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So What's in Your Rucksack Then?

I first met Jo when she overtook me on Jacobs ladder on our first day on the Pennine Way.

I was carrying a 65l rucksack complete with my camping kit and was still warming up whilst climbing this huge staircase. Jo had left her Edale B&B, her suitcase to be forwarded by a carrier, and was carrying a small day pack. She generously slowed down and we walked together across KinderScout, bravely telling everyone we met that we were heading for Scotland. It seemed an awful long way.

Later on we met up again, with just one route and few civilisations to stay in, it was almost inevitable. My husband joined me in support, taking care of the camping equipment so that I no longer carried my 15kg rucksack, just a 35l day pack. Jo and I met up each morning and walked together. We made a good team, she kept the pace up and I navigated.

On our final day, a whopping 25 miles over the Cheviots with 4500ft of ascent, rain was forecast. There are two mountain huts on the route, about 1/3 of the way in from each end. I was fully prepared to spend the night at the second hut. With heavy rain forecast for 4pm, I was not sure I wanted to be navigating off the hill in pouring rain and failing light. Having had a good day, we got to the hut at 2pm, well ahead of time, and with the sun still shining. We peeked in, signed the visitor’s book and carried on. With just 7 miles to go (just!) we stopped for a break and I expressed my relief at not spending the night out. It was then that Jo asked ‘what’s in your rucksack then?’

We both pulled our kit out of our bags. Waterproofs, fleece jacket, spare clothes, spare socks, gloves, hat, phone, phone charger, camera, a bag of toffees, water bottle, suncream, remains of lunch, first aid kit. So far we both had the same. I had a little extra, a whistle, compass, map, notebook, pacing beads, emergency chocolate, my ultralight down sleeping bag and sleeping mat. Jo had been more confident of our ability to go the distance.

We stormed through the last 7 miles to claim our free half pint at The Border Hotel. It was half way through our evening meal that it started to rain.

When I pack I imagine the worst, and plan to cope with it. If the worst happens then I’m OK, if it doesn’t then I’m still OK but just have a slightly heavier rucksack. Many years ago I was walking in Scotland with my son aged about 9 and his school friend. It was January. The friend slipped and hurt his ankle. The whole tone of the walk changed. We were about an hour away from the nearest house, if I left him there he would be hypothermic by the time I got back with help. The dog treats in my pocket offered little sustenance. The sky darkened and it started to hail. The boy decided his ankle would get him back and we carried on. It was then I realised then how easily things can go wrong. An aluminium blanket was hung up next to the dog leads and slipped into a back pocket for every walk in winter.

So what’s in my rucksack now?

For a short dog walk, close to home I’d probably just take poo bags, dog treats and my phone. Just using my pockets.

The next level up is a small bum bag. Add a mini first aid kit, a camera and a bottle of water.

Then to a 18l day pack. Add a full first aid kit, more water, snacks, toffees, possibly emergency chocolate, an extra warm layer, possibly a small flask hot coffee. Possibly compass and pacing beads, notepad and whistle. (the last four are all tied together on a spare bootlace). The emergency chocolate can be eaten at the end of the day if there hasn't been an emergency.

Top level for a big day walk and it’s a 35l backpack.

Add more spare clothes including socks, gloves and a hat all in a dry bag, a waterproof sitpad and more food. I might well carry a flask of hot soup as well as coffee. The extra clothing is not necessarily for warmth, it can be utilised for pillows, slings or padding if someone is hurt.

In wet weather I'd have waterproof jacket and trousers, a waterproof phone cover and waterproof gloves. Waterproofs may not be in my backpack as I might start off wearing them.

In sunny weather add suncream, sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat, again I might be wearing it.

If I’m going to be out all day, I sometimes take a stove. I have a minimalist stove which fits inside a titanium mug, great for just myself. Teabags, sugar sachets, coffee sachets and UHT milk pots take up very little room.

On a nice day its pleasant to sit and have a brew whilst admiring the view. On a cold day it can be a lifesaver if you have emptied your flasks, as long as you can find a sheltered place to pause. Sometimes if things are fraught, the time out to brew up can really help you to think straight again. If you boil the water for a minute it kills bugs so you are safe to use stream water.

If I'm headed for the mountains I might add a rope, for cold weather and I might add a group shelter. If I know a busy road is to be crossed or walked along a high vis jacket would be included.

For full on winter conditions, lots of warm lightweight clothing, a down jacket, and if I'm really lucky, crampons.

and don't forget the map!

Overnight? Well that’s a whole new post.

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