Long Distance Hiking and Shedding Weight

A while back I wrote about the Big List of Kit that people like The Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Scout Association and so on recommend for walking with.

I think I last weighed that kitlist at about 35lbs

I’d like to talk about alternatives now. How can we shed weight and still be safe while on outdoor adventures? What is really important, what is nice to have? Can lightweight kit really be as robust and effective as its grown up siblings?

I will say that the answer is a resounding yes.

21lbs on my back for 2 days out in 2008

I have been using the same basic loadout since the RAB Mountain Marathon of 2008
So, here it was in 2008, all packed up with food at water it weighted in at 9.5kg, or about 21lbs:

  • Ospray talon 44 rucksack (2.7lbs) pale blue and grey * update – performed brilliantly, but is simply too large for this sort of event: needs something 25 ~ 35 l max.
  • Marmot Atom sleeping bag (800g) red Eventplus silk sleeping bag liner (under 80g) * update – amazing, but sheds little bits of down. kept me warm, with liner, despite near freezing and rainy night
  • Thermorest ultralite mattress (400g) * update – comfy, but even at half size, too large and too heavy for this sort of event, great for static camps, but for races something lighter is needed
  • Primus ETA stove (480g + 200g of fuel, boils  a litre in about 110 seconds) * update – perfection in a stove. wonderful
  • Northface Tadpole 23DL ultralite (trek weight under 1.8kg) sleeps 2 * update – quick, waterproof, light, robust. not lightest tent on the race (860g laser photon from Terra Nova is the racer’s tent of choice), but quite handy none the less
  • Platypus 3 litre water reservoir * update – just worked, which was all that was need
  • RAB Neutrino Super Dru waterproof jacket (400g or so) in E-vent silicone fabric * update – hardly needed, but handy as a windbreak
  • Concurve Goretex walking trousers * update – hardly needed, but handy as a windbreak
  • Mountain Equipment baseball cap (waterproof, sunfactor 50) * update – lived in it for 48 hours; my new favourite hat
  • Northface Flight series shirt (sunfactor 50, moisture wicking, insect repelling, insecticidal, antibacterial) * update – not taken in the end, victim of weight saving!
  • Bam bamboo underpants (probably the MOST essential anti-chaffing item in the list!) * update – perfect. brilliant. must get more of this bamboo stuff
  • Bridgedale technical socks * update – saved me from blisters, pain and probably footrot. Best thin sock in the world?
  • Innov8 Mudrock shoes * update, they are so confidence inspiring that at times I felt like a mountain goat, but they are so hard to break in (search web for “kettle steam, innov8, heel cup) and they always look grubby. Great shoes, but need lots of care to make them work.
  • OS 1:250000 maps * update – bah! stupid race used stupid 1:40000 scale maps that suck suck suck
  • Silva silva standard compass * update – worked. always, and stopped us getting lost several times
  • Sporks * update – great, but not as great as the titanium spork I bought on the start line!
  • Cafetiere mug (makes REAL coffee on the trail) * left behind as a victim of weight saving
  • Petzl Tikka headtorch * update – great!
  • Extremities windproof / waterproof gloves * update – really really good
  • Northface fleece skull cap * update – second favourite hat in the whole world. kept me warm at night and at camp, too hot to run in though
  • Mountain Hardware zip-off trousers * left behind as a victim of weight saving
  • Craghoppers technical base layer * left behind as a victim of weight saving
  • Icebreakers pure merino 190g T-shirt * update – a real surprise, super light, super warm and good to sweat in. Narrowly beat its bamboo cousin into second place
  • North Face mid-weight fleece * update: replaced at last minute by North Face Apex stretch jacket, which was superb. Light, wind proof, vented, and flexible, it was worn throughout the race hours and has really impressed me
  • Timex Ironman watch
  • Cutdown (literally) wash kit
  • Expedition first aid kit
  • Bag of sherbert lemons… * update – ate them on the way to the race. had to live on mango and chewy bars instead.
  • …. And some food

Now, most people at the time (2008) told me that this was too much weight, and that I could get a lot lower and still enjoy myself. As I weighed about 16st6lbs myself at that time, I felt that the weight on my back was not the main thing slowing me down. 🙂

14lbs on my back for 2 days out in 2014

Well, I still weigh about the same – 104.kg – and am still competing and walking even more regularly. My kit now looks like this and all packed up with food at water it weighted in at 6.5kg, – a significant weight saving

  • Osprey Talon 22 Day bag (1.1lbs or about 760g) pale blue and grey – the most critical factor in weight saving is to make it impossible to carry anything you don’t need. And the lighter bag is a great first weight saving step. This carries more than enough for 2 days / 2 nights on on the hills.
  • Marmot Atom sleeping bag (680g) red Eventplus silk sleeping bag liner (under 80g) I stopped carrying the bag and just ‘vacpacked’ it into a ziplock food bag – saves weight and space. Just about OK in clothes if there is a light frost outside the tent, but the slight cold nip is not a major issue.
  • Thermorest NeoAir Xlite mattress (260g) light if a little scrunchy and noisy at night. If I weighed under 80kg, I could use something lighter, but, frankly, I need the insulation and the weight bearing ability of a good mattress at night now
  • Primus ETA stove (480g + 190g of fuel, boils  a litre in about 110 seconds) still perfection in a stove. wonderful, fast, and self lighting. OR – For single day trips, I take a tiny amount of fuel in a specimen bottle and the incredible EVERNEW titanium burner and cross top pot stand. 68g + 120g of fuel. Stick that under a titanium mug and brew up!
  • Titanium mug – mostly replaces pots and bowls – get one. Superb things
  • Terra Nova Laser Photon 2 tent – 888g of tent that takes 2 people. Each person carrying only 450g of tent and wrapping. That saves an awful lot of space and weight compared to the Tadpole (which I still use a lot) and transforms
  • Camelbak 500ml sip bottles * 2 – at 152g each they are heavier than a 2l reservoir, and have less capacity, but the overall weight saving *when filed* is more than enough to offset the extra bottle weight. Bottles are also easier to fill on the go from streams, and easier to use at the camp site, and a couple of sterilizing tablets are always in the first aid kit anyway. In the evenings, I can heat water for the next day (and it is always cold by morning)
  • RAB Neutrino Super Dru waterproof jacket (400g or so) in E-vent silicone fabric is still going strong! My single best investment in kit, ever, I believe
  • Berghouse Goretex Packlite Goretex walking trousers at around 220g they are mainly for evening wear but are essential if it gets windy or wet
  • Mountain Equipment baseball cap (waterproof, sunfactor 50) still going strong and now waterproofed with Grangers spray
  • RAB Aeon Tee (or long sleeve) base layer – at under 100g in long sleeve, these things are incredible. Described by my son as “made of angels’ tears and magic”, I won’t leave base without at least two with me.
  • RAB Treklite trousers (if cold or windy) or Mountain Equipment Shorts (if warm) or Lycra running shorts (if hot) – screw fashion, this is all about comfort!
  • Bam bamboo underpants (probably the MOST essential anti-chaffing item in the list!) utterly perfect. brilliant. and basically essential
  • Bridgedale technical socks – saved me from blisters, pain and probably footrot on countless events. Best thin sock in the world?
  • Inov8 Mudrock shoes * still going – and so confidence inspiring that at times I felt like a mountain goat, but they are so hard to break in (search web for “kettle steam, inov8, heel cup) and they always look grubby. Great shoes, but need lots of care to make them work.
    OR – for boots –Salomon X Ultra boots if good terrain and long distance comfort is needed and for crappy rocky terrain back to Inov8 boots for their incredible grip and safety.
  • OS 1:25,000 maps every time – I really loathe the Harvey’s maps, but have to use them on events. Now I print out the area needed on waxed paper and save even more weight, using a super large ziplock back as map carrier, water carrier and seat at night.
  • Silva silva standard compass *just works. always, and stopped me getting lost several times
  • Titanium spork
  • Petzl Tikka RXP rechargeable headtorch even with spare battery pack, this is a fabulous light – supremely confidence inspiring and the reactive light means you can look at a map without being dazzled instantly. Pure racers go for 50g headlight that last 1 hour, but I would not trust my life on the hills to one. Also, I tend to also do long distance night hikes that need 10 hours of lighting on bad paths – so this one stays in the kit all the time
  • Northface eTip gloves – light but totally windproof and have good grip. Also means I can use Runkeeper on the phone to record things.
  • Northface fleece skull cap – second favourite hat in the whole world. kept me warm at night and at camp, too hot to run in though
  • Icebreakers pure merino 190g T-shirt – a real surprise, super light, super warm and good to sweat in. Narrowly beat its bamboo cousin into second place, and great for night wear. Only downside is that moths ate the first one and I need a new one now
  • Northface Summit windbreak jacket – goes everywhere, does anything, and is quite shower proof
  • RAB Microlite down jacket – packs inside itself, incredible warmth to weight ratio at 430g and can be slept in if it gets really cold – took me a while to learn to use properly, but vastly superior to fleeces or woolens.
  • Timex Ironman watch
  • Cutdown (literally) wash kit at 80g
  • Expedition first aid kit 210 g of lifesaving and pain reduction PLUS (as all events demand one) an Adventure Medical rescue bag at 110g
  • I also pack a small knife – either the mini-swiss army knife (as the scissors are great for dealing with plasters and food bags) or a little Spyderco blade.
  • …. And some food (i take a little more food now, offsetting some of the weight saved with coffee, chocolate and a little flask of whisky)
  • I have also added a pair of Black Diamond Carbon walking poles at 280g and a Terra Nova Ultra 1 Tarp which at 90g is just perfection when there is a bit of wind (tie to pole and cook and eat in shelter) or a beautiful night – just lie under it and watch the stars.

The savings are mostly small, mostly about not taking things at all, and about having things that can do double duty. It has also been a revelation to save weight in clothes and footwear and find that comfort in all weathers (hot, cold, wet or all of them at once) has improved.

At 50, and being a little fat, I need a bit more time to cover rocks and steep slopes, so the poles are helpful. Yet, overall, I get about better now than I did at 40. I walk further (averaging 20+ miles a day now compared to 12 in 2008), walk faster (6.5km/hr v 4.8km/hr in 2008) and have more time to enjoy myself when I do. I have come to trust my kit, and my own judgment of it.

I have done 3 more RAB events, the Saunders MM, walked the Ridgeway alone, and competed in a few Southern 50 events. I did a couple of Tanners’ Marathons, and the Poppyline. And this kit has basically gone to all of them, slowly being refined and improved one tiny piece at a time.

The cost

This stuff is not cheap. New, it is probably unreasonable to ask Duke of Edingburgh teams to invest in it, or for most casual walkers and campers. Yet the 6 year old kit I listed above is still a 14lb saving over even the simplest currently recommended kit list. And kit of that age is easy to find in the bargain basement on or eBay for a fraction of its new price. I can vouch that it all still works!

What would I say “buy at any price”?

  1. The RAB Aeon baselayer.
  2. Bridgedale baselayer socks
  3. Bamboo non-chaffing pants
  4. Titanium mug and spork
  5. Adventure Medical rescue bag

That would make a great Xmas list for anyone setting out on long distance walks or mountain walking events.

The big lesson I learned

Well, I did not lose any weight through all this walking, so that was not it!

No, it is this:  make one small change each time. Just one. A single failure is recoverable, but two or three things letting you down is a disaster and can put you at serious risk. Ask people for recommendations. Consider what YOU actually do with kit. Shop around, read reviews, chose carefully. Take one new thing (and a backup if it is critical – like a stove) and test it in an actual event. Consider at home with time to reflect.

Which is the perfect reason to go out and walk more, of course!

Looking forwards to 2019 now.

 

 

 

 

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