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How to plan your own Backpacking Trip

By Dave Roberts   

on March 1, 2012    No ratings yet.

How to plan your own Backpacking Trip

Why follow someone else’s idea when you can get out a set of maps and create your own?! We plan our Escape From Knoydart trip and show you how you can plan your own week long backpack.

You’ll need:

  • A week or so off work
  • OS Maps at 1:25k and possibly 1:50k, or Harvey’s Mountain maps for the bigger picture
  • Guidebooks for the area
  • Plenty of time to Google.

The basics.

Where do you want to go?

It could be local or if you’re more adventurous, it makes a good way to explore a new area, especially the wilder parts of Scotland that you can only do justice to over four or five days. The wild bounds of Knoydart is one of the wildest parts of Scotland and is ideal for a 5 day trip. Once decided, buy the maps immediately. Having a definite purpose to the route can help – most of the official LDPs follow some sort of feature such as the coast, river or a range of mountains; or cross from one significant point to another such as coast to coast trails and those that follow historic routes. If you can identify a theme like this, it makes the route more than just a long walk. Our purpose was to simply Escape from Knoydart!

Know your limits.

It may be obvious, but the first rule of planning a multi-day trip is to make sure that you don’t make any of the legs longer than what you’re usually comfortable walking. If you know that 25km mountain trips leave you stiff for days, then common sense should suggest you don’t plan one four days into a five day trip let alone each day. If you can, work in an extra day for contingency, especially if you’ve got to get to a certain place by a certain time in order to catch a train. Remember that you’ll need extra rations for that day!

You now know how many days you’ve got and what’s comfortable to cover, and some idea hopefully what landmarks you’d like to include.  Once you know this then you’ll have a rough idea of what the trip’s going to look like. Of course, you may find that you can’t fit your trip comfortably into the distance and time available and might need to add or remove a day. When you start planning, you more than likely will find it all changes again!

You’ll also need to know how much you can budget for the trip as that’ll directly effect where you spend each night and if you’ll be eating out or eating out of a tin of beans. This is particularly important if you’re doing one of the National Trails as other than the Pennine Way, the scope for wild camping is limited or non-existent.


Choosing a sensible route. Ensure that the route you’re planning on doing is doable and that there’s either a path or the terrain is readily traversable by your route. Anyone who knows the Rhinogydd would agree that you don’t just plot a route across them. You need to follow the paths that are already there. Obviously, the maps are your first port of call, and we initially worked out where all the footpaths were before doing some online research, guidebooks and our secret weapon – Geograph that can give you an idea of what to expect. If you’re not much cop at figuring this out from a map, then the guidebooks might help. It may be as easy as stringing a series of day walks together if you’re lucky, much easier to do in Snowdonia or the Lakes.

You’ll now be aware of specific problems along the route such as missing footbridges or non existent footpaths that cause you hours of delay as you bog trot across valley bottoms. They’ll need consideration later on, as a stream you intend to cross might not wet your boots under normal conditions but in full spate may require a significant diversion. For this reason, I’ll be avoiding any river crossings to simplify matters and for the simple fact that I’m not a fan of them!

Where will you stay? You’ll need to ensure each leg ends at a suitable wild camping spot, bothy or other accommodation. In fact, the bothies on the Knoydart trip seem to be at exactly the right spots, with a tent only needed on the first night. You’ll know what your daily limit is by now and how long and tough each is likely to be, so you can start dividing your trip up into manageable legs.

Don’t be surprised if this step takes you back to the drawing board a few times.

Supplies. Now you know where the route will cross and where each evening is spent, you need to work out how much food and fuel to take. Does your route pass through any settlements where you can re-stock or will you need to take all your food from the off? You may need to allow up to 2Kg a day for food, though if you go for dehydrated foods you may get away with half that. If you’re setting off locally, or you have time to drive about before setting off, another option is to hide a cache of food halfway around.

Getting there.

If you’re doing a circuit, you just need to get to and from the start, but linear trips can be problematic. You’ll have the logistical problem of how to get to and from the different start and end points. We eliminated this by using a sleeper train and a ferry in order to get to the start and to walk out to another railway station to end the walk.

Why We chose our route:

We wanted a night at Inverie and walk over all the Knoydart Munros, ideally stopping at Sourlies on the way and any other bothy we could. The over-riding driving force was getting to Knoydart and spending a few days there. This trip was planned last June, and we got as far as the second stop from Mallaig before my travelling companion passed out and was rushed to hospital! He was fine, but we missed out on Knoydart. This means we’re both doubly determined to get there this time!

  © Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

A sleeper to Fort William arriving on the Saturday morning is the first leg, then on to Mallaig and a ferry across meant that the first day will be a write off and accommodation will be needed for the first night. An added bonus is that we can make use of the pub for food, and beer. The plan is to walk from Inverie and back to Glenfinnan, where we’d get a train to Fort William.

I decided that somewhere between 15 and 20km a day would be comfortable, taking into account that some days would come in at the maximum but had ascent in excess of 2,500m. The first leg over Ladhar Bheinn had to be reduced to 13km as continuing all the way to Sourlies was going to be 20km and 2500m, so splitting this into two gave easier legs to ease into it. This allows us to take it easy on day one, and possibly to arrive at Sourlies bothy early on the second day after climbing Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe in order to get some shellfish foraging or fishing in. It also gave us a decent wild camp on the first night, with water not too far down the valley. If the weather turns we can descend to Barrisdale. If the forecasts are exceptionally favourable, this first night will be a bivvy as the remaining nights will be in bothys – though we’d take a tarp to be safe.

The next day is up Sgurr na Ciche and then along the ridge, with a final easy yomp along forestry tracks to Glenpean Bothy. It may be the longest day at over 20km, but half of that is on easy tracks. For the next day, there are stepping stones to be crossed that are more likely than not to be impassable so a return to a footbridge a few kilometres down the river might be necessary. Either way, an easy day over Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr nan Coireachan compared to the previous day and either a night at Corryhully Bothy and an easy walk out the next day, or get it over and done with and back into Glenfinnan that night. Either way, I’ll have enough food to cover both eventualities and some emergency rations.


Day 1 – Inverie to Wild Camp at Mam Barrisdale – 15km

Day 2 – Wild Camp – Sourlies – 12km

Day 3 – Sourlies to Glenpean – 21km

Day 4 – Glenpean to Corryhully – 12km

Day 5 – Corryhully to Glenfinnan – 6km

That’s a nice steady pace, considering how tough some of the terrain can be! It should be completed in 4 days really, but it would entail missing out on another night out and would necessitate organising accommodation in Glenfinnan or catchng a train to Fort William. The first two days seem rather easy, but the alternative would be a monster 27km and over 2,500m ascent! I may be looking for a challenge, but above all I intend to enjoy myself! I’m just hoping that I’ll make it to Knoydart this time, though I suspect there will be a few others seeking the refuge there during the extra bank holiday in June!

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Dave Roberts

siDave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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