[Index of Walks]
The list of items carried on these walks has varied slightly from time to time, with some new items added, such as a mobile phone, GPS and battery charger. Some items have also been removed, such as a YHA sheet sleeping bag, as this is now included in the bed cost (in England and Wales, at least). This list for the 2007 walk and is fairly typical of that for recent walks. The main essence has been to cut down on as much weight as possible without missing out on any essentials. By washing items of clothing along the way, a considerable amount of weight can be saved, although there is the constant problem of getting things dry overnight. Even though I have cut clothing down to a minimum, I have often found that there one or two items that were never used throughout a walk and which I could have safely left behind.
On one of my earlier walks I managed to achieve a rucksack weight (without food and water) of about 15 lbs. However, as time has gone on, I have replaced many of the items (generally with better quality ones), and the replacements nearly always seem to weigh more than the previous ones. I now take a FinePix S7000 digital camera, which is fairly heavy compared to many compact digital cameras instead of the compact 35 mm camera that I took in my early walks. In addition I carry a battery charger plus spare batteries, which all add to the weight. I now have a better quality rucksack which weighs a pound more than my previous one, and I have been unable to find any trainers as light as some very cheap ones I bought for my early walks. With the addition of modern devices such as a mobile phone and a GPS, this has increased the weight still further - not an ideal situation, but there is always a balance to be struck between having things that could be useful and paying the penalty of carrying the extra load. My latest kit weighs about 22 lbs. plus food and water of perhaps 5 or 6 lbs. at the start of the day. It takes a few days to get used to carrying this weight and it does put extra strain on the feet, legs and shoulders, but it is manageable. It is certainly preferable to packs of around double this weight that many people carry, especially if they are camping, although I have known campers who are travelling very light and carry no more weight than me.
When selecting what clothes, trainers or other items to take, weight is always a major consideration and is generally the deciding factor. With items for washing, toothpaste etc. I generally try to gauge how much I will need and take part used containers with just enough to last out the walk, although I haven't gone as far as sawing the handle off my toothbrush, as some people have been known to do!
Normal walking wear consists of shorts, polo shirt and boots with one thick and one thin pair of socks. Contents of the rucksack were packed in heavy-duty plastic rucksack liner to keep out the rain, although it can sometimes be awkward finding things when they are nearly all packed together in one bag. This can be helped by packing things that logically go together in clear polythene bags inside the rucksack liner, which gives extra protection against the wet as well as making things easier to find.
There are a few items on this list that are not strictly essential, such as the binoculars and camera equipment. However, I could not undertake a walk without a camera to bring back memories in years to come, and the binoculars gave added interest along the way. A mobile phone is of limited use on many walks, as reception in many remote places is non-existent, but it can be useful sometimes. Another recent addition, a GPS, is somewhat of an overkill on some well signposted walks, such as Offa's Dyke Path and the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, but could be extremely useful in more remote areas or in times of bad visibility. Several items have never been used over the whole series of walks, but are, nevertheless, still carried for safety reasons, whereas the use of others like sun tan lotion depends very much on the weather conditions. The problem is that it is not always easy to buy such things when they are needed, so it is best to take a small quantity just in case. I have taken insect repellent and sting relief on some walks, particularly the Southern Upland Way, as midges can be a big problem in Scotland, whereas I had never taken them on any previous walk and can only remember one or two occasions when I would have found them useful. However, as my Southern Upland Way walk was in early June, the midges were not much of a problem and I never actually used either the insect repellent or the sting relief.
For a walk which involves accommodation in either B&Bs or Youth Hostels, I find that a rucksack of about 65 litres is ideal. The main requirement is that it should have a broad, well padded waist strap and fit comfortably on the back. Most of the weight is taken by the waist and lower part of the back, with the shoulders taking very little load. Apart from the ancient external framed rucksack I used on my first long distance walk, I have not found a great deal of difference between the various rucksacks I have used. I had very good service from a cheap one that I bought for about £23 in 1992, and this had the advantage of being very lightweight. One thing that I would recommend, is to use a rucksack with as many pockets and compartments as possible, as this makes finding things much easier. I always think it is best to have side pockets for water bottles, as they are easier to access and the bottles are less likely to leak if they are kept upright. If they do leak, then they are less likely to wet other things than if they were in the main compartment of the rucksack.
The one thing that modern rucksack design has failed very badly to address, is the sweaty back problem. Because rucksacks are designed to nestle snugly into the back, there is no room for air circulation, which inevitably leads to a soaking wet back, especially when climbing uphill in warm weather. The old fashioned, external frame rucksacks, for all their other faults, at least kept a gap between the rucksack and the back to allow air circulation. There have been various attempts at using mesh to achieve some sort of ventilation, but I have not found this to work to any significant degree. The net result is that the rucksack gets impregnated with sweat where it is in contact with the back and, even if you start off the day with a clean shirt, it very quickly gets contaminated with stale sweat and starts to smell. I wish someone could come up with an answer to this problem, but I have not, as yet, seen one.
In general, you cannot expect a rucksack to be totally watertight, and the only fairly sure way of keeping things dry in prolonged rain, is to use a rucksack liner. For further protection, a waterproof cover can be used, although I have not generally found this necessary. However, in prolonged periods of rain, the more layers of protection the better.
Most of the map cases on the market are next to useless in the wet, as they use Velcro as a fastener at the bottom, and this wicks up the water to the map inside, which is resting on the Velcro. They also tend to be made of hard plastic, which cracks very easily, particularly in cold weather. On my earlier walks, I often found that a new map case would start cracking after about a week, and I used to take a roll of insulating tape to make running repairs as I went along. A few years ago I bought an Ortlieb map holder for about £12, about three times the price of the others. The closure is at the top where the plastic folds over a couple of times before being held by Velcro. This provides an extremely good watertight seal, and has the advantage that the Velcro is not forever trying to reseal itself whilst a map section is being changed, as the Velcro only comes into contact once the flap has been folded over. The plastic is also much softer to avoid cracking, and I have found that the high price of this product is more than compensated for by the much longer service that it gives, and the better protection afforded to expensive maps and guide books. The only drawback I have found, is that the plastic discolours with age, and there are some rather poor clips for attaching the neck straps, which are also rather short. However, I recently replaced my map holder with a newer model and find that the clips have now been improved so that they are more secure and don't come adrift as easily.
I have never gone in for all the latest, expensive clothing, being of the opinion that it is possible to spend a lot of money for very little extra benefit. I am sure that some of these expensive items of clothing perform very well, but most of the time I hope not to need high levels of waterproofing, wind-proofing and thermal insulation. Most of the time I walk in shorts and a polo shirt, and I use a fleece and/or light waterproofs to give extra protection in bad weather. The heat generated by brisk walking is generally enough to keep me warm in the summertime, even in fairly inclement weather.
There are a few practical considerations when it comes to choosing suitable walking shirts. One factor, as with everything, is light weight. Another is that they are best made from a material that is easy to wash and dry along the way. I choose polo shirts rather than T-shirts because I tend to walk most of the time with a map case and camera over my shoulder, and a collar stops the straps from rubbing against my neck and making it sore. A breast pocket is also useful for carrying small items that need to be easily accessed. Unfortunately, most British polo shirts do not have breast pockets, but American ones generally do. These pockets appear, at first, to be the ideal place to put reading glasses, but I have found that, after a while, they can cause excessive rubbing and give rise to the very painful 'joggers nipple', so they are not very suitable for this purpose, other than for short periods of time.
When walking, I wear a pair of thick socks over a pair of thin socks. This means that the thick socks, which take a lot of drying, don't have to be washed as often. Some socks may have a rather thick seam by the toes. This can rub and cause blisters on top of the toes, so it is worth sorting out socks which do not have a much of a seam to minimise this problem.
It is useful to wear shorts which have a few pockets in them, especially if one or two of them have zips. It is easy to lose things from pockets when scrambling up and down steep places, so it is best if there is somewhere to keep things secure. However, I tend to find that it is best not to carry too much in pockets, in general, as they can cause discomfort on a long walk, and the constant rubbing can wear through the pockets. For this reason, I tend to empty my pockets of loose change etc. and put it all into my rucksack, unless I know I will be needing it very soon.
It is difficult to decide just how many things to take when it comes to safety and security. I have met some people who could survive an Arctic winter with all the things that they carry, resulting in excessive additional weight. There always has to be a compromise, and everyone has a different idea what this should be, from those who throw all caution to the wind and carry virtually nothing for an emergency, to those who try to cater for every eventuality. Personally, I try to take a middle line and include quite a few things that do not weigh very much, but leave behind those that do. Things such as a compass, whistle, minor first aid items, mini torch etc. do not weigh much and should be considered as essential, whereas a survival bag weighs a little more, and a sleeping bag even more. My view is that, should I become stranded somewhere, I can resort to putting on all the spare clothing that I am carrying to keep warm, and use my survival bag to keep dry. So far, I have never had a problem, but it is unwise to take this for granted.
It would be nice to think, in the age of the mobile phone, that many of the safety issues have been solved, as help is but a phone call away. However, life is never as simple as that, because the areas most generally traversed on long distance walks are just the places where there is least likely to be any reception, except for a number of hilltops with line-of-sight to a distant mast. Another potential problem is that batteries can become discharged much more quickly than normal, as phones push up their power output to maximum in an attempt to establish contact with the network when reception is poor, and there may not be much battery charge left near the end of the day, even if there is some reception. It looks as if we will have to wait a while until the new generation GPS receivers are developed allowing distress calls to be transmitted and picked up by a satellite network. This will give much more peace of mind, especially to lone walkers in remote areas, or in bad weather conditions.
I received a Garmin eTrex GPS as a present in December 2001 and now take it with me as a standard part of my walking equipment. The beauty of a GPS is that it can give an extremely accurate grid reference no matter what the weather conditions so, if you should stray off the route, there can be no doubt of exactly where you are. This is different from the map and compass technique, which requires some identifiable landmark to fix a position. The GPS can give a whole host of other information such as speed, walking direction, distance travelled etc., and can be pre-programmed with a series of points along a route so that it is just a matter of following a pointer on the unit to find the way. It took me some time before I found out how to enter grid references on my GPS, as the instruction booklet was rather poor, but eventually I learned how to do so and find it useful on some occasions. However, entering enough grid references to cover a whole walk is a very tedious process, so I have never yet done so, relying instead on entering one or two at times when I need them. Most of the time, it is sufficient to obtain an accurate grid reference that can used to pinpoint ones position on the map, and only rarely is it necessary to input a waymark for guidance.
For anyone having the same difficulty as I did in setting a waymark on the Garmin eTrex, it is done as follows:
This all seems rather slow and tedious at first, but with a practice it gets easier, though to input enough waypoints to cover a whole walk could take quite a long time.
One limitation I have found when inputting a grid reference to use as a waymark, is that it is not always very useful if it is too far away. It is quite easy to drift a little off-course to one side or the other whilst still seeming to be walking more or less in the direction indicated, but this can result in straying far enough from the route to end up on the wrong side of a wall, fence, stream etc. Although the arrow will still point towards the distant waymark, there may then be obstacles preventing walking in the direction indicated. Inputting a waypoint that is not too far away means that any deviation from the route is much more obvious, and early corrections can be made without too much backtracking.
There are a few other limitations with a GPS, one of which is that it doesn't work very well when the is not a clear view of the sky, such as when walking through woods, when it may be necessary to find a clearing in order to get a proper fix. The other limitation is that it can be fairly heavy on battery usage if left switched on continuously. Some are better than others in this respect and, with current units, battery life is between about 6 hours and 24 hours, depending on the model. Mine has over 20 hours of battery life, but I tend to now only switch it on when I need it to obtain a grid reference, rather than leave it on all the time as I did whilst finding out how it worked. Although I have now taken my GPS on a few of long distance walks, I find I only have to use it to a limited extent, and generally rely on normal map reading techniques for most of the way. However, there are some areas and some walks where it is far more useful than others.
I do not consider a GPS to be an essential piece of equipment on a long walk, as the tried and tested map and compass have been good enough to help thousands of walkers find their way. However, a GPS is a very handy luxury item, which takes some of the hard work out of navigation, though it is not a complete panacea to all navigational problems.
Equipment List 2007
|65 Litre Rucksack||1450||FinePix Camera and Case||860|
|Fleece||585||2 x Polo shirt||420|
|Trousers for evening||385||Jumper||400|
|Nightwear (T shirt + shorts)||295||3 x Pair thin socks + sports socks||150|
|3 x Pairs briefs||145||2 x Pair thick socks||170|
|Sports towel + case||205||3 x Hankies||45|
|Mobile phone & charger||190||GPS||160|
|Battery charger||230||Spare batteries||120|
|2 x Guidebook||525||Map case||60|
|Survival bag||275||Glasses holder||60|
|Plastic cup||45||Sandwich box (empty)||105|
|2 x 1 L Water bottles (empty)||50||Knife, fork + spoon set||90|
|Washing powder||220||Leather waterproofer||90||Wallet||45||Cheque book + credit cards||70|
|2 x Notebook + pens||120||Toothbrush + toothpaste||65|
|Shower gel||120||Disposable razors||15|
|Mini deodorant spray||30||Pills||25|
|Sewing kit||35||Super glue||5|
|Compeed blister treatment||20||Paracetamol||5|
|Sun lotion||65||Sit mat||25|
Total Weight - approximately 10 Kg (22 lbs) without water or provisions, increasing to about 13 Kg (28.5 lbs) with water and packed lunch. The weight decreases as the walk progresses because consumable items get used up. The guidebook for the first half of the walk can also be posted back home after the halfway point.
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