Common Backpacking Mistakes, and How to Overcome Them.
While it may be tempting to imagine that I’m sitting smugly by my PC writing this, pontificating down to the unwashed masses on what to do and not to do on a multiday trip, I’m not. Sitting at the PC, yes but writing almost as a confession of the last few days walking (along the Not the Cambrian Way) and wild camping and some of the issues we had!
1 – Fitness or Conditioning (as you may be fit, but are you LDP fit?). You can imagine that walking over 20 KM a day is going to be tough, but doable. Yet add a fully laden pack onto that and you’re into totally new territory altogether. You really need to get a couple of equivalent trips, with a decent weight on your back, under your belt in the month or so before the trip. At the very least, get some very long day walks in, and ideally a combination of both! 9 KM up Yr Orsedd over a month before the trip is probably not the best preparation you can do. Neither are other activities that great a preparation, not even running. I’d had a good few months of running in, though with around 20 KM being the longest in that time. It had kept me fit, but not particularly well prepared.
This may also shake out some lingering niggles that you may be harbouring, which turned out to be my stiffening knee. I’m convinced that this is a result of walking boots forcing the knee into an un-natural position as I’m used to running barefoot (or zero drop at any rate!). I get the same ache if I walk to work in shoes, but never ever after running! This is definitely one I need to look into.
2 – Planning. It may be romantic, but planning using a Cambrian Way guidebook from the 1980s, and a totally vague one at that, is probably not a good idea. Of course you’ll check the OS maps and hope that the trails are still passable, but those forestry people are a law unto themselves when it comes to this sort of thing! We found the tracks in the Dyfi forest obliterated, and only just managed to spot a cairn where similarly minded wayfarers before us had decided to mark the descent path.
It’s even more ironic when you consider that this route is an ancient one as you cross a packhorse bridge at Pont Llaeron with little path before or after it worth walking.
And always, always have a few plan Bs. If you can split your route into 25km legs, try and see how it Works with 15km or 20km. You need to know at what points you’ll be committed to move on, and where you have options. The smaller these legs, the more options you have.
3 – Pack Weight – While we’re used to lugging wild camping kit that’ll keep us going overnight stuffed into our pockets (slight exaggeration, but not far off!) that extra weight didn’t help. Perhaps on a trip like this, carrying a full frame Canon 6D along with a spare ultrawideangle lens and a tripod head, is probably a bit of a luxury. Considering we didn’t get the Milky Way shot we were after, it was dead weight. For this sort of trip, you have to decide between distance and photography, or perhaps if it’s that important that you sacrifice the wild camping. Other than that, you will have to carry weight on your back that you may not be accustomed to, which can only be overcome by proper training.
Ok – We did get a few stars in on the first night! You definitely need a 6D if you’re going to be taking hand held night shots!
4 – Water! Seriously, who’d credit that we had difficulty obtaining water in Snowdonia of all places! We’d planned this meticulously, and knew where the last rivers were according to the OS maps, but in all instances they were dried up or reduced to dribbles. Fortunately, we had a Sawyer mini filter, which we’ll be posting a glowing review of very soon! The best way around this is to ensure you’ve always got a litre or two of water on you at all times, and drink your fill when ever you can. Of course, water is heavy, so you really have to gamble when you need to carry it and when you’re going to get some at the wild camp. Camping at a lake, with a good heavy metal water filter, gets over this one!
5 – Look after your feet! If you have hotspots or callouses before hand, account for this. Cover the hotspots with Compeed plasters and get the callouses seen to. Fortunately, while I had an aching callus on the ball of my foot, the pain in my knee meant that I didn’t really feel it. Again, you can overcome this by good conditioning and preparation. This includes wearing your exact same boot and sock combination for your tough training walks, as that’s when you need any problems to appear, not three days into a trip.
Remember to account for the conditions, as I once wore walking shoes that were far too warm (and too narrow in the toes) and resulted in agonising blisters on my little toe that incapacitated me for a day. I was only able to walk on tip-toes, and only Managed to continue (on a further 200km or so) by walking in bare foot running shoes for a few days to allow the blister to recover enough to allow me to at least put my weight on it. Strangely, I was able to go for a long run during these ‘rest days’! I may well be better off running these trips in the future!
6 Don’t forget that the purpose is to enjoy the trip! If you can’t sit and munch your supper with a sunset and a single malt after a tough day then what’s the point? Of course, this does depend on whether you’re completing the trip as a holiday or a challenge! If it’s a challenge, then don’t be so soft and get on with it!
You may be OK to get to tonight’s camp, but if that commits you to a particularly tough leg tomorrow, you may be best easing off today so you can enjoy tomorrow. We’re really not a fan of the term “grin and bear it” as that kind of suggests you’re under-prepared and quite possibly pushing yourself to an injury, and how dare you complain! I need to be in that nicely knackered zone at the end of the day, anything beyond that on a long trip and it starts to become an ordeal.
So after an overly tough first day, you should not only be in a position to be able to reduce distance on the second day if needed, but willing to take that decision.
That’s the hard bit!
If you’re following an official LDP then this should be a lot easier as someone out there will have worked out anything from a superhuman three day itinerary to a more leisurely three week trip, though if you’ve booked a B&B then you may well have a logistical problem if you fall behind! You’ll have to work this out yourself on a self-planned trip.
Just remember that whatever happens, assuming it’s not serious injury, that you’ll no doubt laugh about it over a few pints in few weeks time and it’ll be much more memorable than any trip that goes without a hitch. You’ll also learn something, hopefully!
So embrace the organisational mess-ups and take those hurdles as part and parcel of the trip, and enjoy it!