

  • encouraging a culture of safety, with all members and all leaders walking within their capabilities
  • promoting ongoing training as a requirement of membership renewal
  • organising training for potential leaders and those seeking updates
  • establishing a database of training resources to assist members seeking to improve their skills and knowledge
  • establishing and supporting a mentoring program for potential leaders and new members
  • auditing, reviewing and recommending changes to current bushwalk documentation and procedures, taking into consideration the AAS
  • maintaining an Incident Register. Assess and report on appropriate action.
  • chairing the Training and Safety sub-committee and making recommendations to the Committee

More specifically the responsibilities could include

  • utilising internal and external resources to improve the skills, knowledge and hence the enjoyment of members while walking
  • liaising with existing training providers to provided customised courses for Club members
  • publicising existing courses at meetings, on the Club website and in your magazine
  • negotiating group discounts for Club members attending courses eg first aid
  • providing training and documentation for walk leaders so they can effectively mentor new members on their walks
  • encouraging leaders to offer the opportunity for self reflection and feedback at the conclusion of each walk
  • monitoring the progress of new members, through a log book system, so that they progress through a series graduated of walks
  • encouraging and advising members wishing to be involved in accredited training, with a system of internal recognition and benefits
  • developing guidelines for internal accreditation of leaders, with an ongoing re-accreditation process
  • encouraging, facilitating and mentoring experienced members to share their skills and knowledge with others
  • developing a database of “go-to” people within the Club with particular skills or knowledge
  • encouraging and facilitating Club “go-to” people to document their skills and knowledge for sharing with others
  • developing  online resources to assist members wishing to gain leadership skills (PowerPoint’s, brochures, podcasts, web links)
  • developing a culture of sharing knowledge and skills with others 
  • developing recognition of the need to continually updating personal skills and knowledge,
  • developing a membership renewal requirement that each member attends one skill or knowledge update training session per year.

View other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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SAS Survival Guide: an iPhone App Review for Bushwalkers

I purchased the pocket sized COLLINS GEM SAS Survival Guide (384 pages) back in 1993 and have often referred to it since, although I have never taken it on a bushwalk. Only last week I used it to find the ground-to-air signals for helicopter rescue.

“Written by former SAS soldier and instructor, John “Lofty” Wiseman, this application brings you the elite training techniques of Britain’s toughest fighting force in the most accessible version ever. Now you can take the world-class survival skills of the SAS with you anywhere in the world – from the peaks of Kilimanjaro to the deserts of Kandahar…or to your closest national park.

This is the digital version (released June 2010) of this book, and comes in two versions, one free, which contains a small selection of the total. The full version contains the complete book optimised for viewing on the iPhone. Neither version is localised for Australia, which means that the animals and plants are  from the northern hemisphere. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, as many of these exotic plants eg blackberry are also found in Australia.

There appears to be little attempt to update the contents and this is most obvious in the first aid section where the artificial resuscitation methods badly need updating eg the Holger Nielson and Silvester techniques  which I last used in my Royal Lifesaving days in the 60’s and 70’s are recommended.

SAS Survival Guide

The Full app contains:
•Full text, in 9 chapters, of the bestselling book optimised for the iPhone
•16 videos providing invaluable survival tips from Lofty himself
•Photo galleries of edible, medicinal and poisonous plants
•Morse Code signalling device
•100 + question quiz to test if you’ve got what it takes to survive
•Survival Checklist
•Sun Compass
•Search tool to scan entire book by subject
•Extreme Climate Survival: sections on surviving Polar, Desert, Tropical, and Sea
•Comprehensive First Aid section NB Needs updating

SAS Survival Guide Lite

The Lite App Contains:
•Basic survival information including: building fires, finding water, navigating by the stars, survival kit, signals and codes
•Photo galleries of cloud spotting, night sky navigation, and more
•Video of Lofty Wiseman demonstrating knife skills
•100+ question quiz to test if you’ve got what it takes to survive
•Survival checklist to help you prepare for trips
•Search the app by keyword for quick reference

This version is a “must have” for any bushwalker, but of course you can only read it when your iPhone batteries are not flat. You will need to be able to keep your iPhone charged  to be able to use the app.

Do I think the paid version (USD $5.99) is worthwhile? The original book cost me $7.95 many years ago and the digital version has additional information, so you would have to say yes, especially with the extra features such as videos, Morse Code Signaller, search tool and Sun Compass. But is it expensive? Yes!

Adittional Features

1. Morse Code Signalling Device

This  allows you to automatically produce both the audio and synchronised flashing light for common emergency messages such as SOS, mayday, and help but can send any message you wish by simply typing in the sentence. It is easy to use and does exactly as it should.

2. Sun Compass

Many of us have been taught to work out north by bisecting the angle between the hour of the day and the sun, but how many of us can remember how to do it when we need to do so. This inbuilt app does it automatically, with easy step-by-step instructions.

3. Photo-galleries

These colour “how to” slideshows  show step by step how to achieve such essential tasks as:

How to build a fire. How to build a solar still.How to trap water. Night sky navigation.Cloud spotting

Other categories include

Making a camp. Wild food. Polar Climate. Desert and Tropics. Sea and Coast. Hunting. First Aid

4. Videos

Contents of a survival tin. Fern Cover. Night navigation. Shelter . Location. Waterbag. Gutting. Sun Compass. Solar still. Rationing. Sand stove. Trapping. Fire. Survival Situation. Knife Skills. Snow Hole

6. Checklists include:

Survival kit
Survival pouch
Medical Kit

In my opinion, this is excellent value for such a high quality and useful resource and a must have for bushwalkers.

View other related iPhone posts

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Is Solo Bushwalking Safe?

Why walk solo? How can trip planning reduce the risks ? Solo communications? What additional equipment do you need for a solo walk? How can you make it easier for rescuers?

Why would anyone want to walk solo?

If you have ever walked in a large group, you would understand why someone might want to walk solo. Rarely will the speed of the group match your own; you may want to stop for extra photos or to check a bird call; you may be slower up hills than others but be able to keep up on the flat or downhill; you may not like the company or find that their noise spoils the wilderness for you.

Then on the other hand, you make not  have walking partners who are free when you want to walk; who want to go where you do or have your experience or motivation. Perhaps you want to climb seven peaks in seven days, in which case you have probably narrowed down the list of potential companions who either want or have the fitness to walk with you.

The dangers of solo walking

Traditionally walkers have been taught to never walk in a groups smaller than four:  two to get help and one to look after the injured party. With the advent of  personal locator beacons (PLB) which can summon emergency help easily and even in the remotest location, a group of two is feasible and safe, in my opinion. The other major problem with solo walking is the added weight of no longer being able to share a tent or stove. Added weight increases the risk of injury, slows down progress and makes for longer days on the track.

But a group of ONE…. still not recommended by any authority of which I am aware. Despite this, with adequate trip planning, equipment and experience, solo walking can be safe and certainly enjoyable.

Pre-trip planning to reduce risks

 The inherent problems of solo walking can be reduced by selecting routes that are popular, so that if the need arose, you can  call on other nearby walkers for help. Not my style, as I like to be self-sufficient, and would be too embarrassed to do so.  Selecting a walk that you have done before and avoiding an isolated route, where there is a high risk of injury, both add another level of safety.

The trip intention sheet becomes more important for solo walkers, as it lists where you will be each night, how self sufficient you are and gives details of when you will arrive at your destination and what to do if you are late. This sheet, and its lodgement with authorities and a trusted friend becomes essential on a solo hike. Solo walkers unfortunately have a history of getting lost and requiring rescue, often with serious consequences.

 Be aware of the common injuries you may expect and do a relevant first aid course.

Making it easier for rescuers.

If you are unfortunate enough to require rescue, you can help by trying to be rational  about the things you do while lost:

  • make sure that you mark your route if you go off the track
  • leave a track marker which can’t be missed
  • show with arrows or boot prints the direction in which you have gone
  • make sure you and your campsite are visible from the air: carry a signaling mirror, reflective space blanket, flashing torch, light a fire, but make sure you observe any bushfire bans.
  • make sure you can be heard: always carry a whistle and know how to use it in an emergency.

Solo Communications

New technology such as the SPOT gen3 allows you to keep in contact with friends by using satellite technology to send SMS and emails to your emergency contact. If you fail to send this each day, they can then activate the emergency plan you have given them. Your PLB or SPOT can be used in an emergency to call for help from rescue authorities, but the PLB, being dedicated for this purpose is much more reliable. The PLB has  much stronger signal strength and is recognised by authorities as a call for help, which they will not ignore. The SPOT has the potential to do the same thing, but there are more steps in the emergency response chain and hence more likelihood of a step failing. SPOT has an annual subscription fee which makes it much more expensive  to run over a few years than the purchase of a PLB.

If you have mobile (cell) phone reception where you are walking, then the risk of a life threatening situation is  much reduced, and  this becomes an essential part of your equipment.
Solo equipment

Beyond the lack of ability to share a tent or stove, which will obviously increase the weight of your pack, there are other weight increases you may need to consider.

 Is there some equipment that you would normally share around the group that you will now have to carry yourself?

  • a better first aid kit
  • better or more navigation equipment?
  • a rope
  • different food packaging with individual serves
  • an inflatable raft!!

See also

Black Hills Hiking Safety: Risks of Hiking Alone Copyright 2002-2009 Travis N. Wood
Planning a Walk
 Communications for Bushwalkers Rik Head Bush Search and Rescue Victoria (Version 1.0 March 2009) pdf
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Weighing Up the Benefits of Lightweight Bushwalking.

What are the problems with carrying a heavy pack? Why do some people carry heavier packs than they need? Are there any risks with associated with ultra-light backpacking? Is there a happy median? Why is debate on these topics often controversial?

Most bushwalkers would agree that a light pack is an ideal to which all should subscribe. Some go to extremes to achieve this, and others will never achieve it.  In many bushwalking circles ultra-lightweight backpacking is a hot topic which brings raw emotions to the surface.

Carrying a heavy pack means more stress on your body, slower progress and therefore longer days on the track. The longer you take, the more food you need, the less likely you are to get that window of opportunity between weather fronts, the more likely you will need to cope with a variety of weathers and therefore the more clothing you will need to carry. The problem becomes cyclical: the heavier your pack, the slower you walk , the longer you take, the heavier your pack needs to be!

There are three groups of people who carry heavy packs; those who don’t know better, those who don’t like to take risks and take gear for all eventualities and those who have no choice due to the length of their trip or special needs eg photography. The first group will only learn  from hard experience,  from others and from reading bushwalking forums/blogs. The second group knows better, but due to their personality they don’t want to take the perceived risks of going “unprepared”. The third group have little choice.

Ultra-lightweight backpacking has its risks too! There is a small group who are prepared  compromise safety to save weight. Sometimes the jacket is not durable enough for  the environment, the tent is 3 season instead of 4, the amount of food taken doesn’t cater for possible delays, the shoes/boots won’t stand up to the rigors of the track, safety equipment is left at home, the first aid kit contains little more than a band-aid. I’ve seen it all! Obviously there is another group of experienced lightweight bushwalkers who weigh up all the risks before they set off and are not compromising safety. They select high tech equipment which is lighter but still as durable.

With experience most people reach a happy median; some items are lightweight, some are left behind because the person is prepared to a suffer a little to save weight, others are added because the perceived risk is high. My concern is for those who have just started bushwalking and decide that saving weight is more important than safety.

Any discussion of whether ultra-lightweight/heavy weight bushwalking is risky is often confused by individual walkers perception of what is risky, whether they have a right to take risks and whether their lightweight equipment is more likely to be subject to failure than heavier equipment.

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Technical Bushwalking: Rope and Harness or Nerves of Steel

Should a bushwalker with little or no climbing experience be using a rope and harness at all?  What skills do you need to use a harness and rope safely? If you are a Club bushwalker, does your insurance policy cover such activities? When does a bushwalker need a harness?  What are the benefits and risks of making your own harness? What is the minimum gear you need to take?

 There are some bushwalks in Australia where less confident walkers, carrying a heavy pack, would benefit from having a rope to keep balance, especially when wearing a pack, or offer support in the event of a toe hold or hand grip collapsing. I have in mind the Western Arthurs , one spot on the Mt Anne Circuit and possibly Federation Peak, all in Tasmania and  in South Australia, Bunyip Chasm and Edeowie Gorge.

Some would argue that if a rope is needed then bushwalkers shouldn’t be there. I see a rope as an added safety precaution to reduce the risk of a fall perhaps in a location where more confident climbers would not need a rope at all.  Lowering a pack on a rope and then climbing down is often a safer alternative. The danger is that bushwalkers with little climbing experience may become over confident in their ability to use a rope and start to attempt climbs or descents that are quite rightly in the domain of serious climbers.

Considerable training and experience is needed to know how to tie on to a rope, how to set an anchor and how to adjust and tie into a harness. In my view at least one person in any group which is intending to use a rope, should have climbing experience, so they can act in an advisory role and check all equipment before use.

 Many Bushwalking Clubs have insurance policies which explicity forbid the use of ropes during bushwalks.

If you are going to use a rope (11mm), then a lightweight harness is invaluable, for both comfort and safety reasons. Without a harness, even a minor slip can lead to injury.

Making your own harnesses: Dulfer (sit) and Parisian Baudrier (chest) from 6 m of 25mm climbing tape, 2 m of 7mm cord with a prusik knot and a karabiner  is simple, lightweight, low cost (less than $30) and effective but it is not a simple task to fit, especially if you are using a chest harness, as recommended with a heavy pack. The danger is that inexperienced bushwalkers may use the wrong knot, have the harness too loose, close the karabiner incorrectly, use the prusik knot or descender incorrectly, not use a suitable anchor etc. The list goes on!

Lightweight, commercial harnesses have now become available for around USD $50 and weigh less than 100g. Take care if you decide to buy one as they have few adjustments and several people have reported that they only fit limited sizes. They are light, quicker and easier to fit, possibly more comfortable, tested for strength and not much dearer but they are less versatile.

I still think an improvised harness with webbing is much cheaper, more than adequate for bodyweight (not a fall), and tubular webbing is probably stronger than a lightweight harness. It also has the advantage of being useful for other things such as an anchor, then you could do a body rappel to get down something less than vertical. I have played around with many improvised harnesses for crevasse rescue, and the best I have found for a sit harness (you will need a chest harness also with a heavy pack) is simply a double length sewn dyneema sling (120cm). The other day I just bought a 240cm sewn dyneema sling (8mm) which is the perfect length for a full body harness. This is what I will carry this season for my emergency kit.

Disclaimer: Please check the information above with a qualified climbing instructor before applying on a walk. I have no climbing qualifications and base my comments on some recent practical experience and some advanced bushwalking courses I did years ago.

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