What to wear & what to carry on your long-distance walk 

I’ve organised this page as follows:

Written in blue (on the left-hand side of the page on every screen except mobiles) you’ll find pretty standard, generic information on what you should take on your hike. It’s the sort of information that you’ll find in all the guide books and most of the websites too.

Written in black (on the right-hand side of the screen except on mobiles), you’ll find how I personally pack for my odyssey. At the age of fifty and after 25 years of trekking, and writing about trekking, I think I’ve finally – finally! – perfected the art of packing for the trail; and thought it would be useful to share this ‘wisdom’ with you. Note that this is just what works for me; I’m not pretending it will work for everyone – but hopefully you may find some useful tips there.



This one rule should influence every decision you make when packing your bag for a trail. Obviously if you’re hiring a company to convey your luggage for you along the trail then you can be a bit more flexible with this rule. But the level of enjoyment on your walk is inversely proportional to the amount you’re carrying.

So when it comes to packing your bag, keep it light and keep it small.


How to pack and carry your luggage – the usual advice

Carry all your stuff in a rucksack, of course. Preferably one that you’ve spent some time choosing, trying on in the shop and adjusting the straps to ensure it fits well. Make sure the hip belt and chest strap (if there is one) are fastened tightly as this helps distribute the weight with most of it being carried on your hips. 

If you are camping and cooking for yourself you will probably need a 70- to 95-litre rucksack, which should be large enough to carry a small tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, crockery, cutlery and food.

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Those not carrying their home with them should find a 40- to 60-litre rucksack sufficient.

When packing, make sure you have all the things you are likely to need during the day near the top of the rucksack, or in the side pockets. I suggest that your guidebook, map, water bottle, camera, packed lunch and waterproofs should all be easy to grab. 

A good habit to establish is to always put things in the same place in your rucksack so you quickly learn where everything is. There is nothing more annoying than having to pull everything out of your pack to find that lost banana when you’re starving, or scrambling for your camera when there is a rare opportunity to photograph an owl perches on the rock next to you while you’re eating your lunch.

It’s also a good idea to keep everything in plastic bags (or a bin bag) in your rucksack to provide an extra waterproof layer.


Two hikers plus dog by monument marking start of South-West Coast Path, at Minehead.

Beginning the South-West Coast Path, Minehead. Note over-large bags – perhaps why I sustained a knee injury on this trip!

How I like to pack and carry my luggage

I now pack all my stuff into a rucksack that has a capacity of only 30 litres. In addition, I have a camera bag that I wear on my front.

Between them I carry all clothes, camping gear, clothes, toiletries, Daisy-related stuff – as well as all the items I need to enable me to research and write the guide.

The camera bag contains not only my camera but my notebook, pens, wallet, GPS, batteries, sweets, doggy poo bags, guidebook and maps – almost everything, basically, that I may need during the day on the trail. 

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Thinking about it, nearly all of this stuff can be replaced by a smartphone (which can be a camera, GPS, wallet, notebook and pen). So rather than carry a second bag, you can instead just carry a smartphone, as well as a charger/adaptor and battery pack.

Oh, and sweets – you’ll still need to pack sweets. The ‘app’ which emulates the pleasure of sucking on a sherbet lemon has yet to be invented.  And thank goodness for that. 

As for my waterproofs and water, I keep in the side pockets of the rucksack for easy access.



Footwear – the usual advice

Your footwear is arguably the most important item of gear that can affect the enjoyment of your hike.

In summer on some of the lighter trails  you can get by with a light pair of running trainers or trail shoes, especially if you’re carrying only a small pack, although this is an invitation for wet, cold feet if there is any rain.

(By ‘lighter trails’ we mean the South Downs Way, North Downs Way, Thames Path and The Ridgeway.)

Perhaps more importantly, they don’t offer support for your ankles. 

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On most paths some of the terrain can be quite rough and wet, though, so most people prefer a pair of good walking boots. They need to be durable, warm, comfortable, waterproof and thoroughly broken in – few things are more debilitating or depressing on a long walk than blisters. 

If you haven’t got a pair of the modern hi-tech walking socks the old system of wearing a thin liner sock under a thicker wool sock is just as good. Bring a few pairs of each; you certainly don’t want to start any day of hiking in socks that are anything other than dry.

If you’re not carrying your kit, you could bring a second pair of shoes to wear when not on the trail. Trainers, sport sandals, or flip flops are all suitable as long as they are light. But if you’re packing light, leave these behind – it’s a lot of weight for little benefit. 


Lone hiker with big blue rucksack stares out over a turquoise sea from a rocky outcrop in North Devon

Joel on the South-West Coast Path, looking wistfully into the middle distance and wondering why he brought such a large pack with him

What I wear on my feet

When it comes to boots, the standard advice is pretty much spot on and I’ve little to add. This is the one part of my kit where I regularly spend a bit more money.

Many days spent hobbling along trails because of blisters have proved to me the wisdom of having decent, comfortable boots that are properly broken in.

I’ve noticed that nothing gives me blisters faster than a pair of boots that have failed to keep the water out.

So I make sure my boots are properly waterproof too.

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I’ve noticed that even though cheaper boots can sometimes still be very comfortable, and waterproof too, they are rarely particularly durable. Because I do a lot of this walking mullarkey, so I also like my boots to last a couple of years at least – which is why I tend to spend more on boots, because it saves me in the long-term. 

As for socks: some companies charge £10-20 for a pair of hiking socks, and some people are even willing to pay that much too. Others, such as myself, just buy cheap socks from a pound shop or supermarket (or, more likely, they’ve been given to me as a Christmas present), which are just as comfortable (in my opinion) and a fraction of the price.  Four-five pairs should be enough. I’ll often wear two pairs at a time to improve comfort and ward off blisters. [/read]


Clothes – the standard advice 

Experienced walkers will know the importance of wearing the right clothes. Always expect the worst weather even if the forecast is good. Modern technology in outdoor attire can seem baffling but it basically comes down to the old multi-layer system: a base layer to transport sweat away from your skin; a mid-layer to keep you warm; and an outer layer or ‘shell’ to protect you from the rain. 

Regarding underwear, as with socks, two or three changes of whatever your normal underwear is fine. Cotton absorbs sweat, trapping it next to the skin which will chill you rapidly when you stop exercising.

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A thin lightweight thermal top made from a synthetic material is better as it draws moisture away, keeping you dry. It will be cool if worn on its own in hot weather and warm when worn under other clothes in cooler conditions.

A spare would be sensible. Also bring a shirt or top for wearing in the evening.

For mid-layers, In the summer a woollen jumper or mid-weight polyester fleece will suffice. For the rest of the year you will need an extra layer to keep you warm. Both wool and fleece, unlike cotton, have the ability to stay reasonably warm when wet.

For the outer layer, a decent waterproof jacket is essential year-round and will be much more comfortable (but also more expensive) if it’s also ‘breathable’ to prevent the build up of condensation on the inside. This layer can also be worn to keep the wind off.

Whatever you wear on your legs it should be light, quick-drying and not restricting. Many British walkers find polyester tracksuit bottoms comfortable. Poly-cotton or microfibre trousers are excellent. Denim jeans should never be worn; if they get wet they become heavy, cold and bind to your legs. A pair of shorts is nice to have on sunny days. Thermal longjohns or thick tights are cosy if you’re camping but are probably unnecessary even in winter.

Waterproof trousers are necessary most of the year. In summer a pair of windproof and quick-drying trousers is useful in showery weather.

Gaiters are not really necessary but may come in useful in wet weather, when the vegetation around your legs is dripping wet.

As for other clothes, a warm hat and gloves should always be kept in your rucksack; you never know when you might need them. In summer you should also carry a sun hat with you, preferably one which covers the back of your neck. For cooling off on beaches, or in local swimming pools, take a swimsuit.


Two hikers walk away from camera past several large piles of stones known as the Nine Standards Rigg

Sensibly compact packing on the Coast to Coast Path (Nine Standards Rigg).

What I wear on my walks

For the top half, I have one decent thermal base layer. But I don’t wear this when I’m walking. It’s for when I’ve finished on the trail for the day, and want to be comfortable. 

On the trail I wear regular T-shirts that all have the same quality: they are either stained, have holes in, or I simply don’t like the design of them.

In other words, on the trail I wear T-shirts that I don’t mind getting ruined.

If they have any wicking quality or thermal properties, that’s great – but I don’t go out of my way to look for them. 

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I then carry a coat that has several properties. It needs to be waterproof; it needs to packs down small; and thirdly, preferably, it should have some sort of thermal property too, so I don’t need to take a fleece as well (though I will pack a fleece if I’m walking particularly early or late in the year). 

As for the bottom half, I take several pairs of underwear (again, nothing fancy – I leave my best lingerie at home and advise you to do the same). Over those, well, zip-off trousers are the way to go for me – the ones that convert from being trousers to being shorts thanks to a couple of handy zips encircling the knees. They’re not going to win many style awards any time soon but they’re very ideal for the trail. I just use one, quick-drying pair.

It’s a bit of a risk taking only one item of leg-wear, but taking two pairs seems overkill to me. I used to carry waterproof trousers as well, but regard these as an unnecessary luxury now too.

Other clothes? Well, sunhat is vital, I think, but I get too hot in woolly hats when walking so leave that at home. I also leave gloves at home – again, I consider them unnecessary except in the depths of winter. 



Toiletries and a first-aid kit – the standard advice

Take only the minimum: unless staying in B&Bs, you’ll need a small bar of soap or small bottle of shower gel, either of which can also be used instead of shaving cream and for washing clothes; a tiny tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush; and one roll of loo paper in a plastic bag.

If you are planning to defecate outdoors you will also need a lighter for burning the paper and a lightweight trowel for burying the evidence.

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You’ll also need a towel (if camping or staying in a hostel), razor, deodorant, tampons/sanitary towels and a high-factor sunscreen and/or lip balm.

A small first-aid kit could prove useful for those emergencies that occur along the trail. This kit should include aspirin or paracetamol; plasters for minor cuts; moleskin, Second Skin or some other treatment for blisters; a bandage or elasticated joint support for supporting a sprained ankle or a weak knee; antiseptic wipes; antiseptic cream; safety pins; tweezers and scissors.

You may sometimes encounter biting midges in the early morning or late evening between June and August so it’s worth taking insect repellent.

Don’t forget to bring any medicines you’re taking too!


Two hikers with heavy bags marching with their back to the camera along a rough track atop a fell, with Daisy in the foreground

Campers on the Pennine Way

My toiletries and first-aid kit

I recognise that people will have very different requirements (eg medicines etc) and standards than me in the toiletry department, but this is what I carry: 

  • A travel toothbrush
  • Toothpaste (again, preferably travel size, or at least half-used),
  • Small bottle of shower gel (usually decanted from a bigger bottle that I’ve left at home),
  • Ear-plugs (take up no room and can be vital for a good night’s sleep),

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  • Toilet paper (wrapped in a plastic bag),
  • Sunscreen (again, a small travel-sized one is preferable),
  • Deodorant
  • Travel towel

I used to carry them all in a washbag but now use either a plastic bag or have a specific pocket dedicated to my toiletries on my rucksack.  

It may be foolhardy of me, but I don’t bother with much of a medical kit unless I am travelling with my partner and our young son, and even then it would only contain paracetamol, antiseptic cream and plasters. But I do always carry with me some blister plasters – they’re vital. 

If I’m hiking somewhere where midges are a problem then I’ll pick up a bottle of repellent when I’m there – it’s more likely to work if it is stocked in that region. 



Two hikers with Scottish Highlands in the background on the West Highland Way.

Good, compact packing displayed by these two hikers on the West Highland Way

Camping gear – the standard advice

Campers need a decent tent (or bivvy bag if you enjoy travelling light) that’s able to withstand wet and windy weather; a two- to three-season sleeping bag (but obviously in winter a warmer one is a good idea and on hot summer nights you could get away with a one-season bag); a sleeping mat.

If you’re cooking for yourself then you’ll also require a stove and fuel (in the guide books we point out which shops stock fuel); a mug; a spoon; a wire/plastic scrubber for washing up; and a pan or cooking pot. Some pots come with a lid that can be used as a plate or frying pan. You can also buy camping pot sets that pack away neatly into one pot.

My camping gear

I essentially just have three items for camping. A tent, a sleeping mat and a sleeping bag. Because these are three of the heaviest items in the rucksack, however, I have spent more money on them than on almost any other part of my gear (with the possible exception of my boots). 

The tent is small (around 30cm long and the diameter of a toilet roll when packed) and lightweight (less than 2kg) and fits in the rucksack. It costs around £150 in the sale and is made by a company called Terra Nova (who have good lightweight stuff). 

The sleeping mat is made by Thermarest and is their Neo air. It was quite expensive (around £125) – especially when you consider that you can pick up a foam mat for about a fiver – but it’s lightweight and very compact. I also think it’s more comfortable than the average mat.

The only disadvantage is that you need to blow it up yourself, which at the end of a long day can be exhausting. 

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Finally, there’s my sleeping bag, which is a Kilo Bag by North Face. Again it packs reasonably small and is pretty lightweight. It’s actually proved to be a little too warm for British summers, but I sleep with the zip open (which is why I often find Daisy in the bottom of my sleeping bag when I wake in the morning). Again, I think this was about £100. 

Note that I don’t cook for myself on the trail, and so don’t carry any kitchen paraphernalia.

There are three main reasons for this:

  • I like visiting cafes and pubs (and I need to do so for my job). 
  • I don’t like carrying pots, pans, stoves, crockery, cutlery, washing up equipment etc etc. That’s a lot of stuff to carry, even before you buy food. 
  • I don’t like my own cooking. 



Three hikers on the Seven Sisters at the end of the South Downs Way, jogging downhill away from the camera

With a lightwieght pack you can do so much more on the trail – including running! (South Downs Way)

General items to bring – the standard advice


The following should be in everyone’s rucksack: a water bottle/pouch (holding at least one litre); a torch (flashlight) with spare bulb and batteries in case you end up walking after dark; emergency food which your body can quickly convert into energy; a penknife; a watch with an alarm; and a bag for packing out any rubbish you accumulate. A whistle is also worth taking. It can fit in a pocket and although you are very unlikely to need it you may be grateful of it in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Most people can’t do without a smartphone these days, and it’s probably the one item that you will, almost by default, be bringing with you on the trail. Remember, however, that it’s the remotest places in Britain that tend to have the worst reception. But remote places are also the ones that are most attractive to walkers.

In other words, you’re less likely to get reception on the trail than you would at home. 

Remember, too, that batteries carry a limited charge, and if you’re camping out along the path you may not have access to electricity for a day or two. So do make sure you bring a power/battery pack to recharge your phone. 

Finally, some of the apps on modern phones can be very helpful to walkers. I’m thinking in particular of the health and fitness apps, the weather forecast apps and the GPS. Not to mention the ability to take some great photos and videos too. Oh, and the ability to access the internet too! 

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However, do also remember that if he battery runs out or you lose or damage your phone, those apps will no longer be accessible. So make sure you have a back-up plan and don’t rely solely on the tracking and GPS apps to find your way. 


Many would list a camera/camera phone as essential but it can be liberating to travel without one once in a while; a notebook can be a more accurate way of recording your impressions (but remember to take some pens). Other items include a book to pass the time on train journeys; a pair of sunglasses; binoculars for observing wildlife; walking poles to take the strain off your knees and a vacuum flask for carrying hot drinks. Although the path is easy to follow a ‘Silva’ type compass could be a good idea.


There are not usually many banks along a trail so you will have to carry a lot of your money in cash. A debit card is the easiest way to withdraw money either from banks or cash machines and a debit or credit card can be used to pay in most larger shops, restaurants and hotels. 

There are still a few B&Bs around Britain that insist that you pay by cash or cheque. And if you live in the last century and thus are still in possession of a cheque book you may want to bring it along, just in case. Remember to bring your debit card, too, to act as a guarantee.


Other stuff that I pack

Water bottles, a head torch, a smartphone with charger and a battery pack are among the first items I gather when packing for my walk.

I also take stuff for my dog including a lead, several days’ worth of dog food, towel, tick remover and poo bags. Follow this link to find a more comprehensive list of what to pack for your dog on the trail.

The only other items I take with me are those that I need for my job: GPS (and charger), laptop, notebook, pens, and camera. With a smartphone you no longer really need any of those items, of course, but, having done this job for so long, I feel naked without them.

Last, but certainly not least, I carry a copy of the guide book I’ll be working on.


I just carry a couple of debit cards and around £100 in cash. That’s sufficient. It is then carried either in my pocket or, often when I’m on the trail, in my camera bag too.