What to take

When you’re on a multi-day walk, you have to carry everything with you - these days on your back - and a common cause of suffering and lack of enjoyment is simply that people are carrying too much. So, the basic rule is: accustom yourself to modest needs, and travel light. If in doubt, leave it out.

What you need will of course depend on the sort of place you are going to: you need a lot of provisions if you’re going somewhere where there are few shops; you need warm clothing for a cold climate, protection from the sun for a hot one.

General principles:

  1. clothing:
    • take two of everything, one to wear whilst walking and wash overnight, one to change into in the evening; if something falls to bits en route, you have a substitute
    • use modern wickable and breathable fabrics (so-called ‘technical clothing’), rather than traditional fabrics such as wool or cotton; though no material is perfect (ignore manufacturers’ claims), and modern materials are more expensive, they dry more quickly and consequently make you feel more comfortable
    • use the layer principle - base (underclothes), middle (shirt/trousers), waterproof shell (coat) - taking layers off as it gets warmer, and putting them on as it gets cooler
    • wear two pairs of socks for walking: an inner and a thicker outer
    • boots or trainers is a perennial source of dispute: trainers are ok for dry conditions but soon let in water; modern boots are not significantly heavier and often not that much more expensive. Personally, I take both: boots to walk in, trainers for evening use
  2. paper products, such as books/maps: these are heavy, and the glossier they are, the heavier they are, so take as few as possible. Good maps are essential for most walks, but on longer walks buy as you go along wherever possible and post used ones home at intervals. General guidebooks are mainly aimed at motorists and are big and full of glossy photos that attract browsers in shops but serve no useful purpose en route: make notes to take with you, and leave the books at home.
  3. to camp or not to camp: depends of course on personal preference and the availability of alternatives. In the wilderness you have no choice, but in most places there are enough hotels, guesthouses, private accommodation, hostels, refuges, etc to make camping unnecessary. Camping adds significantly to the weight, and washing yourself and your clothes is more problematic (no hot water) (also, various insects will want to share your sleeping quarters). For most hostel/refuge type accommodation, you will need a sleeping bag and towel.

Here’s my list for a multi-day/week walk for an average temperate climate:

Total packed weight therefore, ca 5kg (7 with sleeping-bag) which, together with the weight of your sack, should just squeeze into airline hand-baggage. To this must be added when walking any food and drink; 1 litre of water weighs ca 1kg but is essential in hot weather.

If camping, add tent, sleeping-mat, cooker and cooking utensils, probably ca 4kg, i.e. almost doubling the weight.

Rucksack: use a size big enough to carry all this plus some extra for food/drink, jacket when not worn, and etcs. No rucksack is fully waterproof, so I use a rucksack liner and pack everything into polythene/carrier bags within this liner - there is nothing worse than arriving at your destination after a wet day and finding your change of clothes is sodden. Side pockets are useful, but beware of the rain, for example, make sure your camera is well-protected if in a side-pocket. When packing a rucksack, try and put heavy items next to your back and near the top, so the weight pushes you forward instead of pulling you back.

When buying clothes and rucksack, go to a reputable outdoor shop and take your time and their advice. Make sure things fit properly. With boots and rucksack, if there are stairs in the shop, walk up and down them a couple of times as a rough test for going up and down hill. With a rucksack, ideally, take everything you want to put in it with you to the shop, so you are sure it will all fit as required.

May 16, 2005