Teaching the basics of bushwalking and ski touring

  • Navigation
  • Bushcraft
  • Other issues
  • Resources

Students need enough knowledge and skills to ensure any trip can be enjoyable, safe and worthwhile. They need to be taught these carefully and simply so that they will not become overly concerned with the small details, and lose sight of the experience itself.


The map is where teaching should begin—orientation, identification of marked symbols, contours, scale, etc. Much of this material is covered (at least in part) in geography and allied subjects, but there is often work to be done when attempting to use classroom knowledge in the field. The field is by far the best place to show landforms clearly, and to show the relationship between contours and the countryside. Orienteering is a natural offshoot of teaching and learning navigation; it’s an international sport, and requires a very fine understanding of map reading. Rogaining is also an activity that school students have participated in, and has great benefits in terms of learning to read a map carefully. Do not start with a compass, particularly not with the ‘compass on the map, turn the dial’ routine. This both stifles any interest in bushwalking by making it appear as a complex mathematical routine, and concentrates the activity on the compass rather than on the land and the map.

Particular exercises to really build an understanding of navigation include:

  • following a course through the bush, then trying to mark this on a map
  • following a course marked by a line on a map
  • map memory exercise
  • other exercises that can be found in books on orienteering.

Compasses should be introduced early, with a prime use of orienting a map. Taking and using bearings are better covered later, possibly when trips are planned that may require such navigation.


One particular issue in the area of bushcraft with school students is that there is a great variety of ways of approaching the bush. Some students are used to camping based around the back of the car, with tents the size of buses and bonfires ablaze 24 hours a day, so ideas of quiet conservation are hard to understand. Students are given greatly conflicting advice. One helpful elder will say that it’s essential to dig a trench around a tent, a new-fashioned friend will describe a state-of-the art tent and say anyone would be insane trying to sleep out in anything less. As a leader of expeditions, a teacher must communicate quite clearly what is expected in terms of tents, fire, food, gear and so on, be able to give good explanations for any of the suggestions given, and be able to listen carefully to discussions from students as to their reasons for any belief. Ideas of conservation and safety must be foremost when discussing bushcraft. A brief list of issues that need to be discussed include: litter, damage of the environment, noise, fire behaviour, site selection, and hygiene. The great outdoors is a wonderful classroom— use it to do some teaching.

Other issues

Students should be getting a great deal from any expedition. Particular assets are learning to appreciate and get along with others in a group, and leadership. Leaders needs to be very aware of their own behaviour, in terms of setting appropriate examples for any component of a trip. Some students will display strength of character and a sense of enquiry; they should be encouraged to take on leadership roles, or to help in particular ways. It is important to nurture any talent or special abilities in the field.


A school that runs any kind of outdoor program should have some resources students can use to plan and prepare. Books on bushwalking and ski touring in general, this book, lists of walks and so forth are all invaluable. Books on destinations further afield should inspire further exploration. Subscriptions to magazines such as Wild and Australian Geographic will help maintain the profile of these pursuits. Photographs and stories make excellent additions to school magazines and websites.