Hill Skills Series – Backpacking kit for summer wild camps in Ireland and the UK
When organising our hill skills overnight trips, we give our clients a list of the essential gear they should take. In this blog I have expanded that list to add explanations and notes on my own experiences of over 35 years of wild camping.
Perhaps the overriding consideration is the overall weight of your full pack, it is no good packing to make your trip uber comfortable only to find you cannot lift the rucksack off the floor, ( believe me, I have seen this). A good guideline for total pack weight is that it should not exceed 20% of your body weight. For a 75kg person like me that means no more than 15kg, which is manageable.
When wild camping as a pair, with a friend or partner, you can share the weight of communal kit like the tent and cooking equipment, this helps considerably with the overall load.
This will be your heaviest bit of kit, and also your home, your shelter should the weather turn nasty, so the right tent choice is essential.
A two-person tent is ideal for you and a partner, they do tend to be a little snug, so if you are going with a friend, make sure you are both ok with the close proximity this will inevitably mean. Aim to get a tent under 2kg, and one with a geodesic design, where the poles cross each other over the tent. This will give the tent much more stability in stormy weather.
If you are going it alone then a one man tent will suffice, some are very light, less than 1kg, and may require your walking poles to double up as tent poles.
Both two man and solo tents would normally be double skinned, they would have an inner tent, often with a mesh door to keep out unwanted midges and flies, and a waterproof outer, or fly sheet. This combination is best to keep down condensation in the tent and to give you a refuge from the midges.
For lightness, some folks prefer a single skinned tent or even a tarp. Tarp is short for tarpaulin, and is a lightweight waterproof flysheet that you erect with guy lines to trees or walking poles. There is no inner tent and the trade off for lightness is the exposure to insects.
My own preference is for a double skinned tent, if you have experienced Scottish midges then you won’t need to ask why.
Sleeping Bag – Synthetic or Down?
There are pros and cons to both. Synthetic insulation filled bags will be cheaper and will perform better if they get damp. Down filled bags will be more expensive, but will give a greater warmth to weight ratio, they do not function at all well when the down gets wet, having virtually no heat retention.
In either case you will need a three season bag for summer wild camping in Ireland and the UK, as it can still be chilly in the mountains at night.
I use a light down bag, rated to 0C, in summer and keep it in a waterproof dry-bag to avoid it getting damp in wet weather.
When lying in your sleeping bag your body compresses the insulation between you and the ground, this is where most body heat is lost, so a good sleeping mat is important.
There are really two choices here, closed cell foam mats, which are cheap but bulky, and air filled mats, such as Thermarest, which are expensive, but pack down small and offer excellent insulation. This would be my choice.
If you opt for a closed cell foam mat be sure to keep it dry, if you attach it to the outside of your pack then put it in a waterproof dry-bag.
Alternatively, you can open it out around the inside of your rucksack, and pack the rest of your gear within it.
Some people like to take a blow up pillow along. However, I would consider this an optional extra, and prefer to fill a stuff sack with clothes and use that instead.
Cooking equipment – stove, pots, mug etc.
There are so many stove options available now, using a variety of fuels from gas to petrol, and from solid fuel to wood.
Consider your needs, and the availability of fuel. In Ireland and the UK, screw in butane/propane gas cartridges are readily available, and in combination with a simple lightweight cooker, like the MSR Pocket Rocket, you can have a lightweight, convenient, relatively safe and easy to use option that will boil a litre of water in a couple of minutes.
Choose the smallest volume gas canister for your needs, the shorter the trip the less gas you will need. How much you will need depends on burn time, and what food you intend to cook, (see below for more on this).
For boiling water I use a 750ml lightweight pot with a lid, the lid doubles as an extra pan but I rarely use it. I can fit a gas canister wrapped in a cleaning cloth snuggly inside my pot, saving space. I also use this pot to eat from, avoiding the need to bring a plate.
I have a good sized double skinned plastic travel mug for hot drinks, this keeps my morning tea nice and hot!
For eating I use a spork, mine is plastic, but you can get titanium models if you wish.
Finally, don’t forget a lighter, and reserve matches, some folk like to take a fire-steel ,but two stove lighting options seems fine to me.
Clean water is a must in the hills, and gone are the days when you could drink, worry free, from mountain streams.
Wild and grazing animals, and humans, all live in the mountain environment, we all eat, sleep and poo there. It is necessary, therefore, to ensure the water we collect is safe to drink.
By far the best way to do this is to boil it, and this we do when we prepare food and hot drinks, but boiling all our drinking water can be costly, and use up vital fuel.
The alternatives are to filter the water, or to treat it with chemicals. Since the EU banned the use of iodine as a water treatment I have been a little unsure of the efficacy of the chemical treatments available, (mostly based on chlorine). Therefore my preference is for water filters.
There are now some excellent water filters available, taking out all pathogens. They range from drinking ‘straws’, to bottles with filters in the lid, to pump action high volume filters. By using a water filter you don’t have to carry so much water with you during the day, you can make clean water as you go, but be sure to use fast running streams, and take it from as high in the mountains as you can.
This is a subject that generates much debate amongst seasoned backpackers and wild campers. You will burn a lot more energy when trekking in mountainous terrain, at least 3000 calories a day if you are male, 2500 if female. Therefore it is important to consider the calorie content of your food and also its weight, your chosen meals should have a high calorie to weight ratio.
The food should also be quick and easy to prepare, no gourmet dinners here, consider dried packet meals and carbohydrate rich foods.
Experiment with your food choices at home before you go on your trip, it’s no good if you can’t stand the taste!
Every seasoned wild camper will have their own favorites, and here I offer a sample menu of my own. Whatever you decide to take, remember you have to carry it in, so keep it lightweight and quick to prepare.
Breakfast – Muesli with extra oats, dried fruit and seeds. I mix in milk powder at home and keep measured portions stored in a plastic container. This is packed with slow release energy to fuel my morning. Just add hot water, stir, and eat.
Tea/coffee – some folk don’t bother with this, but I need my tea!
Lunch/Snacks – I take homemade flapjacks, my own recipe contains oats, fruit and honey, they can last several days in my pack and are are full of energy. I also take dried fruit, typically apricots, prunes or dates.
Snickers bars are great for a quick energy boost, and as an emergency food supply.
Dinner – Packet dried meals, they come in many forms and your local supermarket will no doubt have a good selection, but check the preparation times, some can be up to 20 mins. I use Lidl dried meals, as they are not expensive, taste reasonably good, and are quick to prepare.
Instant hot chocolate drink is packed with calories and will help you sleep, and well worth taking along.
This has to be big enough to take all your gear and be comfortable when on your back. You should consider anything from 50 – 75 litres, depending on the length of your trip, for an overnight trip I would use a 45 litre pack.
Ladies should get a womens specific rucksack, they are designed to fit the female form, and you may not need such a large volume pack as the men, as you should be carrying less weight, (see 20% rule above).
Try out packs at your local outdoor store, get advice on features, fit and back length as it is important to get this right. Ask them to add weight to the pack, if they cannot oblige, go to a different store.
On overnight trip I might not bother with this, but on longer trips you would want to take a change of underwear, socks and a baselayer. These are great as bedtime clothes too, giving you something fresh to change into before you get into your sleeping bag.
This is a must have item, chose one of the many LED types around. The more expensive models have very bright beams, (measured in lumens), and a long beam distance, but a mid-range headtorch would be sufficient for moving around camp and emergency use.
First aid supplies
Someone in your party should ideally be first aid trained, carry a first aid kit, and know how to use it. For the rest, an ‘ouch pouch’ is enough, this should contain antiseptic wipes, plasters, minor burn cream and blister pads.
If you hate being bitten by the little critters, then this is an important item, anything containing DEET will keep them off, but other options are also available, if not so effective.
A trowel to bury poo, (which should be buried 20 cm deep and the turf replaced). Toilet paper, ideally the used paper should be burned or carried out in a ziplock bag, but if this revolts you then bury it too.
Don’t leave it on the surface, that’s just disgusting, unsightly and takes many weeks to decompose, do think of others that come after. Antibacterial gel is a good way to clean your hands.
For an overnight wild camp you might consider washing and cleaning your teeth unnecessary, for a longer trip you will want to bring a microfibre towel, biodegradable soap, and a toothbrush and small amount of paste.
Do think carefully about what extras you might bring, do you really need deodorant, or a razor?
In here you should keep spare batteries for your headtorch, a small penknife, duct tape, and cable ties. On a longer trip you might want to take a repair kit for your sleeping mat.
Some folk like to take a little luxury, or something to make the trip more comfortable, for them the extra weight is worth it. Typically someone might take a book, camp shoes, or a little of their favorite tipple.
The rest of your kit should be the same as you might take on a day hike, but be sure to keep your kit dry with a rucksack liner and dry-bags.
For more information on Mountaintrails guided hikes, check out the website.