My Day Walking Essentials
I love backpacking and getting away, but sometimes you don't have the time and just fancy a quick trot to some of the UK's many idyllic walking destinations - but what to take? What's really essential, and what's just extra weight?
Here I'll briefly go through my standard kit for a spring-autumn day walk in the UK's hills, although obviously winter walking will require some more specialised gear!
Snowdon - July | Day-walking in the UK
>> Good boots
Obvious enough, but your feet are the thing that's going to take the most punishment, and at the end of the day you're going to need them to get you home. Blisters and ill-fitting boots will ruin even the most glorious of weather.
I use Scarpa ZG65 GTX because they're lightweight, yet still stiff enough for pretty much any UK terrain and, most importantly, are the perfect fit. Of course, if the terrain you're on is fairly flat and even, a good pair of approach shoes will do. Scarpa and Salomon are my preferred brands.
As with any footwear, fit is the key feature you need to look for!
Top-Tip - Always take a spare pair of laces, they don't weight anything and are cheap to buy, but you'll regret not having them if you need them!
During the summer months I prefer a lightweight waterproof, as hopefully it'll spend most of the time in my pack. Chose something with good breathability to help you stay comfortable in warm weather...pretty much any modern waterproof will stop water from the environment.
>> Waterproof Trousers (useful)
I'll be honest, I don't like waterproof trousers: my legs get too warm and feel sweaty, but my girlfriend does! Again, keep them lightweight and breathable, and ideally with leg zips to help you take them on and off without removing your boots.
>> Gaiters (useful)
Not essential per se, but I rarely go on a trip without my gaiters, they'll help stop the bottom of your trousers soaking up water and then transferring it into your boots, they help stop stones and debris getting into your boots, and for some reason they stop me having to re-tie my laces all the time. I wouldn't use them in glorious sunshine, but in rain they're effectively my waterproof trousers.
A nice lightweight microfleece will be handy for rest-stops, or if the weather turns. Usually, a microfleece with a shell will keep you warm enough in the worst spring-summer weather if you keep moving.
>> Wicking T-Shirt
There's no point taking a nice lightweight shell if you wear a cotton t-shirt underneath, it'll hold all your sweat and/or rain and make you feel very cold the moment you stop walking. In summer a nice, loose wicking t-shirt like the Berghaus Technical T will be great.
In the cooler spring and autumn months you may want a slightly warmer base-layer. My weapon of choice is the Helly Hansen Lifa Dry LS Crew.
>> Two pairs of socks!
Coupled with boots, socks are a lot more important than many realise. A poor pair of socks can help cause blisters and generally make life uncomfortable...and don't wear cotton socks! Most outdoor shops have a huge range of technical socks available, and although they may seem expensive (from £10-£15 a pair on average), they're worth the investment. I've had walking socks last me 3-4 years easily.
In summer a nice lightweight pair with a high synthetic to merino ratio is often best to help keep feet cool. In cool weather, wear thicker socks with a higher merino to synthetic ratio.
Liner socks - these are personal preference to be honest. But liner socks are a useful tool to help prevent blisters, reduce movement in boots and enable you to take less 'outer' socks on long trips!
Top-Tip 1- ALWAYS take a spare pair of socks! You never know when you're going to step in a surprisingly deep puddle or cross a stream...you'll be thankful for a dry pair of socks if your get wet!
Top-Tip 2 - Not essential, but I usually take a tiny bit of talc in a sandwich bag so if I do get wet feet I can dry them off nicely before putting new socks on. Due to the wicking nature of modern socks, if the insides of your boots are wet and you put on fresh socks, you'll hardly notice the damp.
>> Hat and Gloves
Again, something I will always take when out and about on a hill, everyone knows that your head loses heat faster than a desert at night! I've been on Snowdon in July and been massively grateful I brought some extremity protection. You don't need your ski gloves either, just a thin pair of fleece gloves will keep your fingers from complaining too much if the weather does take a turn for the worse!
>> A Watch
There are tonnes of specialist sports watches on the market, with GPS, bell and whistles galore. You don't need them (although they're very nice to have!). But at worst any old watch will help...couple this with a basic knowledge of when it gets dark and use in conjunction with a map and compass for navigation. You can even tell which way north is using an analogue watch, the sun, and some simple calculations!
Snowdon Summit - July | Hat and gloves essential!
You're going to want something to carry your stuff in! There are day-sacks available in a wide range of sizes and prices, so you'll easily find something to suit. I love my The North Face Terra 35. It's quite large but it does mean I can carry most of my girlfriend's gear on day walks, and is big enough for my climbing gear when I go to the wall.
Most people will find a daysack between 25-30 litres is ideal for day walks...smaller if you travel fast and light, and larger if you may use it for weekend walks. A removable rain-cover is handy, but you can always use a rucksack liner (or bin-bags) to keep your gear safely dry. A nice ventilated mesh, or back-system will be handy, and some form of hip belt is nice to have, but not essential.
>> Map, Compass & Map Case
In this age of GPS technology, the map and compass may often seem like unnecessary baggage...I believe it's the other way around. If you know how to use a map and compass, the GPS is the 'optional extra'
Remember, batteries can fail, screens can be cracked etc. A map and compass will never let you down, provided you know how to use it of course, and there's something satisfying about doing it the 'old-fashioned' way in my opinion. The map case stops your map becoming so much wet paper in the rain.
Slovenia - April | Map reading
>> Emergency Kit
When out in the wilderness (not a dog-walk round the local woods) I always carry a basic emergency kit - this includes:
- Whistle - Cheap and cheerful, but any survival expert will tell you how handy they can be.
- Broken CD - For reflecting sunlight to signal, 'Ray Mears' style!!!
- Survival bag - Cheap, cheerful and hopefully something you never have to use.
- First Aid Kit for walking injuries: plasters, triangular bandage, steri-strips, anti-septic wipes, Compeed blister plasters, paracetomol/ibuprofen, a couple of adhesive pads, anti-histamine. (I'll be honest, I've never used half of it, but it's good have and really doesn't take up much space in the hood of your pack.)
- Headtorch - Hopefully you'll be back to the car before nightfall...but what if you're not? Headtorches like the Petzl Tikka series are small, light and handy for home, car and walking! I always take a spare headtorch and a set of batteries in my kit just in case - but I'm also technical diver so I believe firmly in redundancy. You should be fine with one, and just make sure to test it before you go!
- Mobile phone - Don't ever rely on them to work on a hill, and always try to think of a back-up plan to get off the hill in an emergency, but I usually take mine anyway (turned off to save power) - plus it means if your car is missing when you get back you haven't lost your phone as well!
- Sunscreen - I'm ginger and very pale skinned, in summer I hardly every go anywhere without sunscreen! But its useful for everyone in summer months, hills have a habit of being deceptively cool even in bright sun, so you may burn without realising. Factor 15-20 is usually fine, although I use factor 30 of course.
Obvious as to why, you can sweat buckets on the hill and dehydration can lead to poor decisions, a miserable time and of course death...although that's pretty unlikely on a day-walk in the UK to be fair!
I use a Platypus Big Zip 2 bladder as it fits into my daysack, and allows me to drink little and often. As they say, if you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrated. It also saves having to stop every 5 minutes on a warm day to find your bottle.
This is personal choice really. I like to take a pot noodle or packet soup and a bread roll for day walks, but sandwiches are fine, as are camping meals. My girlfriend always takes a banana or four and I always take a bunch of 'cereal bars' for energy and to give you something to munch on. I rarely take chocolate because I had an incident with melted chocolate and an expensive waterproof once. Crisps will get broken, and can often make you feel quite thirsty, so I usually don't bother, but on a day-walk really, it's not so important to plan meals as it is on a 5-day self-supporting trek ;-)
One of the benefits of a large 35 litre daysack is I usually have plenty of room even after the above is stowed..so I have my own set of essentials...which keep me happy on the hill. You don't need these, but they might be handy.
>> Tea & Coffee facilities!
Snowdon - July | Tea Break much appreciated!
I have an Optimus Crux stove, which is so tiny you literally wouldn't believe it. A small gas-canister weighs very little as well. I then strip the kettle out of my Optimus Terra pan-set (although it's sold separately) and take a couple of cheap Thermos-flask lids as mugs and hey-presto...tea & hot chocolate for lunch...lovely!
Optimus did recently release the Crux & Terra Solo Sets, which are probably easier if you have neither a stove or kettle to start with.
(Obviously remember to take some tea-bags, sugar and powdered milk in sealed bags - I find a tiny cheap plastic clip-top box from any supermarket works well to keep everything together)
Side Note - Collecting Water
I usually stop for lunch near a water-source to collect the water so I don't waste my clean stuff, but obviously there's a few things to watch out for when you do this, like dead animals upstream, or filthy looking water. If you take from fast-moving and clear water (and filter through a tight fabric), then boil for a a minute you should kill all the nasty stuff. You can always take a 'proper' filter and purifying tabs, but I only tend to do that on extended wilderness walks where boiling all your water is impractical. If you're unsure about collecting water on the move read our guide (coming soon)
I wear glasses, and often find it hard to make out stuff that's far away, so I have some small binoculars strapped to my rucksack hip-belt...plus you never know when you might see something really interesting!
>> Sunglasses & or Sun Hat
Again, you don't need these as such, but sunlight can damage your eyes, and also be irritating if it's in your face all day. Being red-haired I also take a wide brimmed hat with me in the summer to keep my head from burning within seconds. Plus it makes me look like Crocodile Dundee, which is always cool!
Top-Tip - Make sure sunglasses offer full UV protection, and are ideally category 3. I like them polarised, but that's not essential. A wrap-around style frame will provide the best coverage. A pair of retainers will help you stop them plummeting to the floor or off the edge of a cliff.
Well you'll want some pictures of you catalogue posing all over the hill this this won't you?!
Slovenia - April | 'Catalogue' pose, you pretty much have to!
So that pretty much sums up what I take on a Spring-Autumn UK hill-walk.
Stay tuned for extended back-packing essentials and tips! If you have any essentials you like to take, or top tips please let us know!
As mentioned, this is intended as a guide, and you may need more gear for walks abroad, or in winter. Drinking water sourced in the outdoors can be hazardous, so please consult further information, or take more specialist gear if you are unsure of the best way to do this. Always have a contact who knows your rough plans, and set a time to 'call-in' safe completion so if you miss it, rescue services can be informed. Many pubs or visitor centers near popular destinations will offer this if you ask.
Obviously respect the 'country-code' and any rules or laws concerning the area in which you are walking. Always be prepared to change or cancel plans if the weather turns really nasty...rescue services in the UK are very good, but not very appreciative if you've called them out and are lost in the highlands with no map, compass, and wearing only a t-shirt and sandals. You are responsible for your own safety.