Walking and hiking in the great outdoors is a truly liberating experience. Free from the confines of your 9-5, you’re able to breathe in and absorb the beauty of your surroundings.
However, for those of you ready to take the next step, backpacking will offer an even greater sense of freedom. If you're new to backpacking there really is nothing to fear. By following our top tips and gear essentials you'll be on your very own adventure before you know it.
Backpacking is simply the practice of carrying your worldly essentials around with you as you make your way from place to place. This may sound tough, labourious even, but the rewards are huge.
Able to sustain yourself with food and shelter, you’re free to move at your own pace and decide your own destination. There is very little else that brings you closer to nature and the natural environment. So, if you’re ready to really immerse yourself in the great outdoors, read on...
Whenever you head into isolated areas, you should always go prepared. You may not appreciate the importance of some of these backpacking essentials until you are in desperate need of one of them.
Consequently, when you’re packing to go, lay all of the items out and tick them off using a checklist such as this before you neatly arrange them in your pack in the ever-entertaining game of backpack Tetris. That way you can avoid leaving behind something that could make or break your trip.
We’ve broken this backpacking essentials list down into three areas to further help you organise your gear. As always, there are things that you might want to add, but just bear in mind that your legs and back will thank you for travelling as light as possible.
• Head torch (complete with extra batteries)
• Knife or multi-tool
• First aid kit
• Water bottles/hydration pack
• Water filter or treatment (tablets/drops etc.)
• Waterproof matches or lighter
• Sun cream
• Moisture-wicking base layers (plus spares to keep you dry and sleep in)
• Hardwearing and moisture-wicking trousers or shorts
• Mid-layers to insulate, such as fleeces or insulated jackets.
• Outer shell jacket and over-trousers to protect you from rain and wind
• Hat or cap to protect you from the sun
• Woolly hat
• Hiking boots
• Hiking socks (plus spares)
• Backpack rain cover
• Tent or bivvy bag
• Sleeping bag
• Sleeping mat
• Pan plus grabber
• Nylon cord (to hang wet clothes etc.)
Share the experience (and the weight!)
Our first of our backpacking tips would be to find a like-minded soul to go with you. This isn’t just to satisfy your need for conversation, although having a backpacking buddy does allow you to share experiences and memorable moments with a friend. It’s also a really practical tip as you’ll be able to divide much of your heaviest gear between you.
For instance, a two-person tent is only marginally heavier than its one-person equivalent. Therefore, by sharing a two-person tent, you can split the contents of that tent between two bags, almost halving your load as a result.
As I often camp in mountainous areas, I personally don’t opt for an ultra lightweight backpacking tent, so my two-person mountain tent weighs in at a hefty 4.5kg. Being able to halve that is a real bonus when I’m slowly ascending a mountain!
If this is your first foray into the world of backpacking, the next of our backpacking tips is to choose a well established trail.
Trails like the Offa’s Dyke offer easily identifiable paths and regular waymarks that will reduce your need to constantly navigate by map. Established trails will also regularly pass through busier areas, so help and escape routes are never too far away.
You’ll need to think carefully about how much distance you’ll be aiming to cover each day. Whatever you can comfortably walk in a normal day or period of time will need to be reduced to account for the extra weight you’ll be shouldering around.
Start off with short, flat sections and build yourself up. I also know that, personally, I can cover far more distance when I’m backpacking and wild camping with a mate than I can when we have the kids out with us. So, account for the make-up of your group and always plan your walking lengths and durations around the weakest member.
When planning your route you will also want to consider whether you’ll be doing a circular hike or a point-to-point/thru-hike. Both are very achievable, but the latter will obviously require you to have transport available at both ends so may complicate matters.
If you aim to arrive and leave by train, select a trail with a close proximity to a station. The last thing you want to do is waste hours and energy walking from a station to a trail that is a few miles away.
So, you’ve followed our backpacking tips and have acquired all of your necessary backpacking essentials. You’re almost ready! The last thing we’ll share, to help you on your way, is some top tips for camping.
We love camping! However, if your only experience of camping up to this point has been on busy car-camping sites where noisy nylon walls are only a matter of metres away from each other; you’re in for a treat. Campsites located along established trails tend to be far less commercial and, therefore, far more peaceful.
If you are using designated campsites, the only thing you really need to worry about is the distance between them on the trail. However, if you are wild camping you’ll need to consider a few more things.
The first of our tips for camping is to make yourself aware of the laws and regulations on wild camping. In Wales, where I live, there is no open access policy, meaning that you are advised to seek the permission of the landowner first. In isolated mountain areas this is not always practical.
As such, wild camping is often tolerated if you are in an isolated location, above a fence line and well out of site of buildings or roads. However, it’s really important that you leave absolutely no trace. These wild areas are habitats to endless plants and animals that deserve our respect and support.
The other thing you’ll need access to is water. Unless you plan to adopt the physical characteristics of a camel and weigh yourself down by carrying enough for your entire duration, you’ll need a water source.
Aim for fast flowing sources such as rivers and streams. However, a combination of a good water filter (or treatment) and boiling it will ensure that any impurities will soon be managed successfully.
Backpacking really is an amazing experience. By following these tips you can be sure that your first memory will be a great one.
Spring is here, and the approach of holiday season has many of us thinking about our next trip away. But if the summer holidays are still feeling a little far off, you could always take a weekend getaway somewhere close to home.
If you need a few staycation ideas, here are some of the best places to visit in the South of England this spring…
With oodles of history, plenty of antique tea rooms, and a gorgeous skyline of honey-coloured Georgian buildings, Bath is perfect for a weekend getaway. Plus this is the home of Britain’s only natural thermal spa, so it’s ideal for relaxing.
The dramatic landscapes of Dartmoor National Park make a fantastic staycation idea for lovers of the great outdoors. Rolling moorlands, towering tors, and rich forests make this sweeping park a joy to explore.
Scilly Isles, Cornwall
About as far south as you can get, the Scilly Isles can be found just off the coast of Cornwall. So far south that they have their own microclimate, these islands are a gardener’s paradise.
Many of the flowers growing freely here can’t be found outside of a greenhouse on the mainland. Throw in some gorgeous local food and stunning, near-empty beaches and you have one amazing staycation!
A historic cathedral city in the southeast of England, Canterbury is famous for its medieval centre. Cobbled streets of timber-framed houses are encircled by ancient Roman walls. Whether you’re a history buff or not, this pretty city is perfect for a weekend getaway.
Since I grew up in Weymouth, I’m probably a little bit biased. But this is a lovely seaside town, and with plenty of holiday parks and B&B’s around it’s great for a cheap staycation. But don’t just take my word for it: the three mile stretch of golden sand in Weymouth Bay was recently voted the best beach in the UK and the ninth best in Europe.
South Downs, Hampshire
If you fancy a more active holiday or a bit of a challenge, why not consider taking on the South Downs Way?
It’s a 100 mile walking route through the gorgeous countryside of the South Downs National Park, one of the best places to visit in the South of England. Think stunning landscapes, top-notch country pubs, and plenty of picturesque villages.
Speaking of walking holidays, the coastal village of Lulworth is ideally placed for walks along Britain’s famous Jurassic Coast.
Lulworth Cove and neighbouring Durdle Dor are both geographic marvels, while nearby you’ll also find Corfe Castle, Brownsea Island, and the pretty village of Swanage with its steam railway.
Father of two, teacher and blogger, David has a penchant for adventure and the great outdoors. He'll be bringing you tips for your next adventure, outdoor ideas to fill your weekends with and practical advice for traversing the great outdoors.
We caught up with David to find out a bit more about him ahead of his guest first post on the Mac in a Sac blog...
"I'm David a 37 year old married dad of two. My wife (Nat) and I are school yard sweethearts who've been together a very long time! We have two amazing kids Jesse, aged 3 and Amelie, aged 1.
I'm an English teacher by profession, spending my 9-5 in a classroom. However, because of my passion for the outdoors I also spend a lot of time working with kids outside of the classroom. I've led Duke of Edinburgh Award programmes and expeditions and assist in the yearly running of the school ski trip. I've even led 32 teenagers on a 4 week expedition to Tanzania where we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro amongst other things."
"Balancing being a dad, a teacher and a blogger is tough. At the end of the day my own kids and family will always come first. Once my working day is over they have my attention until it's time for their bed. They can be exhausting...I don't know where such little people get the energy reserves from!
Overall I just have to be good at organising myself. I work really hard in the week, often through my lunch hour, to make sure that, as far as possible, my evenings and weekends are mine. In terms of the blogging I have set days for writing once the kids have gone to bed. This ensures that i still get to spend most evening with Nat too. This routine and sense of order and priority really helps to focus."
"Being so busy, particularly during the week, makes our weekend adventures all the sweeter. We pretty much epitomise the 'whatever the weather' spirit so we'll be out as family no matter what. We invest a lot of our time making sure we've got the best kit to keep ourselves and our kids warm and dry so there really is no excuse not to go outside. As such, a top tip would be to prepare yourself to go out in any weather. You'd be surprised how much family fun you can have in the pouring rain!
Another tip is to have a go-to list of mini adventures. Mini adventures require little or no planning and take up far less time than full days in the mountains etc. This means that when time is tight, like it is for us in the middle of the week, we can still get a little outdoor fix. To make life even easier keep a prepped and packed rucksack at home that's ready to go as soon as you are."
"I'd say my current favourite outdoor activities are hiking and camping because they enable us to do them as a family. I love the sense of freedom that both of them give us."
"My perfect day off would be a day in the mountains of Snowdonia with Nat and the Kids. We'd begin walking just before first light, reach some higher ground for the sunrise, bag a summit or two, and then sit and have lunch surrounded by awesome views."
"I'd say my current favourite outdoor activities are hiking and camping because they enable us to do them as a family. I love the sense of freedom that both of them give us. Despite their very young age I also love teaching my two kids basic outdoor skills when we're hiking or camping. After all, I was just a nipper when my mum first took me along to her hiking club, so you're never too young to enjoy the outdoors.
Before kids I'd always be out blasting around trails and downhill courses on my mountain bike but that has definitely taken a back seat for now. I still enjoy riding, but will probably go back to it more seriously when the kids are a little older and can chase me (or the other way round!).
In the winter months I also love to ski and our eldest began having ski lessons just 2 weeks after his 3rd birthday. I'm just a little worried he'll be better than me before long!"
"When I started the blog one of the things I wanted to do was to use the qualifications and experience I'd developed over many years leading school groups in the outdoors to encourage more families to get outside. Consequently I started the Hiking with Kids Club. Now, once a month, I organise a family friendly hike and publicise it via the blog's Facebook page. We welcome all people, not just those with kids, and we've had some really great days out. Each month we hike somewhere different so that the group get a lot of variety and always choose somewhere that has a cafe stop near the end. As such not only is it a great opportunity to get kids outdoors it's also a great social event for like-minded adults."
Heading to Scotland in the next couple of months? As nature wakes up and the snow begins to melt, this is the perfect time of year to get outdoors. Get out into the countryside on your Scotland visit to discover some of the most beautiful landscapes this country has to offer. Here are a few of the best Scottish walks to try out this spring…
West Sands, St Andrews, Fife
Beach walks are perfect for a spring afternoon, so head to West Sands for a two-mile stretch of dunes that look beautiful whatever the weather. These dunes are backed by the famous St Andrews golf course, the Old Course, where golf lovers can pose on the iconic Swilken Bridge.
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
This is one of the best known Scottish walks. In nice weather, the climb up to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh is one of the best walks in the city. An ancient volcano and the site of a 2000-year-old hill fort, it’s a particularly interesting spot to explore. From the top, you’ll have exceptional views of the city, the Firth of Forth, and the distant snow-capped mountains.
Mauldslie Woods Walk, Clyde Valley
Nestled in the tranquil Clyde Valley, Mauldslie Woods contain remnants of a medieval castle which was demolished in 1935. Spring is the perfect time to visit, when rain and snowmelt swells the Clyde River. This is also the best time of year to see the local kingfishers, who will be feeding their newly hatched young from around the end of April onwards.
No Scotland visit is complete without a trip to the Highlands. For dramatic, mountainous landscapes, Glencoe is hard to beat! The most famous glen in Scotland, Glencoe is home to some of the best Scottish walks for spring – from the tough, 150km West Highland Way to the shorter and more gentle Lochan and Brecklet Trails.
Loch Ness, Inverness-shire
Loch Ness is Britain’s second largest lake and tends to be featured heavily in any guide to Scotland. The lake itself, while stunning, is perhaps only popular thanks to its legendary monster, the elusive Nessie. But the surrounding countryside around Loch Ness and Glen Affric is far less visited and well worth exploring. There are dozens of excellent forest and moorland walks starting from the north side of the loch – or take the Three Lochs Trail starting at Loch Duntelchaig for some quieter, less famous lakes that are just as beautiful as Loch Ness.
Wondering whether a Mac in a Sac jacket is right for you? Our high performance, compact jackets really “pac” a punch when it comes to weather protection and there’s lots of every day scenarios where our jackets can come in handy for you.
1. Fits perfectly in schoolbags
If you’re getting your little one all set for a school trip you’ll most likely be concerned about whether or not the weather will stay dry.
Our Mac in a Sac Mini range pack away neatly into a compact stuff bag so there’s no need to try and cram a heavy coat into their schoolbag. They’ll have easily accessible super waterproof compact cover up for if and when surprise showers strike.
You can keep your mind at ease and your little one won’t get soaked.
2. No bag? No problem!
Maybe you’re heading to an outdoor concert or just out on a leisurely walk and don’t want to be weighed down by a handbag or backpack.
Our handy stuff bags come with elastic adjustable cords which are super easily tied around your belt or belt loop on your jeans so you can keep your hands free and minimise the need to a handbag or backpack.
3. Doesn’t weight you down
Our jackets are super lightweight making them perfect for a multitude of activities such as running, hiking and cycling.
However, packed away in its stuff sack your Mac in a Sac won’t add a lot of weight.
So whether you have on multiple layers out and about on a wintery day or a light shirt on a warm day, your versatile Mac in a Sac will provide you with the waterproof protection you need when from impending downpours.
4. Carrying wet coats & umbrellas becomes a thing of the past
Whenever the weather’s temperamental, sunny one minute raining the next, adjusting our attire to these changes can be a bit of a nightmare resulting in inevitable wardrobe malfunctions and the wish to shun ourselves inside for good.
Easily transported, easily worn and easily packed away, a Mac in a Sac jacket eliminates the unpleasantness of having to carry around a thoroughly rain soaked coat or dripping umbrella when the clouds part and the sun makes another appearance.
Having just returned from a month-long trip to Mexico, I’ve come home completely besotted – and desperate to go back. If you haven’t already taken any trips in Mexico, you should definitely add this amazing country to your list. Here are a few of my top reasons to travel to Mexico…
Forget Old El Paso kits! It’s time to re-learn everything you thought you knew about Mexican food.
Yes, you’ll find tacos in most restaurants, but they’re usually served in small, soft tortillas rather than the crunchy shells we’re used to. And alongside the better-known dishes, there are all kinds of local specialities to try.
In Yucatan, don’t miss sopa lima (a lime chicken soup), and try Machaca (salted beef) in Baja California.
From the white Caribbean beaches of the Riviera Maya to the golden sands and rugged cliffs around Cabo, Mexico has something for every beach lover.
Top choices include stunning Tulum, with its clear turquoise waters, and retro Acapulco, loved for its huge beaches. Surfers should head to Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca state for some of the best surfing trips in Mexico.
Before there were colonists and conquistadors, there were the Mayans and Aztecs. These seriously fascinating civilisations once ruled most of central America, and traces of their existence can be found across most of Mexico.
The southern states in particular are home to plenty of ruins – even whole cities – to explore. Visiting some of these sites can make your holidays in Mexico even more interesting!
Mexico is full of natural phenomena of all kinds. With desert, mountains, rainforest, and beaches, there’s so much to explore in every state.
Off the coast from Tulum starts the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, one of the largest reef systems in the world. The Yucatan Peninsula is well known for its Cenotes (sinkholes) and underground rivers, all of them fascinating to explore.
In Chihuahua state lies Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon), deep within the rugged Tarahumara mountain range. And in Chiapas state you’ll find waterfalls, rivers, forests, and the stunning Agua Azul – a vibrant blue natural pool.
There’s so much to explore – giving you plenty of reasons to travel to Mexico as soon as you can!