What’s in your Pack #4. Backpacking

After going out on a few longer 2 day hikes we felt confident enough to have a proper backpacking trip. Packing for that first trip on the West Highland Way was difficult and we carried way too much stuff which kind of hampered the enjoyment of the first couple of days. By the 5th day on trail we had whittled down some of the excess and ate a lot of the food we had been carrying so things became easier. We went from what we might need to what we had actually used. We also had a better idea of how much food we needed to carry for each day so when we resupplied in Crianlarich we weren’t overburdened.

Since that first long hike we’ve refined what we take and how much food we carry and while our packs are much lighter these days, hiking 100 miles with 3 kids under 10 is never going to be “ultra-light”.

As in the previous posts in this series, this a list of things we take on a backpacking trip, not exhaustive but it works for us. The basis of it is the previous post on Wild Camping so you probably want to check that out first and once again if you have any ideas on how we can further reduce our load please give us a shout in the comments below.

Tent or Tarp, Sleep Mats, Sleeping Bags, Sleeping Clothes, Extra Warm Layers
Stove, Bowls Mugs, Cutlery, Water Filter
, Map and Compass, Trowel and Toilet Roll,Hand Sanitiser, First Aid Kit, Mobile/Smart Phone, Waterproofs, Suncream,GPS Device, Travel Towel, Camera, Walking Poles, Head Torch & Whistle, Extra Luxuries – Kindle, Notebook Teddy

The things above are on the wildcamping post but there’s a few extra things we take with us and a couple of things needing further comment.

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Food and Water.

As we like to be as self sufficient on the trail as possible we need to carry more water than we would on an overnight hike. We use a 3 litre and a 2 litre water bladder as well as carrying a bottle each. We try and keep the 2 litre bladder for cooking with and the bigger one for drinking and we have our trusty water filter to top up from natural sources.

In the planning stages of the trip I try to note the resupply options for stocking up on food and try to carry as little as possible while maintaining a semblance of responsibility. We have found that 5 days food is the most we can carry (remember there’s 5 of us). We can hike up to 15 miles a day but we average 10 so a 30 mile stretch requires food for 3 days. Plus I also carry an emergency meal and a few snacks should things go awry and we don’t get to a shop when planned.

When we started our first backpacking trip I had these grand ideals of spurning cafes and tea shops (mainly due to budget restrictions) but as things have progressed we have realised that these are a welcome relief when they come and we try to factor in a bought meal so we don’t have to carry one.

Hygiene and Cleanliness

When we headed out on the West Highland Way our youngest was just 5 years old and as you know from having kids, sometimes accidents happen. The worst case scenario is an overnight “accident” resulting in a wet sleeping bag. On that first trip we carried some pull up pants but as the kids have got older we can’t take that easy option. We carry a small amount of liquid handwash which gets the worst out and we can usually dry the bag out or find a campsite with a washing machine.

We also have some liquid soap for washing ourselves when showers are available but when they’re not we still wash the kids with a soapy flannel and water every couple of days, just to get the worst off. 

Another handy tool is the packet of moist toilet tissue, for obvious reasons and we have plenty of hand sanitiser. Both my wife and me carry a bottle, there’s a third one kept with the trowel/toilet paper and another smaller one in the first aid kit for that purpose only. It may sound like overkill but there’s nothing worse than gut rot on the trail.

Clothes

Obviously a 10 day hike doesn’t need 10 different outfits but you may need more changes than on an overnight wildcamp. While I personally only carry a spare baselayer and some trousers (I hike in shorts) as extra clothing we usually take 2 full changes for the kids plus a fleece “Onesie” for each of them. Sometimes they sleep in them, usually its just an extra layer for at camp or when they get out of their sleeping bags. (I think I’ll do a longer post on clothing if you think that will be helpful)

Dry Bags

While our backpacks have raincovers we double down and pack everything into dry bags. It’s a great way to organise the gear too so each child’s spare clothes are in a labelled bag, the sleeping bags are kept dry and even the trowel and toilet paper have their own drybag which gets stowed on the outside of a pack.

These bags keep everything together and when you need that one bit of kit from the bottom of the bag in a rainstorm, everything else stays dry.

So if you combine this post with the previous one you should have a good idea on what to pack for a backpacking trip. There’s a handy checklist you can download below and I’d love to hear your thoughts about packing for a long hike whether your a veteran long distance hiker or just venturing out with the kids for the first time.

Backpacking

What’s in your Pack #3. Wild Camping

After a while, hiking out and back in a day, we decided to dip our toes into wildcamping. The first image that comes into my head when thinking of wildcamping is of a solo hiker, setting up a tiny tent or bivvy, out of sight of everyone else, maybe up on a quiet hill or behind a hedge in a field. It seemed too tricky to do with 3 children in tow. Our first experience was in Scotland where wildcamping is widely permitted and we used our little blue tent. Since then we’ve gotten braver and now use the tarp and have wildcamped where its not as widely accepted. Some notable camps have included Brook and Tennyson Downs on the Isle of Wight, The New Forest and Dartmoor (although it is permitted across a large part of this particular national park). The usual rules apply; pitch late, pack up early and make sure you “Leave No Trace”.

Obviously, along with our usual hiking gear, we need some extra kit for wild camping so if you use the previous posts on lowland and mountain day hiking as a guide and then add the following. Once again we may not use something that you can’t do without or we may carry something completely frivolous, we can have a chat about that in the comments below. Again there’s a downloadable checklist for your own use if you like that sort of thing.

Snowy Tent

Shelter

We started off using our 3 man tent, mainly because of the security it provided from the elements and the kids seemed more confident in the tent. We did find that the footprint was too large for lots of perfect wild spots so we would have to hike on and usually end up at a less than perfect spot.

Now we take the 3x3m tarp and there’s various ways we can set it up depending on location and conditions using a few pegs and two walking pole. For instance, we’ve had it as an open ended A Frame structure when its been dry and as a fully enclosed pyramid when its been raining. It’s easier to fit under a more open set up but we can squeeze all 5 of us into a protected rain shield set up.

Sleeping.

Sleep mats to get us up off the ground a bit. We started off with the basic foam roll mats but us parents have graduated onto inflatable mats just for the sake of a better nights sleep. The kids seem perfectly happy on the foam mats and they are nice and light for them to carry during the day.

Sleeping bags are tricky, you can spend loads of money on ultralight, super warm bags but we don’t have loads of cash. The kids use fairly cheap 250gsm child size bags and have never complained of being cold at night (even in the snow on Glyndwrs Way). In the height of summer we parents use really lightweight bags which are small and easily packable but in early spring and into autumn we do have some slightly warmer bags but if we get chilly we put on extra clothes. It’s a real balancing act between overnight comfort and weight/packed size when you have to carry it.

Pillows

Put your spare clothes in a dry bag and use that as a pillow. Or use a child!

Sleeping Clothes.

We generally like to have a set of clothes to sleep in. Not only does it prevent damp or muddy clothes getting in the sleeping bag but it also helps the kids settle down for the night after the excitement of hiking and setting up camp.

Cooking.

Stove

We generally use a small compact gas stove. It’s easy to carry and use, and the fuel is readily available. We generally use it to boil water for a brew or to rehydrate noodles or porridge oats. By only boiling water in it we can usually get away with giving it a quick wipe out with a small cloth.

Eating Utensils

We eat out of those small collapsible bowls which pack flat but hold a suprising amount and we each have a small mug for drinking. We also use a small plastic cutlery set which we picked up from a local supermarket. The kids have their own bowls and cutlery which they are responsible for on the trip. If it’s dirty, they clean it.

Water Filter.

We always carry a small water filter although I can count the number of times we’ve used it on one hand. While water is essential for drinking, cooking and washing (ourselves as well as the cook stuff) it weighs heavy, 1 litre of water weighs 1 kilo before you put it in something so try to carry “just enough”. We can usually find a tap if we need it but its nice to know we can provide safe water from a muddy puddle if all else fails. 

Food

If we’re just out for a night we usually carry something to heat for dinner like noodles or pasta snacks, some porridge (usually in sachets) for breakfast and some snacks for during the day. I usually carry a few cereal bars at the bottom of my pack for an emergency breakfast if we can’t make porridge for whatever reason (usually rain!). On top of the little ziplock of coffee which I can’t operate without, we take some hot chocolate for the kids too.

Little Extras.

Sometimes we have to wait to pitch up, one of our local wildcamp spots is only about 1/2 a mile from a car park that’s fairly popular with dog walkers. Fortunately we can see the car park from our spot but we’re still fairly hidden but we won’t pitch up the tarp until the last car has gone. Occasionally we may have to wait for a couple of hours so we take a few things to keep everyone happy.

Kindle – Mrs Jones will sit and read stories to the kids while I’m making dinner or brewing up a warm drink. The kindle is lighter than most paperbacks but holds such a variety of books and stories that everyone is entertained.

Sketchbook, Notepad etc – I like to sit and make notes of the earlier hiking or specifics about the camp or just funny things the kids come out with. Lil has just started keeping a hiking journal, Isaac keeps a note of our climbing trips and  Mrs Jones like to sketch and draw. I made her a hiking art kit for her birthday based on a video I found on youtube and she loves it.

Cards – usually top trumps.

Teddies. – There’s always room in a backpack for a special furry friend.

Anyway these little extras are what we use and I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas on what you might like to carry.

I hope you find this helpful, please let us know what you think in the comments, whether your just thinking about taking your kids wildcamping or have been doing so for years, it’d be great to hear your thoughts.

Hiking Mountains (2)

What’s in your Pack #2. Mountains

As often as possible we head for the mountains. Our location on the South Coast means that we generally head for Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons. Usually the journey takes us 4 or 5 hours including a ferry crossing so heading further North is usually reserved for longer holidays.

The first post in this series detailed what we carry when in hike in lowland areas and to be honest that list is a good basis for hiking in mountainous areas with 3 kids. However there are a few extra bits we like to carry with us in the mountains. Some are for additional safety, some to make the trail a bit easier and I’m sure there’s some things we don’t carry that maybe we should and some that may seem excessive, let me know your thoughts on the comments below. There’s also a handy checklist you can download below if you find that sort thing useful.

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Basic Gear – See previous post on lowland hiking for full details

Food and Water, Map and Compass, Trowel and Toilet Roll, Hand Sanitiser,

First Aid Kit, Smartphone, Extra Warm Layers, Waterproofs, Suncream,Whistle,

GPS Device, Geocaching Kit, Travel Towel, Camera

On top of this we also carry;

More Food/Water

Climbing mountains is hard work, especially for kids so plan in more snack breaks than when hiking in lowland areas. More breaks means carrying more food. Also a hot drink is nice when it gets chilly. We started off carrying a thermos of hot water and some little sachets of coffee or hot chocolate but now we carry a little stove instead and just brew without having to ration hot water. If you go down the thermos route, just carry hot water and sachets because if it gets cold then you can still use it. Cold coffee is the worst!

Warm Layers

Probably more essential than when hiking lower down. On average the temperature drops by 1 degree celsius for each 100 metres of elevation so T-shirt weather on the beach can still be quite chilly on the summit. The higher points of the mountains are generally more exposed so the wind can prove to be a factor.

Waterproofs.

Always carry waterproofs on the mountains. They can produce their own microclimates so rain can be expected anytime. We noticed this on Snowdon when a beautiful morning turned quickly into dampness as we climbed into the clouds. The weather forecast for Beddgelert, at the foot of the hill, was set fair but by 5pm on the mountain it was torrential rain. When we got back to the village, the roads were dry.

Walking Poles

Great for powering up hill, brilliant for helping to keep your balance on the way down. To be honest, when we go with the kids I usually only use them coming down. I suffer a bit with knee pain after twisting it nastily on Cadar Idris, and I’ve noticed a significant improvement when using poles, especially on the descent.

Emergency Shelter/Tarp

Most emergency shelters are suited for two people and while we could squeeze in at a pinch, I’ve taken to carrying a 3x3m lightweight tarp. I can make a shelter with it using the walking poles and a few pegs. If the weather is truly awful I can make a fully enclosed shelter to protect all 5 of us from the elements.

Head Torch

On our first trip up Snowdon we started hiking at 8am and even though the route guide said 3 hours up and 2 back we were still hiking at 6pm. The clocks had changed the previous weekend so it was dark before we got back to the car. And while I didn’t “need” the head torch on that well marked and surfaced track (The Miners Track) I was certainly glad to have when searching for car keys in my backpack. As an additional note, you can also signal for help with a torch should you get caught out.

The next post in this “What’s in your pack” series is packing for overnight wildcamping trips with the kids. As usual there’s a checklist for you to download below and I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this subject through the comments section.

Hiking Mountains

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Video

Fast Packing the West Wight

Fast Packing. Apparently its a thing. Rather than simply hiking with a big pack its a combination of hiking and trail running. Using gear that increases in price as it decreases in weight, packs are light, kit is minimal and miles get covered.

I started training this year for an ultra marathon so I’ve been building up my mileage on the local trails. A week or so ago I decided to test myself and after packing enough kit to keep me alive overnight I headed out to see how far I’d come since I started running regularly in July.

Why I Want to Run an Ultra Marathon

WHY?
This is probably the first thing that people have said to me when I’ve told them of our plans to run an ultramarathon. Actually the the first person I mentioned it to simply said “F*** That!” and turned and walked away from me.

If I’m being honest, I don’t know why I want to do this but if I try and explain the timeline of events that brought about the decision, we might all end up a little wiser.

A few years ago while hiking up Moel Siabod, a runner passed us as she speeded up the mountain and we sat and watched her bounding gracefully up and along the Deaer Ddu ridge. She looked effortless and I gazed on enviously before plodding on breathlessly to the summit. Wow, I wish I could move like that.

Sometimes on hiking trips I get impatient as I want to cover some miles quickly. We all know that a hiking trip is sometimes about getting your head down and eating up miles between spectacular viewpoints or simply camping spots. Sometimes those flatter miles could go by quicker.

I caught an episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast with Courtenay Dewaulter and holy s*** is she inspiring. I looked her up on youtube and after going down a massive rabbit hole, including some Netflix docs about the Barkley Marathons and someone running the Long Trail in the USA, a seed was definitely sown.

Back in June I was on Dartmoor with a friend for a hiking and wild camping trip. Unfortunately due to injury he didn’t make it back to the car park after about 12/13 miles of hiking. So I left him in Princetown with the back packs and armed with only my trekking poles and a bottle of water I went to fetch the car.
I hiked fairly quickly up North Hessary Tor and with quite a sweat on I ran across the moor for the remaining 3 or 4 miles to the car. I was knackered when I got there but felt quietly proud of myself, I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought I was.

I think the biggest factor was that feeling of simply moving through a landscape at a pace dictated by me. Not the weight in my pack or how fast the kids were moving or what the trail was like or how much my legs ached. If I wanted to run, I ran. If it got steep, I slowed to a jog or even a quick hike but just the feeling of moving (even slowly) was exhilarating.

There’s another reason too. I’m just not getting out on trail as often as I’d like or my at times fragile mental health needs. There have been issues this year and while I’m not going to go into great details here, it has affected all of us. The longer it is between trips, the more susceptible I am to dips and lows. But then a trip away comes and I’ll feel better. Except I put so much pressure on it to be perfect and “just what the doctor ordered” that when it doesn’t go as well as it should in my head I feel worse.

So because of this I’m going to try and get out more, but with the restrictions of money and school and general boring stuff, there will be more solo trips, just me, alone, all by myself. I would love to do some 100 mile hiking trails solo but that would mean 4 or 5 days away and I can’t swing that. But if I can pack light, move quicker and recover better overnight I might be able to do them in 3 days instead.  What if I hiked the uphills, jogged the flats and downhills, had a tiny tent and ultralight sleeping bag. Could I cover 30 miles in a day? Would I be able to do the same the next day? And the next? Suddenly long trails could be do-able on a long weekend. I’ll just need to be much fitter. Which is where the running comes in.

So that’s it really. The goal of running 100 miles is an arbitrary one at the moment, I can just about manage 10km without stopping, but somewhere along the way I’ll get to the point where anything is possible and thats the real goal of this adventure isn’t it?

Video

A Minor Milestone

or Holy S**t, I just ran 10k.

So on Friday I decided to just get up to the woods and try something. After struggling to get around a 5k loop the last view times I went out I had decided that my problem was pacing. I’d just go off too quick and then really struggle later.

The plan I had was to try and find this mythical forever pace I keep reading about, so I set up an interval timer to 10:1 and would aim to cover the same distance in each 10 minute block for half an hour or 5km whichever came first.

It very quickly became clear that it would be easier to measure km splits and although it was closer to 35 minutes the splits over 5km were pretty consistent, 7.09, 6.58, 7.13, 7.15, and 7.15 but more importantly I felt great.

Time for a proper challenge. I turned on my heels and retraced my steps. While I thought I’d have no chance of running all the way back I would at least try. Even if I walked the last 3km I was going to cover the ground.

And here’s the thing, I just kept it going and if anything I got a bit quicker. 7.26, ok a little slower, 6.48, woah slow up a bit, 6.55, 7.07 and then the last kilometres really didn’t matter. I was going to run 10 km (it was 6.58)

I was so pleased and it really feels like a game changer. If I can consistently hit 10km this next week I think I’ll be in a position to start looking at training plans for longer distances. I just need to not get carried away and hurt myself.

Anyway, here’s a little video I made while running my first ever 10km

Video

Couch to 5k

So the first part of this journey is complete. While not completely couch potato to running 5 kilometres, my physical job and hiking “prowess” gave a bit of a start, I’ve reached the end of the first training program in this long road to ultramarathons.

After a couple of false starts in June, July saw training start for real and using the “Get Running” couch to 5k app on my phone I was able to find some consistency in my running. It was still hard but the app really helped to get me out consistently 3 times a week.

I skipped ahead a few weeks on the program a point where it got quite hard but soon progressed to running, without stopping for a 1/2 hour. For most people this is the advertised 5k on the box, but because I’m slow, the reality for me was that I was only covering 2.5 km in the time.

So I set out to run the distance and while it hurt loads I managed to complete my first full 5km run in 37 minutes. The week after I ran it again 3 times and the times were consistent, but I also decided that actually time doesn’t matter just yet. Just hitting mini targets is good enough for know. Whether it’s 5km or 30 minutes or whatever, just doing more every week is the current goal.

So were well into this little project and I’ve hit the first target. I’m quietly pleased with myself, not because I run well, more because I’ve found a routine which seems to work and I feel like I’m making slow but forward progress.

Here’s all the Couch to 5km Training diaries edited into a nice little video on YouTube if you’re interested, (spoiler alerts! It wasn’t pretty!)