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

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?

Youtube: Oh The Places We’ll Roll.

Ever dreamed of packing everything into an RV and disappear on a never ending road trip. Of course you have but these guys have only gone and done it.

www.ohtheplaceswellroll.com

I’ve only watched the first few episodes so far and, “tainted Mac’n’Cheese” and vehicle troubles aside, they all appear to be embracing life on the road, dogs and all.
I’ll put the first episode here but please make sure you click subscribe

As well as new episodes every Sunday you can follow the adventures on social media AND if you’re feeling generous you can contribute to the coffee fund on Patreon

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Dartmoor 2018

This summer we visited one of our National Parks for the first time. Somehow, after 6 years of living on the South Coast, within a few hours drive, and after countless trips to Devon and Cornwall for family visits and “normal” holidays I had never set foot on Dartmoor.

The purpose of the trip to was to spend a few days down there and just boulder as much as possible and when we first planned it out the forecast was great for Friday to Sunday with a few showers on the days either side. On the week of the trip the forecast changed and we were faced with the prospect of torrential rain  over that weekend. I hadn’t had time to plan any wet weather hiking as an alternative to bouldering so I moved some things around, worked like a dog on Monday and Tuesday, cramming 4 days work into 2 and on the Wednesday morning we jumped on a ferry and headed west.

We took a slow drive down as it was meant to be wet in Devon that day, so we stopped at a few places for a wander and an explore. One of which was going to be Lyme Regis but the “park and ride” car park was bursting and we just didn’t want to put ourselves through that. We did stop at Haldon Forest , which was very busy too but we found a quiet spot in the woods for a picnic and an explore.

Back in the car we decided to take the smaller roads through the park rather than the ironically named Devon Expressway, and we’re so glad we did. We so blown away by the landscape, even from the car, and I said to Hazel that “this place should be a secret!”. My mind started whirring, wondering if we could come back and hike across the park. (If there’s an established route please let me know). We were heading to Down Tor and Sheepstor at the western end of the park, near Tiverton, as I’d found a guide to the bouldering on Down Tor and ,after a chat with Graeme at www.wildcamping.blog/  on Instagram, found that we could camp on neighbouring Sheepstor. (Cheers Graeme!)

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On the way across we stopped to investigate some boulders, so we parked up grabbed the crash mat and climbing shoes and hiked maybe a 1/4 of a mile to a promising looking Tor. We climbed for about an hour, just looking for any way up. The kids enjoyed squeezing into a crack and making their ascents that way. We were just playing really but having a great time all 5 of us doing the same thing at the same time and all completely knackered by the time we hiked back to the car.

Dartmoor 2018 - 07

Suddenly it was 7 o clock and as we got to the car, we heard thunder, then the rain came and then we saw the lightening, none of which was on the bloody forecast! We sensibly decided to head for a campsite lower down rather than wildcamp high on the moor with all this lightening around. It ultimately rained until the early hours but that didn’t stop the kids getting soaked in the play area in the dark while I sorted out the tent and dinner.

The following morning was damp but breezy so we headed into town and treated ourselves to a big, dirty fry up to give the rock a chance to dry off. We drove round some narrow lanes and before too long we were there. A 5 minute hike took us to the first set of boulders, which we ended up spending a few hours at. To honest I climbed really badly but really enjoyed myself. The kids had a blast and after trying a few lines from the guidebook were happy just finding their own ways up things.

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After a brew we headed on up the hill and just had so much to play around on. We reached the top of the Tor and found some really fun stuff to climb, some in the guidebook, some not but we didn’t care. It was just great to be climbing outside. We were just discussing the plans for the next day when the rain started so we wandered back to the car for a late tea. We were hoping to camp up on Sheepstor but again there was some lightening around so we decided to just go for a drive and see what the weather does.

Then evening brightened up so we stopped for a little hike up onto another Tor from where we could see where we had spent the day getting sore fingers and grazes and then we went to find a spot to camp. The rain had started again so we found a layby, spent 10 minutes wondering if we could all sleep in the car comfortably and just started putting down seat when another car came into the layby. A young french couple asked if we were planning to camp here, so abandoning the chaos in the car we grabbed the tent and sleeping bags and headed only about 200 yards away and pitched up behind some gorse. The other couple pitched only about 10 yards from their car so we felt like we had at least made an effort toward stealthiness.

Dartmoor 2018 - 14

It rained all night and into the next morning. The forecast said it was in for the day so we had a slow drive back to our ferry. This time the slow drive wasn’t our choice as the rain and holiday traffic turned our drive into an 8 hour marathon! Never mind.

Even though the weather seemed against us for this flying visit to Dartmoor, I know it will quickly become a favourite spot for us. Outside of school holidays, it should be a really accessible and beautiful “go to” place for us. Its huge amount of climbing, bouldering and hiking and being so close (on a good day) may just move it ahead of Snowdonia as our National Park of choice.

Mind you there’s still a few we haven’t visited yet.

Thanks again to Graeme at Dartmoor Wild Camper and Pete Saunders at Rusty Peg

Day 1 Gurnard to St Helens

We got up nice and early with a plan to leave before dawn which didn’t happen. By the time we had a second bowl of porridge and got everything together it was nearly 9 am but hey, we hadn’t confirmed our plan to hike around the Island until only 2 weeks earlier.

I suppose we had always threatened to hike around this little island we call home but the mainland always seemed a little more enticing. Back in the summer we had moved house and the coastal path was only 5 minutes walk away now so it seemed rude not to hike it. Besides, once we’re done we can get back to the exoticism of the UK mainland!

Most of the guides online showed the route going anti-clockwise from a ferry port, I suppose for visitors from across the water, but we would start at Gurnard Beach just down the lane and head clockwise to Ryde and get the worst of the road walking out of the way first.

Robs Round the Island - 012So with laden packs and the sun starting to warm our bones we headed along Gurnard sea front which was nice and quiet, through the sailing mecca of Cowes to our first little “cheat” of the trip, the floating bridge which is the only way to East Cowes other than a 9 mile detour inland along the river.

From East Cowes to Fishbourne was some of the worst hiking I’ve ever done. Either pavement or road, with traffic being all smelly and noisy right next to us and having to cross the busy road multiple times for no apparent reason. So when we reached the path from Fishbourne to Ryde I was both relieved and disheartened at the same time. Great to be away from the road but still hiking on bloody tarmac. Plus, we hadn’t seen the sea since the floating bridge and wasn’t this supposed to be a “Coastal” trail.

Robs Round the Island - 045We pressed on through Quarr Abbey which was beautiful but busy. We pulled faces at the pigs and the kids enjoyed their first opportunity to run on and just hike like kids. Mind you we were seriously flagging when we reached the soft, soft sanctuary of the beach at Ryde, and coupled with a bag of chips and a can of pop we recharged a little.

We had about half an hour on the beach and with the sun starting to make its rapid descent, we pressed on knowing we still had 4 or 5 miles until we could camp and quietly looking forward to hiking along in the dark. The sunset just as we were heading into Puckpool Park, and as Evan and I were ahead we went through the park. Hazel and the the other two went around and we were separated for a little longer than was comfortable but ultimately were reunited after a couple of forays off trail in search of a toilet.

Robs Round the Island - 115It was  proper dark now, but with the occasional street lamp and the bright lights of cruise liners on the water and Portsmouth across it, we had a lovely wander through the night. The trail disappeared at one point so we retraced our steps and found an alternate route which was much nicer and led to a night hike along the beach and we only realised we’d missed the trail when we got cliffed out at the far end of the beach. Fortunately someone else came of the trail as we were looking for it so we weren’t delayed for long as we headed into the trees.

We went from a bright, almost full moon on a deserted beach to thick woods, illuminated by a thin corridor of light from our headtorches, stopping at every turn to make sure we hadn’t left the trail and it was here, on the last mile that the tiredness really hit the kids so you can imagine the excitement when we finally broke from the tree cover onto the beach at St Helens and spotted the campsite.

There were a few other campers on the site overstuffed with static caravans (Funny story, Hazel and I lived in a caravan on this site when we first lived together, long before the kids were around) but there was plenty of room for our little blue tent. We got the beds set up and found out we needed a code for the toilet block. I was going to pay in the morning so I was hoping someone might be around. There was and while he did give me the code for the washroom, he also made me pay there and then. A grand total of £6. I was the happiest hiker ever, we normally have to pay £25 for a night at a campsite so that was a result.

Robs Round the Island - 143The kids were tucked up with their kindles when I got back and it seemed a shame to turf them out into the cold to use the facilities, but we did and it wasn’t long after that they were snoring.

The night hiking was great and even the walk through the dark, dark woods was alright especially compared to the rest of the day. We had hiked 17 1/2 miles, our longest ever day as a family, and I would guess 16 of it was on tarmac, and 13 of it along roads and nowhere near the sea. Not being funny, I would never, ever, ever repeat this section. Fellow hikers, if your doing this trail, start/finish at Ryde. Do not bother with Ryde to East Cowes, I can think of ZERO redeeming features and we only did it to be completist. Its not even worth that.

Please rest assured better days followed on this trip!

Children! Know Your Limits.

I was just reading another blog about hiking with kids and they mentioned the importance of  “Knowing your children’s limits.” Now my first reaction was “Well, obviously” but then I thought about it a little.

Every time I plan a trip, it’s at the top of my considerations.

  • How far can they hike in a day.
  • How much can they carry in their packs.
  • How much food do we need to carry to keep them happy/full/not crying/on a sugar high
  • Can they cope with the weather and trail conditions
  • How far is it to the trailhead, do we need to stop on the way?

And many other considerations I can’t remember. I suppose its everything you would think about for yourself but your making that decision for someone else, much smaller than you.

So every time we hit the trail, I’ve gone through this process of asking myself these questions and at times they can cause some anxiety, am I doing the right thing? What if we haven’t enough food? or do the kids really want to hike 10 miles today?

The problem is, it’s all wasted time and effort. Every time I thought I knew my kids limits, they’ve surpassed them and more. If you would like some examples please read on;

October 2015. The kids are 4, 6 and 8 and we hike up Snowdon for the first time. It takes us 9 hours up the PYG track and down the Miners. There is no carrying, no crying and nothing but good spirits and excitement. The furthest they’ve walked before today is 3/4s of a mile around the rather flat Gratham Water. Tomorrow they’ll hike the Mynffordd Track up Cadair Idris and our family love affair with the mountains begin.

cropped-cropped-west-highland-way-116111.jpgApril 2017. The West Highland Way. I plan the trip to last 12 Days, each one spent hiking for approximately 8 miles. The kids will carry as little as possible, maybe their water bottles, a few snacks, a teddy and their waterproofs in the unlikely event they aren’t wearing them.
We complete the trail in 9 1/2 days, including an almost 13 miler on the penultimate day. The kids carry their own sleeping bags, as well as the stuff I had planned on and Ev carries a full 25l rucksack over 100 miles by the time you add on travel days. Isaac is 5 and hiked every single step.

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Easter 2018. Glyndwrs Way. I plan for good, if a little damp trail conditions, cool temperatures and the potential for sunshine, warming days but potentially cold overnight. We aim for 12 miles a day to complete the trail in the time we have.
What we get is a corridor of ankle deep mud, persistent drizzle and a cold wind. We can’t find any rhythm to our hiking due to the constant slipping and sliding. We manage 10 miles on day one and nearly 15 on day two. We wake up on the next morning covered by 3 feet of snow. The kids are excited to press on. We lose the trail in zero visibility. We are cold and wet, the tent is soaked from the previous night and there is no where to get dry. The forecast is for more rain and snow overnight. I make the decision to call it off. Now the children cry, they want to keep going. In the hardest hiking conditions I have ever encountered, they are loving it.

October 2018. Isle of Wight Coastal Path. We have 9 days to do 68 miles (on paper) We travel light. We can pick up food most days. The kids carry all their own stuff (except tent and stove which we all share). We finish the trail in 5 days covering 78 miles (according to the GPS), averaging 15 a day but including two 18 mile sections. The kids are amazing, even on the never ending road walking of day 1.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that whatever challenge we give them, they rise to it. They never cease to amaze me and while there is some sense in “knowing their limits”, surely it’s better to be constantly surprised by their determination, capability and adaptability and embrace it wholeheartedly.  After all, they are the biggest adventure.

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A Perfect Spot for Supper

We were on our way up the South East side of Pen y Fan when we stumbled upon this lovely spot. While the kids tried their hardest to get wet, we cooked tea and brewed up and considered making camp. It was the perfect spot really but by the time the last dog walkers had disappeared from view, the sun had dipped behind the mountain and the midgies were out in force so we pressed onto higher ground and made camp near the the summit of Fan Y Big. Still, it wasn’t a bad spot for supper.

On the way to Pen Y Fan

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Lils Lost Boot

Here’s Lil having just lost her boot in the mud on the Cerne Valley Trail. What you can’t see is the rest of us either giggling or getting the photo taken before rushing to her aid! It was funny really, she had already lost it once before and this little trail was supposed to be our drier alternative after getting snowed off Glyndwrs Way only a few days earlier. I will take this opportunity to compliment her on her balancing skills!

 

Climbing @ Elan Valley

We managed to pinch an afternoon from my Dads 60th Birthday celebrations in the shire and we crossed the border to one of our favourite spots, Rhayader and the Elan Valley. We had been up here for a recce back in February and coupled with some research from UK Climbing decided that it was worth another visit for our first outdoor climb on real rock.

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It had been wet in the morning but a combination of a strong breeze and intermittent sunshine dried the rock so we could climb. I set up a top rope on an easier route and away we went, the kids first then Hazel and I. It was so so different to climbing indoors, the holds weren’t obvious and bright red or green, the wind buffeted us and the rock wasn’t plumb vertical. It was also so much more fun and personally, it felt really instinctive, rather than going for the hold because its the right colour it was more like “this feels right”.

 

Evan had a bit of a moment at the top when he wanted to climb onto the top of the crag and walk back around but I insisted he get lowered for practice and the next time he might be able to just top out and walk down the back way. He managed to come down ok in the end though and we all had a really good time. Unfortunately didn’t move onto other routes as the weather turned against us but we all left rather pleased with ourselves and vowed to return soon.

 

The Cerne Valley Trail

After the disappointment of our aborted Glyndwrs Way hike we relocated to Dorset for a couple of days. That didn’t quite go as planned either as the rain meant that every campsite we tried to stop in on the way down was either booked up or waterlogged. So instead of camping Wednesday night we had a choice, straight to the ferry and back to the Island, or crash at Gramps and Nana Julie’s place in Weymouth. We weren’t ready for home.

We decided on some light, gentle walking on the Cerne Valley Trail up to Cerne Abbas, about 4 1/2 miles. We told the kids to look out for something special without giving away the surprise of what we would encounter later and they spent ages guessing at what it might be, Evans guess of “an ancient statue” was pretty close.

IMG_1580We strolled along in the sunshine, free of our heavy packs from a few days earlier and played pooh sticks from the little bridge across the stream before we started to run into our old friend from Glyndwrs Way, MUD. To be honest it was expected around farm yards and gates but for about a mile or so the trail ran along a bridleway so you can imagine what horses had done to the track. Ahh, the joys of multiuse trails! I think every child lost a shoe in the mud at least twice and like a bad Dad I enjoyed stopping to take a photo of them hopping around before going to the rescue. Mud aside, it was a lovely little trail through proper English countryside, mostly alongside a sparkling stream, past farms, churches and allotments into the idyllic village of Cerne Abbas.

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IMG_1608We made our way through the village, past the old abbey and on to “Giant Hill” with the kids none the wiser. Now we were up close and personal with one of Dorsets most famous residents but although we could easily make out the chalk markings in the turf it wasn’t until we hiked over to the other side of the valley that the kids could finally see what all the fuss was about. “It’s a man” said Lil before Isaac blurted out hysterically “And he’s got a massive willy!!!!”

So after “admiring” the view and enjoying a light picnic we headed back to the car, via the little post office for a can of ginger pop and the children’s all time favourite trail feature, a playpark.

Giant
You can just see the Giant and his big…ahem!.. from here

For more photos head to the gallery or our Facebook Page for even more.