I know that someone is eagerly awaiting this, so have done my best to get it done first! Here is a summary of how my gear performed. This is a long, and possibly boring, post so if you’re not interested in gear . . . . please stop now and wait for the next post! I have put the “food” section at the top as a few more of you may be interested in that! Also, as there has apparently been some grumbling about how long this has taken (yes, I’ve been back for a whole 9 days), I’ve rushed to finish it today so I apologise for any typos, mistakes and general silliness.
If you have any questions, or want more information on anything in particular, please just ask,
For the first couple of trips (WHW and GGW) food was not essential as I had towns at least once a day. I usually had a pub meal for either lunch or dinner. Breakfast was muesli with powdered milk. Primarily muesli bars for snacks, with some lollies, chips and chocolate. I had pita bread, cheese (cheddar, individually wrapped portions) and chorizo for lunch/dinner when not at a pub. This was sufficient and kept me happy enough. On the GGW I was rather unwell (I think I drank some bad water) so had very little appetite anyway. Pub meals were reduced to soup for the early stages and forcing down some pita bread and cheese was enough in the evenings. Breakfast was still muesli, and muesli bars (usually only one a day) made up the rest of my food. Basically I ate very little over this period, but still seemed to do OK. The biggest problem with these two trips was that since I was eating in towns so often my food bag didn’t significantly lighten off over the course of the trip!
The third trip (NW walk) was all about the food. Long distance and no towns/pubs along the way. I was targeting 10,500kJ/day at 500g/day, which was never going to happen. I was actually pretty excited when I managed to get down to ~600g/day. I originally packed 5 full days of food, planning to resupply on day 4 or 5 with the rest.
The main change from previous food was no muesli for breakfast. I was usually eating while walking anyway, so the muesli was more hassle than it was worth. I got a few breakfast bars, making sure I had some with some yoghurt-y filling for that “milky breakfast” feeling. Lots of muesli bars still, some lollies and chocolate again. Lunch was fairly similar – chorizo, individually packed cheese but instead of pita bread I found brioche rolls. These keep for ages and are incredibly high in energy. I also got some Romney Mint Cake (chocolate coated and Extra Strong) to boost my kJ intake. Plus, I LOVE this stuff. I think I’m addicted now! I took some trailmix but didn’t eat it (didn’t like the look of it and didn’t get desperate enough). I also took a couple of apples as my luxury item! I had dehydrated meals for dinner, which I repackaged so I took one in its proper bag (which would be used for rehydrating all the others) then I packed the others in ziplock bags, two serves to one bag. I think reusing the same bag would’ve got quite unpleasant over a few days as these bags do NOT wash out well. Luckily I bailed on my walk so didn’t have to endure this!
Having no heat, I was rehydrating with cold water. This worked quite well. I simply added the water at least half an hour ahead of eating then tucked the bag between me and my pack, or in my jumper if I’d already made camp. I had a salmon and dill, plus 2x pasta dinners which were actually quite nice. On my last camping night I had a beef hotpot thing which was not so good. The meat pieces just don’t rehydrate well (as per my previous experiences in Australia) so I think I’ll try to stick to fish and vegetarian meals if doing this again.
All in all, my food worked really well. I had enough, it kept my energy up throughout the day, stopped me feeling hungry and was generally pleasant. I didn’t get sick of my food and didn’t miss having a hot meal or drink at the end of the day. Mint cake and chocolate was enough to make me happy!
Cutlery/Crockery – The Orikaso bowl worked well – easy to fold into shape, good size and reasonably easy to clean. I went with solid breakfast (bars) on the NW trip so left didn’t take the bowl for this part. I also only took the spoon, for eating dinner. The first trip I took the spoon, knife and fork, but didn’t use the fork at all and I figured I could use my pocket knife if needed on the NW trip.
Tent – Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 (2 person, double wall silnylon, 0.95kg, + 0.15kg in storage bags and groundsheet) + 8 x Ruta Locura Carbon Stakes (50g) and 6x Terra Nova Superlight Titanium V Stakes (60g).
My tent was great. It was very easy to set up and pack up (particularly important while getting attacked by thousands of midges), didn’t leak and had minimal condensation (only one night I had condensation on the inside). It packed easily and well – I had a dry bag for the inner and a stuff sack for the fly, plus a separate bag each for the poles and stakes (the last 3 were Z-Packs Cuben Fibre, the former was Sea to Summit Cordura). It was spacious (as expected for a two person tent with only me in it!) and comfortable inside (2 pockets, and a loop above the door for hanging stuff). The doors were reasonably easy to use, although I feel like other designs might’ve been easier to get in and out of. It held up to all the weather conditions which, admittedly, were pretty mild most of the time. It got down close to 0 a couple of times, and I had a couple of pretty windy nights and some rain, but that was it. I only ended up using it for 10 nights but there is no wear and tear that I can see.
I got a lot better at pitching it, and unpitching, with practice and also managed to pitch on some non-ideal sites. I discovered that I sleep really badly with my head downhill and a couple of nights I pitched with the door downhill so had to sleep with my head at the narrow end. Luckily the tent is wide enough for this with only one person in, which meant I could pitch at the ideal orientation for wind, view or site shape.
I didn’t end up having to use my “reverse setup” string (to pitch fly before inner). Rain was generally light and patchy so I could wait until it had stopped to set/pack up. The one time it was raining, it was also very windy and the tent was already set up, so I just unclipped the fly from the poles and unvelcroed the fly from inside, then packed it up as quickly as possible!
The stakes were great. I didn’t try them in loose sand but did have some nice soil, slightly boggy stuff and some fairly rocky ground. I had to bash them in at a couple of sites and all the pegs survived, although one of the Vs is a bit bent on top. I could usually wiggle the pegs in around the rocks. Having the two types was useful, with it easier to get one of the other in, in different ground conditions. Sadly I lost one of my carbon stakes, but I guess if that’s the only thing I lost the whole trip that’s not too bad (I didn’t even lose the elastic band around my tent poles!)
Sleeping Bag – Z-Packs 20 degree regular width, medium length (512g)
My sleeping bag was great. Comfortable, warm enough, and not too warm while camping (easy enough to leave the top loose or throw an arm out to cool down). It was definitely too warm while sleeping in a house though!! I could pull it up far enough to use for comfort between my head and my “pillow” when I wanted to wear my fleecy (which otherwise wrapped around my clothes bag to make it slightly more comfortable). Also easy to repack into the drybag provided with it. A couple of feathers managed to escape, but other than that, no damage or wear and tear.
Sleeping Mat – ThermaRest NeoAir XLite ¾ (230g)
My ThermaRest was fantastic. It was easy enough to blow up, although it takes a fair bit of air so I’d usually do it slowly, in a few stages, so I didn’t get dizzy. It was also very easy to deflate (usually I’d just open the valve while still laying on it!) and fold, roll and pack into its bag. Only once or twice I had to pre-roll it to get the air out and then refold and roll properly to get into the bag.
I was worried about it sliding around the tent (a problem I had on my test walk), but I didn’t have that problem, even on not entirely flat sites. Either my tent has got stickier or I’ve got better at rolling around without moving the mat. Insulation was great (I was never cold underneath) and it was reasonably comfortable. Bear in mind that I am tiny (5’2”) but it was wide enough for me to lay on my back and still be “all on” and long enough that just my feet hung off the edge. I was using my clothes bag as a pillow (surprisingly comfortable) and had this off the end of the ThermaRest, so essentially the ThermaRest stretched from my neck to just above my ankles. I did find that I’m more comfortable when it’s not fully inflated.
Pack – Osprey Exos 58 (Small, 55L, 1.15kg) + ZPacks Pack Cover (Medium, 35g)
My pack was excellent. It carried well, comfortable, no rubbing. Also no noise most of the time. One day I had some squeaking, but that seemed to fix itself up the next day. It also packed well, easily fitting all my gear in, in terms of overall size as well as dimensions and compartments (to “tetris” things in). Waist strap pockets were enough to keep sufficient food for walking. Water bottles fitted well into the side (mesh) pockets and my camera slotted nicely on one side balanced between a water bottle and the side strap. This ended up being quite useful as it reminded me to take a drink when I took a photo! The loops on the shoulder straps were good for attaching maps and compass and the little pocket on the shoulder strap is the perfect size for my GPS logger. The top pocket can actually carry a lot in it and, being reachable without taking the pack off, was very useful for storing extra food, waterproofs, phone/money etc. The top pocket also comes off and, along with the front centre strap, forms a useful “daypack”, shoulder satchel style. Front pockets were also great.
I am very happy with my packing system. It was based on:
The order I needed to access things
Weight and size (heavy stuff at the bottom or close to my back if possible)
Keeping wet stuff away from dry stuff and closer to the open air if possible.
Basically it was: sleeping bag across the bottom, with ThermaRest upright at one end (outside of pack). My tent poles then slotted vertically down into the gap between my back and the Thermarest. Clothes bag on top of sleeping bag (across the pack). Electronics dry bag would fit in around the tent poles usually at this point. Food bag on top of this. Depending on how full the food bag was, the tent inner and fly would sit either next to or on top of the food bag. If they were wet they went on top, with the bags open to allow them to air. Rain jacket on top, or next to all this. Tent pegs, sandals, pack cover and towel went in one of the outer pockets. Food for the day plus water filter went in the other outer pocket. Groundsheet, sit mat went in the outermost pouch. This was also useful for hanging anything that needed drying or airing. Cutlery clipped onto one of the trekking pole holders here. The top pocket had my first aid/repair kit and toiletries on the inside then the outside had waterproof pants, hat, phone/money/cards, suncream, toilet paper and some more food. More food in the waiststrap pockets. Maps (in map case) attached to the right hand shoulder strap, compass and whistle on the left hand shoulder strap, GPS in the tiny front pouch on the shoulder strap, water bottles in the side mesh pockets (also used for putting socks etc to dry) and camera clipped to the bottom of a shoulder strap and slotted onto the waterbottle.
While I generally used a smaller backpack on my daywalks, I did use my Osprey on the last daywalk over Foinaven, mainly because it was much more comfortable and better set up keeping all my gear (esp camera) and food accessible. I was worried it wouldn’t carry well, or would be noisy and rattly, being mostly empty, but I cinched down all the straps as much as possible and it actually worked really well.
The pack cover worked really well at keeping my pack dry during light to moderate rain. It was also surprisingly stable (not too flappy) in all but strong wind conditions. In strong wind conditions it did get blown around a lot but stayed on thanks to the clip on the top, and me tying the pack straps through the loops at the bottom. In my one day of torrential rain I did get water pooling in the bottom of the cover. While it was supposed to have a drain hole in it, it arrived without one. While I did poke a hole in it myself, this wasn’t working particularly well to drain the water out. Possibly the “official” drainhole would’ve worked better?
The top pocket as a daypack works by unthreading the strap that normally connects from the outermost (back) pouch, over the top of the pack, taking the clip off the top of the pack, threading this onto that strap, then clipping both ends of this onto the top pocket (which has been unthreaded from its attachment points. Sounds complicated? Here are some pictures to try and explain. It is a reasonable size and the straps stay on securely (which I was worried about). The loops on top of the pocket are also good for attaching things (for me, map and camera. The only downside is that the zip is on the BOTTOM of the pocket when it’s hanging from the straps so it’s hard to get things in and out without dropping stuff everywhere.
GPS Logger – iGotU GT600
I had a bit of a glitch on day one where I accidentally turned the logger off part way along the walk (or deliberately turned it off and forgot) so missed a section of track. Also, another time I accidentally turned it on in the evening and hadn’t charged it the previous two days (I’d normally charge every second day at least to be sure) and it ran out of batteries part way through the day. Luckily I realised at lunchtime and recharged it.
The data looks OK so far. It jumps around when I’m stationary (e.g. at the end of the day when quite often I’d forget to turn it off for an hour or so) but I can delete that data in the software provided. Also occasionally there is an odd jump in the GPS data – where it is obvious I am deleting these points too. Other than that, so far it generally looks OK.
I couldn’t work out how to reprogram the logger time before I left home so thought it must pick it up from the GPS data. Annoyingly, it hasn’t so all of my data is 7hrs ahead of time. Particularly annoying because it spreads each day’s walk over two days (crossing midnight). Also annoyingly, for some reason the data for each day is usually broken into 2 or 3 (or sometimes 5) segments, despite the fact that I only turned it on and off once. I may be able to fix these problems with some fancy data manipulation so will investigate this later. The software is not great for this. It is also not great for dealing with large amounts of data like this. There is a function to adjust a set of photos based on one reference photo (for when the camera time doesn’t match the logger time like in my situation) but when I tried it with all the photos from just one day the software froze up. Again, I’m sure I can overcome this.
Solar Panels – Bushnells Bear Grylls SolarWrap Mini (2x 96g each, ~1500mAhr each)
I managed to charge devices in pubs for most of the way, but used these for charging the GPS logger every couple of days and the camera every now and then. It was raining most of the time so I only got them out in the sun once or twice. I think if I had’ve had no mains power I would’ve struggled to be self sufficient with the weather I had. In sunshine, using the two panels it probably would’ve been OK.
Wall Charger – Thunder-charge 4 USB adaptor (103g)
I’m glad I took a 4-USB adaptor as it allowed me to charge up the GPS logger, camera, solar panel (power storage) and phone all at once while sitting for lunch at a pub. That said, this was actually quite heavy and I’m not confident in the quality of this adaptor. It emits a high pitched squeal after a while when charging, especially if I’m using any of the devices while charging and it seems to charge slower than normal. Possibly a more expensive version of this device will be worthwhile in the future.
I didn’t take this on the NW trip as I wasn’t going to be in civilisation much. It was in my resupply stuff so hopefully I could recharge things while being resupplied.
Shoes – Scarpa Enduro (gortex trail runners, 640g)
My shoes did very well for the first few weeks. They were reasonably comfortable and I didn’t get any blisters. I did tape my heels on the first day, but didn’t need to for the following walks, and did tape the sides of my feet on the second last day of the Great Glen walk. They had been wet for two days, then had some very hard road walking in hot conditions so it was more my feet giving way than anything the shoes were doing. They did get wet a few times due to my inexperience in bogs (sinking up to my ankles) and took a few days to dry out completely but changes of socks generally made this acceptable.
Sadly by the last couple of weeks the shoes were on their way out. One has a hole ripped in the top (I remember rolling over onto a sharp piece of quartzite so I guess that was the cause of this) which has understandably compromised the waterproofness. The other doesn’t seem to have any holes but still seems to be leaking water in through the seams. This was pretty disappointing and annoying as I was pretty proficient in bogs at this stage so WOULD have had dry feet except that even when water just squelched over the toes and up the sides of the shoe I would still get wet. I even tried washing in Gortex wash, and this seemed to help a little but not enough. Also, I think by the end the grip on the sole was starting to go. Either that, or I was just getting sloppy, as I had a lot more slips and near falls in the last week over ground conditions that didn’t seem significantly worse than earlier stages. That said, 500+km in the Scottish Highlands is bound to test the endurance of any shoe! Also, other than these problems, they are still very much intact – no stitching unravelling, no soles falling apart etc.
Sandals – Luna Venaro (100g)
I didn’t use these as much as I thought. Around camp I was too scared of ticks so left my shoes on, or was barefoot in the tent. I did one river crossing in them but most of them were done in shoes (picking my way across rocks) and a couple of others I did barefoot as most of the stones are smooth anyway. The sandals would probably have helped against the cold though!!
I did use them around town in Fort William and for a long trek through a pine forest (on roads) on the way back to the Great Glen after a very wet and arduous Glen Roy walk. They were fine when I used them, although I think I ordered a size or so too small. With the proper size I think they would’ve been excellent.
Water Filter – Sawyers mini filter
I didn’t use this too much, generally just trusting stream water or filling up at taps. I did a few times though. The filter needed cleaning reasonably regularly, but luckily this was easy enough to do. The biggest problem I had was filling the bag with water. It was deflated and I couldn’t get the water to inflate it. Then, near the end of my trip, someone suggested that I blow the bag up like a balloon first. I feel like an idiot for not thinking of this as it worked perfectly and made it so much easier. If I had’ve done this all along I might’ve used the filter more often!!
Compass – Sunto M3 Global
This was great although I didn’t need it too much. Generally landmarks were enough to navigate off. Still, as someone with no sense of direction I did feel kind of naked the few days I didn’t have it with me! There was one point when it was clearly not working (magnetic rocks?) and it would’ve been pretty scary if I had’ve really needed it.
Lightload Towel – Only really used for trying to dry the tent or other gear, but worked well for that. Some holes now but still in one piece.
Camera Pouch – Z-Packs Cuben Fibre Passport Pouch
This worked really well. The camera fitted snugly (although it would’ve been easier if it were a bit looser) and I’m pretty sure it was waterproof. At least, I was comfortable leaving the camera hanging outside my pack in the rain in just this pouch. I clipped a carabiner through one of the loops, which then clipped to my pack – secure but easy to get on and off at the ends of the day. While using the top of my pack as a daypack I could also secure the other loop to my map cord so the camera didn’t dangle around (secured at both ends).
The pouch did start to wear badly along one line (the first few days I had it wedged between me and the shoulder strap so it was rubbing along the edge of the camera) but I simply stuck a piece of Cuben Fibre repair tape along this section. It did get a lot of use and I’m not sure how much longer it will last (and still be waterproof).
Mapping – I used a medium map case for the first two walks while using mostly A4 printouts. I could fit 2 of these side by side (cut down from A4 slightly) so with front and back I could easily get a day’s walking on display without having to shuffle maps during the day. On the NW walk I used the large map case because the Ordnance Survey maps are harder to fold exactly the way I’d want to fit in the medium map case. The map cases attached to the pack easily and securely and tucked away adequately between me and the shoulder strap.
I did make a “scale string” out of Z-Line (from Z-Packs) which I attached to the map case, with marks every 1km however unfortunately the marks would wash out after a week of rain and general handling. It was still useful as I could measure a windy distance on the map then hold it up against the grid lines to get the total distance.
My maps were good. The A4s I printed out were not the easiest to read, but this was fine as I was mainly on the marked WHW and GGW at these points. My proper Ordnance Survey maps were great, but more difficult to get set up the way I wanted. I am glad I transferred extra information like fences onto my 1:50,000 OS maps. All the notes I wrote on my A4s were also helpful.
I learnt as I went along what to expect from my maps. For example, a “track” marked on a map could be anything from a reasonable car (or quad) sized ‘road’ to nothing at all. Things that didn’t look too steep on a map might actually be really difficult, and vice versa. There are so many streams (sorry, allts, burns, etc) in Scotland that they can’t possibly all the be on the map and there is sometimes no discernible difference between the ones that are marked and the ones that aren’t. This was all just getting familiar with the countryside. The maps were fairly accurate, although one footbridge was broken and another two I simply couldn’t find. It was surprisingly accurate on what looked like half a bridge marked on the map at Highbridge. That is exactly what was there!!
Clothes – These were all good. Comfortable, not rubbing, squeaking etc. I didn’t have a problem with ticks, so presumably the permethrin soaking was working. I do have an awesome hand tanline now from wearing long sleeves for 5 weeks! My rain jacket (Macpac Traverse Jacket) was comfortable, quiet and most importantly waterproof. My waterproof pants (North Face Womens Venture ½ zip) were also great. Easy to get on and off with shoes on (as the name suggests, there is a long zip up the sides of the legs – maybe a foot or so). Appears to be waterproof. The wide leg covers my shoes nicely to stop rain getting in. Large pockets (with zips) are very useful (especially as my rain jacket has only one small one). The pants were a bit long for me so occasionally got under my shoes but I could fix this by doing the Velcro (on the bottom of the legs) up tighter. I just didn’t always remember to, so there is some wear on one of the legs. My sleepwear (Macpac Merino 150 LS pants and shirt) was excellent – very comfortable to sleep in. I used my Lightfeet socks primarily as I found the Macpac Merino ones started rubbing. In the end I’d use the Merino ones in conditions I knew would be wet, then change to Lightfeet for the remainder of the walking. I think socks are a very individual decision, with different types working for different people. My feet seem to like aerated socks rather than cushioning. I ended up taking 4 pairs of socks (2 Lightfeets and 2 Merino for the first 2 walks, then 3 Lightfeet and 1 Merino for the rest).
My non-hiking clothes (used for my stopover in Fort William) were slightly inadequate. This was a particularly cold and rainy day and I was left with a skirt, sleeveless top and sandals (and a rain jacket) as all my other clothes were being washed. I possibly should’ve expected this from Scotland but I was anticipating slightly more summery weather this early in the trip! I didn’t take these on the NW trip.
Gaiters – Trekmates Pioneer Gaiter, womens (77g for the pair)
I picked these up at GO Outdoors in Inverness They are superlightweight and waterproof – exactly what I was looking for and couldn’t find in Perth. They are easy to put on and stayed on more securely than any other gaiters I’ve had. They kept out all the scrub, prickles and bugs perfectly and did a pretty good job and keeping out water and bogs, even keeping my feet dry when I sunk into a bog (as posted about earlier). The strap under the foot is a thin rubber loop, attached on one side, with a hook on the other. I didn’t think the strap would last long, but even with a few days walking on jagged quartzite, and some serious road walking, they still look brand new. The company offers a free replacement if this breaks or is lost which is great. One did seem to get loose and kept unhooking, but I could just loop it over the hook twice to fix that problem. Sadly, the elastic around the top broke on one of the gaiters. I left it like this and it still worked adequately for several days, then eventually rigged up a repair with some Z-Line. I went back to GO Outdoors on my way home and got a replacement pair so have a lovely brand new pair to bring home with me.
Gloves – SealSkinz All Season Glove (110g)
I picked these up in Cotswold Outdoor, Fort William. These are warm and, most importantly, waterproof. The biggest reason for me to have waterproof gloves was so that I could wipe up and pack up my wet tent on cold mornings without my fingers freezing! They were also useful in cold, wet, windy weather.
Trouser Twists – Picked up in GO Outdoors in Glasgow, these hook around your ankle then you loop your trouser bottoms back up into them. They stop ticks (and other bugs) climbing up your legs. I wish I had’ve known how these worked earlier as it would’ve meant I didn’t need to have all my trousers taken up – they would’ve worked perfectly at stopping my trouser bottoms from dragging on the ground (and some extra length would’ve allowed me to set my trouser twists closer to my foot, rather than up my ankle a bit – probably more a fashion issue than anything else!!)
Light – Petzl e-Lite
This did the job. It didn’t get much use so the simplicity and the retractable cord attachment was fine. It looped over my waterbottle at night (so I wouldn’t lose it) and over my wrist if I did need to walk around. It would be nice to be able to switch to red light without going to white (which I thought you could, but couldn’t see how to when I was out there) as I probably would’ve used red more.
Insect Headnet – This helped but was not 100% effective. The midges would either get under the net (although I thought I had it tucked in reasonably well) or still managed to bite me through it. It would’ve been nice to be able to walk around unscathed with the headnet on, which I couldn’t. That said, the one day I didn’t put in on while pitching my tent I was absolutely destroyed by midges and half my face was a lumpy red mess for 5 days!