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Who bushwhacks? Why?
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Edward Jursek

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/17/2013 19:38:26 MDT Print View

I recently bought a new pack. While looking at reviews, I read lots reviews praising heavier pack materials for bushwhacking. Comments like, "great pack, but I need something in a hybrid-VX-dyneema-kevlar-spider silk-something that is totally water proof to 200 meters because of all the bushwhacking I do." Sounds like they drag their packs through cactus, slide down scree piles like Bear Grylls, and hack their way through jungles looking for Dr. Livingstone, I presume. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and bushwhacking seems like a ticket to a search and rescue mission that ends in a recovery operation.

The cynical side of me, and it is large, suspects this is like SUV or sports car syndrome; we want something that has capabilities we will never actually use, and are willing to pay a premium for that perception. I might WANT to bushwhack some day, or HAVE to bushwhack, and then I will be sorry I bought a wimpy silnylon pack. Then again, far be it for me to question what others want or need. I have read about bushwhacking in places like Alaska and Australia, where there are few trails. I read Roger Caffin's article on bushwhacking gear. I will sometimes go off trail, but it is usually in open county, like above the tree line. I have slogged through some pretty overgrown trails, and scrambled up some pretty rocky and steep trails, still my wimpy packs have done just fine.

So, if you actually bushwhack, where do you do this? Why do you do this? How far do you bushwhack at a time?

Edited by on 03/17/2013 19:39:33 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/17/2013 19:40:27 MDT Print View

"bushwhacking" OR "bushwalking"?


Rob P
(rpjr) - M
Hunters on 03/17/2013 19:45:00 MDT Print View

From what I understand, hunters tend to do more bushwhacking because game does not always stay on trails...They tend to need tough packs for this reason (and if they need to pack the meat out).

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/17/2013 19:56:02 MDT Print View

"I will sometimes go off trail, but it is usually in open county, like above the tree line. I have slogged through some pretty overgrown trails, and scrambled up some pretty rocky and steep trails, still my wimpy packs have done just fine."

Same here - for example in the Cascades - no reason for fabric stronger than silnylon

But, there are people and routes where silnylon would probably get ripped up and not be the best choice

I hate getting way stronger (heavier) than necesary stuff on the off chance that maybe some day it will be needed. If I decided to take up hunting or rock climbing I'de have to get a heavier pack.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/17/2013 20:06:32 MDT Print View

No money being spent on trail maintenence results in unintentional bushwhacking. Early season hiking before trail crews get out there also brings up memories of shredded fabric, skin.

Manzanita, Chapperal are a packs enemy along with decaying granite and sandstone.

Edited by kthompson on 03/17/2013 20:20:19 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/17/2013 20:31:29 MDT Print View

Why? Because it's how you get to the good stuff.

Getting up and down this canyon in the Mojave was put quite a few holes in my pants.


Getting through stuff like this is also a good way to put holes in your gear. I've been on many trips where throwing your pack down (or dragging it up) features like the one below is commonplace.


Silnylon pack? Nope.

Touch anything out here and it will tear thin fabrics.


Edited by xnomanx on 03/17/2013 20:43:25 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/17/2013 20:49:23 MDT Print View

I do some off trail hiking, a lot lately in the ventana wilderness of big sur. In the ventana wilderness, you can experience some of the worst bushwacking in the world. You have to drag yourself through brush and the brush isn't even the worst part, it's all the dead trees. You have piles of dead poles that are impossible to climb over. And the dead poles will interlock with all the light bushes and make an impenetrable wall that you can only get through by using your body as a battering ram to shove it out of the way. It's just brutal and I try and avoid it if I can.
I usually try and stick to the creeks. The creeks are lined with tall redwoods and the shade makes it more open. Even creekwacking is difficult. The banks are littered with dead trees. You often have to wade through canyons and gorges and scramble around places.

Why do I do all this? Because after slogging through brush for hours and hours and sliding around on treacherous slopes, I will somehow end up in some beautiful isolated canyon that few people have ever visited. You can stumble upon some really weird and amazing things like huge waterfalls or rock formations. There is a heightened sense of adventure. By going off the beaten path, you never know what you are going to encounter. Any obstacles and challenges are just part of the fun. When I look back at my most memorable trips, they all involved getting off the beaten path and doing something crazy.

Having a tough pack isn't as important for pushing through saplings and bushes. What will really tear up your pack are sharp branches from deadfall and scraping up against sharp woody bushes like manzanita.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/17/2013 21:17:41 MDT Print View

Craig 012

This is a picture Craig took on a trip. It was much steeper than it looks. It was definitely the quickest way down out of 60 mph winds on the ridgelines we had been walking.

We didn't know if there were un-navigable pour overs, unstable terrain that would not hold us, rattlesnakes, etc.

We did know we would collect cacti thorns and needles in our feet, legs and maybe hands. But most importantly...

... we knew we would not see another human being.

-- that was worth the price of admission. Not to mention the scenery.

I don't understand why people hike mostly on trails :)

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
why bushwhack? b/c it's there on 03/17/2013 21:22:43 MDT Print View

why tough packs?

wild rose
devil's club
spiny desert plants

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
It's useless here on 03/17/2013 22:00:00 MDT Print View

Bushwhacking is useless in the deep flat forests of the Midwest, unless it's for a very short time with a very specific goal.

For one, anywhere worth exploring already has a trail to it 98% of the time.

Two, walking through thick underbrush usually brings you to a swamp, more thick underbrush, or someone's private property.

Three, you don't get anywhere. There are no great vistas, hidden lakes, rolling meadows, groves of old hardwood, rock formations, etc, unless as previously mentioned, already have a trail to them or are on private property.

Four, it's boring as hell because of reasons listed in points 2 and 3. Traversing alpine meadows, scrambling up cliffs, following washouts and drainages...Not here!

If someone in my area can prove me wrong, please do!

To answer the OP: I *don't* bushwhack. And that's why.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/17/2013 22:47:49 MDT Print View

I used to do a lot when day hiking as a kid. The only reason for me to do it now would be to get to a viewpoint or a little used lake.

There are a number of people in the PNW who like to take historically oriented hikes to old mines it town sites. Some of them have gone on to develop established trails like the Lime Kiln Trail near Granite Falls, Washington.

I think bushwhacking is okay in National Forest lands, but shouldn't be done in wilderness designated ( assuming it isn't illegal already). At some point you're going to get into Leave No Trace issues.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/18/2013 00:58:03 MDT Print View

If bushwacking violates leave no trace, then the only way you are going to witness those leave no trace violations is by bushwacking and violating leave no trace violations.

I have heard people say that hiking cross country is destructive and I think that's ridiculous. All kinds of animals walk through the woods trampling plants and creating trails. When you hike through dense brush, you try and choose the path of least resistance and almost always end up following a game trail.

If hikers starting camping off trail more (responsibly), we wouldn't have campsites that are so overly impacted.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/18/2013 01:07:05 MDT Print View

I think it is a different issue in second growth multi-use "managed" National Forest land than in pristine old-growth designated wilderness.

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/18/2013 01:43:16 MDT Print View

I have hiked more than 17,000 miles on three continents in the last years and less than 200 miles of that were intentional bushwhacking. The only time I bushwhacked longer distances was on the CDT because there was no trail. Other than that I try to avoid bushwhacking like the plague. Why? I am going long-distances so my main goal is making progress. In order to reach a certain goal within a given time frame I have to make a certain amount of progress every day. Bushwhacking is unpredictable and will slow me down tremendously - which is why I try to avoid it.

But I have encoutered plenty of occasions of involuntary bushwhacking, i.e. when trails are overgrown because of lack of mainenance or windfall. I found my Silnylon pack to be sufficient and would not invest into a more expensive pack just to withstand the occasional bushwhacking better.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Another bushwacking event on 03/18/2013 05:30:54 MDT Print View

If you chose to hike on the AT in the winter you very likely will be doing the equivalent of bushwacking if the snow weighs the rhododendron down. You climb and crawl through these bushes and it can get old quick. Also the Sierra high route has several bushwacking sections as well.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/18/2013 06:01:04 MDT Print View

I've started bushwhacking more but mostly do it in the fall/winter here because the undergrowth is easier to get through then. We've got lots of thorny plants and exposed rock here and my ULA Conduit held up fine. My new Borah Gear Stealth is made of Dyneema X and I don't anticipate any issues with it either.

After the first time I bushwhacked I realized that a trail can't possible go past all the interesting or pretty places. That's what inspired my interest in going off trail, I want to find those forgotten cool places. Topo maps are a lot more interesting when you aren't just following a little line that cuts through them.


USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/18/2013 06:42:23 MDT Print View

You don't always need to go off trail. Take the JMT here in CA, just by going to lakes off the trail, you can get away from people for days. I stayed at one of the prettiest lakes I've ever seen, just a few miles off the JMT, 3-4 years ago in the Silver Pass area. Did not see anyone for 4 days while visiting a number of lakes on a loop, once back on it, 20 people in the first hour.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/18/2013 08:35:39 MDT Print View

Go to popular trails in the winter and you won't see anyone. For example, Toliak Point, Rogue River, Descutes River - I did recent trips and saw zero people except a little near the trailhead, they're mob scenes in the summer.

There are some places, like alpine areas, where I just hate to trample off trail. Those tiny little plants take forever to grow so if we step on them there won't be any. Sometimes you can choose a route stepping on rocks.

Peter Evans
... no trail on 03/18/2013 09:02:43 MDT Print View

Some major Routes have no established trail, at best there are game trails to follow.

The North Rim and Long Range Traverses are many days of bushwhacking when put together... I am doing this route this summer.

(not my photo... from google)

Edited by NLslacker on 03/18/2013 09:06:04 MDT.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Who bushwhacks? Why? on 03/18/2013 09:10:13 MDT Print View

Yes, I bushwhack ...

As a hiker, I rarely find the "need" to bushwhack, but may sometimes do it just to get some place new.

However, as a climber I have bushwhacked often. It is simply NOT true that all the best places already have trails to them. Finding new climbing spots absolutely requires bushwhacking, and while many established climbing spots have "use trails" to them, often they are overgrown, and sometimes non existant.