How did I prepare for my long distance backpacking trip? Taking on a solo trip as a female may be intimidating, but I’ve got some tips in my process that will hopefully inspire you to move ahead! This is not meant to be an all inclusive list (there is far too little detail), but instead to serve as inspiration and to show you how easy it would be to do something like this on your own without fear (or at least less of it).
Choosing a trail
I had a few requirements for my trip:
- In the UK
- Accessible by train/bus from London
- Possible to walk a long distance (the goal was 100 miles in 7-8 days).
As my sense of direction is not quite as accurate as my better half’s, I decided on the South West Coast Path (SWCP) in Cornwall, UK, since any wrong turn would lead me into the ocean. It also seemed like it would be a bit busier for the summer, which although I was trying to escape, knowing I would not be completely alone made me feel a bit safer.
Planning my Route
I poured over endless websites and forums, books and maps, searching for information about wild camping, best routes, most beautiful sections of the trail, and attainable daily distances. The South West Coast Path website was an amazing wealth of information, as was the National Trail Guide book for the section of the path I was walking. The book includes excerpts of the OS map, details of the area, and was a great place for me to jot down notes as I was walking.
My plan was to leave on a Friday night train from London to Bodmin Parkway, and take a bus on Saturday morning from Bodmin to Padstow, a Cornish Coastal town. I would walk along the coast for approximately one week and 100 miles, where I would reach Penzance, where I could catch a return train to London.
I would walk between 11-19 miles per day, and sleep in a mix of established campsites, wild campsites I would find along the way, pub gardens, and one night in a hostel in St. Ives, where there are so many holiday-goers that camping unnoticed seemed highly unlikely. Contrary to the campsite websites’ warnings and the busy season, I did not book anything ahead of time (with exception of the hostel), allowing me the flexibility of walking more or less than I originally planned as the days progressed.
I am a very light packer. Typically, I bring a bit less than I probably need. I knew I was walking through a lot of towns, so anything I forgot I could easily buy. The best part? I usually don’t need anything I don’t bring.
My bag is a 50L backpack. A lot of people say that is far too small to carry all your own camping gear, and recommend a 60-70L backpack for trips longer than a weekend. I am a small person – if I were to have a 70L bag, I would fill it, and it would be more than I could comfortably carry for long distances. With my packing list below, my bag was about 3/4 full, and was more than enough space for the 5 nights I spent living out of it.
To plan ahead (and get me excited about my trip), I usually make a packing list in advance. Then while actually packing, I don’t need to stress about forgetting anything, because if I crossed it off the list, it’s already in my bag. For this trip, my list included:
- Camping Gear
- 50L backpack
- Backpack rain cover
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- 2 Nalgenes and 2 Platypus bottles – I probably would have been okay with 3 L, but I wanted to make sure I always had enough for drinking and cooking.
- Jet Boil and Fuel
- Mug, bowl, and spoon
- Small knife
- 2 t-shirts
- 1 pair leggings
- 1 part shorts (I would have brought an extra pair of shorts, I think)
- 1 lightweight long sleeve shirt
- 1 swim suit
- Fleece jacket
- Rain jacket
- 2 pair walking socks
- 1 pair warm socks for sleeping
- Flip flops for camp
- Journal and pen
- The National Trail Guide Book (mentioned above)
- Toiletries (contact solution, glasses, toothpaste, toothbrush, chapstick, sun lotion)
- Pack towel (in case I went swimming)
It ended up not raining at all on me, so I never actually needed my rain jacket or backpack rain cover. Those, however, are not things I would have sacrificed for weight, given the typical uncertainty of weather in the UK.
Although there are plenty of pubs and grocery stores along the way, my goal was to not spend much (budgeters, remember?), so I brought my own stove and food, eating meals that I cooked, minus an ice cream or a cuppa tea in town here or there. You could save a lot of weight by only buying what you need for the day in town, but that is a convenience you will pay for.
Breakfasts: Various flavors of instant oatmeal I made with different dried fruits
Lunch: typically a tortilla with peanut butter, a snack of almonds & raisins, or a Clif Bar (an imported splurge in the UK at around £1.70 each! But so good I cannot resist)
Dinner: Several variations of pasta – pasta with pesto, macaroni and cheese, spicy Asian noodles – and a couple of tuna pouches for protein. I usually get a bit more creative with trail meals, but backpacking alone makes it harder since are can’t split the weight up between two people.
The day has arrived!
Once the time has arrived for your adventure, there is nothing that you can do but grab your gear, head to your starting point, and start walking. You have done enough research that you should be prepared for reasonable difficulties. If you get hot, tired, or sore, you know that the only thing you can do is keep putting one step in front of the other, and keep moving toward your destination.
Fear – sometimes it keeps us safe, but more often it keeps us from taking the risks that propel us forward.
I wish you the best of luck in your excursion!