Please understand that I am not trying to give any specific advice on any specific items, this blog is intended to give some constructive advice on things you may want to consider if you have little to no experience or knowledge when it comes to hiking equipment. It is impossible for me to provide hard facts as each user’s needs will be different. Research is key here, all I have tried to do is help point your search in the right direction to save you some time.
Ask any of my friends and they will all tell you that I am guilty of taking up a new interest with the most intense and passionate fire imaginable. I have cupboards, sheds and a loft full of items I have bought in a rush, without considering if I am really going to enjoy this new-found passion for a long time or 5 minutes. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of pounds on toys, gadgets, tools and more. My collection of musical instruments (none of which I can actually play) would serve as a fine example. I have become better at controlling these urges with age, but I believe we can all be guilty of enjoying unboxing something new, even if it is purely something practical such as a vacuum cleaner. But with all of this in mind, without a doubt, the biggest minefield, where one can really get lost and come unstuck, in my experience is the world of hiking and camping equipment.
As a child, I would use whatever was available, and with this, I was totally content. I would use a world war 2 military pack and old cooking pot that literally would fill the aforementioned pack. A sleeping bag and fly sheet strapped to its outside. With this basic setup, I spent many joyful days, making small fires and cooking rice out in my parent’s fields. Once I was 16 I had decided to join the army where I would learn basic navigation and how to take care of myself in some fairly adverse weather conditions during what at times was a miserable winter in Yorkshire. Once deciding the armed forces was not the career I desired I left to return home to the west country and continue with the everyday.
Once I had settled back into my home life, it wasn’t long before my thoughts turned back to the hills. However, I now had a driving license and a job! This meant I had money to buy my own kit, and a car to take me the short drive to Dartmoor. This is where I started to make the countless errors and mistakes that have taken me to where I am today, and the Summit or Nothing Journey we embarked on some 20 months ago.
Please try to bear in mind I am trying to give advice that may have saved me time and money on my own journey, and that other hikers and aspiring mountaineers will almost definitely value items in a different order or have a different approach to the same issues.
Being the, 18 years old big shot, who now knew everything there was to know about the outdoors, my first step was to go out and buy a rucksack of suitable durability and capacity to fit an entire house in. I was obviously now a marine and I was going to be living in the mountains for weeks at a time. The problem here was I had not given any consideration as to what I was going to put in this pack, and therefore I had no idea what size it would need to be. Undeterred by this revelation I strutted into a Millets store with all the confidence in the world and walked out some 10 minutes later with a 70ltr Vango pack. Done!
As many people will tell you, the problem with this is now you have all that space you will be tempted to fill it! So, I hear you asking yourself, what size pack do I need? Unfortunately, this is a question I am still asking myself some 16 years on. The only difference is, I now have a much more informed decision of what I need as I now know the items that I carry more consistently. It may be the case you wish to have a daysack and an overnight bag as Trev has suggested in one of his videos on Hiking For Beginners.
But My advice would be to build slowly with more inexpensive packs. I currently have an Osprey Atmos 65ltr pack that is sat doing nothing other than holding surplus kit in my spare room, at £150.00 or more, this is a very expensive mistake to make. This pack was bought 3 years ago for venturing up into the mountains on overnight trips. Experience now tells me that for 3 months of the year I can do this with ease using a far smaller, lighter and cheaper 42lt pack.
If you are starting with day trips, then just get a small inexpensive daysack. It won’t break the bank, and as your kit and aspirations evolve you will begin to know what you are looking for, and the compromises you are willing to make to get you there. Your kit list for your first days out should be something like this:
Flask of coffee/tea
Map and compass
First aid kit
(this is assuming you are heading out for an afternoon in fair weather on a defined track)
Even this list may be considered excessive by some, and too little by others. Again, due to my recent experiences with Trev here at Summit or Nothing, if you are venturing out into the hills it would be better to invest the time and effort into navigation proficiency than kit you don’t yet need.
I have recently purchased a Lowe Alpine, Alpine Accent 40:50, this is a very lightweight pack that is geared towards mountaineering as appose to just hiking. It is 800g lighter than my Berghaus and has more space, but it will be less comfortable as the weight saving seems to be mainly from the frame. A Backpack with excellent breathability around the back will tend to be heavier. However, my path is leaning more towards mountaineering and this pack has features that I will need as the next year progresses. But two years ago, I did not know what features I needed, what kit I would be taking, and how important it would be to me to keep my overall pack weight down, none of the decisions that I have made lately would have been possible without building up some experience and seeing which route my interest was going to take.
Regarding cooking and stoves, I have had plenty. I started with a hexamine stove from an old British Military ration pack and a pair of old mess tins. These hexamine stoves are super cheap. They fold up small, fit inside the tins, and they are super robust. These are all great points. But if you have ever cooked with them, you will know they can be a nightmare to light on a wet and windy day. They also take a long time to boil water, so you will be carrying a fair amount of fuel if you mean to use them for a few days. Still, they are basic and cheap, but they did the job.
I have also tried an alcohol stove, again this was with mess tins. I found with the Trangia that it was easier to light, although wind protection was key here, they are easy to blow out at the start. It is definitely easier to carry more fuel, but I did find my bag would start to smell of mentholated spirit, and so would a lot of my other kit. The stove itself is small, lightweight and robust, but you need to invest in a reliable windshield to go with it for serious use.
I even tried a stainless-steel billy can and making a campfire to hang it over. This was short lived as, on Dartmoor, we are severely limited to places where fires can be lit, and the time invested in getting the fire ready and making a tripod is impractical for everyday hiking.
These experiences have been fun at times. But in my honest opinion, when the weather is less than desirable, and you just want something hot to eat and drink, you cannot beat the clean, hassle-free reliability of a canister stove. There are many on the market, so you will be spoilt for choice. Currently, both Trev and I use the Jetboil-Zip, which is a great little complete system. Prior to this we shared my MSR Reactor. The reactor was a great little stove, but was actually quite large and bulky for every day hiking. Given its size I intend to hold on to it as it may prove a useful tool in the future if we intend to share the load of tent and stove on longer hikes.
The principal of the heat exchange in the bottom of the cooking pot on both the Jetboil and the MSR is a great little bit of engineering. Both boil water rapidly and use a minimal amount of gas to do the job. The Jetboil is more reasonably priced and has two distinct advantages. 1) it locks onto the stove head. This means it is easy to move and less likely to spill. 2)it had a foot that can be fitted to the bottom of the canister that increases the size of the stoves footprint and again reduces the likelihood of the stove spilling or falling over. These are just a few points. But there are many other comparisons to consider when it comes to the purchase of a stove. I have recently purchased a very small and lightweight stove head in the effort to make my own cook set, hopefully, it will be lighter and smaller than the Jetboil, but it will have its own compromises.
Consideration should be given to the intended use of the stove, is it just for a hot drink? In which case would a flask be the better option? Or is it for food? And if so what do you intend to cook?
The food you take with you will if you let it, will make a considerable donation to your packs overall weight. If you are happy to carry the weight and reduce your pace for the comfort of your chosen food, then this is up to you. We have taken many different forms of food from a Cornish pasty to dehydrated expedition foods. A key thought should be to the calories per gram ratio of the food you choose. Whether or not you intend to cook properly and spend some of the evening/morning washing dishes in a stream or from your water bottle, or you are happy to pay for the convenience of the hiking meals found online and in many high street stores is your choice. But it will have an influence on your choice of cooks set.
Let me save you some time. If you are not already aware, you do not need a machete anywhere in the UK or for that matter a hatchet. At least not for most standard hiking trips. If you have watched any of our packing videos you may have noticed that I carry a Mora Bushcraft fixed blade knife with me. I still do, but this is set to change. In the last year of walking moorland and mountains on a regular basis, I have used this knife probably 3 times. Most notably for cutting soft cheese! Yep! Cheese!
The knife is fairly weighty, this is due to its robust design as its intended use is quite heavy. I am very happy with the knife, and it is well made and great value for money. But if I just don’t use it, then why am I carrying it? And in case you were wondering, I have at other times carried a machete and a hatchet. They are just exaggerated examples of the issues with my Mora knife. It is my intention to get a small folding pocket knife. I have a Leatherman multi-tool, but as much as I love it, I am yet to find a use for the pliers, the screwdrivers and the very small saw while doing day hikes and wild camps in the UK, on mountains and predominantly in Dartmoor.
They are quite expensive, and fairly weighty if all you use is the knife blade to cut the odd boot lace or slice some cheese. Nope, I have decided that a reliable, but inexpensive pocket knife that holds a good edge is the way forward for me. Of course, if you are more into your bushcraft, then knives and cutting tools become more essential.
If your primary concern is a shelter for just in case the worst should happen, then you may not want to go to the expense of buying a tent or tarp set up, and lugging all that weight around. There are many varying options for different sized emergency shelters that are relatively inexpensive. These are regularly mentioned in both the ‘Hill Walking’ and ‘Winter Skills’ books published by Mountain Training UK.
I personally have opted to carry a tarp for this purpose. I can then use it as a main shelter as well in the fairer weather. But if you are beginning to look at wild camping on your walking adventure, then I would suggest research is the key here. There are many varying options depended on your intended use and budget. Both me and Trev have Vango tents (I have the Vango Mirage 300 and Trev has the slightly smaller Vango Banshee 200), these are fairly robust and relatively light for what they are given the price. As you move into the lighter weights the materials get more expensive and then things can escalate wildly out of control.
These days I always try think of the intended use, and what would happen if I damaged this item I just spent £400.00 on. In this regard, I have opted for the cheap and cheerful Tarp. I also prefer the more direct connection with the outdoor world I experience with the tarp system. Even Trev now has veered across to the DD Hammock Superlight Tarp, which is considerably lighter than a tent, and uses your hiking poles in place of carrying extra poles.
Whatever you decide, you will need to put some effort into its maintenance, seam sealer, airing tents after use, making sure all the parts, including tent pegs are present before heading out. Additional ground sheets can be used as well to protect the tent, and it is always worth inspecting the area before you erect the tent, for thorns and alike. Condensation can be your enemy in a tent, and a tent with a mesh inner and a fly sheet will be preferable. Two openings and vents for airing will help battle the condensation.
Being able to sit in a tent is a bonus, but the height will cost you weight. Porches for cooking in bad weather are very useful, but be careful not to trap yourself in a flaming tent! I did buy a cheap and light tent from a high street store it seemed to have everything I needed and was of a sound construction. However, once set up the tent was too short, and I was touching both the head and the feet end at the same time. This aloud condensation to soak into my sleeping bag at each end. The tent was listed as being fit for a two-person, in my mind, it wasn’t suitable for one, if a second person and both of our kit were in the tent, it would be a damp nightmare to say the least. Where possible try to by a tent somewhere you can see it erected and get a feel for the space inside.
Some tents are self-supporting and can be used without pegging down, others rely on tension from the guy strings, this should be a consideration if you plan to camp anywhere that is rocky in nature.
This can be yet another expensive area. Its easy to get carried away when looking at comfort ratings, and over estimate the lower end of what you are going to be camping in. If you by that -15 bag, are you really going to need it? Is it going to be unbearably hot in summer? Do you need two bags? Down or synthetic? What type of roll mat do I need? Should I get a super light inflatable? Will an inexpensive foam mat work? Do I need a bivi bag?
If you are yet to do a wild camp, it is more than likely it will be in the warmer season of the year, my bag is rated to -7 and is comfortable all year round. In the summer I can open it up for cooling an it is just about right, in the winter I have a Thermolite Reactor liner that claims to add up to 11 degrees of comfort. This arrangement seems to give me great versatility against cost. My sleeping bag is of a synthetic fill and as such will still perform when damp or wet. Down seems to lose a lot of its insulative properties when it is wet.
If you have lived in the UK long, you may have noticed things get wet here a lot. That said, as long as you keep your kit dry, it shouldn’t be a problem. Because I use a tarp set up, I choose to use a GoreTex bivi bag rather then a ground sheet. I feel the security of the bivi gives me better protection against getting wet in the night. Plus, it is another windproof layer helping to lock in heat while being breathable. As for a sleeping pad, well I have tried some less expensive, but more robust inflatables. But I had a cut in the pad and it rendered itself useless. They do come with a puncture repair kit provided, but this one incident was all I needed to sway me back in the direction of a foam pad, currently I am using the Thermarest Ridgerest Solite - which is lightweight, designed to trap heat and its silver foil reflects that heat back to you in colder weather.
I have slept on Dartmoor before when I have woken up to find myself freezing cold, the reason for this is that I had foolishly camped on a slope and I had rolled off my mat in the night. This had resulted in a major loss of insulation from the ground which will draw heat out of your body at an alarming rate, this was also in the early summer and it was not a particularly cold night. So, it is conceivable that a punctured inflatable mat could lead to some serious issues.
It is also worth mentioning here that different people’s bodies will deal with maintaining body heat in different ways. I am a very warm sleeper and may need less insulation than someone who sleeps very cold. You know your own body and use what you know to help make an informed decision before any purchase.
I am not an expert in this area, I have been a scaffolder for 13 years, and I have worked in all conditions. I seem to just know in my head without thinking, what I need to wear to work that day. This to an extent seems to translate over to my hiking. However, I would always prefer to take more, as opposed to not enough. Basic waterproofs can be cheap and effective, but tend not to be breathable, and will likely have a short lifespan. But even if it is not raining, they can provide a great amount of windproofing. Waterproofs are likely to always be in you pack, so in time it may be worth investing some money here.
You will no doubt have heard of the layering system, which is not hard to get your head around. If you start with a base layer to draw sweat away but keep warmth in. then a mid-layer of maybe a fleece, and walking trousers, and then any wind or rain protection on top. There is an array of materials out there that do many of the intended jobs well. There is also a dramatic variation in price. So, you will have to research and be wise. Consider carefully the times of year and type of weather you intend to hike in and try not to get carried away. Over time I have built up quite the wardrobe purely for hiking. Pay attention to cotton, it will absorb sweat, but it will not dry out easily, in colder months it is far from an ideal base layer, however, in the middle of summer this property will aid its ability to keep you cool.
Again, think carefully about the use of down in your clothing, if you are likely to be getting wet, and your down jacket gets wet, it is not going to offer the insulation you may think it will. My approach would be to start in the summer when it is a minimal demand on the variety of clothing you will need to invest in, any rain you experience will be less likely to ruin your trip, and you will get a better feel for where you would like to spend your money. If by winter you are still enjoying your new-found hobby, you may be able to justify the expense of more seasonally specific garments.
Any hiking shop will display a wide range of footwear intended for use while hiking. They should also offer meaningful advice on sizing, and what may suit your particular needs. If you must buy online to get the best price, I would suggest it is worth going to speak to someone in a shop and try on a few pairs before you order. My feet seem to be fairly robust and it has been years since I have had a blister, (something not as common these days with the modern boot), but I also know from experience that for whatever reason my feet do not like a specific brand of boot. So, make no mistake, there will possibly be a little trial and error here too.
If you are starting with a fair-weather summer hike in dry locations with a small pack, you may be better suited to a walking trainer. But you will need to determine whether or not you need additional ankle support. I will probably always use a boot for this reason. I like to travel across more rocky routes and have trod on loose and uneven ground on almost every hike. For the sake of helping to avoid a twisted ankle, a full boot is my preference. Having spent a lot of time on Dartmoor, and realising that it is wet underfoot nearly all year round, then I will likely invest in gaiters over the winter months. Nothing is going to take the shine of your day quite like 8 hours of hiking through the bog with soaking wet feet. So, choose your foot ware wisely.
On top of what has been listed above, there will be many items you will choose from to fill every spare inch of your bag and spare pockets. Please try to remember there are very few hard and fast rules. Your preference and your budget are the most important things to consider first. Water purification is an area to think about. And by far the simplest is to purchase some purification tablets. But others may prefer one of the many water filtration systems on sale. I have been using the MSR Trailshot, and Trev has just purchased himself the Sawyer Mini Squeeze System. Both are small, lightweight and easy to use. You can see us test these out in our videos, including a race we partook in recently, which you can watch here.
Torches, glow sticks, inflatable pillows and collapsible stools. Honestly if you are willing to carry that extra creature comfort, and it gets you on the hill, then I say go for it. Trev and I have spent a lot of money trying to refine our kit and lighten the load, only to find that when we camp on a mountain we need a proper tent and more spare clothing, and with the photography and Vlogging we are carrying a serious amount of cameras, lenses and spare batteries. I think excluding our phones we take 4 or 5 cameras. This weight soon adds up and to some may seem crazy. But part of what we love is the ability to record and share our experiences. So we carry the extra weight. You could spend a lifetime trying to figure out the perfect gear list, but I think it will always change depending on the given situation and time of year. Try to never loose sight of the fact, that getting out and enjoying it is the most important part. All the great lightweight kit and everything else will come in time.