First time folly

My first backpacking trip didn’t go as planned. In fact, it barely ‘went’ at all. I made it a grand total of six miles, before having to bail. I thought I would share my story, so hopefully, you’ll be better prepared than I was!

So, the morning of my departure, I decided to change my starting location. I was originally planning on starting on the south end of Felixstowe promenade, which would have added about 4 miles to the Suffolk Coast Path. But that would have meant a long walk before having anywhere to camp, plus a ferry trip across the river. So, I decided to get dropped off at the ferry terminus, thus eliminating a six mile stretch, the ferry ride, and the need to refill water so soon.

Want to know my first mistake? I didn’t research the route the path takes well enough. The first three miles was literally along the shingle beach. Ever tried walking three miles on shingle? It’s hard, exhausting and feels like twice the distance. Add in a complete lack of shade, a boiling hot day, and not nearly enough water, and it was a recipe for disaster.

By the time I hit the six mile mark, I was out of water, with no-where to refill it. There was plenty of sea, but no fresh water, and no shops or cafe’s either. I started with about 2 litres of water, and it was no where near enough. I had a water filter, but that’s no use if there’s nothing to filter.

By the time I reached Shingle Street, I was feeling rough. It was a hot day, the first in a week with no rain (which would’ve given me some water at least!), I had drunk all my water, and due to my social anxiety, couldn’t bring myself to ask for help, or knock on someones door to ask to refill my water.

At Shingle Street, I found a patch of shade, collapsed and texted my house mate to ask if she could collect me. As she had a life outside of me, it took nearly 4 hours before she arrived. By which point my condition had gotten worse. Folks, heat exhaustion is no joke. I was light headed, headache, nauseous, stomach cramps, and by the time she reached me, I’d been sick and could barely stand.

It’s been four days since then, and I still don’t feel right. I started hydrating as soon as she reached me, the angel bought me a bottle of water. And once home, she got me another one with a electrolyte tablet in it. I barely ate that evening, just some buttered toast, and the following day wasn’t much better. The headache took three days to subside, and I’ve been easily exhausted since.

Learn from my mistake folks. Study your route so you know what you’re getting into. Make sure you have enough water, know where you can refill, and don’t let anxiety stop you from asking for help. If she’d been any later, I may have ended up in hospital.

Another thing, invest in a personal locator beacon. By the time help arrived, my phone battery was dead. I had battery packs with me, but somewhere along the way lost the charger cable. So I had no way to actually charge my phone. If she hadn’t known the car park I’d collapsed at, I’d have been in a lot more trouble.

So, what have I learnt from this experience? I’m not as fit as I’d like to think I am. I need to ACTUALLY train, and ACTUALLY plan my route. Am I going to be able to hike the coastline of the UK? Maybe, but not this year. I need to start slowly, far more slowly than I’d like. But each journey starts with a single step, and this one started with six miles of them… Now I just need to do better.

The Suffolk Coast Path: Planning

At some point in the next week, I will be starting my first ever (solo) backpacking trip. I plan on this being just the first leg of a very long adventure, around the entire coastline of mainland UK, but because that’s kinda terrifying and overwhelming, I’m starting with the Suffolk Coast Path.

The path starts in Felixstowe and runs up the coast to Lowestoft, over 60 miles of marsh, heath and foreshore. I’m hoping to average about 10 miles a day, as I get my hiking legs, so it should take me 6 days to complete this section. Assuming everything goes to plan…

The Route

I’m planning on walking northbound, which seems to be opposite of how everyone else does it! I have the guidebook Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks by Laurence Mitchell, which has been a good place to start with my planning. It breaks the route down in to stages, and although I’ll be doing them in reverse, they seem like pretty good spacing. Obviously, I won’t know how well I’ll stick to it until I’m out there, but it’s helpful to have. I’ve also downloaded the route map on the Hiiker app (I have the paid subscription, I’ll let you know in a future post if it’s worth it!), which also breaks things down into stages.

Guide book for the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Walks by Laurence Mitchell, with my Hiking O’Hara cap.

Food

Now, I could carry enough food for six days from the get-go, but that seems like excessive when I’ll be passing through villages etc. So, my plan is to carry three days of food/snacks, and restock along the way.

Breakfast: Moma Porridge sachet x 2 (two because breakfast is the most important meal of the day… for me, anyway!), with some added raisins.

Lunch: Tortilla wrap with cheese and pepperoni, or a pasta meal, depending on if I want to cook at lunch.

Dinner: Pasta, instant mash or rice, depending on my mood (I’ll probably have one of each to start the trek), with some added protein of either pepperoni, jerky or a vegan meat substitute that I have on order to try.

Throw in some snickers bars, trail mix, and nuts, and I should be good to go.

Water

I have two water bottles, one 1 litre and one just under. I also have the collapsable ones that came with my Sawyer water filter, so in total I’ll have capacity for about 4 litres. Obviously I won’t be carrying that all day every day. I hope to be able to fill up just before I set up camp, so that I have plenty for cooking/cleaning, and then top up in the morning before I start the days hike.

Emergencies

I don’t yet have a personal locator beacon, although it’s on my wish list, so for me, my emergency planning equates to making sure that my housemates have my itinerary, have the GPS locator active on my phone, and location sharing enabled. That way my housemates can check my location if I haven’t checked in, and if necessary, call 999. For this leg of my trip, I should never be more than a 90 minute drive from home, so if something does come up, it’ll be easy enough to bail and head for home. I know no-one likes to think about things going wrong, but it’s an essential part of the planning. Being safe, knowing your back up plan, and having people you trust on stand-by, are all easy things you can do to make sure you (and your loved ones) sleep soundly at night.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to planning a backpacking trip. And when it comes right down to it, I don’t really know what I’m doing! This is my first trip, first time planning, and there are so many unknowns. But I’m sick and tired of putting off the things I want to do, because I’m not ‘ready’. If I wait until I’m ready, I’ll never leave. So, it’s time to pack all the things, camel up, and hit the trail. Wish me luck folks!

The 10 Essentials of Hiking/Backpacking

Whether you’re going on a day hike or a thru-hike there are some things that should always be in your pack. These are known as the Ten Essentials, and was originally complied in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organisation for climbers and outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors.

These days the original list has expanded in to categories, rather than specific items, and everyone has their own preferences for each item. So, want to know what you should be taking with you when you venture into the great outdoors?

Here’s my take on what the essentials should be:

Shelter

You should always ensure that you have a shelter of some kind, incase you get stuck out in the wilds or caught in horrible weather. For a backpacker this will be your tent/tarp/hammock, but for a day hiker this could be a lightweight bivvy sack.

What I have: NatureHike Cloup UP 2

My NatureHike Cloud UP 2

Navigation

Kinda goes without saying, but getting lost is a bad idea. Carrying a paper map and compass (and knowing how to use them) could save your life, and is an essential backup to the electronic navigation options. Most people will have a smart phone, and there are some great apps out there for finding trails (Alltrails, Gaia, Hiiker, OS maps are all great options!), but even these will only work if you have battery and phone signal. The next step up, would be a personal locator beacon, like the Garmin InReach. I don’t have one of these yet, because they generally require a monthly subscription, but it’s definitely on my ‘to get’ list.

What I have: Paper OS map and compass, Komoot app, Hiiker app

Light

A head torch is the go-to for most on the trail, simply because it leaves your hands free. Essential if you’ll be doing any portion of your hike in the dark, or setting up camp after sunset. I also have a small backup torch, and of course, my phone has a torch option (but remember, if you are using your phone for navigation, that you have limited battery life).

What I have: Cheap head torch from Aldi, pocket torch and phone.

First aid

Always carry a basic first aid kit. Plasters, anti-septic cream, insect repellent. When walking for miles, you need to take care of your feet! If you’re a larger person, like me, anti-chafe powder or cream could make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the trek. I also keep a silver foil ‘space blanket’ in my kit.

What I have: Plasters (various sizes and types), anti-septic cream, roll of leukotape, safety pins, paracetamol, ibuprofen, anti-histamines, gloves.

Sun protection

Kinda self-explanatory, but getting sunburn (or heat stroke) would be an unpleasant way to remember your hike. Sun protection isn’t just sunscreen, it can also be a hat, sunglasses and UPV protective clothing. Most importantly, don’t forget to reapply often!

What I have: SPF 50 sunscreen, baseball cap, hiking shirt with UPV protection

Repair kit

Having a way to repair kit is extremely important, especially on longer treks! Your kit could include patches for tent repair or to patch punctures in your inflatable air bed/pillow. Duct tape for repairing pretty much anything. A small sewing kit for torn clothing. A knife or wire-saw to be able to prep wood for a fire. Safety pins. It’s up to you, but take a look at your kit and try to think of how it could break, and what you would need to patch it up long enough to get a replacement.

What I have: duck tape (small amount wrapped around a straw), patch kit for my airbed and tent, sewing kit, small Swiss army knife.

Fire

Having a way to start a fire, for warmth/light/protection, can be the difference between life and death in an emergency. I always carry at least two different ways of started a fire, normally a ferro rod and a lighter. But waterproof matches, tinder and/or a stove, are also good options.

What I have: Ferro rod, lighter and cook stove.

Food

It goes without saying, but walking for miles is hungry business. Always carry more food than you expect to need. Even if its just an extra backpacking meal, or a couple additional chocolate bars.

What I have: I always have an extra ration and snacks.

Water

Water is heavy. So it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to carry enough for a multi-day trip in your pack. But even on a day hike, it’s a good idea to have a way to purify water in the event of an emergency. If you drop your one and only water bottle and spill its contents, you need to be able to safely refill it from a stream/river/pond. There are lots of options for making water safe, from a life-straw, Sawyer water filters, to tablets, always have at least one method with you.

What I have: I have a Sawyer filter, and I also keep sterilisation tablets in my emergency kit.

Clothes

 At the least, always carry a spare pair of socks. Your feet take a beating, and having something warm and dry to put on when you stop can be a life saver. Hats, gloves, bandanas, waterproof jacket and trousers, buffs. Anything that might add a bit of extra warmth and keep the weather off. Hypothermia is never a joke, and can happen even in the summer months. (I’d recommend learning the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, so that you can spot it in the early stages.)

What I have: a full change of clothes, separate sleep clothes and at least one extra pair of socks.

So that’s it. The essentials. Whether you carry them all on a short day hike is up to you. But definitely make sure you have something for each category on a multi-day trek. The worst time to realise you need something is in an emergency, so plan ahead and stay safe out there!

What else do you carry that you consider essential?