6 Kit Tips for a Long Walk
If you’re daft enough (as I was!) to think that walking the country is a good idea (ok it was an AWESOME adventure, I just hated the whole walking bit), then you’re probably wondering what bits of kit you can’t live without for the next 2–3 months.
I put together a video guide and kit list before I left. This isn’t totally exhaustive but it gives you a good idea of the main things I took. Having now completed the walk (and gotten trench foot to prove it) there were a few things I’ve learnt that you may find useful for your own trip.
1. Walking hurts
I had done some 20 mile days before I set off but I didn’t quite appreciate just how much walking, and carrying a heavy pack, directly impacts your body. Of course, the main pain point will be your feet so it’s best to look after them really well.
In the first week I was listening to all sorts of advise regarding blisters. I tried two pairs of socks, blister plasters, zinc oxide tape etc - all of which didn’t work for me as my feet would just sweat even more and nothing would heal. At the start of week two I decided to strip things back to basics. I would pop any blisters in the evening and rub antibacterial gel on my feet to kill any bugs. This would let the blister dry out over night.
Then I bought a new pair of really good quality tight fitting but also padded walking socks (I’ve never paid £21 for a pair of socks before, but they were worth it! Here are the pair I bought and the retail I bought them from, who then also posted me more pairs further along my walk). And that was it. No plasters or taping. My feet hardened off and I didn’t get any more blisters for the next 4 weeks.
In terms of foot wear, I already had a pair of KEEN walking boots and didn’t even consider that they might not be suitable in terms of support/waterpoofness etc given the terrain I’d be walking on. In the end they didn’t do too badly. If I were to do it again (which I can guarantee you, I won’t), then I would probably take a second pair of shoes. Something light and breathable so that I can wear them in the evenings to give me feet a break from wearing the same pair of shoes for months on end, but particularly for when it’s wet. My boots often struggled to dry out over night and putting on wet boots is never fun… and can lead to trench foot. Having a dry set of shoes would have helped prevent this I’m sure.
2. There’s no such thing as bad weather
…only bad kit, so the saying goes. And when the rain is beating down from dawn to dusk you’ll really appreciate a good quality rain coat and waterproof trousers that keep your clothes dry.
But even if your clothes do get wet, my top tip for clothing is to simply have a day set and a night set. The night set is always kept in a dry bag and is never worn during the day. No matter how much you want to put a dry set of clothes on in the morning, you’ll appreciate them much more when you stop at the end of the day. My advice - be religious about it.
Obviously you’ll want more than 2 pairs of knickers/socks etc but you really won’t need more than 2 sets of clothes. I only washed my clothes once a week but I would try to find somewhere for a shower most nights. This keeps you smelling pretty fresh given what you’re doing, so don’t be tempted to over pack. It will only make your feet, knees, back, shoulders etc hurt more with the extra weight.
In terms of key items, for me a buff (a loop of material like a scarf) was a must have. It makes a huge difference keeping the wind off your neck and can be used in a multitude of ways to keep the sun off your head in the heat or keep you warm in the cold. I had an aptly designed GB Map one from Going Solo which went perfectly with my green bag and green jacket (colour coordinating your clothing is optional).
Given you’re going to be outside for at least 6, if not 12 hours a day it’s a good idea to get a high factor sun screen. Even in Scotland in April I could feel my skin taking a battering so regularly applying sun protection will help, plus moisturising at night. I used Odylique’s Natural Sun Screen.
3. Capture the moment
Even if you’re not on social media, won’t have wifi/3G or don’t want to share your adventure with anyone, it’s such a big achievement that it’s really nice to have your own record to look back on.
It’s incredible to look at a map of the UK now and think, wow — I walked all of that! And I can look back at photos of the various sections to remind myself of the funny little things that happened. But I often find I wish I’d recorded more, so remember to make the effort at the time, you can’t go back to record it later.
In order to help you document your trip I’d recommend getting a battery pack to charge your phone. I’m not a techie by any stretch of the imagination but a wise friend said I should get one that’s at least 5000mAh (I’m not sure what that means, other than it should charge your phone a couple of times) and it worked perfectly for me. Unless you’re going to the middle of nowhere you’ll probably be able to charge your phone at a cafe/pub etc so you won’t need a huge power pack and they are heavy, so don’t go overboard.
If you’re into recording videos or want to get some good shots of yourself beyond a selfie, get hold of a small tripod. I find the ones with bendy arms good as you can attached them to trees, gate posts etc for that perfect shot.
Here’s a little video I made, but I forgot to take a picture every day so it’s not as long as I’d have liked.
4. Take a book
… just maybe not one this big!
Kit for the mind is just as important as kit for your body. Any multi-day walk is hard. It’s slow, physically demanding and will really test your resolve.
I found having a paper book to read in the evening really helped me to switch off and get away from what I was doing. While it was rather ridiculously big, I particularly liked Homo Deus. It’s a fascinating look at the future and where our focus as a society might go next. I’d highly recommend it, and during the first part of the walk I really didn’t want to read about someone else having an awesome adventure on a bicycle whizzing down a country, when I was stuck plodding along at a ridiculously slow pace.
Half way through the walk though, I’d finished the book, left it with a friend and moved on to reading Jamie McDonald’s AdventureMan about his run across Canada. This was perfectly timed and really put my struggles with trench foot and being on crutches into perspective — at least I didn’t have -45 degrees to deal with. A great source of motivation!
5. Use your friends for kit
You really don’t need to buy all the best kit and if you’ve got some awesome friends who don’t mind lending you some of their stuff it’ll mean you can save cash and the few bits you do buy can be better quality.
I was lucky enough to have almost all of my main bits of kit lent to me; sleeping bag (I used my own silk liner and I even managed to borrow a lighter one en-route from a second friend), a super light 800g tent, a Jetboil, walking poles and a Thermorest. If you don’t have adventurous friends consider buying things second hand. You’ll get better quality kit and your money will go further.
6. Walk with people but mostly walk on your own
This is kit for the mind No.2.
I really enjoy my own company. I get to do what I want when I want, but it’s also a lot more social than it first seems. When you’re alone strangers are more open to you, they look out for you more and are more happy to strike up a conversation. You’ll meet a lot more people being on your own than traveling with someone.
On the other hand, it was always a real joy to have both friends and strangers come and join me for sections of the walk. I had two people from social media come and find me at different points and it was great to meet someone new (and they were incredibly kind to bring me cake and biscuits which only adds to the fun!).
It was also lovely to have the familiarity of friends. When you know you’re rubbish company because you’ve walked more than a marathon for the past 5 days and are so shattered you’re walking in a zombie like state, it doesn’t matter. You’re allowed to just be you and lean on your friends for some moral support.
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Fancy hearing how my #walkgreatbritain challenge ended? Hop over to Instagram to find out >> Instagram.com/fionalquinn