Many thanks to Chris Richards for his help with this section. After a walk along the Ridgeway, Chris very patiently put together a detailed account of the equipment he used and how it performed. His comments, in bold type, appear below. Thanks also to Jim, who e-mailed with some personal recommendations, also included below.

When planning a long-distance walk, the main thing to decide is how much you want to carry. Some people stay in B and Bs every night and buy all their food as they go. If you choose to travel in this way you hardly need more than a change of clothes. Others prefer the freedom of camping out, and take everything they require with them (the downside with this approach is that you may end up with an extremely heavy pack!). On the whole I prefer to be as independent as possible. I like to feel that I can survive in the great oudoors. This does not mean that I don't at times eat in pubs or sleep in a bed - just that I don't have to. Although it means carrying more gear, I try to keep this to an absolute minimum. Here's a list of some of the more essential items for self-sufficiency.

Tent: on more than one occasion I've passed the night in a sleeping bag under the stars, and I have to say that it doesn't really work. Dew settles not only in low-lying areas but even on top of hills as high as the Malverns. Wrapping the sleeping bag in something like a groundsheet causes condensation to form, which is equally unpleasant. On the Ridgeway this April (2004) I tried out a lightweight tunnel-type tent, a Jack Wolfskin Gossamer which stands about 80cm high at one end and slopes down to 30cm or so. At just 1600g in weight it seemed like a good buy, but it proved to be a mistake. Although it kept off the wind and rain, it was too small to move about in (I had to slither out into the mud just to get dressed). Condensation formed inside, especially down by my feet, and my sleeping bag got damper by the day. I had to drag everything out onto the grass to pack, which made me wonder what I would do if I had to strike camp on a wet morning. There was no space inside to cook or eat, and dining out under a tree on a frosty night in April is not ideal. And the flimsy zip on the flysheet broke on the third night! (It's always worth checking the robustness of the materials used in the manufacture of "outdoor" equipment, as all too often they are not up to the job). Chris's experience was more positive: I used an Aztec Natora, a one-man tent that you can erect fly first (though once you have joined the inner and fly together you may want to leave it attached). Easily put up and has a vestibule for storing kit and cooking in. I wouldn't want to go much smaller than this one. Weighs 2.3kg according to the sales blurb. Probably a bit too small if you're over 6 foot. I managed to get dressed in it though. Jim writes: I use a TarpTent Contrail ( Only 700g for a 1 man tarp with bug net and groundsheet. TarpTent is an American company, though Winwood Outdoor in Keswick stock similar equipment. A tent weighing a mere 700g is light! The downside, however, is the price - the Squall Classic (same sort of design and weight) costs £250. Well, you get what you pay for! On a walk along the Cotswold Way I took the poles and flysheet of a cheap dome tent (a Eurohike 225TS to be precise). Although a bit bulkier, it weighed no more than the Jack Wolfskin Gossamer, kept the wind off and was spacious enough to dress and cook in. No condensation, and as the flysheet reached almost to the ground it provided sufficient privacy for use on a campsite. It was eventually replaced by a Nakina Plus, which has a single segmented hoop. This one is even better, as the whole thing is no more than 40cm long when packed, which means that it can be stored inside the rucksack instead of on top. I wouldn't now consider anything I couldn't sleep, eat and especially pack in. (A further note on tents: this summer - 2004 - I was almost literally washed off the South Downs while sleeping out in a bivouac with sides but no ends. I had forgotten that a swirling wind can blow from several directions simultaneously, and I got soaked! I would still be prepared to do without the luxury of a cotton inner, insect screen or sewn-in groundsheet, but from now on I won't be sleeping out in anything that does not offer a minimum 360-degree protection!).

Sleeping bag: I took a Snugpak Softie 9 Hawk. It's a mummy type of bag with a drawstring hood. It's rated to -10c and only weighs about 1.8kg. I found it quite comfortable used in conjunction with a self-inflating mattress (Highlander thermalite self-inflating mattress. Weighs a bit - around a pound and a half I'd guess - but invaluable for a good nights' sleep. It's supposed to inflate to about an inch thick but you can add more air to it yourself for extra support). I don't carry a mattress myself (though occasionally on hard ground I wish that I did!). In terms of weight, it's perhaps rather a luxury. I normally use a foam insulation mat which, while it offers rather limited protection from stones and tree roots, is light and stops body heat from draining away. Jim recommends a PHD Mountain Design Minimus sleeping bag. A down mummy bag with no zip - lovely and warm. Weighs 500g. This one, from, is about £160. Winwood Outdoor also stock a range of ultra-light bags. I use a three-season bag myself, quite a lot cheaper than the Minimus but heavier and bulkier, which is supposed to work down to around freezing. A couple of points here: an individual's metabolic rate and their resistance to cold vary, so a manufacturer's season or temperature rating are really no more than a rough guide. Also, manufacturers in my experience tend to overclaim for their bags. If you add a few degrees to their minimum, or knock off a season, you should be fine. As always, the more you pay, the lighter and more compact the sleeping bag will be.

Cooking equipment: I recently bought an aluminium Trangia meths-burning stove, which is excellent. The meths itself, which is cheap and easily obtained, I carry in a half-litre metal fuel bottle (half a litre lasts about five days). The stove is light and compact, and by leaving out one of the two pans there is room inside for a spoon and a plasic mug, as well as the burner and handle. It's effective in any weather. Chris used a butane gas cooker. Worked well. Lightweight and easily packed away. The cylinder reseals itself so you can take it apart. I don't know how easy it would be to find replacement cylinders on the road but I suspect not as difficult as all that. I've tried them in the past, and they are simple and efficient. Jim suggests a Fire Fly stove: 38g including a windbreak and stand. Very reasonably priced, too, at £25, though you'd need to buy a light cooking pot to go with it.

Food: I'm using the NATO 24 hour ration pack (around £10 from army surplus suppliers) as a reference here. They contain 3500 to 4000 calories: I reckon that when walking I require around 3000 of them. The ration packs come with two main courses, two desserts and a variety of snacks, drinks and sweets. The meals are pre-cooked boil-in-the-bag types that can be eaten hot or cold from the sachet, and although they are heavier than dehydrated meals they are quick to prepare and don't dirty your pans (and you can recycle the water you heat them in for soup or coffee). You don't necessarily have to buy the whole packs as you can obtain most of the items separately. I discovered the individual sachets, made by Wayfayrer, on sale at BCH Camping (a UK outdoor store). A 300g main meal provides about 300 to 400 calories, the desserts about the same (the vegetarian options contain about half this). 1.2kg of sachets would contain roughly fifty percent of the calories required for a 24 hour period. It follows, then, that if you wanted to take enough of them to keep you going for a week, you would be looking at a serious amount of weight! (Having said that, I recently saw Facewest Freeze Dried Meals recommended on a walking bulletin board. I haven't tried them yet, but they look promising. Around 150g in weight, containing 500-650 calories, and apparantly you prepare them by adding boiling water directly to the sachet - no messy pans).

There are several things you can do to lighten the load. One is to make use of pubs and cafes as and when they are available, saving on the food you have to carry. When dining out I tend to look for meals with a high fat content as they do contain more calories. A cheese and bacon baguette might do terrible things to the arteries, but it is undeniably more sustaining than prawn and avocado! Chris notes: I took just enough for breakfasts and evening meals. I didn't bother too much with the desserts. I concentrated on the lighter stuff like the biscuits, sweets, drinks and soups as they gave enough energy while on the move. I don't think I could carry the whole 24 hr ration packs nor would I want to! I broke the contents of several down and took just enough for the days I needed to eat out. Instant soups are compact and easy to make. On my last walk I packed 250g of oat bran, which is light and high in energy and fibre. A couple of dessert spoons in a soup or sachet meal bulks it up and adds nutritional value. As an alternative you could use instant mashed potato in the same way. Powdered glucose drinks provide a quick boost (and can also be poured over muesli to make a healthy, if slightly unusual, breakfast!), and energy bars with dried fruit and oatmeal (better than chocolate) are handy too. Last time out I took a suitable mixture of coffee and beverage whitener in a small plastic screw-top container, as well as a pepper and salt mix.

Water: I carry two litres in plastic one litre military-style canteens, which are flat and fit into the side pockets of the rucksack. It's never enough. One reason that I would avoid cook-in-the-pan dried meals is that I just couldn't spare the water to prepare them or wash up afterwards. It's different if you're staying on a campsite, but out in the wild I use all and more for drinking and heating food. The bottles I fill wherever and whenever I can, with mineral water from shops, tap water from pubs and so on. Dehydration, especially in summer, is a definite possibility. It's as well to drink when you get the chance, and drink more than you think you need.

Rucksack: Chris used a Lowe Alpine Appalachian 65/15. An adjustable carrying system which worked quite well all in all. Plenty of room for all the stuff I took. Sadly leaked like a sieve. That, unfortunately, has been my experience too. Does anyone make a waterproof rucksack? 65 litres is probably the absolute minimum you need if you are loaded with camping gear. Jim writes: I have 2 rucksacks from - their Mariposa rucksack and the smaller, my favourite, Miniposa rucksack. These are excellent. The Miniposa is only about 450g. Again, this is an American company, though the Mariposa is available from Winwood Outdoor, price £100. When choosing a rucksack, look for one that is either big enough to hold everything you are going to carry, or which allows you to attach extras such as tents to the top, or underneath. This is better than hanging them off the back, as it helps to maintain balance by keeping the weight closer to your body. A waist strap is essential, as it allows the load to be balanced partly on the hips, easing the burden on the shoulders. Chest straps permit further fine-tuning. Side pockets are useful if you don't want to unpack the whole thing to dig out a snack or a camera. And, as Chris suggests, Dry bags! Another lesson learned. Although the contents of the main compartment of the pack stayed dry (due to its contents being in a thick bin liner), the sleeping bag in the lower bit got soaked as well as the stuff in the top pockets. I pack everything, without exception, into a purpose-made rucksack liner and plastic bags.

Boots: Berghaus Explorer. No problems with them at all. Or shoes? I once walked the Pennine Way in a pair of light DM shoes with air-cushioned soles, and although my feet were rarely dry I had no trouble. My friend was wearing fell-walking boots so solid and unyielding that the constant pressure on the achilles caused something akin to tendonitis after the first day. Whatever you choose, they should be light! I personally prefer leather to the newer synthetic materials. Recently on the Cotswold Way I had to abandon my new HiTec walking shoes when the fabric uppers rubbed the skin off both heels. Not entirely the fault of the shoes, as I bought them a size too big to allow for the socks and the fact that my feet swell in hot weather (well they do, but not that much!) Also I didn't take enough trouble to break them in. They were replaced with a pair of leather Peter Storm boots, which were fine. See v-g's website below for more thoughts on this subject.

Waterproofs: Gore-tex jacket was good, but I can't say that about the cheapo waterproof and supposedly breathable trousers. I've used the less expensive versions myself and they are OK - up to a point. They are light enough and pack well, but perhaps not really up to a prolonged spell of rain (I tend to stop and look for shelter in really bad weather anyway). I have an Army lightweight poncho that I also use as a groundsheet. Doesn't look too stylish, but it works. In very bad weather you can put it on and perch yourself on your pack, and then it acts as a kind of tent, keeping everything dry. However, it offers little protection to the legs when walking through long wet grass, and is a bit excessive in light intermittent showers.

Walking sticks: I used a pair of Leki Makalu Titanium and despite calls of "where's your skis then?" would still take two. The added balance they give over rough terrain is well worth it. I saved myself from falling badly a couple of times during wet weather because of them. Also useful for ascents and descents for the same reason. I would not be without them now. I've not tried them myself, but they seem to be increasingly popular. Some years ago I was travelling east along the Ridgeway from the Shepherd's Rest. In the darkness I trod on the edge of a rut baked hard by the sun, and with nothing to support myself went flying. Next morning my right ankle had blown up like a balloon and I was forced to abandon the trip and hobble down to Wantage. Whether the moral of the story is that you SHOULD carry walking sticks, or that you should NOT walk at night after a couple of hours in the pub, I do not know! Chris adds: The two problems I have with a poncho are a) the weight and b) the fact that it would be potentially hazardous to use walking sticks with it on. The point being that you have to use the sticks with your forearms parallel to the ground, therefore you can't see where you're putting your feet because the poncho will obscure your view. A bit dodgy in slippery conditions. With my Army poncho you can actually stick your arms out of the sides, allowing it to hang closer to the body. It's a good point though.

Other clothing: Socks: Falke Coolmax - three pairs in all. Wicking under-garments: I took two T-shirts...made from synthetic material. Again I've not tried this material, though I've read several favourable reports. Normal T-shirts retain moisture and quickly become soaked with sweat under a rucksack, which to say the least is unpleasant. Polycotton trousers: two pairs. Lightweight and comfortable. One pair had two side pockets which was much more useful than the one with just a single pocket. These side pockets are great for maps, snacks, chewing gum, camera etc. I use a similar type, which have leg pockets that are just the right size for an OS map. They are inexpensive, reasonably windproof and dry quickly when wet. I walk in one pair: the other I keep for looking presentable when paying brief visits to civilization.

Washing kit: flannel, soap, toothbrush and half a tube of toothpaste (might be possible to save a bit of weight here!) Neckerchief. Tied by a corner to the right hand load-lifter strap as a towel for the sweaty brow. I used this folded into a bandana to keep the sun off my head. Worked well and was improved with the addition of a sprinkling of water to aid the cooling effect. Also used as a towel for washing. Dries quickly. A very versatile thing to have! I bought one of those mini super-absorbant camping towels about the size of a face-cloth. You can dry yourself after a shower, though you may have to wring it out quite a few times in the process!

First Aid kit: Mostly used for blisters and minor skin problems. I carry a reasonably comprehensive kit which contains a variety of plasters and bandages, painkillers and water purifying tablets along with a space blanket. Savlon and little containers of Vaseline (packed in an old film container!) and medicated talc were useful. I realise that the space blanket could be regarded as unnecessary but it weighs next to nothing and may be useful in an emergency. Anyway, I feel comfortable about carrying the weight of a good first aid kit as it gives me an enormous sense of security. The pouch is waterproof and sits nicely in the top pocket of the rucksack. I recently bought some Compeed plasters (odd name, but that's what they are called!) made by Johnson and Johnson. I discovered that they don't stick properly if you put them on during a day's walk, as your skin is still sweating, but applied at night and allowed to bond they are excellent. They are made of some sort of soft plastic which (as they say in the advertising blurb) "works like a second skin". Don't forget the insect repellant, plus anti-histamine cream if you react badly to bites. Sun cream. Factor 30. Had to buy this en-route. Lesson learned. I should have taken a sun hat. Well, no, I should have taken a hat that was up to the job. I took a black baseball hat. That was a mistake. No protection from the sun on the neck. Ouch. I have now invested in a cotton (retains moisture) "outback" hat which I got for £20 from Cotswold Outdoors. It has a 3" wide brim which can be fixed up on both sides. There are crystals in the headband which you can soak for a few minutes and are supposed to stay wet for days. It also comes with a water-proof Teflon coating and an insect repellant too. If you are not used to the sun a hat is certainly worth considering. The heat in summer can be a real killer.

Repair kit: Contains spare batteries for torch and radio and swatches of material and adhesives for repairing the tent or the mattress. Also a sewing kit (of the sort you liberate from expensive hotels!) which has a needle, buttons and various threads. I also took along a two-inch heavy duty needle for bigger repairs and a small roll of duct tape. Optional, perhaps, though I did have to buy a needle and thread in the Cotswolds after tearing my walking trousers getting over a stile!

Silva Compass: ever been faced with a choice between two plausible tracks, in a field at twilight? The OS 1:25000 maps show hedgerows, the 1:50000 do not; and although you probably wouldn't stray too far, retracing your steps and trying again can be very irritating. A must on mountains and moorland, along with a whistle.

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