Irrespective of the experience of a bushwalking group, to WALKSAFE means responsibility must be taken by one or more members of the group to ensure that all aspects of planning and organizing a trip are covered. In large and particularly inexperienced groups it is also preferable that responsibility for navigation and other decisions in the field is taken by an experienced individual. The leader and ideally others in the group should be aware of the skills and any special needs of the members of the group with respect to bushwalking. This includes individuals' experience, knowledge, ability, fitness and, more particularly, medical problems such as asthma and associated treatment or medication required.
Bushwalking clubs are an excellent source of experienced leaders and can also offer trip suggestions, equipment hire and advice, as well as potential walking companions.
Whilst small parties are easier to manage and have less impact on the environment, a minimum of four is recommended for safety. In an emergency requiring external assistance, one member can care for the injured person whilst two walk out safely to raise the alarm. Any reduction in number compromises safety and should only be undertaken when the level of experience and the potential hazards of the trip are taken into consideration. Clearly, a day walk in a popular, well tracked or open area such as the Mornington Peninsula does not carry the same risks as an extended walk and overnight camp in the Wongungarra wilderness.
When planning walks with children allow for a slower walking pace, more frequent and longer rest times, higher water consumption and the inevitable tendency of children to either run ahead or fall behind the adult party.
Preferably plan short walks with as much variety as possible that will hold their interest and will remain easily and enjoyably within their physical capabilities.
As a rule of thumb, children between the ages of 5 and 15 can only comfortably walk as many kilometres per day as their age. Less in difficult terrain or poor conditions. Children under 7 should not be relied upon to carry a pack or equipment. Very young children can enjoy being piggy backed in special child carriers on short bushwalks if the terrain is not rugged. However, be aware of the potential danger from overhanging branches and take extra care to protect the immobile child from the sun and the cold. Remember that whilst you may be uncomfortably hot with exertion, the child could be quite cold, particularly if there is a wind.
Each member of the group must know what personal clothing and equipment is appropriate for the proposed walk.
A detailed checklist is very useful for inexperienced walkers or those who pack in a hurry. For walks extending over more than one day considerably more equipment is required but pack weights can be minimized by organizing to share equipment and food. Organize efficient sharing of transport, and after a walk ensure that all vehicles are mobile before leaving. For safety, remember to break a long journey, particularly on the way home after a strenuous walk. Many bushwalking clubs offer cheap public liability and personal accident insurance with membership. Currently all affiliate member clubs of Bushwalking Victoria cover their members for public liability. Also, since bushwalking activities generally involve travelling a considerable distance from your home, ambulance insurance is worth serious consideration if you are not already covered.