Route planning

  • Considerations
  • Factors affecting route choice
  • Predicting walking time
  • Escape routes
  • Route-plan cards
  • Planning car shuffles


Factors involved in planning a route for a bushwalking or ski touring trip include time of year, anticipated weather, capability of the group, availability and accuracy of maps, nature of the terrain, location of water and campsites, escape routes, fire danger, flooded rivers and so on. However, the most important factor is a realistic assessment of the capabilities of the group and its weakest members.

Many leaders over-estimate their speed of travel when planning their trips, often by as much as 50%. By planning the route before the trip and applying the rules for predicting travelling times given later in this chapter, the leader will be able to accurately estimate the travelling time for the proposed trip.

Once a choice of route has been made, examine it for navigational problems in fine and bad weather. Navigation in fine weather will usually be possible by direct map reading and landmarks. In thick scrub or forest, or in bad weather, compass bearings may be needed. In these cases a route-plan card can prove valuable. This is a card on which distances and bearings, worked out in advance, have been noted, with alternatives if warranted. It is much easier to calculate accurate bearings on a table at home than in the bush in the pouring rain. To use a route-plan card successfully demands accurate compass work and careful estimation of the distance travelled.

By undertaking route planning before the trip, the likelihood of experiencing an enjoyable trip which meets the leader’s and the group’s expectations is greatly increased. Also, the probability of encountering unexpected hazards or other problems is greatly reduced, thus decreasing the workload on the leader during the trip.

Other issues which may become apparent during the planning process can be checked by the following questions:

  • Is the route likely to be affected by weather (i.e. is it exposed and treeless, are there river crossings which may be prone to flooding)?
  • Is the altitude gain and loss within the capability of the group?
  • Are there obstacles which may take time for negotiation by the group (e.g. river crossings, fence lines, cliffs)?
  • What type of terrain will be covered?
  • How dense will the vegetation be?
  • Is the area particularly sensitive to environmental impact, and hence should the group be smaller or the route be changed?
  • Is the proposed route safe (e.g. is it avalanche prone, or littered with open mine shafts)?
  • Where will water be available during the trip?
  • How much water will have to be carried and when?
  • Is the area subject to fire danger?
  • Are there campsites in appropriate locations and of suitable size?
  • Will there be sufficient snow cover for the entire route?
  • Are the campsites suitable for snow-cave digging or igloo construction?
  • Is there time to stop and look at the flowers or ‘bag’ an all important peak?
  • Will specialised equipment be necessary (e.g. rope, crampons, lilo)?

Factors affecting route choice

When planning a trip in Australia there are some general ‘rules of thumb’ which may make your trip more enjoyable:

  • It is easier to navigate up a spur than to travel down one. When travelling up, the only decision to make is how far up you have travelled. However when travelling down a branching spur, you must pay particular attention to ensure that you remain on the required spur.
  • Conversely, when navigating in creek and river systems the preferred direction of travel is down, as the main stream is obvious.
  • Vegetation is often less dense on the crest of spurs and ridge tops.
  • North-facing slopes tend to offer drier, less scrubby terrain.
  • South-facing slopes offer wetter, scrubbier conditions and retain snow better.
  • Undulations in snow-covered areas (in poor weather) are more distinguishable in lightly treed areas.
  • In granite country, gullies are often easier going, as the spurs and crests are often covered with huge boulders.
  • If a considerable climb is involved in the trip, if possible it should be incorporated into the beginning of the trip, or the beginning of the day while the group is fresh.

Predicting walking time

With the number of variables involved in predicting walking times it can be difficult to provide one rule which is applicable to all countries, for all people, in all conditions. The following 'rule', often referred to as Naismith's Rule, is one which has proved suitable for Australian conditions and has been used successfully for many years.

For an average walker with a medium pack, allow one hour for:

  • every 4 km of easy going
  • every 3 km of easy scrambling
  • every 1½ km of very rough country, deep sand, soft snow or thick bush.

Then add:

  • one hour for every 500 m up
  • one hour for every 1000 m down.

This rule has been developed for an 'average' group. For very fit and experienced walkers, reduce the total time by one third, and for larger, less fit or less experienced groups, this rule may be optimistic. Several bushwalking clubs recommend a variation of this rule, with one hour for 4 km of easy going, 2 km of rough track, and 1 km off track. The time allowed for rise and fall in elevation accounts for slower travel also and fatigue during both climbing and descending. Time must be allowed for rest and meal stops, and remember that the group will be slower at the end of the day.

Figure 3.1 can be used as a quick reference for applying this rule.

This rule is not directly transferable for ski touring, as strengths and weaknesses in skiing skills greatly affect the travelling speed of a group on skis. The fastest travel can be very quick, up to 8 or even 10 km per hour, but in difficult conditions, progress can be slower than walking. As a result leaders will have to apply their own estimates, based on skill levels of the group, and knowledge of the area and terrain.

Escape routes

An escape route is a route that offers a rapid or alternative retreat from the planned route, to be used if there is an injury in the group, or if the weather does not allow the group to continue safely along the planned route. Ideally, an escape route leads to a point offering vehicular access, although this will not always be possible. Some trips will not offer an obvious escape route. In these circumstances it may be that the only practicable escape routes are to either return to the start or continue to the intended finish. In such cases, the leader should determine the ‘mid point’ of the trip, from an escape perspective.

Route-plan cards

A route-plan card is a simple method of recording the information gained about stages of the proposed trip. It can take some time to prepare and will give a great feel of what should be expected on the trip. If you have prepared route-plan cards for a trip properly, you will almost feel as if you have walked or skied the trip before you go. To be useful, route-plan cards should break your intended route into logical stages. These should avoid a change of navigated direction or track junction decisions within a stage. For each stage, list distance, estimate of required time, ascent and descent distances and brief information about the type of terrain likely to be encountered. Predict your walking time using the rule above, either by calculation or by use of the chart in Figure 3.1. Table 3.1 shows an example of a route-plan card. Route-plan card layout can be varied to suit the requirements of the trip.

Table 3.1 Route-plan card
StageObjectiveGrid referenceBearingKmHeight + & or -TerrainStage TimeE.T.A. & Remarks
PMAt Consett Stephen Pass220772     Lunch till 12.30pm
1To Mt Tate213758192° magnetic1.7 km+140mRough ground & snow grass1 hr1.30pm
2To Mt Anderson via Mann Bluff195740218° magnetic3 km+180m -240mPicks up old rough fire trail1 hr3.15pm
3To Mt Anton190725190° magnetic1.5km+120m -140mClearer old fire trail50 min4.05pm
4Camp in valley of Pounds Creek190720230° magnetic and 152° magnetic0.5km-100mInto saddle & to valley to choose a camp site15 min4.20pm
Totals   6.7km+440m -480m 3hr 50min 

Planning car shuffles

When the start and the end of a trip are not at the same place, a car shuffle will be necessary to get everyone to the start, while leaving enough cars at the end to get drivers back to the start to retrieve vehicles left there. Practical considerations often dictate exactly how car shuffles must be done (e.g. locations for an easily found Friday night camp may be limited), but with planning, it is possible to reduce the way car shuffles can detract from the enjoyment of a trip.

People are usually keen to get going at the start of a trip, so lots of waiting before the trip starts while drivers place vehicles at the end point and then return will seem like a waste of time. However, the same waiting time at the end of a trip is not such a concern, as most people are tired and happy to sit under a tree or in a sheltered spot.

The best way to arrange a car shuffle is for the whole group to meet (and set-up Friday night camp) at the location where the trip is expected to end. The group then drives to the start using as few vehicles as necessary. This leaves the remaining vehicles at the end location so when the trip is over the vehicles left at the start location can be retrieved.

Further reading

Brown, I, 1995. Bushwalking and Camping, 14th Edition. Paddy Pallin Pty Ltd, Sydney, NSW,

Australia. Randall 1994. Outward Bound Map and Compass Handbook.