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.
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.
The Jurassic coast, a 95 mile stretch of coastline running from East Devon to Dorset, is a World Heritage site featuring 185 million years of history. Layers of sedimentary rock allow geologists to read the history of this coastline across the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods – and the cliffs here are rich in fossils.
I grew up in south Dorset, and spent my childhood summers playing on the beaches or rambling along the cliffs of this stunning region. These are some of my favourite cliff walks on Dorset's Jurassic Coast...
Old Harry Rocks
The bright white chalk stacks jutting from the sea at Handfast Point are just one example of the unique rock formations and amazing landscapes along the Dorset Jurassic Coast. Starting at Studland Bay, the circular walk to Old Harry Rocks is one of the easiest walking routes in Dorset, but it takes in one of the area's biggest attractions.
My personal favourite Dorset cliff walk is another easy one – and it ends at one of my favourite local pubs! The route from Bowleaze Cove to Smuggler's Inn at Osmington Mills follows a short section of the South West Coastal Path, and takes around an hour. You'll pass Redcliff Point on the way, an area that's particularly rich in fossils. And you'll finish at the historic Smuggler's Inn, once the hangout of a notorious smuggler gang.
A circular walk from Lime Regis to Charmouth along the beach, and back along the cliffs, is another of the Jurassic Coast's classic walking routes. And if you're interested in fossils, this is the place to come! Charmouth is one of the best places to find fossils in Dorset, and the Heritage Coast Centre here displays some of the best finds.
Ringstead to Durdle Door
No list of what to see in Dorset is complete without mentioning Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch and a real Dorset icon. There are easier walking routes you can follow to it, but the walk from Ringstead to Durdle Door, while tough, is one of the most rewarding.
St Alban's Head
Starting at Worth Martravers (the town with the most Dorset-sounding name in Dorset!), you can walk to the rocky headland of St Alban's Head via Seacomb and Winspit. The quarry at Winspit was used as a set for several old Dr Who episodes, and it's a pretty interesting spot to explore.
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’.