“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” —Seneca

All across South-Western Europe (Spain, Italy, France, Andorra), there are a network of long-distance hiking trails, known as the GRs.

GR stands for Grand Randonneur in French, Gran Recorrido in Spanish, Gran Recorregut in Catalan. For me however, GR could well stand for Gratitude Reset, and over the past few years, through-hiking these trails has become one of my favourite pastimes, providing long reaching benefits into all aspects of my daily life.

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What is Through-Hiking?

Through-hiking, also known as trekking, is a multi-day walking trip, where you carry all your clothing, equipment and provisions in your back pack.

Most through hikes tend to start from one point, and finish at another 100s of kms away, thus making a journey on foot that nowadays most people would only ever do by plane, train or automobile. (There are also many popular circular routes, however).

Perhaps the most famous of these routes in Europe would be the GR65, better known as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, which goes from St Jean-Pied-du-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, at total of 769 km, typically split into 30 stages of around 25km each.

Depending on the route and the season, one must either carry a tent or bivvy bag to sleep in, or stay in “refuges” along the way (I’ll talk about the pros and cons of both later in the article).

Why Try Through-Hiking?

  • GR = Gratitude Reset

Walking hundreds of kilometers on foot, often across mountains (my personal preference), is no easy task. The more you carry, the tougher and more arduous things become – every gram counts, trust me.

This means you have to really limit what you bring, and carry only what is truly essential. That, plus of course there are many things that are simply impossible to carry with you, no matter how much you might want to!

Some things you’ll have to learn to live without:

>Plumbing – We are accustomed to ready access to clean drinking water, sit down flush toilets and hot showers. In the mountains however, these things are rare luxuries. Having to calculate and carry your fresh water needs, search out safe water sources, carry a trowel and squat in the bushes, and wash in ice-cold mountain water, really makes you appreciate indoor plumbing, something we now take for granted.

>Electricity and Internet – Constant connection is now the norm. TV, radio, internet, social media: always on, always accessible at the touch of a button or swipe of a screen. Through-hiking is a great opportunity to disconnect.

>Furniture – Kicking back on the couch, sleeping in a bed. The modern urban human spends probably half of their life on one or the other. They are a relatively modern invention however, unknown to most humans that have lived on this planet in the millenia that preceded our own.

>Refrigeration – Fancy a snack? Just open the fridge. Lots of nice, fresh, non-mouldy goodies. The same items won’t fare so well after 3 days in a rucksack at 35C…

>Climate Control – Thanks to central heating and air conditioning, we’re used to a constant ambient temperature usually somewhere between 15-18C. On the road you’re exposed to the elements. Especially in the mountains, conditions can change wildly and rapidly, switching back and forth from blistering heat, to teeth chattering cold with surprising frequency.

I always find that after a couple of weeks in the mountains, you learn to simultaneously truly appreciate things that we often take for granted (i.e. indoor plumbing and beds), while at the same time, realising that some things that we use habitually, aren’t really necessary (for example since my last trip I have stopped visiting Facebook).

  • A Journey through Space and Time to Gain Perspective

There are all manner of different routes you can choose to hike, though my personal favourites are those which cross mountains.

There is nothing quite like standing on the summit of a mountain to put things into perspective.

Formed hundreds of millions of years ago, and likely to still be standing hundreds of millions of years after humans as a species have disappeared from the planet, mountains operate on a time scale that is impossible for us to fully comprehend.

My favourite trail is the GR11, the Transpiranaica, which traverses the Pyrenees from the Atlantic Coast in the Basque Country, to the Mediterranean Coast in Catalunya. The route passes through medieval villages, and stone age burial grounds.

Walking these trails, I wonder what it was like to live there as a Paleolithic Hunter Gatherer, a 12th Century Peasant, or one of the many refugees that had to flee from Spain to France across the mountains during the Spanish Civil War.

In comparison to the mountains themselves however, the entirety of human history is an insignificant blip.

The seas and oceans also give this sense of scale. Staring at the ocean from the summit of a mountain. Priceless.

Watching the sun rise and set. Staring into the night sky, free from light pollution, you can see the light from stars that are billions of years old.

#GR20

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Constantly reflect on how swiftly all that exists and is coming to be is swept past us and disappears from sight. For substance is like a river in perpetual flow, and its activities are ever-changing, and its causes infinite in their variations, and hardly anything at all stands still; and ever at our side is the immeasurable span of the past and the yawning gulf of the future, into which all things vanish away. Then how is he not a fool who in the midst of all this is puffed up with pride, or tormented, or bewails his lot as though his troubles will endure for any great while? Think of substance in its entirety, of which you have the smallest of shares; and of time in its entirety, of which a brief and momentary span has been assigned to you; and of the works of destiny, and how very small is your part in them – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Hiking for days through uninhabited mountain forests, sleeping under the stars, staring out at the horizon – there is no better way to get a sense of our place in the universe, humanity a mere tiny ripple on the surface.

  • A Ripple in the Ocean, is the Ocean

Humanity as but a mere ripple in the ocean.

One might fear, that in addition to making our problems seem insignificant, this sense of scale could also induce some kind of existential despair. If we are so fleeting and insignificant, what’s the point?

On the contrary however, I find that hiking through the mountains and sleeping under the stars brings me a real feeling of connectedness with the rest of the universe.

Throughout history, mountains have always held special spiritual significance. In the highest, most inaccessible places you will find churches, hermitages, monasteries, shrines and statues. Though I’m an atheist, I can understand why mountains have become sacred spaces for so many cultures across the world.

#GR20

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Though we may be a mere ripple in the ocean, just as the ripple is the ocean, we are the universe.

I defer to Alan Watts:

We are the Witness
  • Time to Think and Meditate

Without the usual constant interruptions and distractions of day-to-day life, hiking trails for 5-7 hours per day, and spending your afternoons and evenings in nature without mobile phones or TV gives you lots of head space.

Depending upon the type of trail underfoot, I find hiking great for either thinking, or practicing mindfulness and being in the moment.

An easy trail, on a “good path”, allows the body to go into a kind of auto pilot. One foot in front of the other and repeat. This frees the mind to wonder. It may wonder at the beauty of the surroundings, ponder on what it might be like to be one of the majestic birds of prey hovering overhead, or spontaneously come up with the solution for that seemingly impossible problem you’d been struggling with for weeks back home.

#GR20

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Plenty of time to chew the cud!

A technical trail on the other hand, can transport you deeply into “the zone” – that magical place where the “thinking brain” shuts up for once, and instinct takes over. On steep, rocky ascents and descents, one has to be 100% present and focused in the moment. One wrong step could spell serious trouble. All thoughts about past or future are blanked out. All that remains is the here and now, on the trail.

Again, it’s for the latter that I love mountain routes so much. Long steep rocky descents can keep you in this zone for hours.

How do I get started with Through-Hiking?

So hopefully, I’ve convinced you to give it a try (and you don’t think I’ve totally lost my mind and turned into a hippy woo-woo guru with all this talk of we are the universe…).

But how do you go about getting started?

Through-hiking can be a beautiful, exhilarating, mind-opening voyage of discovery.

It also has the potential to become an arduous, painful, soul-destroying slog through unforgiving terrain with blistered feet, insect bites, back ache, sun-stroke, hyperthermia, insomnia, food poisoning, and even death, if you’re not properly prepared!

View from Campsite at Refuge Paliri, final stage of the GR20 in Corsica

Some discomfort is to be expected. This is not supposed to be a trip to a 5* all-inclusive resort drinking cocktails in the pool. Equally, however, you don’t want to end up in the sequel to 127 hours…

  • Start Small
  • Regardless of your fitness levels, I’d recommend starting small, and building up gradually.

    I’m sure there are those that have thrown themselves in at the deep end, and not regretted it, either as they were lucky, or they found the ordeal cathartic and character building, but personally, I don’t believe it’s the best way.

    On the one hand, hiking is great as it’s not necessary to do much in the way of specific training providing you maintain general levels of fitness. It’s not like trail running or mountain biking, for example, where if you don’t keep up to regular weekly training, a 100km trip on the weekend out of nowhere is going to destroy you.

    My capoeira training along with a couple of sessions of HIT strength training a week keep me suitably in form, with not need to train specifically for hiking in between trips, even if they end up being many weeks or months apart.

    What no level of general physical fitness can prepare you for, however, are blisters or equipment issues (either malfunction or lack of).

    If you finish your first day with painful blisters on your feet, a rucksack that chafs your neck and waist, a tent that leaks, a sleeping mat that lets you feel every pebble, and any other number of potential rooky problems, it’s bearable if you know you’ve just got one day left to finish before you’re back home to your bed and slippers. If you’ve got another 45 days to go however…

    Even if you’ve already done several through-hikes, always repeat this start small every time you change a significant piece of gear – especially new boots or rucksack.

    Start with a circular day hike from the campsite or refuge where you’ll be staying the night, but carry all your things, including the tent if you’re camping, to make the test as real as possible.

    Physically, the challenge is the same as a days through-hiking, but psychologically, you know if anything goes wrong, you don’t have to carry on the next day.

    Likely issues are sore feet and pack too heavy or badly fitted.

    The remedy for sore feet might just be a case of breaking in new shoes (a good idea is to where new boots day-to-day for a while before taking them out on their first excursion), breaking in your feet if they’re not accustomed to much walking, or the wrong choice of shoes or socks. The importance of investing in good hiking socks and boots can’t be over stated!

    Along with boots or socks, a good pack is where you really need to invest your money. If it’s your first, go to a specialist store where they can help you pick a pack that fits, and show you how to adjust it properly.

    Even with the best pack in the world though, the classic rooky mistake is to simply take too many things. I’ve put together my recommended kit list which you’ll find later in the article. Everyone has different needs and priorities however, so you’ll likely need to do some tinkering. It’s a fine line between some articles which might be better to have and not need, rather than need and not have, and on the other hand, that every extra gram adds up, especially when you’re ascending your 20th 2000m peak on day 17…

    Hopefully however, everything goes to plan on day one, and you can do another circular hike the next day, maybe ditching a few items from the bag, and trying a different pair of socks if needs be.

    Providing all was hunky dory and you enjoyed the weekend, the next step would be a 3 day through-hike over a long-weekend, using the same gear. Again, if any issues crop up that didn’t surface in the initial test, it’s only 3 days you’ve got to put up with them.

    Booty call. #colldebanyuls #gr11

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  • Only the Essentials
  • Every gram counts. You try your bag on at home and think, “Oh, it’s not too bad”. By the end of day one, it’s starting to weigh you down a little. By the end of week one, it’s like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders!

    I’d strongly recommend aiming for a maximum of 9kg “dry” i.e. before accounting for water.

    Relatively speaking, if you have a bodyweight of 100kg, you can theoretically get away with carrying more weight than someone with a bodyweight of 60kg.

    I wouldn’t advise this as an excuse to carry more things just for the sake of it though. If travelling with friends however, it could be a nice idea to go with an average pack weight of 9kg, the larger hikers carrying more in order to lighten the load for the smaller members of the group.

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    Below is my basic minimal kit list:

    Clothing

    • Trail/Hiking Boots/Trainers. (Personally I favour the Inov8 Rocklite 325 GTX)
    • 3 pairs of good socks
    • 2 pairs of underwear
    • Base layers Top and Bottom x 1-2
    • Technical hiking trousers (which convert info shorts) x 1-2
    • Technical (T-)shirts x 2
    • Sports/Swim Shorts
    • Sun hat
    • Sun glasses
    • Buff x 2
    • Fleece/mid layer
    • Warm Jacket
    • Waterproof outer shell
    • Flip Flops or Crocs

    This list doesn’t actually tend to vary too much. If I know it’s going to be on the warmer side, I’ll generally go with just 1 set of base layers, leave the warm jacket at home, and take a long-sleeved lightweight breathable shirt to protect from the sun while hiking, and a vest to change into to relax. Bare in mind, however, that even in summer in a hot country, it can still get cold at high altitudes especially at night or in bad weather.

    I highly recommend merino wool when it comes to choosing materials. It is warm yet breathable, dries quickly after washing, and importantly (as you’re going to be sweating the same clothes day after day!) doesn’t tend to get smelly.

    I find the synthetic type technical tops after a while just start to smell bad.

    I also highly recommend Reebok Play Dry Shorts. I think they’re designed for CrossFit, but I like them as they are stretchy and quick drying so you can hike in them, swim in them when you find a beautiful ice-cold lake or river, and chill out/do some stretching and mobilty in them at the end of the day.

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    Kit

    Basic Kit:

    • Rucksack
    • After footwear, probably the most important piece of kit. Should be lightweight, comfy, lots of pockets but also durable – Personally I’m using the Osprey Exos 58

    • Hiking Poles
    • I was against these for ages, but once you learn how to use them properly, and get used to them, you can never go back! Do learn to use them properly though – the vast majority of people I see using them have no idea! Properly used, the arms can add a good 30% extra power on the flats and ascents. On the descents they give you added balance, control and safety. Don’t leave home without them.

    • Dry bags
    • I found some really thin, lightweight dry bags online. I use one for clothes, one for sleeping stuff, one for food etc. It makes finding things in your bag much easier than having to rummage around in a big mess every time you need something. I also carry a muslin cloth bag for dirty clothes (better than having them stew in a dry bag…)

    • Camel back/water bottles/water filter?
    • Check the section below on water for more details.

    • Pen knife
    • I usually carry 2 – the classic swiss army knife, and a larger lock knife.

    • Head torch
    • A USB chargeable one that can also take normal batteries is a good idea.

    • Lightweight sleeping bag and liner
    • Even if you’re planning on staying in refuges, you’ll probably still need these in many cases, or prefer to use your own rather than those provided of dubious cleanliness! (See later section on camping vs refuges)

    • Camping Mat and Inflatable Pillow
    • If you are planning on staying in nice refuges, these might not be necessary. Some refuges don’t have mattresses however (to avoid bed bug issues!) or you may arrive to find them full. There are lightweight options, and they can also be used for siestas mid route. I personally use a thin, ultralight, 3/4 length mat, which does me fine. I put my dry bag full of clothes under my feet. Whether you’d prefer to carry something a bit comfier, but heavier, is all down to personal preference.

    • Tupperware and Spork
    • Get one with a good seal, so you don’t end up with the contents of your lunch spread over all your belongings!

    • Matches/Lighter
    • For lighting camping stove if you’re bringing one, or in case of emergency fire lighting even if not.

    • First Aid Kit
    • Plasters, Bandage, Antiseptic Wipes, Blister prevention and treatment, Insect repellent and Electrolyte rehydration tablets are the staples in my kit. Ibuprofen, Immodium and Antihistamines are generally recommended, though I must confess I don’t usually carry them myself.

    • Blanket
    • Can be used to keep warm, picnics, sun shelter, sarong, the possibilities are endless…

    • Travel Towel
    • Yes, we’re roughing it, but there’s no need to smell like a bear…

    • Toothbrush, Toothpaste and Dental Floss
    • …and definitely not a bear with bad breath. I’ve been told that some hardcore ultralighters squeeze out a blob of toothpaste for each day, then dehydrate it, to save every possible mg of weight. Personally, I’m happy to live with the weight of a travel tube. I’m not that into flossing myself, but I’ve heard it can be very useful for emergency kit repairs as a durable thread!

    • Soap
    • Good old soap. You can wash your body, your hair, and your clothes with soap. Get some real soap such as Jabon de Marseille, and you can also use it (within reason) in natural water sources without polluting delicate ecosystems with chemicals.

    • Rope/Chord
    • I carry a 5m length of 5mm climbing rope. Perhaps not essential, but I find it very useful and versatile – washing line, making shelters, fixing things, and you never know when it might come in handy in an emergency.

    • Map & Compass
    • Most of the GR routes are very well-marked, and probably possible without a map. As these items are very lightweight however, I think it’s one of the things better to have and not need, than need and not have. Make sure you know how to read them before you set off though!

    • Smart Phone
    • This is not so you can keep up to date with Facebook and whatsapp selfies of you meditating on the mountain top to all your mates, but rather for emergencies.

      Install the app Alpify on your mobile – it could save your life.

      I’d also recommend installing My Trails GPS app.

      Find the GPX tracks for your route online (wikiloc.com is a good bet), and download the relevant map tiles to your phone before you set off.

      It’s unlikely your battery life will allow you to use the GPS throughout your trek. Personally I find if I leave it on, it kills my battery in a day, and there’s rarely opportunities to keep it charged every night.

      I generally keep my phone in airplane mode throughout the day. This allows me to use it as a camera, and then if needs be, quickly reconnect to use maps or messaging in an emergency.

    • Kindle
    • You could take a book, but a kindle is probably lighter, and you’re going to have a lot of time to read, so you’ll probably get through several tomes.

    Camping Kit:

    • Tent
    • I have a Nemo Hornet 2P and love it. At under 1kg, it doesn’t weigh you down, yet it’s really comfy, easy to set up, has entrances both sides, and has stood up to some pretty tough storms.

    • Camping Stove, Cook Set and Sponge
    • Again, depending upon your route, this may or may not be necessary. You may choose to eat at refuges, or live on cold foods. Sometimes campsites and refuges have cooking facilities you can use on site. I use the Optimus Crux Stove and Cookset Combo. Don’t forget to take something to clean it with after use.

    Optional Extras:

    • Binoculars
    • You’re hopefully going to see some wildlife. It will be at a distance though! I always carry a pair of ultralight binoculars.

    • Camera
    • Personally, I just make do with my phone. It all depends on priorities. If you’re a photographer travelling in a group, this is the time to negotiate that a friend carries the tent and stove, while you take the camera and tripod.

    • GPS
    • I don’t have one (yet) but could be very handy on poorly marked routes or in bad conditions. A smart phone does the job perfectly in dry conditions while the battery lasts, but if you’re a week into the wilderness deep inside a rain cloud, GPS could well be appreciated.

    • Solar Charger
    • Generally I prefer to use my phone as little as possible, and get by recharging it whenever I find a plug socket. Most refuges now will let you charge your phone, though possibly at a price. If you are going really remote, however, a solar charger can be useful, particularly if you’re prone to getting lost and needing the GPS… If you do get one, invest in a decent one. The cheaper ones are next to useless. Look for one that holds charge, and also that can be charged from the mains in addition to solar.

    • Card Games
    • Either a traditional pack of 52 cards, or a specialised game such as Bang, of which I’m currently a huge fan. A great way to pass the time, and break the ice/get to know other people you meet on the road.

    • Hip Flask with Quality Single Malt Whiskey
    • Really this should be in essentials, not extras! I’ve also been considering a goat skin wine flagon…

    Brits abroad #gr11 #refugibassegoda #bassegoda

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    Whether you view these items, or perhaps others as essentials or totally unnecessary, is really all a matter of personal preference. On a solo trek, carrying all of them would certainly be ill-advised, but if travelling as part of a group, each taking a different luxury item and sharing along the way could be a great idea.

    In terms of where to get your gear, I highly recommend Ultralight Outdoor Gear. They weigh and review everything independently, have excellent prices, free delivery across Europe and great customer service. This isn’t an affiliate link – I just really rate them!

    The Three Main Through-Hike Variables

    There are 3 key variables that have significant effects on your through-hike experience. They are all (pretty much) independent of one another, and can be mixed and matched, even within one route.

    1. Refuges or Camping
    2. Both have their pros and cons.

      Camping is usually cheaper, you’re guaranteed a spot, you can choose if and who you’re sharing with, and the only biting insects you have to worry about are mosquitos, which if you’re careful you can keep on the outside.

      On the fip side, you have to carry the tent, sleeping bag and are more likely to need a camping stove, and more food, which is going to add at least 2kg to your pack weight, if not 3 or more.

      Even cow's need refuge from time to time #gr11 #refugicostabona

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      I must confess to also being a bit of a fair weather camper! There’s nothing I love more than going to sleep with the outer sheet off on a warm, clear night, looking at the stars, then waking up to a beautiful sunrise. Putting up the tent in the pouring rain, then shivering all night, only to have to try and have breakfast in a storm the following morning, on the other hand, not so much fun.

      Refuges generally come in 3 types:
      Rudimentary shelters: Found in the high mountain, basic would be an understatment. You’re going to need all your camping gear to stay here. You’re basically only going to use these if the weather turns too severe to stay in your tent.
      Unmanned Refuges: These are usually maintained by local mountaineering/hiking clubs. You may or may not need to/be able to pre-book. They are usually free, or very cheap. Often you’ll need a camping mat as they don’t have mattress to avoid bed bug issues. If they do have mattresses, you may want to use your mat anyway – to avoid bed bug issues! Often they’ll have a wood burner, and a water source nearby (of dubious safety). As with the rudimentary shelters, you’ll need all your camping gear except for the tent.
      Manned Refuges: The pricier option, but ah what luxury! Hot cooked food, an open fire, and a warm bed. Perhaps even a warm shower, what’s not to like! Hmm, well sharing a bed with strangers of dubious hygiene and (invariably) champion snorers. Yes, I do mean sharing a bed, not just a dorm. In many refuges they have huge bunks where you can be slotted in like a sardine next to a total stranger. The refuges in Corsica on the GR20, and those on the Camino de Santiago, are infamous for being infested with bed bugs. No thanks! Of course, this isn’t always the case. Many of the refuges I’ve stayed at in Catalunya are basically bed and breakfasts. Comfy, clean, warm, with hot water a plug sockets to charge your phone, headtorch and kindle.

      My personal preference is to take a tent, camp most of the time, but then if the weather turns really bad – torrential rain, gale force winds or freezing cold, find a refuge for the night.

    3. Supported, Self-Supported or Unsupported
    4. The above is probably a slight misuse of the terms, but I couldn’t come up with a better heading!

      What I mean by this, is whether you’re going to carry and cook all of your own food for the trip, if you are going to eat at refuges and restaurants you pass along the way, or even perhaps have someone offer support – meeting you with resupplies at various points along the route.

      I usually end up doing a bit of a combination. I love eating at refuges as the food is usually amazing, and it’s a great way to get to know other people doing the trails – you typically sit on large tables, and serve each other out of a communal dish. It’s also nice to cook your own food out in the open and share just with your group/be on your own in the wild too though.

      Refuges typically offer breakfast, and will sell sandwiches and packed lunches to take on the trail. Prices are usually high though, due to transport costs to get food up to the mountains, so carrying some of your own food, and taking the opportunity to restock when you pass through villages with an access road is a good option if you’re on a budget. I’ll talk in a second about recommended foods to carry.

    5. Solo or with a Group
    6. Personally, I generally prefer to go with friends. It’s a great way to really get to know people, you’re going to be together 24/7 with few distractions. Pick your companions well!

      Even in a group, there’s still plenty of time for introspection. Invariably the group will spread out at times and you’ll pass plenty of time without speaking (again, pick your companions well…).

      Going it alone is a wholly different experience. I personally, am glad I’ve done it, but of course, be aware of the risks. Make sure you’ve told someone you are going, and the route you are taking. Make sure you have a mobile phone and plenty of battery. (All of which points you should do even if going in a group I might add).

      A long route can give the opportunity to do a bit of everything. Perhaps different friends join for different parts, others you do alone. You camp some nights, mountain shelters others, swanky refuges or maybe even a cheeky hotel another.

    Sustenance

    Water

    First water. Planning how much water you need to take with you is very, very important.

    It could literally be a matter of life or death!

    It’s not a simple case of more is better, however, as water is also damn heavy. 1 litre of water is 1kg. Carry 3 litres, and you’ve basically got no worries about running dry (unless you’re trekking through the Sahara or Death Valley), but you’re also going to be hefting an extra 3kg for a good part of the trail. Not fun.

    My top recommendation would be to invest in a CarePlus Water Filter (or similar).

    This will allow you to safely collect water from streams and sources along the route, thus greatly reducing the amount of water you have to carry with you.

    That is providing, of course, you are certain you will pass water sources on your route! A water filter is not much use if there is no water to filter!

    Research your route well. Make sure that your planned stop points have a water source, and that this source runs all year around (or at least in the season in which you’ll be there).

    This means you’ll have plenty of water to fully hydrate before and after the day’s hike (plus cook and wash), and fill up your bottles for the day.

    It’s also always a good idea to drink around 1/2 litre at breakfast. Better in the belly than in the backpack.

    If I’m hiking in the mountains and setting off early, I know it’s not going to be too hot, and there’ll be water sources, I might just take 500ml with me, and then replenish along the way using the water filter for safety.

    The hotter it is, or the less certain there’s going to be water along the way, the more water I’d take.

    A related note, is the bottle vs camelbak question. Personally, I take bottles, usually either 2 x 500ml or 1 x 500ml and 1 x 1L. I have 1 x 500ml bottle easily accessible on the arm strap of my backpack.

    Though camelbaks can be convenient to drink from (and are still my preference on bike rides), I find that a) They are less convenient to refill, especially mid route, and b) though it’s never happened to me, I’ve heard reports of them bursting mid-route. Probably unlikely, but could be disastrous!

    Bottles are not only easier to fill, but they are easier to drink from quickly. If I find a nice source, I can quickly and easily drink my 500ml bottle empty (thanks misspent youth in the pub downing pints of bitter!) then refill. Bottles are much sturdier, and having two means if one does get broken or lost, you still have a back up.

    Food

    Whether you are planning on doing the entire route self-supported, or just carrying limited supplies to avoid over spending or for emergencies, you should think carefully about what types of food you decide to carry with you.

    Key things to consider are:

    1. Energy Density
    2. Generally speaking, the higher the better, as you’re going to have to carry less weight and volume for the same number of calories.

    3. Transportability
    4. Foods which squash easily, leak, or are prone to spoiling are not a good idea!

    5. Ease of Preparation
    6. It’s unlikely you’ll be coming across many food processors, sous vides or pressure cookers on your trip, so limit yourself to things that can be eaten/prepared with nothing more than a knife, spork, and camping stove.

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    Some of my favourite options include:

    • Dried Fruits and Nuts (There’s a reason they call it trail mix!)
    • Packs of Risotto or Couscous
    • Hard Cheese and Cured Meats
    • Oats mixed with raisins for porridge
    • Nut Butters and Honey (though not in glass jars for obvious reasons!)

    I’m sure there are lots of other good options too that I’ve not thought of. Any suggestions of good through-hiking foods please post in the comments as a bit more variety would always be welcome!

    Time to Hit the Road

    Hopefully you’ve found this quick start guide useful and inspiring.

    If you have any questions or suggestions, please add them in the comments below.

    Equally, if you decide to give it a go, I’d love to hear back about your experience, good or bad!

    See you on the trails.

    Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post of interest. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below, or feel free to tweet me at @Simon_Whyatt

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