Packing your pack is something every long distance walker has to consider. As the reality of having to put one foot in front of the other looms, I’ve been turning my thoughts to my own packing. How much stuff will I need to take on my walk? After all, it’s not as if I’m going to have a back-up van travelling in my wake. What I take, I will need to carry, and I will have to keep it to the essentials.
Turning to the internet, there are a number of good sources of advice for packing your pack. A blog on the Ramblers website for example provides a useful photo. It complements this with a long list which it’s possible to get a bit lost in. Equally, other sites provide long lists of things to take, with this one taking the prize by offering 36 (count them) great tips for keeping packing simple.
Whilst not disagreeing with any of the items these sites suggest, I thought it would be helpful to categorise them and put them into the context of my walk. Although experience may prove otherwise, I’m working on a number of assumptions. I’m not going abroad (by definition), so no passport, plug converters, or indeed plugs. I’m also never going to be that far from civilisation, so if I run out of anything I should be able to pick some up on the way. Also, no need for distress flares. Finally, no camping, so that means a lot of stuff can stay in the garage. On this trip, I’m strictly an AirBnB or hotel man.
I’ve grouped my conclusions under five headings, so here goes …
Going with layers seems to be the consensus here. After that, it’s a matter of whether you’re prepared to wash things out as you go and how smelly you’re prepared to get. A classic baselayer T-shirt (possibly with long sleeves), followed by a fleece or equivalent and a waterproof coat looks like a winning combo. The coat can be foldable (a pack-a-mac if you’re being optimistic about the weather) or, if you’re feeling nifty, something like a padded jacket whose sleeves come off to, hey presto, form a gilet (if you want to look a complete prat).
As for trousers, on the same two-for-the-price-of-one basis, I’m strictly a zip-off legs man. These need to be light and quick drying, because whatever I may wish, I’m going to get wet at some point. If feeling pessimistic about the weather and little option but to complete a stage, waterproof over-trousers might be an option too.
Socks are the smallest, but probably most import item of clothing on the trip. The trick here is to balance comfort with sweat. Cushioned soles are great, or wearing two pairs at once and swapping them around can work too. There are advocates for merino wool out there too, which are great on the old anti-bacterial front and a good idea if you’re not travelling solo. Besides, you might be outside all day, but at some point you’ll be sharing a room with your socks, which will mean clothes washing will suddenly stop becoming a mere option.
Then there’s footwear. Everyone will have their favourite boots, and pointers here would probably be its own blog. What is necessary, is a change of footwear for the end of the day. Give your feet a break. They’ve earned it.
Finally, I favour a hat. The top of my bald pate has enough scar tissue on it already and I favour a baseball hat (it’s my ears that are the problem), but each to their own. I even have any own customised, logoised hat. Gloves might also be a good idea. Finally, no jeans. They’re a nightmare to get dry. Oh! And don’t forget nightwear (and evening wear) – something to put on after a shower!
Maps are a good idea. I’m an OS guy, but they can be a bugger in the wind. For this reason I photocopy my route and have handy A4 pages to work from. The main map stays in my pack. It’s useful for getting an overview at the start of the day and to stare at zombie-like at the end. When I get lost (and I will, trust me), I rely on instinct and Google Maps on my phone. Sure, there are fancy GPS trackers for walkers, but personally I don’t see the need.
In fact, iPhones (other clever little mini-computers are available) also have a compass and can be used to take notes and/or voice memos too. I will also be using mine for recording podcasts and YouTube videos. I’ve heard you can even make telephone calls on them. Amazing. On this subject, pack a powerpack for a power punch if needed. And don’t forget the charger.
Back on phones, they also have amazing cameras of course, but this is definitely an area where personal preference rules. An DSLR is perfect, but can be clumbersome and heavy. It depends if you see it as a burden or a necessity. I veer towards the latter camp. A middle ground is a bridge camera, which give better photos than an iPhone, but can sometimes fit into a pocket. It’s worth considering.
Given my sleeping arrangements, I’m assuming I’ll have wifi at least twice a day. Besides, I’ll need it to keep this website updated, and I refuse to take out a new data contract on my phone. For this reason (the website one, not my meanness), I’ll probably take an iPad too, but forgo taking a notebook computer. I also have a nifty gizmo for plugging the memory card into the iPad too, so that means better Instagram pics. Cheaper options are available, but I’ve been stung in the past by the allure of cheap imports from the East, if you catch my drift.
Old School Packing
I’ll have a lot to do once I get to my room, but a book to switch my mind off will be a necessity for me. If nothing else, it stops mindless internet wandering. Of course, I could read via a Kindle app, but that’s cheating isn’t it? I’m a writer, and I still favour the smell and feel of a book.
I’m a big fan of dry bags which come in various sizes and colours. For a borderline obsessive-compulsive like me, they make packing easier (no air taking up space) and provide reassurance that my technology is protected. Most of all, they provide the opportunity to compartmentalise. Knowing T-shirts and socks are in the red bag and toiletries are in the blue bag saves a lot of scrabbling around in the rucksack. You can also use them for dirty washing (or washing you can’t face), although a supply of plastic bags is an alternative. Handy for all sorts of stuff, and they take no weight.
I like the tip on this website to take a small Thermos. Most rooms have a kettle and sachets of coffee and teabags and even milk. You’ve paid for them, use them. Thanks too to this website for this simple but effective idea: a packing list. Use this as a checklist at the start of the day and also at the end, to make sure you didn’t get it wrong at the start. There’s nothing worse than panicking you didn’t pack something (my borderline obsessive-compulsive again).
If you are going to wash clothes out, don’t forget the travel wash. Take some anyway (decant it first into something handy), nothing wrong with good intentions. Going back to hotels and their giveaways though … ever wondered what that bodywash stuff is for?
Health and Safety – and sanity
The most basic item here, and number one on the packing list, is a water bottle. As the plastic police get more powerful, it’s becoming harder for places like coffee shops to refuse to fill a bottle. There are also handy taps dotted along towpaths. You can use a bladder, but who wants to drink out of a bladder. If you do, then good for you.
Accompanying water is snacks. Walking takes energy, and if you’re lacking it, each step will feel twice as heavy. Pack some energy bars and whatever else takes your fancy. Me, I’m a sucker for these.
Years of staying in hotel rooms for work have taught me that ear plugs and an eye mask take no weight or space but can be a lifesaver. I’ll probably sleep like a sloth on my walk, but why take any chances? A travel clock might be an idea if you want to charge your phone overnight.
Then there’s the obvious, but worth mentioning. A first aid kit, including medications (for the runs, for headaches, for hayfever and so on), but critically plasters, especially blister plasters. Antiseptic gels or wipes may also help prevent the need for at least one of those medications. A few packs of travel tissues secreted around your bag are also a good idea – you never know when you might get caught short.
Enough of the toilet, and on to toiletries. Keep it simple. Check out the travel section of your local Boots or Superdrug. A good deodorant is a necessity, maybe one of those ones offering 48 hour protection, although why anyone should need 48 hours of protection is beyond me. A small camping towel is probably also worth taking. Again, they’re light, and useful if you didn’t fancy the one in that dodgy café you went into to use the loo (back to bodily functions, sorry!).
Other old school items probably worth having might include a penknife (good for slicing apples as well as getting things out of horse’s hooves) and a torch or headlamp (if you don’t mind looking like an apprentice miner). A padlock probably makes sense, but go for a combination one. A repair kit with some sewing stuff and safety pins is also recommended.
One final thought. Something about your person that says who you are and an emergency contact number is a good idea if you’re on your own. There’s nothing worse than lying slumped against a tree in the middle of nowhere, when someone finds you and doesn’t know what to do next.
And finally …
Well, we haven’t discussed the rucksack itself. Like the boots though, that’s probably worth a blog on its own. For now this recent article may help. As might this one too from Go Outdoors: Finally, this guide from Which? gives some basic ground rules.
This website offers the obvious thought of checking what you don’t use when you get back from a trip and to ask yourself what might have been useful. Obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it.
And finally … this website suggests taking the following five things, and seems to be a good note to end this blog on:
- Open heart
Keep it diagonal!
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