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Backpacking and Walking

Backpacking and walking were rather neglected by me as hobbies during the second half of the 1990s. However, my enthusiasm was re-kindled by the Coast to Coast walk I did in July/August 2000. The C2C was designed by Wainwright, and it's a walk of 190 miles from St. Bee's on the west coast of England to Robin Hood's Bay on the east. It was an absolute blast, and many thanks to Les, Mark, Matt and Sue for making it such good fun :)

After that I planned to do the Pennine Way in 2001, but unfortunately Foot and Mouth intervened. By the time it had cleared up I'd moved on to other things, but I finally got out and did it with a tent in August/September 2004, and it was a tremendous experience! When I got back I wrote up a detailed account, and if you have a couple of hours to spare then you can read all about it below :)

On my return from the Pennine Way I bought a copy of TGO Magazine, read about the 2005 Great Outdoors Challenge and entered it. That involved me in planning a route across Scotland, and I walked it last May. It was utterly brilliant, and there's a report further down the page.

Since then I've done the Challenge again (2006), and also the GR20 in Corsica, the Coast to Coast one final time and several trips to the Pyrenees. I still get up to the Lakes for the weekend when I can, and now I'm keen to try out the lovely new tarp I bought from when the weather's a little more settled :)

I'll add further trip reports from time to time, if I have a particularly interesting weekend.

August 2008: the kit list set out below is now out of date--some of it quite significantly--and so I'll get round to updating it soon. It remains the case, though, that one of the great things about this hobby is all that lovely kit in all those lovely shops...

Detailed Write-ups
Pennine Way 2004 A very detailed account of my backpacking trip along the Pennine Way in August and September 2004.
TGO Challenge 2005 A walk across Scotland from West to East, as part of the TGO Challenge, 2005.
TGO Challenge 2006 A second walk across Scotland from West to East, as part of the TGO Challenge, 2006.

Coast to Coast 2007 A fourth (and final) walk across England on Wainwright's route, this time with tent etc..

Corsica: GR20 2008 Backpacking along Europe's most challenging long distance route, in the Corsican mountains.

TGO Challenge 2009 A third walk across Scotland from West to East, as part of the TGO Challenge, 2009.

Pyrenees: 2006 Pictures of a backpacking trip along the Haute Route (High Level Route) from Borce to Gavarnie in August 2006: my first such trip in the Pyrenees.

Pennine Way: 2008 Photos of my second backpacking trip along the Pennine Way, in March 2008. The weather made it very different from my first PW.

Pennine Way A podcast with Bob Cartwright of about my trip along the Pennine Way in August and September 2004. This was my first long-distance backpacking trip.

You can right-click on the link and choose 'Save As' to download the podcast as an MP3 to your computer, or you can left-click for what should be streaming audio.

See above for the detailed write-up with photographs.

TGO Challenge 2005 A podcast with Bob Cartwright of about my first TGO Challenge, in May 2006.

You can right-click on the link and choose 'Save As' to download the podcast as an MP3 to your computer, or you can left-click for what should be streaming audio.

See above for write-up with piccies.

Book Club: Pyrenees A podcast with Andy Howell of The Outdoors Station about my trip to the Pyrenees in 2006, and the books and maps that I used to plan it.

The Book Club #2

Download MP3 File

GR20: Corsica - Part 1 Part 1 of a podcast with Bob Cartwright of The Outdoors Station about my trip to Corsica in July 2008.

GR20: Corsica - Part 1

Download MP3 File

GR20: Corsica - Part 2 Part 2 of a podcast with Bob Cartwright of The Outdoors Station about my trip to Corsica in July 2008.

GR20: Corsica - Part 2

Download MP3 File

TGO Challenge 06 A photo-video with pictures taken from my Challenge trips in 2006 and (a few from) 2005, set to Ken Nicol's song 'On Holiday in Stornaway' :)

Weekend Wild Camps
Langdale: 10/04 Click on the link for a detailed account of a wild camping weekend in Langdale and Borrowdale in October/November 2004.

Borrowdale: 11/04 Another detailed account of a wild camping weekend in Borrowdale, this time in November 2004.

Trips: Misc
The Coast to Coast This is out-of-date now, as I did this trip way back in 2000! *g* Still, it contains info about the route and planning, some Top Tips and a ton of information about the kit I took with me, and how it performed.

Aberfeldy, February 2005 A winter skills weekend in Scotland, playing in the snow while learning how to use ice axe and crampons.

The Lakes, March 2005 A great weekend's walking in the Lakes - what a blast!

Snowdonia, April 2005 A great weekend of fun and walking with the Outdoors Magic bunch :)

Kit I'm Using Now
Osprey Rucksacks I really like these packs, and in particular the light and comfortable Atmos in both 50L and 35L. They're very clearly designed by backpackers for backpackers, and I can walk all day in mine with everything I need at my fingertips, rarely needing to open the main body of the sack. Highly recommended!
Mountain Equipment Dragonfly Tent For 4 season use, I've swapped from an Akto to a Mountain Equipment Dragonfly tent. Although it's heavier than the Akto (2.1kg as opposed to 1.6kg), it's a 3 pole semi-geodesic tent, and I happily carry the extra weight for the additional stablity and security it gives me. The venting is good, it's easy to put up and take down and there's plenty of room in the porch for my rucksack and cooking.
Marmot Hydrogen sleeping bag This is a lightweight sleeping bag that packs up very small. It weighs only 595g, and is about half the size of my last one. It only goes down to -1 so it's not the warmest in the world, but I've used it in freezing weather both in the Lakes and Scotland and have been perfectly warm with trousers, a baselayer and a fleecy hat on. I'd rather carry a small, light bag and supplement it with clothing than carry something larger and heavier.
Exped Down Air Mattress Although many people find them comfy, I just can't sleep on a Therm-a-Rest. I like to sleep on my side, but on a T-Rest my hips stick into the ground. After much searching and experimentation I stumbled upon this fantastic mattress in The Climbers' Shop in Ambleside. It's larger and heavier than a T-Rest, and it isn't self-inflating, but it's luxuriously comfortable and warm. I've backpacked with mine, and in fact I happily carried it across Scotland last May in the TGO Challenge. The mattress won the European Outdoor Writers' Award for 2002/3.
Insul Mat Max-Thermo This is the mattress that I now use for backpacking in all but exceptionally cold conditions. In terms of comfort it's light years ahead of any self-inflating mattress I've ever tried, but it's smaller and lighter than the Exped mattress mentioned above. It weighs only 624g for a full length mattress, and it packs up small. It's filled with a synthetic insulating material for extra warmth, and I think it was definitely my best discovery of 2005 :)
Primus Micron stove This tiny lightweight stove weighs only 96g and folds to almost nothing at all. It's perfect for lightweight backpacking, and was recommended by gear guru Chris Townsend.
MSR Titan Kettle This is the small and very light titanium Kettley Thing that I use for all my cooking when backpacking. It's large enough to take a gas cylinder, and just the right size for a steaming pot full of Smash and Beanfeast (or some lesser concoction) at the end of a hard day's walking, but weighs only 118g :)
The MSR titanium kit is quite expensive, but I've bought mine over the internet from the States, as it's only about half price that way. It's well worth looking on Ebay if you're thinking of buying some.
MSR Titanium mug I love this little mug. It was expensive, but it weighs only 54g and it can be used on the stove. When I stop for the evening I like to make a drink in my mug and sit back with that as my meal cooks in the Kettley Thing.
The MSR titanium kit is quite expensive, but I've bought mine over the internet from the States, as it's only about half price that way. It's well worth looking on Ebay if you're thinking of buying some.
Cutlery These days I just take two spoons - one small and one large - and use them for everything. The ones I take are Lexan, and I bought them inexpensively from Black's. I think they came in a pack with a knife and fork, but I don't bother with those as I don't really need them. These Lexan spoons are very light and robust, and they come in a rather tasteful shade of dark green.
Icebreaker clothing Icebreaker is a New Zealand company making Merino wool clothing. I love their baselayers. They're fantastically warm and comfortable, and somehow manage to feel good in most weathers. One of the best things about them, though, is that they simply don't pong after prolonged use the way that synthetic baselayers do... so if you're going on an extended backpack and have only limited opportunities to wash your kit, then this is something you should really consider taking.
(The only downside that I've noticed is that once wool gets damp it takes longer to dry out than a synthetic layer, but these things are swings and roundabouts, and for me the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.)
Although Icbreaker isn't the only company making Merino wool products, they guarantee that none of the wool that they use comes from sheep that have been subjected to the barbaric and unnecessary practice of 'mulesing', which is widespread in the Australian sheep industry. If you plan to use Merino wool products, please - don't buy from companies that use cruelly produced wool.
SmartWool Socks SmartWool make brilliant socks. They're warm and comfy in cold weather, but they also keep my feet cool when it's hot outside.
Please click here to read about SmartWool's campaign to end the barbaric and unnecessary 'mulesing' of the Australian sheep which provide so many of us with our Merino wool baselayers and socks.
Berghaus Paclite Jacket This is a very lightweight jacket (310g) that packs up very small indeed, and I found it perfect for my walk across Scotland last May. Because it's so light I don't expect it to last for years, as a heavier jacket might, but I'm still wearing the trousers after 2 years and haven't had any sort of problem with them. I've found it comfy and effective, and I plan to take it with me on my next walk across Scotland early next year (fingers crossed!).
Berghaus Paclite Pants I bought a pair of these a couple of years ago and I've used them on the Pennine Way, a walk across Scotland and lots of weekend backpacks and day walks since then. I've always found them very comfortable - something that can't be said for all waterproof trousers - as well as waterproof and breathable. They're still working fine, but when they eventually wear out I'm sure I'll buy another pair.
Paramo Cascada Trousers Paramo is a totally different sort of waterproof clothing, and I bought some last year to try it out. It's much heavier than Goretex and similar products, but in foul weather many people consider it to be the most effective clothing on the market. I love my Cascada trousers. Because they're heavier than Goretex they combine both trouser and waterproof over-trouser, and I only need to put a further layer on top in truly freezing or soaking conditions. Mine have always kept me dry and comfortable, and I'd highly recommend them.
Paramo Viento Jacket I was lucky enough to get an almost new Viento jacket a couple of months ago at a bargain price from a friend. I've worn it several times now in rain and cold weather, and I'm impressed. It's warm and comfortable, and the hood is particularly cozy. Many people find Paramo so warm that they don't need additional layers. I don't find it quite as warm as that, but so far I've been perfectly happy in the Viento in blizzard conditions with a Rab Photon Hoody underneath.
Garmin Geko 201 I've had a GPS for several years now, but I'm only just beginning to realise how extremely useful it actually is. I don't use it for general navigation - I use my map and compass for that - but if ever I'm unsure of my position then I can use the GPS to take a grid reference and immediately know exactly where I am.
The Geko is small and light (just over 3oz) and now available for about 80. It's a relatively simple GPS, but it recently came top in a review conducted by TGO magazine's Chris Townsend, and I'm very glad I've got one.
Ortlieb Ortlieb make the best map cases I've ever come across. They're hard wearing and totally waterproof, and robust enough to be tucked into the waist band of your rucksack. They also make all sorts of other waterproof bags for keeping various items of kit dry.

Other Kit I Like
Hilleberg Tents Hilleberg is a Swedish company making outstanding tents. I bought an Akto after reading a rave review by Chris Townsend, who used one on his record setting round of the Munros and tops, and the Akto is probably the most highly regarded one man tent currently available for use in UK conditions. Take a look at the Nallo too.
Macpac Rucksacks I used to use Macpac sacks all the time. I don't now, because I love my Osprey Atmos, but there are still some great sacks here, and particularly for winter climbers who need something heavier.
Rab sleeping bags Rab make great sleeping bags.
Terra Nova Tents This is a British company making great tents. I've had an Ultra-Voyager for years, and it's absolutely bomb-proof for 4 season backpacking use. They've also brought out a couple of very lightweight tents over the last year or so - see the Laser and the Laserlight - and some people have been very pleased with them.
Meindl Boots Great boots. Comfortable and hard wearing. I think they also look pretty cool, although that's not supposed to be a consideration in walking boots ;-)
Lowe Alpine I don't use a lot of Lowe kit, but I frequently use a Lowe Alpine Contour Runner day sack. It's one of my favourite bits of kit. It has a 30 litre capacity and it's light and comfortable. I particularly like the fact that I can put my water bottle and flask into the side mesh pockets, so that I don't have to take off the rucksack each time I want a drink. I've been using this little rucksack for 8 or 9 years now, and it's showing no signs of wear. I'd highly recommend this as a small day sack.

Vendors Bob Cartwright is a keen backpacker and bivvier whom I met in email via the TGO Challenge last year. He and his wife Rose have recently set up this brilliant online source of lightweight backpacking kit for use in the UK. They're keen to make available innovative kit at good prices, and always happy to go several extra miles to help fellow backpackers choose the kit that suits them best.
Bob has also recorded a series of Podcasts, consisting of interviews with all sorts of people connected with backpacking, lightweight kit and related outdoorsy sorts of things, and you can download them free from his site. If you're stuck at home dreaming of your next trip or wondering what to take, nip across to Bob's site and have a browse around all that lovely kit while you listen to his Podcasts!
Field & Treck They have a pretty comprehensive online ordering service. I've not used it yet, but it's good to be able to check out their prices.
Outdoor Pursuits Co-operative More kit online.

Walkers' Services
Sherpa Van Project These people will transport your kit for you from A to B when you're doing long walks in the UK and parts of Europe. I used them for part of the Coast to Coast walk, and they were reliable and helpful.
Coast to Coast Packhorse This is another baggage moving service for those doing the Coast to Coast Walk. If you're not sure what to do with your car, you can leave it with them at Kirkby Stephen at the start of the walk and get a lift to St. Bees. They'll then collect you from the end of the walk and take you back to your car. This is a good way to meet others on the way to the starting point, and takes the hassle out of car parking arrangements.

Outdoors Magic This is a great place for outdoors enthusiasts, consisting of articles, gear reviews and chat forums in relation to all aspects of the walking world. It's quite a friendly place, and members arrange weekend meetings on a regular basis, which anyone is welcome to attend. If you're a keen walker but don't have anyone to chat about it with locally, then this could be the place for you. This is a great site where walkers provide independent reviews of all sorts of kit. It's American and so there's some kit there that we don't generally see here, and there are some glaring omissions (from a UK perspective), but there's a great deal of helpful and interesting information. I go there on a regular basis to drool!
Mountain Bothies Association The Mountain Bothies Association is a charity which looks after about 100 shelters in some of the remoter parts of the UK. If you do any walking in Scotland then you'll almost certainly spend time in bothies. Nip across to have a look at what they do.
Long Distance Walkers' Association A useful resource for those interested in long distance walks in the UK.

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