Armed with information from your research you will be able to select your equipment, matching it to objectives and conditions. For serious walking give your feet priority. Break in new boots gradually and harden up your skin with surgical spirit, starting two weeks before you set off.
Choose clothing carefully to give good protection without overheating.
Garments should be well-fitting without being restrictive. They must keep you warm and dry but have plenty of ways to keep the body ventilated. There are fabrics which will allow vapour to disperse outwards through the material without allowing water in. In cold climates layers of clothing are the answer. For walkers in temperate lands a singlet, shirt and windproof anorak are all that is needed – pull on a jersey if it turns cold and waterproofs, if it rains. You need a change of clothing and additional warm garments for when you stop.
We are fortunate that technology has made improvements on the “blanket bag” that was available to mountaineers in the early 1800s. You had to be really tough in those days to survive sleeping out in the freezing night temperatures of the Italian Alps. It was not until in the mid 19th Century that they started making sleeping bags out of sheep skin and other animal hides.
Nowadays, two types are generally available. One kind uses hollow fill, man-made fibre, the other (more expensive) is filled with down. Down is very light and gives much better insulation, provided it stays dry. If it gets wet it looses all its insulating properties and is very difficult to dry out. For conditions that are likely to be wet, the man-made fibre will therefore be the better choice.
Excellent bivouac bags made of ‘breathable’ material are also available that will keep you dry in place of a tent, but in the long term you cannot beat a tent which can also be used for cooking and communal activities.
Do you want a pack with an external or an internal frame?
Internal frames are lighter and make a pack more easy to stow, but external frames are stronger, ensure a more even distribution of the load and are especially useful for awkward or heavy equipment, including in an emergency, a sick or injured person.
You need a strong and comfortable back-pack to carry all your clothing and equipment. Choose the very best you can afford. It should have tough and fully adjustable webbing, well secured to the pack’s frame or fabric. Heavy loads can quickly loosen poorly made webbing. It must have a comfortable hip belt. The secret of wearing a pack is to take the weight securely on the hips – the body’s strongest pivot – not on the shoulders and back, which quickly strain and tire.
A good external frame should carry the pack high up on your body, putting less strain on hips and shoulders, and it should be designed to allow an airspace between the pack and your back to minimise contact perspiration. A frame adds weight and is more prone to snag on rocky projections or branches, making progress through dense vegetation a little more difficult, but its advantages more than compensate.
Finally, choose a pack made from a tough, waterproof fabric, preferably with a lace-up hood inside the main sack to prevent water leaking in and the contents falling out. Side pockets are always useful, but they must have secure zips rather than straps or drawstrings, which do not hold equipment safely.
The importance of ‘travelling light’ cannot be overly emphasised
Many people take too many items which they could do without. Travelling with a “significantly” lighter pack, of course, means you get better mileage, healthier joints, less food required, which means even lighter packs, and so on…. that’s what the gospel of ultra-lightweight teaches us. The best way to do this is to put everything you think you will need on a table or a bed and then start ruthlessly eliminating all the non-essential items.
What you should be left will be a handful of things that you absolutely really need . If you expect to get wet, stow everything in polythene plastic bags. Pack so that you know where everything is and so that the first things you need are not buried at the bottom.
The sleeping bag is probably the last thing you need so that goes at the bottom. Your tent should be on the top, so should heavy kit such as radios, which are more easily carried there. Try not to make the pack too high, if you have to cope with strong winds, for a very high pack will be more difficult to balance and you will expend a lot of energy just keeping upright.
Pack a stove and brew-kit in a side pocket so that you have easy access when you stop to rest. Make sure that foodstuffs that can easily squash or melt are in suitable containers. In a warm climate you can carry food to eat that is cold and make plenty of hot drinks. In a cold climate make sure that you have plenty of fats and sugars. The exact rations depend on your taste, but they should be chosen to give a good balance of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Take into account the extent to which you will be able to live off the land and carry a supply of anything unlikely to be available locally.
For a long expedition in “Remote” territory a radio is a necessity
Pre-arrange a signals plan with scheduled calls morning and evening. A signals plan entails people manning the radio at base and two-way communication is easily made. Make sure that the chosen frequencies will work in the areas you are going to, and that at least two people in the party are familiar with the working of the radio.
In the evening give a situation report to base with your location, what you have done and your future intentions. In the morning receive an update on weather conditions, a time check and other information that base can give you. If you are tackling a dangerous aspect of the expedition you may want to arrange that base listen out for additional calls so that in an emergency you can call help and get a response immediately.
An emergency plan should always be put into operation when two consecutive calls are missed. Even if all is well, if you have not been able to make contact this will be treated by base as an emergency. You must return to or stay at the last reported location and await contact. If you are really in trouble base will know where you last were and where you planned to go, and the rescue mission can follow.