Kit and Wisdom

29th May 2018

Rucksack: The reviews for the super-duper new rucksack I’ve been coveting show it weighs too much for me to consider buying it. Over 5lbs. So I got my 60 litre pack out, and realised that I’ve shrunk since I last used it. With all the adjustments done I’m once again reminded why I bought it. That’s a lot of money saved 🙂

Shoes: Tealmark (worn for Phase 1 and Phase 3) are showing signs of wear. Not on the sole, but along the outside toe edge. Although I like the comfort of Inov8 shoes I find the uppers fail at this point faster than other brands I’ve tried. Amethyst are coming with me on Phase 4. I was hoping the two pairs would last for the whole trip, but I’m only a third of the way there, so it will be interesting to see how soon I resort to gaffer tape.

Route: Phase 4 runs from Rugeley through the first half of the Pennine Way, and I’ve struggled to find accommodation every 10 miles. I’ve replanned with longer days, moved a couple of planned rest days out of the schedule and now have a plan that should work.

Body and mind: Physical recovery is taking much longer than I’d hoped, but the randomness of the twinges and niggles doesn’t indicate actual injury, so I’m hoping the next few days will enable whatever needs to be rebuilt to be completed. As for what my brain is telling me, I have one reply, “I want to do this, and I’m going to enjoy it, so there!”

In another example of people-loveliness, two men gave me donations for PCRF on Sunday.

25th May 2018

Thoughts after Phase 3

Kit

I own several rucksacks! Rather than spend money on yet another I chose to use the 50 litre rucksack for Phases 2 and 3. The body is slightly longer than I need so I often found myself tightening the straps as tightly as they would go to keep the weight on my hips. The rucksack has been packed and unpacked every day so far, and is now looking quite battered. There are tears to the stitching on the draw-cord section at the top, and the rain cover has some rips caused by overhanging twigs/branches/thorns (probably when I was fighting my way through the scenery to access the ‘footpaths’.) The pack/frame attachments have almost worn through. All of which means I’m expecting imminent failure, so I won’t be using it for Phase 4. I still have my 60 litre pack that I used on the Coast to Coast, but wonder about the effect of the additional weight. Technology has moved on and I tried a modern pack today that felt exceptionally comfortable, but had a price tag to match. More thought required.

I did, however, buy a replacement rain cover today.

26th April 2018

Thoughts after Phase 2

Safety and Risk

A few people have asked me whether I am or feel safe when I’m out on my own. My answer is that usually I do. I listen to the bell in my head, and have removed myself from two situations where I felt uneasy, without incident.

These are the risks that I’ve thought about:

1. Accident. One reason why I am so careful about foot placement, map reading and use of poles is that I’m aware that it’s easy to trip or fall and spoil the whole trip. It’s one reason why I chose to stay slightly inland of the SWCP during mist and strong winds.

2. Injury. I’m expecting to have to live with the minor twinges, aches and pains, blisters etc that go with continuous exercise, and it’s also the reason for the conservative rest periods between each phase. Recovery is as important as work while building strength.

3. Getting lost. I’m not sure why so many people tell me that map-reading is important, as if it’s new information to me. I’m not the best map-reader in the world, but I think I’m reasonably competent; my mistakes are usually the result of inattention and I don’t think I’ve actually got lost yet. I usually have a close idea of which direction I’m travelling in and where I am. I know how to use a compass and carry a full set of marked OS maps, have OS mapping on my phone, google maps on my phone, and turn on satellite tracking when I’m going off-road so that my family can see where I am. I also phone them every time I arrive at my destination so they don’t need to worry. (And I am walking in Great Britain, not the Sahara Desert.)

4. The mad axe man. There’s always the uncontrollable unknown, but generally I feel safer out on the footpaths and in the countryside than I do on the streets of major towns. I also hope that if anyone is out and about with mal-intent that they are more likely to find a suitable victim in more populated areas. Without exception, everyone I’ve met so far has been thoroughly decent and nice, and in my experience we usually meet the kind of people we expect to meet.

Accommodation. I’d aimed to use a number of Camping and Caravan Club Certificated Sites for overnight stops with my little tent. It dawned on me gradually that, even though we’ve stayed on these sites before, they are far more basic than I had expected and often don’t have flat or even ground for camping. Although they are supposed to be for the exclusive use of CCC members, this was clearly not the case. The biggest issues were i) finding electricity to recharge the phone and battery pack, and ii) getting wet kit dry. I’d love to know how other backpackers manage.

Best campsite. The ‘adult only’ commercial site at Cheddar Bridge for the flat mown grass, clean and tidy facilities, genuinely hot showers, well-stocked shop and friendly proprietors.

Best B&B. A tie between the The Old Vicarage at Barnstaple (definitely best value, best breakfast and excellent local knowledge of the condition of footpaths and off-road routes) and Exmoor House in Wheddon Cross (a bath – bliss). Both clean, modern, friendly, with proprieters who understood this customer’s needs.

Food. I carried dried food as a backup and ate it all on the last night so that I didn’t have to carry it the next day. I can’t say I enjoyed any of it but it added calories which were needed. Fuelling my efforts was one of the hardest things to get right, but as long as I could manage one meal a day that included protein then I was fine (albeit I got pretty tired of eating plastic-wrapped pasties).

When I couldn’t get ‘proper food’ the walking became much harder. Lots of words have been written about carbohydrate loading to the extent that it gets out of proportion. Carb-only sends me to sleep; it’s OK for when I’ve already reached the point of shaking and fuzzy-headedness, but I try not to get to that point. Phase 3 will pay more attention to food sources, especially as many pubs shown on the maps are now closed, or have very limited opening times. Small villages typically have no shops of any sort, so food can be hard to come by.

Best Food. The genuine Cornish Pasty at Geevor tin mine, the salmon and spinach quiche at The Pines Cafe,  and the two home-cooked meals at Brayford and Minehead.

Mapping. OS Mapping on the phone is generally pretty good. On two occasions it showed me in the wrong location, but very obviously so, otherwise was very accurate. I used it to double check my own map reading when I got tired. I still prefer to use the compass and paper maps but suspect a full GPS system could replace these very easily – as long as you don’t mind carrying the weight of the device and spare batteries. Google route finding on the phone can be helpful but doesn’t normally recognise footpaths.

Mileage. The estimates used for route planning were based on Google maps and Guide Book estimates. At the end of each day I plotted my actual route in detail using a combination of Google and OSM from the excellent ‘Fetch’ website at https://www.fetcheveryone.com.  The greater ‘granularity’ increases the mileage by about 10%.

Injuries. I acquired my first injuries of the trip in the last few days of Phase 2. It was my own fault for getting blase about foot-care and didn’t apply my usual vaseline rub before sleeping. This led to my skin hardening up over a hot-spot, and splitting on one foot. The next day the split gained a blister on top and I walked the last day with a Compeed over the blister and strapping holding the split edges together. I’m hoping the week off between Phases 2 and 3 will allow time for healing. Apart from a few twinges and aches I’m fine. Not bad for almost 280 miles.

Speed. Google works on an estimate of 3 miles an hour. If you can walk at that speed over roads and footpaths (South West Coast Path anyone?) while carrying your home on your back, then good for you. I like to stop to take photographs, check my navigation, admire the view, readjust my pack, eat and drink, and know that I can do the same thing again tomorrow and the day after that. Some people may call that slow but “I work with the body I have.”

Pack Weight. 9.3kg on Phase 2 was quite manageable. Some weight savings are not worth it. Likewise some additional items are not worth carrying. In my case I didn’t use the dried food and stove, but carried them for over one hundred miles. It’s a personal choice, but for Phase 3 I think I’ll be adding the footprint for my tent, and replacing the lightweight OEX foam mat with my self-inflating bed roll. I may change back when the weather gets warmer. That gives me slightly more weight, but uses less space. I’m debating whether to take the stove because there should be more opportunities to buy food and drink along the Welsh Border than in Somerset. I took a couple of extra pairs of socks and was glad I did.

10th November 2017

My list for Phase 1 was almost irrelevant because Mr and I camped together in our smaller tent (Little Blue) with the dog. Definitely not an ultralight trip! Along with the dog crate we took all sorts in the car to make life more comfortable, including a microwave, an electric chiller and a fan heater. (OK, I actually forgot to pack the fan heater so we bought another one and that got rid of the condensation problem of two people plus a dog in a small tent in the rain and mist). We booked camping with electric hook-up and stayed reasonably comfortable. There was kit we didn’t use so I’ve been whittling down my ideas of what is necessary, as opposed to desirable for Phase 2.

Updating the list

I’ve been removing ‘stuff’ from the pile that came with me to Land’s End. It’s amazing how little we really need, and I’m guessing I could take even less if I really tried. I’ll be using the walking poles and wearing the Tilley hat, buff and trainers – for the record these are also Inov8s again.

For LEJOG I have two identical pairs of Inov8 Roclite 280 Women’s Trail Running Shoes. It’s my habit to name my shoes as it’s easier to do that than remember all the technical details. The pair called Tealmark came with me on Phase 1, and the pair called Amethyst are being worn in right now ready for Phase 2. (Tealmark are still drying after their trip through the washing machine to get rid of the slurry smell.) When I wear trail shoes I don’t get blisters or hot spots, and my feet and ankles are more comfortable than in boots (am I the only person who feels claustrophobic in ski-boots?). I wear at least one size larger than normal and always have toe-wiggle room even after my feet have spread. It works for me.

In 40 litre rucksack
Tent, sleeping bag (not as cosy as my old bag, I didn’t realise how lucky I’d been with that one) and sleeping mat – the OEX mat has excellent insulation. I approve.
One spare set of day clothes in a drybag stuff sack in lieu of a pillow.
One dry set of thermals to wear at night (includes waterproof socks, fleece hat and gloves), also in drybag stuff sack.
Spare socks, undies in small drybag.
Down jacket in stuffsack pocket.
(Each stuff sack has a thin poly bag to separate wet/dirty clothes where necessary. Swap contents at night – this system worked well on Phase 1. I always had dry clothes to wear at night and my slurried socks didn’t contaminate everything else)
Waterproofs (in stuff sack)
First aid kit, now reduced to Ventolin, Vaseline, ibuprofen gel, paracetamol and blister plasters, crepe bandage, scissors and safety pins. Antiseptic hand cleaner.
Wash kit now reduced to antibac wash liquid (use as shampoo and for washing clothes), deodorant, toothpaste and brush, razor, hairbrush and suncream. Towel. Spare guy rope and two clothes pegs (for the day when I decide to hang my socks from my pack to dry as I walk).
Foil blanket.

In waist pack
Phone and charger, money, maps, torch, whistle, pen-knife, log-book and notebook. Water.

What have I forgotten?

14th October 2017

Equipment thoughts while packing:

Well I said I wouldn’t be swapping my kit for ultra-lightweight, but… when I packed the bare minimum that I thought I would need, it was more than I was willing to carry.

Shelter:
A bivvy bag and tarp is the current trend among ultra-lightweight weekenders, but I want something a bit more substantial if I’m going to be living in it for weeks. On the other hand I’m going to be carrying it for weeks. So for LEJOG I’ve taken my Vango Banshee 300 out of my LEJOG pack and replaced it with a second-hand Vango Force 10 Helium UL1, smaller, less than half the weight, and almost see through.

Sleep mat:
The inflatable sleep mat that I use whenever we go away with the car is a bit of a lump to carry. “The OEX Superlite 8 Mat is made from a unique ultra-lightweight Plastazote physically cross-linked polyolefin foam, giving you a comfortable barrier to sleep on for every season”  The snake-oil stuff goes over my head and marketing-speak tends to switch me off, but the weight of 190g and the 2.3tog rating made it worth testing. Basically it takes up the same space but weighs less.

Sleeping bag:
My twenty year old (in those days super-lightweight) polyester-filled Snug-Pak bag has been wonderful, but last year I imagined it had some cold spots. This summer’s trips confirmed that it’s not my imagination, and I replaced it with a down-filled bag that packs into a slightly larger space, but feels as if it will be cosy enough. It takes up more space and weighs fractionally more than the old bag.

Cooking:
We use a full-size Trangia for our normal camping trips and I love it as a system. Simple, effective, reliable, works in all weather conditions – does the job. I also use a baby Trangia which is very dear to my heart, and I enjoy being able to cook for myself, have a hot drink etc. But it may not be strictly necessary, so it’s currently sitting in the ‘nice to have’ pile for when all the essentials have been packed. (Update 30/11/17 – I’ve just discovered that it is possible to get titanium meths burners that look like copies of Trangia burners. If anyone has practical experience of using one and can confirm that they work as reliably as Trangia branded burners then I’ll reconsider the cooking option.)

Other essentials:
Leki Makalu walking poles and Tilley hat. Maps, phone, whistle and first aid kit, Silva compass, water bottle, waterproofs, spare socks, warmth layer and hat. And for October when the days are shorter, Kalenji running lights and a high-viz gilet. I regard sunscreen, soap and toothpaste as essential, but may change my mind when the pack is fully loaded; if I revert to feral I’ll stay downwind of you.

I’ll update this as experience informs choices, but several items are hovering on the boundary between essential and optional. e.g. Do I need insect repellant in Cornwall?

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