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.
With winter fast approaching, it can be tempting to bunker down and prepare to stay indoors for the next few months. But despite the short days and bad weather, it's important to stay active and get as much time outdoors as possible. Cycling is a great way to do this, although it can be challenging. Here are a few tips for winter cycling which may help...
Winter Cycling Gear
Bike racer and cycling blogger Juliete Elliott points out that your feet are often the first things to feel the cold when you're cycling. She recommends layering a decent pair of cycling shoes with either waterproof socks or some warming merino socks, as well as a pair of waterproof overshoes.
Invest some time to find a decent pair of gloves that will keep you warm, without impeding your movement.
Buy cycling-specific winter gear since this will have been designed with the shape and position of your body when it's on a bike in mind.
Dressing for winter cycling is all about layers. Start with a base layer of thermal bib tights and a wicking thermal vest or long sleeved top, then build from there. Remember you'll heat up as you cycle, so it's a good rule of thumb to dress so that you're slightly cool when you start the ride.
Winter Cycling Gear Essentials: waterproof jacket, thermal bib tights, thermal base layer top or vest, windproof sweater, overshoes, windproof gloves, and clear or lightly tinted glasses (to keep rain out of your eyes).
Winter Cycling Tips
Be sure to winter-proof your bike. Fit mudguards to prevent mud and water from puddles being splashed up your back, as this will not only ruin your clothes but can make you pretty cold too.
Remember your traction is limited on wet roads, so think ahead and stay safe. Brake before turning, and lean your bike, rather than your body, as this makes it easier to correct any potential skids. Remember that surfaces like metal, cobblestones, and paint can be very slick when wet, so watch out for them.
Have lights with you at all times. Gloomy and overcast days can be pretty dim, and with night setting in ever earlier you may be caught out in darkness. Get some small, bright LED lights and make sure they're fully charged before each ride.
Hone your skills, take care on wet or icy days, and be prepared. Cycling in winter is definitely more challenging, but it's great practice and can help make you a better cyclist. So get out there!
We’ve all heard of Leave No Trace. And it means exactly that - NO trace. Not, just a little bit, now and again. No trace, means no trace. And we say this for many good reasons.
We go in to nature to benefit from the scenery and the ‘raw’ experience we get from connecting with the natural occurring environment around us. If we don’t adhere to the Leave No Trace advice, then we change the very environment that we are making such an effort to immerse ourselves in. We are ruining our own experience, and that of others.
The Leave No Trace seven principles are:
(Leave no trace Center for outdoor ethics)
1. Plan ahead and prepare
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
3. Dispose of waste properly
4. Leave what you find
5. Minimize campfire impacts
6. Respect wildlife
7. Be considerate of other visitors
On a recent hiking day through the Mournes, I walked by one of my favourite areas, only to see it had been left in a mess. This breaks my heart as it ruins the beautiful views and proves a potential danger for humans and animals. All that rubbish, broken glass, sharp debris, and uncared for natural environment certainly didn’t add to my experience.
Granted, this was probably caused by people who don’t appreciate the environment as much as I do, however it can be easy for all of us to forget ourselves a little bit sometimes, so it’s certainly worth being mindful of the Leave No Trace advice.
Some top tips that we can all do to help adhere to this guidance can include the following easy steps.
1. Reduce the unnecessary items that we bring with us
We can reduce the risk of leaving a trace if we leave behind items that we don’t even need on our adventure. The main culprit is often packaging from food and newly bought items for your trip. Before you sling that bag over your shoulder, just do a quick check to see if you can take food out of pre-packaging, discard the cardboard packaging from your new batteries, or replace your plastic water bottle for a reusable one (empty ones don’t blow away as easily).
2. Take home all rubbish
It seems obvious but it is amazing how often this simple tip isn’t adhered to. Make sure you pop any litter in your bag securely to dispose of when you get home, especially plastic bags! (these become great kites when the wind picks up!). This also includes apple cores and banana skins – if they weren’t there when you arrived, then don’t leave them behind. They weren’t a natural part of that environment so they don’t belong there! Take them home with you and put them in the bin.
3. Don’t feed the wildlife
As cute and exciting as it might be, we shouldn’t be feeding wild animals in the great outdoors. Doing so can alter their health and their behaviour around humans. Be mindful that this doesn’t mean just actively feeding them to get that amazing photo for Facebook! Dropping old food or leaving access to bags with food in it overnight, can also attract wildlife to munch on your hiking goodies.
4. Before and after photos
We all love our photos, especially when out in nature. So, try to get in to the habit of checking your area before moving on, ensuring that you have lifted all your belonging, all your rubbish and it looks just as it did when you arrived and took that first ‘Whaow Moment’ photo.
5. The sounds of nature
The beautiful and natural sounds of the great outdoors really is something to behold and appreciate. However, it can hard to embrace this if there is loud music blasting from an iPhone as you trundle along, or from a portable speaker at a campsite (especially on an evening time!). Bear in mind that although you may be having a great time bopping away in your outdoor disco, the great outdoors is a shared space and others may be trying to have a different kind of experience.
So next time you hit those trails, remember the good old saying, ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’.
Ever the over-packer and over-planner, packing for a short city break was always one of my toughest challenges. Especially if I'm travelling with just hand luggage. But I've finally mastered the art, so I thought I'd share my top packing tips with you.
These are my top tips for packing light for your next trip, along with a few of my top city break essentials to help you plan...
A neatly packed case can fit a lot more in, so it's worth investing some time to do things properly. I use packing cubes, which are lightweight, fabric cubes with zippered openings, to neatly store and compress my clothes. This helps stop them getting wrinkled, and keeps them separate from the rest of my luggage – adding order to my case and creating extra space.
Organisation is Key
Create a city break checklist and get organised!
Decide on the outfits you want to take and only pack the things you need to create those outfits. Try to get inventive with clothing that can be used in more than one outfit. Choose a base tone or colour, and structure the rest of your outfits around it, so that everything can be easily mixed and matched.
Look up the weather forecast and plan accordingly. If it's set to be hot and sunny, don't waste space on a jumper or umbrella “just in case”. You can always buy an emergency poncho if your luck takes a turn for the worse! And if you're travelling in winter, wear your bulkier items on the plane, and pack a few lightweight layers to go under them in your luggage.
City Break Essentials
Assuming you're going to be away for a weekend, that's just two nights and three days. So, you only need to pack two evening outfits, and two daytime outfits – because you'll be wearing day one's outfit when you leave your house. If you're savvy, this also means you probably only need two pairs of shoes too.
Here's a city break checklist for a typical two night trip:
- One pair comfortable, lightweight walking shoes (I like Sketchers GoWalks)
- One pair smart evening wear shoes if needed
- One pair skinny jeans or one pair leggings – to be dressed up and down for day and night
- Two casual tops / two casual dresses / one of each
- Two dresses / two smart tops / one of each
- Undies for two days
- Swimwear if needed
- Travel Adaptor
- Overnight toiletries (remember most hotels provide a lot)
- Phone charger
- Small bag or foldable rucksack
- On the plane: one casual dress or long t-shirt, leggings, lightweight jacket
One last pro tip: try not to worry! I have a tendency to stress pack, and cram all kinds of “just in case” items into my luggage. But I try to remind myself that as long as I have my passport and phone on me, pretty much everything else can be bought or replaced. That thought certainly makes packing feel less stressful.
It’s no surprise to anyone that nature is good for us. There are oodles of research papers documenting the abundance of amazing benefits that the great outdoors has in store.
Some people are nature junkies (guilty!) and want to embrace its benefits at every opportunity. Others enjoy the great outdoors, but modern living prevents them from experiencing it as much as they’d like. While some others claim that nature simply isn’t for them – however, that doesn’t mean that they can’t, or shouldn’t, benefit from it without the need to go ‘wild’.
We can all reap amazing benefits from our natural world, no matter how small our encounters are. I believe the key to reaping useful benefits is the frequency of our interaction.
Camping and climbing mountains may not interest the majority, however introducing nature in to our everyday living can provide just as much value, if not more, to our overall health and well-being.
Nowadays it’s both somewhat easy, and difficult, to regularly immerse ourselves in the natural world. It is certainly more accessible than in recent years, however our patterns of living in this modern world can often pull us away from it.
One way to ensure a regular ‘nature fix’, is to be mindful of our day to day lives, create habits and introduce small changes, so we reconnect with nature in a very simple but frequent way.
We can start with what’s right on our doorstep (literally) and what we are in complete control of.
1. Our living spaces
With not too much effort we can bring nature into our everyday living by introducing natural materials in to our homes.
Sky, earth and water can surround us through wooden floors, fresh flowers and planting, flooding our rooms with natural light, including tokens of nature such as sea shells in the bathroom or paint a mural of an exotic beach or mysterious forest on a feature wall - even a simple fish tank, can help bring that feeling of nature in to a living space.
Creating the essence of nature through décor can be achieved with earthy greens and browns, vibrant blues and uplifting yellows, clean fresh whites and crisp stone greys. Nature excites all the senses, so playing soothing sounds of nature throughout your home can provide a calming environment. And remember, these beautiful sounds of nature CDs don’t have to be solely for bed time. Why not start your day off the right way by listening to it over breakfast?
Creating daily habits can be the most beneficial. Walking bare foot in your garden for a few minutes every day, can really help ground yourself and provide you with that vital few minutes of ‘you time’. A simple 5 minutes first thing in the morning and last things at night, can help you achieve calmness and clarity.
While you re-connect with nature, you dis-connect with unnecessary stresses. Fresh air is often undervalued and underestimated. We all have access to it, and no extra time in your day needs to be taken up to embrace it.
Every morning, why not throw the doors open wide and let the outside in! Flood your house with natural light and fresh air; it’s a great start to the day. Or each morning and night, establish the routine of taking just a few seconds to stop and really appreciate that sunrise and sunset. Everyone can spare a few minutes each day – so establish the habit of just taking a bit of time out from the rat race and really make those few minutes count.
Can you make a few small changes so you can frequently connect with nature and improve your lifestyle? Could you sit outside on your lunch breaks? Could you bring your laptop outdoors to work on? Can you have your breakfast in the garden? Can you create a ‘summer house’ in your garden to retreat in? Can you introduce a water feature in to your garden or home, to create a tranquil and therapeutic feature? Can you encourage wildlife in your garden so it enriches the time you spend in it? Can you walk a bit slower through the park, and remember to look around you a bit more? Can you put the mobile phone down and lay back to watch the clouds?
There are many ways in which we can experience everyday nature. Why not choose a few to introduce in to your life and see the benefits?
Been mulling over the notion that you'd like to make exercise a habit? Creating goals or aspirations is easy but actually making an exercise habit and finding and maintaining the motivation to stick to it can be more difficult than the exercise itself. So, to make that exercise habit feel less like an uphill struggle and more like a walk in the park, we've got a few tips. Chances are your motivation is in short supply because you’re approaching the development of your exercise habit in the wrong way...
1. Set Easy, Realistic Short-Term Goals
This is probably the first and most important step in developing your exercise habit. Nothing will drag you down quite like repeatedly not meeting unattainable goals. Be kinder to yourself. Set easy, realistic short-term goals. This way, you'll get small tastes of success, and though it might be simply from taking a short brisk walk after work, it will be enough to make bigger things feel more within your reach. Starting off small and working your way up is much better than starting big and beating yourself up when it doesn't go your way.
2. Reward Yourself
The thoughts of a warm bath after a run or kicking back to watch a movie after a hard work out will help motivate you to get through your exercise. When your reward is finally achieved, working for it will make it feel all the more worth it. Don’t forget to set long-term rewards too. This could be buying yourself that pair of shoes you've had your eye on for months whenever you successfully stuck to your exercise habit for a whole month.
3. Be Clear and Specific
Having a laid out plan of exactly what exercise you want to do and when exactly you want to do it will make implementing an exercise habit into your daily routine feel more manageable. Whereas if you have a vague plan of attempting some form of exercise as some point in the day is the kind of plan that is almost destined to fall through right from the onset. It will feel like a more concrete, key part of your day if you have the specifics planned out early on.
4. Be Habit Driven, Not Results Driven
While having an end goal of weight loss and fitness in mind is probably what made you decide to start exercising in the first place, focusing wholly on these results can be a bad idea. This is because focusing exclusively on being ten pounds lighter will quickly develop frustration whenever this doesn't happen as quickly as you would like. Focusing on the implementation of a positive habit within your life will be easier than getting bogged down and frustrated by the changes that aren't happening quick enough. Instead, focus on the small things that you can change which will in turn change bigger things in the long-run.
Do you have an exercise habit? How do you stay motivated? Tweet us your tips and advice!