In our 10 Best series of articles we cover a lot of long distance treks from the 161km South Downs Way to the 864km Scottish National Trail, and even the 1005km long Monarch’s Way.
How do you prepare for these walks?
It is’t a case of packing a backpack with all your gear for a wilderness hike and setting off.
You need to be fit but the logistics over two weeks can be an issue too.
In this blog we will give you an insight into how to prepare a trek/hike of this kind and have everything in place before you set off.
Where many articles in this prepping article series are for specific treks, this one is a lot more generalised.
There are places you will wander that are restricted at different times of year or during the week (military firing ranges being classic) but the UK differs from more far flung locations in the world as there is no civil unrest or tight government control.
We also don’t have anywhere where you need to prepare for acute altitude stress on your cardiovascular system.
That said, you will need to get the logistics right.
You also need to be at a certain level of fitness and to know the laws of the different countries and estates that you may encounter on your treks.
With these in mind let’s look at how you should prepare for a trek in the UK.
You may have been reading through our blogs and articles when you saw a walk that made you go, “Wow!”.
That may have started you on your journey to doing a multi-day trek or hike.
Did you know we detail a range of specific walks?
These are designed to give you an idea of what the walk or trek involves.
That only begins your preparations.
You need to do a fair bit of digging to know exactly what’s involved, and start planning in more detail.
Buy a book
With few exceptions, most of the decent long distance walks in the UK and Ireland that are interesting from end to end have had a book written about them.
The writer will have walked it themselves and will give detailed route directions from end to end of the walk – though this isn’t always accurate so you will need to prepare for diversions.
The most popular long distance walks have their own websites and given the almost complete mobile data coverage these enchanted isles have, you could bring your tablet computer with you but batteries do run flat while books don’t.
At around the time you are starting to take a idea of a walk seriously then it’s time to get fit.
January and February are the times when most people are thinking of their summer holidays.
That’s about the right time to prepare for a walk in July/August for someone who has been overindulging and hibernating in the winter months.
Start with a benchmark walk – something you know you have been able to do that’s challenging yet not soul destroying in terms of hardness – and build from there.
If the walk involves wild camping then get some weight on your back as you train. Your aim will be to manage a bank holiday weekend plodding along over three days on similar terrain to your target walk with similar loads on your back.
If you’re not in agony on the Tuesday after then you’ll soon get in the swing of a week-to-two week long walk.
Don’t be afraid to travel a little in preparation!
If you live in a flatter area like East Anglia then you can still get some physical preparation in for a hilly or mountainous route by jumping on the train or in your car.
The Chilterns aren’t that far from Bedfordshire, the South Downs from London, and Exmoor from the Somerset Levels for example.
Boots & kit
You will need the right kit for a multi-day trek in the UK. Don’t be afraid to spend £100 or more on a pair of decent walking boots.
Make sure you have the right socks for the walk too. Have waterproofs regardless of whether it is summer or winter – it’s rare enough it doesn’t rain for more than a week here.
Have emergency camping gear as a minimum – a foil sleeping bag, a small tent and some boil in the bag high calorie food as well as an alcohol or gas cooking system.
If you’re doing multiple days in the wilderness make sure you’ve the right gear for that – lights, torches, lightweight sleeping bag, mat etc.
Clothing that you can wear in layers so you’re not too hot or cold.
Food and fluids are important as well.
Have a flask of tea/coffee for each day.
Carry enough water for the day (even if flavoured with squash or fruit juice) to remain hydrated.
Carry some water sterilising tablets or a reverse osmosis water purification pump for longer spells in the wild.
Have some high calorie snacks for your breaks.
What are you doing for lunch?
That needs to be worked out too.
Remember that on a day on the hill you could well burn more calories than at your desk at work so have plenty of food to hand!
At this stage you need to be thinking about where you will stay over the multi-day trek.
Let’s look at camping, B&B hopping and engaging a tour company. Whatever happens it pays to know where you plan to spend the night every night.
As you will see, wild camping isn’t always possible.
On the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, around Cape Wrath, parts of Dartmoor and the Jurassic Coast among others you could be planning to cross a military firing range as part of the walk.
We place this issue high on the list as it could dictate how you take the walk on.
For example, on a previous blog we pointed out that to do the full length of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path you need to start on a Sunday or Monday so you can cross the bombing range over the weekend.
Leave on a Wednesday and you will have to sit about for a few days until it opens.
Generally speaking it is against the law to just pitch your tent and set up camp in England, though you are allowed to on Dartmoor.
In Scotland, you are able to do this at the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, while in certain areas of Snowdonia you can do the same.
Some landowners will permit wild camping with prior request, but even working out whom to ask can be a nightmare as some landowners don’t even like it to be known that they own the land for tax and other reasons.
For different reasons, whether a dislike of the law, inability to make it to a designated campsite on a walk, or in a genuine emergency you may choose to pitch camp anyway.
Where life and health aren’t in danger then you need to be discreet as to where you do camp without permission.
Leave no rubbish or waste behind (carry baggies as you do for your canine friends), and be extremely careful about fires – you just need to see Australia ablaze right now to see what could happen in our changing climate.
Gorse and heather fires are common enough in the UK as it is – you don’t want to be blamed for that.
Campsites may have all sorts of amenities from comfortable yurts (‘glamping’) to toilet and washing facilities, wifi and even licensed bars and swimming pools.
You get what you pay for, from a few quid a night up to whatever you’d be willing to spend for pampered luxury.
As with bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) it may pay to book ahead so you know you’ll have somewhere to sleep on each night without having to head into the hills a few miles as the sun sets with tired legs and little food to set up a secret encampment!
Food and water
If you are planning a long route solely in the wilds then it may pay to leave food and other supplies at stashes along the route.
Could a farmer keep them for you?
What about a campsite or local shop?
Either way for a big walk over more than a few days with your world on your back it may pay to plan ahead with supplies at prearranged places along the route.
At this stage we need to talk about booze. If you’re on the Speyside Way or another one with alcohol as an interest, remember that it causes dehydration.
Dehydration is a killer on long treks.
If you do find a distillery with the best nectar on the planet then plan a day off the next day.
Don’t plan a 20 mile monster in 30 degree C heat as you probably won’t make it!
Bed and breakfasts that are in key walking areas or on famous walking routes like the Wye Valley Walk will market themselves to those walkers.
Though you would need some emergency camping gear and high calorie food in case of problems, B&B hopping for at least part of your route can minimise the amount of gear you need to carry with you every day.
You’d still bring changes of clothes, wet weather gear and emergency gear/food but you won’t need your breakfast, lunch and tea for the walk, or a big sleeping bag and other things that will add to the weight and difficulty of the trek you’re planning.
Compared to campsites, this can be far more expensive – during school holidays it could set you back £60 per person per night and up.
You will also need to get booking at the early part of the year for a summer trek as the best B&Bs will be booked up quickly.
The reward is a hot bath/shower and some hearty food for breakfast and dinner – aid for aching muscles and fuel for your march!
Mix & match?
You don’t have to have a hot bath and a beautiful meal every day.
To save cash and to get a more rough and ready experience you can mix and match the ideas we have set out above.
On certain routes like the Cape Wrath Trail you may need to camp in the boonies some nights and B&Bs every so often for a recovery day.
For the lightest load on your back but perhaps more expensive than any of the above is to ask a tour company for help on your long distance trek.
These will know an area well and have contacts in the hospitality industry to secure good rates and book all your stops ahead.
Many offer guided and self-guided walks. In some cases they will carry your heavy gear between campsites/B&Bs, meaning you just have to carry what you need for emergencies and a normal day’s walking.
You get what you pay for in this case, and for the cost of a Greek beach holiday you will have some great day hikes as you go between your pre-planned destinations.
Off you go!
So there we have it.
As with a trip to Peru on the Inca Trail you even need to start preparing a long distance trek in the UK several months in advance.
Though you won’t need government permits or guides by law, you need to be aware of the law to the extent you know when to be discreet if being deliberately naughty.
It’s no easy task preparing an adventure like this, but the memories you get will stay in place for a long time.
You never know who you’ll meet and what will happen – you can’t prepare the human side of things but you can prepare to make those things happen with a bit of thought.
Enjoy the adventure!