From 7 to 12 August I hiked the 100 mile South Downs Way with my brother Dean. This is the fifth long distance trail we have hiked together and we’ve certainly shared some great experiences good and bad, but overall very rewarding. So far we have picked the more popular and/or demanding trails. To date:
2007 – Pennine Way National Trail (275 miles / 12 days)
2008 – Wainwright’s Coast to Coast (200 miles / 12 days)
2010 – West Highland Way NT (96 miles), Great Glen Way NT (76 miles)
2015 – South Downs Way NT (105 miles, 6 days)
Each time we have carried our own camping equipment and mainly used official camping sites, but on the odd occasion we have wild camped. This very much depended on whether we are struggling to make it to a campsite in time before loss of light. It can be a lot more fun setting up your own wild camp, although on one occasion on the Pennine Way we were restricted to setting up our tents on a thistle strewn beck, down a mountainside just before a torrential downpour. I was awake all night worried the beck would swell and sweep us downhill. It certainly makes you appreciate camping facilities.
On other occasions we have used hostels and on the rare occasion a B&B. It depends very much on how tough the hike has been and whether or not clothes need to be washed. It can also provide a nice break between several days of hiking. The Pennine Way is a tough route with potentially wetter weather and boggy under foot. You’re probably more likely to use a hostel or B&B here than you are on an ‘easier’ trail.
Pack weight is always a problem. Even with the best intentions and taking basic essentials it’s very difficult to get below a pack weight of 10-15kg. On our first hike on the Pennine Way we carried around 20-25kg on our backs, which made the mountain climbs even more difficult and added to our blister misery. Over the years we have learnt what we can do without, and found lighter alternatives, thus dropping overall backpack weight closer to 10-15kg. A lot of that obviously depends on your comfort requirements. A foam mat, bivvy bag and lightweight solo tent will weigh a lot less than an air mat, sleeping bag (+liners) and larger tent. I’ve been trimming weight over the years but found the South Downs Way hike quite uncomfortable due to the size of the tent (‘coffin’) being so small I could barely move.
Over the years we have found it harder to deal with the backpack weight and camping over a multi-day hike, and have decided to stick with just hostels (where possible) in the future. Hey, we’re getting old.
We have completed the trails we always wished to. We intend to go back and complete the Pennine Way in the near future, and perhaps parts of the South Coast. There are some great routes in Europe of course that we have also considered e.g. El Camino de Santiago (Spain), Rennsteig (Germany), GR20 (Corsica), etc.
As previously mentioned, one passion of mine in recent years having left Ironman, was Ultra running. Either in my own time as a break, or part of a race or record attempt. Unfortunately despite getting up to a decent level, I was unable to build further due to health issues. I decided therefore to enjoy a few days out on a trail by breaking up walking with light running. That way I wouldn’t be putting too much pressure on my body and could still get a thrill for running and completing more miles per day.
Run / Hiking to date:
2009 – Offa’s Dyke NT (80 of 178 miles – injury)
2012 – Cotswold Way NT Record Run (102 miles / 20 hrs)
2013 – Wainwright’s Coast to Coast (200 miles / 4 days)
My backpack weight for these obviously had to be kept to a minimum. For the Cotswold Way record and races I would simply take a (700ml) bottle belt or a small race-spec backpack with anything from H&S essentials, a Harveys map, electrolyte tablets (particularly if it’s warm) and a little nutrition depending on what was available at aid stops.
For the multi-day run/hikes it would need to be a slightly more substantial with a bivvy bag, change of clothes, mobile phone, basic toiletries, etc included. If the weight went over 5kg then it started to have an impact on my running. But I could usually keep it down to <=3kg excluding nutrition.
If I was asked my favourite trail I would have to say Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route, albeit not an official national trail. My brother prefers the Pennine Way. If you would like to read a few of our hiking adventures, my brother produced the following on Kindle (Amazon):
You can also read my full reports here, including previous Lejog bike/camping experiences