“I looked at my pack. It was at once enormous and compact, mildly adorable and intimidatingly self-contained. It had an animate quality; in its company I didn’t feel entirely alone. Standing, it came up to my waist. I gripped it and bent to lift it. It wouldn’t budge. I squatted and grasped its frame more robustly and tried to lift it again. Again it did not move. Not even an inch. I tried to lift it with both hands, with my legs braced beneath me, while attempting to wrap it in a bear hug, with all of my breath and my might and my will, with everything in me. And still it would not come. It was exactly like attempting to lift a Volkswagen Beetle.” Cheryl Strayed, Wild
Some people head out for a day walk with everything plus the kitchen sink. Other times I see people on the hill with no sign of a rucksack at all. So what are the sensible items to take when you’re walking for maybe between four and eight hours in the UK? After all, you still want the walk to be a pleasurable experience. You don’t want to be lugging a Volkswagen Beetle along with you, but you should have a few essentials just in case things change or don’t go to plan.
I’m going to talk about the kit needed for a spring/summer/autumn walk, and will address the extras that you’ll need for a winter walk in a future blog.
Here is my basic list, in no particular order:
First aid kit
Water and food
Map and compass (GPS optional)
Waterproofs – these live in my rucksack all year around. A waterproof jacket and a pair of waterproof trousers will obviously keep me dry in the rain, but they also offer protection against the wind so can add a few degrees of warmth when I want it. And if it’s a dry day but the ground is still damp, they can double up as something to sit on while I’m having my lunch.
First aid kit – at its minimum I make sure I have some blister plasters, pain relief (paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin), antibacterial wipes and gloves. I also take antihistamines because I know I can suffer from hayfever. If you have attended a first aid course and know how to use them, then take bandages, micro pore and zinc oxide tape, gauze swabs and dressings. Remember it can take longer for the emergency services to reach you when you’re hill walking so knowing what to do to help someone during that time could be the difference between life and death. Going on a one day course will give you the confidence and knowledge to help in an emergency situation.
Food – a good walk is always accompanied by good snacks, right? I take something I can easily snack on as I go as well as a ‘proper’ lunch. Snacks might be a sandwich bag with nuts, dried fruit and M&Ms or a pocketful of wine gums or jelly babies (just don’t leave your phone in the same pocket on a warm day else you’ll be licking them off the screen for days to come). For lunch I go with something that doesn’t mind being squashed too much. A malt loaf that I can eat straight from the pack, or a pouch of tuna in lemon oil and a mini pack of oat cakes are my usual choice. If I’m organised enough I whisk up some eggs, throw in some grated cheese, some chopped up veg (broccoli, onion, green beans, peppers – whatever I find in the fridge), chopped up cooked sausage if I can find any and maybe some dried chilli flakes, pour it into muffin cases and bake for 20-30mins at 200 degrees. They’re pretty robust in the rucksack and make for a great protein hit.
Water – Usually I’ll take one litre. Because that’s the size of my bottle really. I make sure I drink plenty before I head off in the morning and again when I get back in the evening so it’s usually enough. If it’s a baking hot day and/or a particularly long route I might take more. And if you’re going to be walking with your dog, don’t forget to take enough for them too. Not all routes have convenient lakes or streams for them to sup from.
Warm top/jacket – even on a really warm day I make sure I’ve got a fleece or warm jacket in my bag ready to pull on. When you reach a summit it can be a lot windier than lower down the slopes, or when I stop for lunch I soon cool down, so pulling it on keeps me warm until I get going again. Sometimes it stays in the bag for the whole day…but at least I know it’s there if and when I need it.
Survival bag/group shelter – some people might think this is a bit over the top. But for the sake of a few grams and £2.50 I think it’s a no brainer. It’s basically a big plastic sack that folds up small enough to sit in the bottom of your rucksack, but is big enough to climb inside should you need to. If you stumble and break your ankle on a drizzly, windy day you might be grateful to get inside and keep warm and relatively dry until help arrives. A group shelter is larger and slightly heavier (approx 700g for a four person shelter and £35). Used with groups in medical emergencies, it’s also a great hideaway on a windy or wet day while you have your lunch. It definitely reduces moaning from the kids if they can climb inside and picnic in the ‘den’.
Walking poles – not just for the older generation. They help with balance when you’re crossing a stream, they reduce the pressure on the knees on descents and can help power you up hills, as well as tone the triceps! I started to use them five years ago and now I wouldn’t be without them. Always use two, not just the one, as with one, you’ll tend to lean into it therefore walking with a twisted spine which could result in aches or injury. Look out for a future blog on how to choose your poles.
Headtorch – another one that people might think is over the top, but again, for its size and weight I just throw it in the bag ‘just in case’. And I have used it on occasions when I really hadn’t expected to. A route with more interesting places to stop and enjoy than you thought, a slower walking companion, an injury in the group…they can all mean you get back later than anticipated. Just knowing the headtorch is in the pack means that it’s not an issue when the sun goes down so it’s one less thing to worry about.
Pocket knife – always a useful thing to have around. Mine is the traditional Swiss Army Knife – I won it years ago when I was named ‘Scout of the year’ in our troop! I use it to open a can when the ring pull breaks, the tweezers to get a splinter out of a finger, to cut a piece of cord for tying something…many, many uses.
Spare laces – yes I have needed them before! I actually had a boot fall apart on a multi-day walk once and I had to apply some running repairs. Laces can be used as, well laces, but also in a first aid situation, or to fix a rucksack strap etc etc.
Whistle – if the fog or low cloud comes in it’s easy to get lost. Or maybe you need to attract help if you’re injured. Blowing a whistle is better at getting attention and requires less energy than shouting. So if you do need to call for help, blow the SOS call repeatedly. Or the international distress call – 6 blasts with a one minute break and then repeated. Each blast should last 3 seconds.
Map and compass (GPS optional) – I always have a map and compass. I do own a GPS unit which is switched on too. It’s always fun to review the route at the end of the day – how far we have walked, what speed, how much ascent/descent and to get a visual depiction of the route. And there are some really good phone apps available now for you to download the map and track your route, but batteries and signal can fail when a map and compass don’t tend to. I really believe that everyone should learn how to use a map and compass properly – it allows for so much more exploring and adventuring! Details of our navigation workshops can be found here.
Waterproof bags – most rucksacks are not waterproof. And when it comes to my warm jacket in particular I don’t like to chance it getting wet. Plastic zip lock bags are pretty good, but I like to use coloured dry bags. You can usually get a set of three in different sizes for a reasonable price in most outdoor shops. I put the same things in the same colour bag each time so I can easily find what I want without having to go through every one of them.
All in all a 20 litre rucksack should be an ample size for a spring/summer/autumn day walk in the UK. And not be so heavy that you feel weighed down by it. In winter, I would add a few things – but I’ll talk about them in a future blog.
Do you have any extras that you like to take with you? Or items that double up with a second use? Share them below in the comments, we always like to learn about new kit ideas.