Let’s get this straight before we start. I am not sporty. It’s only my love for nature that makes me even vaguely ‘outdoorsy’. Luckily, long distance walking has far less than you’d think to do with fitness and stamina than it does with grit and stubbornness (which thanks to my Dad’s side of the family I have in ample supply!)
I’m 40 years old at the time of writing this. And I’m 68 kilos (150lb) and 5’4, which makes me about half a stone outside ‘normal’ BMI range, and a good stone over my ideal weight.* I also have an auto immune condition called Sarcoidosis, which causes pain, inflammation and fatigue, and growths in my lungs.
I’m hardly your ideal candidate for a long distance hiker.
To make things even more awkward, I have had lifelong spinal problems (disc degeneration in my back and a herniated cervical disc with ossification) so I have some issues with sleeping comfortably in a tent. I’m also intolerant of gluten, which makes camping food a bit of a nightmare. Or at least it used to be. I’m a dab hand these days at gluten free camping food – and my hubby ate entirely gluten free on our last trip too, with no complaints!
If I want to do something, I will find a way. Some of this is accomplished through good doctors, diet, medication, lifestyle changes, and the aforementioned grit. But a LOT of what makes Long Distance Hiking possible is the right kit. You will have to spend some money if you want to be comfortable and dry.
My 5-point basic kit is this:
- Backpack / Rucksack – Get one that fits your torso – YES! They come in different torso sizes! And some are adjustable. You can get women’s packs that also have s-shaped straps to accommodate the chest (rather than squishing it). I can’t recommend Osprey Arial 65 enough – it’s pretty much the industry standard, tested by many awesome ladies.
- Sleeping Mat – I have (count ’em) three of these. I have a thick Therm-a-Rest which I use for ‘normal’ camping, and a lighter, slightly less warm (but still pretty warm) Therm-a-Rest for hiking. They make women’s versions that are warmer/thicker around the hips and feet! And yes, I’ve turned into one of those people who cut the end of their toothbrush and weigh it. I also have a solar ridge rest – super cheap, light (if bulky) and keeps you crucially OFF THE GROUND, reflecting your body heat back to you.
- Inflatable Pillow – Again, I have two of these – the ‘comfort’ kind for ‘normal’ camping and a lighter kind for trekking. BOTH have a curved design which mimics the tempur contour pillow I have at home.
- Sleeping Bag – Girls get cold. I have a super warm sleeping bag, a down one. Pricey but worth every penny.
- Treking Poles – Only just bought these but OHMYGOD they may have just saved my life – you know how when you’re dying on the cross trainer, and you can take the heat of your legs by pulling a bit more with your arms? This, essentially is the gist of these – they also give you awesome stability and improve your control and confidence, especially going downhill. Women’s poles are shorter with a slightly smaller handle – almost imperceptible to the eye but you can really feel the difference with your hands.
Clothes are pretty simple and lots will depend on your personal preference, as different brands have different fits, but I tend to wear lots of Rab stuff, but my favourite base layer is by Montane. I always buy Salomon shoes, which come in half sizes! (Yes, I pretty much exclusively buy British Stuff – not least because they know how to make kit for our wet climate!) You will need socks, trousers, base layers, mid layers, waterproofs, hat, gloves and spares of most of those. (Check out Gear for Girls – lovely people and awesome clothes!)
Most important are awesome shoes. You’ll need to balance weight with durability, and also decide if you need no, mid, or full ankle support. I remove my insoles and replace them with Superfeet – there are loads of different kinds and you need to go check them out rather than just buy one, to make sure you get the right support.
With most clothes, you’ll be wanting lightweight stuff, so it’s a matter of weighing up weight/benefit in your head. My sleeping bag is pretty heavy compared to my hubby’s, but I’d never trade it. I carry trekking poles because they reduce the impact on me, which more than offsets their weight. You’ll need to make this decision about everything you buy/pack. Do I really need super warm tent socks? Yeah, I kind of do. Do I really need to carry a 400g fire bowl? Absolutely. The morale you get from having a fire is a priceless benefit, and I’m all about the leave-no-trace thing, so I won’t have one on the ground.
So it’s all about managing my conditions, knowing (and occasionally pushing) my limits, and planning, planning, planning. I’m really excited to be back into the swing of things, and determined to keep it up, and keep my health under my control. So watch this space!
*Yeah, I know I throw pounds, kilos and stones around like it’s Kibbles ‘n Bits – I grew up in the US and live in the UK so my metric/imperial system is on the fritz.