Kit planning for a 3-day off-track hike

At the end of the month, I’m off for a few days hiking on the Isle of Mull. Although we’re not intending to do particularly long distances or demanding hikes, I do have a plan that involves taking a route well off the established trails, and self-supporting for three full days. These two factors alone mean that getting my kit right is important – if it’s too heavy it’s going to be a nightmare to lug around for three days through fairly mountainous terrain. On the other hand, I need to make sure I have enough to stay sufficiently warm, dry, fed and rested.

I began planning this a while ago and drawing up a google doc of items, which I’ve added to and removed from as I’ve thought of ideas or changed my mind about things. Although it’s probably fairly broadly applicable, it is of course based on kit I actually own, so I’m not putting it out there as some kind of perfect checklist of exactly what you need for a three-day self-supported hike in Scotland.

But, for those who are interested, here’s the list and a bit of my thinking about how I planned it and what I’ve chosen to take (and not take).

How to plan it

As a starting point, I went back to the ten essentials that I talked about a while ago (the ‘solution-oriented’ list, that is, rather than the traditional restrictive ‘item-focused’ list). The idea is that if I have what I need in each category, plus have potentially thought about at least one emergency backup in each category, I’m likely to have enough to stay reasonably safe and comfortable. It doesn’t quite cover everything you would want to have (there’s no category for hygiene items or wash kit, for example) but it’s purpose is to cover the safety-critical items, and it does that nicely. So, I started with that, and worked through the categories.

Navigation


  • Map
  • Silva compass
  • Garmin Foretrex 301

Not too much to say on this. A map and compass are obvious, and my Garmin Foretrex makes it easier to be accurate and focus on the hiking. I don’t exactly take a ‘backup’ in this category, but you could argue that my ability to use a map and compass are partly a backup for the Garmin, and a second backup is a small button compass in my survival kit.

Sun Protection


  • Baseball cap
  • Tilley hat
  • Oakley sunglasses
  • Sun cream

Also not too much to say here. Taking both the baseball cap and Tilley hat might be overkill and there’s a chance that when I get this all packed and look at weight I’ll ditch one or the other. It’s nice to have options, partly as backup and partly so I have a hat to wear when travelling or in camp that doesn’t make me look like a 1930s explorer. The Tilley hat, of course, is brilliant in both sunshine and rain, as well as providing some limited bump protection, so it’s a great bit of kit.

Insulation


  • Craghopper trousers
  • Salomon shoes
  • 1000 mile socks x 2
  • Merino boxers x 2
  • Merino shirt x 2
  • Rab Fleece
  • Arc’Teryx Windbreaker
  • Rab Waterproof
  • Rohan Waterproof trousers
  • Arc’Teryx Atom Lt
  • Rab Electron jacket
  • Lightweight gloves

This basically consists of two pairs of underwear/baselayer (one of the shirts is a long-sleeve supposedly anti-insect one, which I suspect will be helpful here…), which ought to be sufficient for 3 days, plus one pair of my summer-weight, anti-insect, zip-off trousers, which are pretty versatile and ought to be perfect for both wearing during the day, probably as shorts, and in the evening as trousers if it gets cooler.

The more complex stuff are the upper layers. I’d say that the Rab lightweight fleece and Arc’Teryx Atom Lt are ‘basic’ kit to keep me comfortable while hiking in different temperatures and potentially sitting around in camp, while the Rab Electron, despite being slightly overpowered for a summer hike, counts as emergency kit if the weather changes significantly or I get stranded, or if it gets really cold sitting around in the evenings. The Rab waterproof and Rohan waterproof trousers are an obvious choice for if we get serious rain, while the Arc’Teryx windbreaker is another one I’ll probably make a last minute decision on based on weight and space, but it’s so light and packable that it seems worth taking to give me a windproof and shower-resistant layer that isn’t as quite as hot and sweaty as the waterproof. It’s quite common in Scotland in the summer for it to be fairly warm but with the kind of very light rain that hardly seems to fall and just fills the air with moisture. The Arc’Teryx jacket would be absolutely ideal for that sort of weather, or equally just if it gets cold and windy on top of a mountain.

Illumination

The picture shows my admin pouch which I use to store important/useful bits of small kit while packing and travelling. As you’ll see, it contains not only my headlamp, backup torch and cylumes discussed below but also my multitool, some paracord, a load of spare batteries, an emergency iPhone charger (barely visible but it’s under the little ASP torch), some body wash leaves, and the all-important spork.
  • Petzl Actik headlamp
  • Backup torch/flashlight
  • Cylumes
  • Miniature maglight in survival kit

A headlamp is obviously ideal for hiking and camping. Though I don’t expect to have to hike in the dark much, it’s good for setting up tents, cooking, going to the toilet in the night, etc. A handheld torch is just a pain in those sorts of scenarios, but I’ll chuck in the ASP torch I recently received in my SOFREP crate as a useful backup, or a second light source if one is required. I also have one of the tiny little maglights (might be a ‘solitaire’) in my survival kit. Plus a few cylumes. If all those different backup light sources seems like overkill, I’d point out that if you end up on a mountain in the middle of Mull, 10-15 miles from the nearest town, in pitch dark, and want to get off it in a hurry – a working light is going to be pretty bloody critical.

Cylumes are a really useful bit of backup kit by the way. They don’t require batteries, bulbs or any kind of maintenance so within reason they are something you can just shove in a bag and guarantee they’ll work. They’re cheap enough that you can take several and keep one in almost every layer of kit, meaning that even if you somehow end up without your main bag, at least you have a light source. What I really like them for, though, is how useful they are at providing a small amount of ambient light and visibility for a good distance in all directions, without needing to be held and pointed. That makes them perfect for, say, clipping to the backpack of members of your party if you want to keep track of them all when hiking in the dark, marking a danger area near your camp such as a body of water or a deep hole, marking a route to the designated toilet area, and so on. If you do use them in this way, be sure you collect the used ones in the morning. They are non-biodegradable and filled with chemicals that I doubt are good for the local wildlife.

Repair kit and tools

Mostly pictured above, in the illumination section.

  • Leatherman wingman
  • Survival kit
  • Sniper tape
  • Paracord

The leatherman wingman is my preferred tool for outdoorsy stuff, as it covers most bases. The survival kit has a few other bits and pieces in, including a small knife, and sniper tape and paracord can do a surprisingly good job of repairing almost anything for the short term.

First Aid


  • Individual First Aid Kit, containing plasters, small dressings, a couple of bandages, plus some more serious wound dressings etc.
  • SAM splint.

Choosing a first aid kit is partly a question of personal preference, and also what you are familiar with and trained to use. I have a standard one which I take pretty well everywhere and which carries all the basics of emergency first aid including treatment for serious and catastrophic injuries. For a hike like this you’ll also want to think about a few basic medicines/treatments such as paracetamol, imodium and dioralyte.

Fire (cooking)


  • Jetboil
  • Spare fuel

I have no intention of starting any fires, so this section is simply about cooking. I’ll take my jetboil and some spare fuel. I’m not taking anything as a ‘backup’ because this isn’t a safety-critical item; my backup plan is simply eating cold food. TBH I debated not taking this at all, to save weight, and eating either cold or self-heating meals for the whole trip, but I think I will probably be grateful for being able to make the occasional brew. 

Nutrition

I’ll go into my food choices in a separate post, mainly because I haven’t decided on everything yet, and even if I had there would be far too much to talk about here.

Hydration

  • Water
  • Sawyer Mini water filter
  • Purification tablets
  • Camelbak 3L
  • Nalgene

For an unsupported hike in which we don’t really plan to go anywhere near towns, water becomes an issue. To take enough enough for the whole trip could easily add 10kg to our starting pack weights, which is feasible but unpleasant. Having to divert to towns to find shops is also an option but not ideal. Our proposed plan is to take a decent amount of water to start with, but look to refill from water sources along the way. That means being able to filter and treat the water to make it safe to drink – hence the sawyer mini water filter (an excellent compact option) and purification tablets.

I’ve also included in this section my items for storing/carrying water as this is fairly key. I’ll go for a large camelbak, allowing me to drink on the go, as well as a Nalgene, which I suspect will be easier to fill from the water filter, and is definitely easier to use if pouring it into a Jetboil or something.

Shelter


  • One man tent
  • Inflatable roll-mat
  • Rab Ascent 700 Sleeping bag

I’ve mulled over (‘scuse pun) taking just a poncho/tarp and bivvy bag instead of a tent, and I may still do that when I see what the final weight is like. However, I’m leaning towards a tent because a) I know what Scotland is like and I think there’s a decent chance of us getting three days of non-stop sideways rain and b) I suspect we may occasionally be forced to pitch tents well away from any woodblocks, where it can be a bit trickier (though of course not impossible) to set up a tarp effectively. I’m also not convinced that by the time I take a tarp, a bivvy, some pegs, at least one collapsable pole, and some bungees to string it up, the basha solution is actually going to be hugely lighter than my fairly lightweight tent.

The sleeping bag will be kept in a waterproof canoe bag, both for compression and to make damn sure it’s dry even in the event of torrential rain/leaking water bottles/falling in a river/etc.

Miscellaneous

Of course there are various other bits and pieces that don’t fit into the ten essentials. As I mentioned, these mainly included hygiene/washkit/toilet-related items and a few other bits and pieces I have in my own checklist.

 

So there it is. I’m in the process of packing this now, so as I see how it all fits together I may well make some adjustments. Most likely I’ll end up leaving out some of the less essential items to save weight, as being able to go fairly fast and light is critical for this trip. I’ll be blogging about the trip itself, and afterwards will be able to reflect back on how well all the kit worked out and if there was anything I needed and didn’t have, or had and didn’t need.

 

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