I’ve always shied away from writing kit lists, mainly because I feel strange about giving recommendations when I’m not sure that what I’m using is the best out there. I wouldn’t call myself much of a gear enthusiast (although now I’m editing this blog, I’ve realised I might actually be after all) and don’t spend loads of time researching brands online. I tend to buy one thing and use it until it breaks, how could I possibly be certain I’m using the best available from all the many many options and brands out there, the number of which are intimidating.
What I do have in my favour though, is plenty of experience. In the last two years alone I’ve walked almost 4000 miles, solo, from Kyiv to the Pyrenees. I’ve spent about half of those nights camping out, in all four seasons, in temperatures ranging from minus 14 to plus 20.
What I carry is what works for me after years of packing kit into a rucksack and heaving it around on my back.
When planning for a big journey, or even (especially) for weekends out, I think it’s possible to focus too much on fine details and getting the best possible version of everything before you ever set foot outside your door. Part of the value of my knowledge has been learning on the job, of taking things with me that later got dropped from the list, of using things which weren’t perfect, which were cheap make do items that broke or were too heavy. That way I’ve gained a better understanding of exactly what I need for the more extreme challenge of walking across Europe.
In that spirit, I’ll tell you what works for me. It may not be the best kit, the most expensive or the cheapest (a lot of it is very expensive, sadly), but you might learn at least some small tips from what I choose to carry (and what I choose to leave out).
This is my kit list for a long walk, living out of my rucksack for months at a time, with no home base nearby but receiving regular supply packages, mostly containing necessary changes of clothing/sleeping gear for seasonal weather variations.
All year round, basic clothing:
4 pairs Bridgedale walking socks (188g)
2 pairs Lucy Locket Loves leggings (552g)
1 vest to wear around waist as a skirt, any cheap stretchy type (77g)
2 Icebreaker tops (2 long sleeve half zip 576g)(vary according to seasons – vest or long sleeves. Always merino wool though)
2 pair underwear (50g)
1 bra (97g)
1 lightweight fleece (by Keela) (266g)
2 buffs (one for head, one for neck) (72g) (best way to easily regulate temperature while walking without stopping to add/remove torso layers)
Visor for sun protection on eyes (40g)
Additional seasonal gear
Thin fleece gloves (18g)(useful for basic warmth/windchill protection during day, wear at night too)
Thicker neoprene fingerless gloves with mitten cover (111g)(not waterproof but good in hours of rain. Big enough to wear fleece gloves underneath. Good for extreme cold/high winds/rain).
Thin merino wool vest (78g) to wear underneath long sleeved top for winter insulation
Thin fleece hat (25g)(basic warmth/windchill)
Thicker woollen hat (65g)(useful at night, or when very cold during day)
Snow spikes (544g) (slip on over boots)
Gaiters (236g)(for keeping legs dry in snow)
PhD down jacket (245g)(mainly for use in evenings/when sitting still)
Sunglasses (85g)(actually for snow glare rather than beachwear. My visor is good enough in sun)
The system is to carry two of everything but only use the 2nd set of clothing in an emergency (ie when you’re totally saturated). My routine is mostly to wear the same clothes for 6 days until I get to a rest day where everything gets washed and changed over.
My favourite brand of tops is Icebreaker, vests in summer, long sleeve tops in winter.
I have worn merino leggings but they tend to wear holes through quite quickly at the inner seams.
Cheapo leggings were good for a while because I didn’t get frustrated when they did the same.
Problems that I have with leggings are either that they wear through on the inner seam, or stretch in the same area and the fabric movement in between my thighs leads to the skin chafing and getting rough and sore.
Now I’m wearing Lucy Locket Loves leggings, which haven’t worn through at all, after months of wear. They’re not great in colder weather though, so I’m experimenting with overtrousers. I tried a thicker pair of leggings bought in an outdoor shop in the Pyrenees which stretched and chafed. Also tried an insulation pair under the Lucy Locket pair, which stretched the Locket leggings and means they chafe too. So winter leggings/trousers are still on the drawing board. Legs are the part of my body which can most handle being cold for hours so it’s not urgent, just means the sleeping bag takes a bit longer to warm up at night.
Bridgedale are a great sock brand, I’ve been using the same pairs for 2 years and they’re only just getting small holes in them. I used to wear liner socks and thick socks, to avoid blisters, but recently realised my feet are tough enough to wear the thick socks alone. Change your socks every day. I used to carry 3 pairs but that means you have to find a place to wash socks daily (1 pair on, 1 pair dirty or drying, 1 pair clean and dry and ready for next day) 4 pairs is enough that you don’t absolutely have to wash a pair every day which is useful if you’re somewhere remote, or if you’re forgetful.
Footwear (gets its own section)
I’ve used Altberg defenders in the past but am starting to feel that they aren’t wide enough and their weight and inflexibility contributes to my plantar pain.
I’m starting to think that the more flexible my footwear, the less pain I’m in while walking. Full leather, high ankle boots are sturdy, waterproof and long lasting but not necessarily best for foot health. I would like to experiment with barefoot style footwear but it’s notoriously not durable, so would be very expensive to replace often during a walk of this intensity.
A serious problem on a walk like mine is sourcing kit to be posted out to you wherever you need it, something it’s impossible to do when you’re trying new boots out that might not be suitable and need to be returned.
So I used Altbergs for most of the walk until I reached Slovenia, where for the first time it was possible to go to sports shops and try on varieties of walking boots. (not that boots are completely unavailable in Eastern Europe but I didn’t pass through any of the bigger cities where choices of brand were available). In Sarajevo for example, there is one sports shop, which didn’t contain any suitable boots for me (all too narrow) and numerous second hand shops, which I wasn’t going to use for sourcing footwear.
In Slovenia for the first time there were sports stores in smaller towns and, after having a disastrous supply package with a pair of Altbergs in a new style (lighter boot than the defenders) which didn’t fit properly (so I’d wasted time arranging for them to be sent to me from the UK, arranging to walk to a particular address in time to receive them, then the stress of them not being right and having to be posted back to the UK to be returned) I needed new boots quickly and was able to buy Salomon boots in that small town. I’ve had 3 different pairs in different styles since October 2019. I’m not thrilled with them; they wear out very quickly and aren’t really waterproof for more than a couple of days, but they’re a good width, comfortable to walk in, and replacements are easily available throughout Western Europe. Once I get home I’ll be trying out new brands of boots; much easier when you’ve got a home address with relaxed amounts of time to order, receive, try out and return different footwear.
In summer I wear walking sandals. Bedrock sandals are great; I have to use foot cream twice a week to keep the skin from cracking, but I love their flexibility and freedom of movement, plus the lack of sweaty socks!
Bad weather clothing
Waterproof jacket Marmot (343g)
Waterproof overtrousers (179g)
Waterproof jackets are one of the things I know little about because of what I find to be a confusing number of options and details. I bought a couple of jackets on Sportsdirect. It’s waterproof, it has pit zips, it comes down and covers my hips. Great. No further questions. Spends most of its time rolled up on the back of my rucksack.
I hate waterproof trousers and wear them grumpily. I did have a pair of Paramo insulated waterproof trousers which were great for walking in the cold through the first Romanian winter, but due to a sizing mix up (Paramo changed the fit of the garment but kept the same name and size labelling), I found myself in Croatia with a new pair of trousers in the size I’d worn previously which were suddenly too small. Because I’d worn them a day in desperation (because in rural Croatia there weren’t any opportunities to buy others), I couldn’t return them, and was so irritated by the whole experience I couldn’t bring myself to immediately spend another £120 on the same trousers in the bigger size. So I walked to Slovenia where there are more sports stores in small towns and bought a crappy pair of basic plastic overtrousers. I hate them. One day I’ll work out which pair of more expensive tailored waterproof trousers work for me and my big bum but for now I’ll stick with the stupid baggy rustling ones, which spend most of their time rolled up on the back of my rucksack anyway.
I’ve tried a rain skirt which didn’t work well, just rode up on my thighs until it wasn’t covering me. Perhaps I’d have another go with a different design but am wondering if it’s a feature of the plastic skirt worn on big hips, rather than a more straight up and down type body.
Speaking of rucksacks….
Rucksack Osprey Eja 38 litres (1100g)
With additional hip belt pockets by Treadlite Gear (56g)
Rucksack cover, Ferrino (105g) (I use a rucksack cover because leaving the rucksack to get wet and protecting the contents with dry bags means the rucksack itself absorbs water and gets heavier throughout the day. I also use a bin liner inside the rucksack as basic backup protection)
Sigg water bottle 1litre (143g) (in summer or dry areas I’ll carry extra plastic bottles, up to 2.5 litres, but generally a litre is enough)
Tent – MSR Carbon Reflex 1, plus footprint (860g) A very lightweight tent, which is great to carry, but is then naturally not going to be as durable as a heavier one. It has once ripped open in very strong winds, fortunately the excellent customer service from MSR replaced the broken components. I like that fact that this tent is inner pitch first and that the inner layer is all mesh, which means that I can pitch the inner alone and have a bug proof bivvy for as long as the weather allows. Very good for condensation as the mesh inner means the moisture gathers on the outer and won’t drip or get your gear wet. It’s easy to put up and pack away, and is even freestanding once you’ve unpacked your gear inside it (meaning that in an emergency, such as very hard soil or a concrete roof, I can put it up without pegs (except in rain or wind)). Not sure I’d buy the same tent again though. The door fastening is awful (hooks and velcro which surely hardly save any weight compared to a zip) and constantly comes open; I can’t imagine it would be any use in a storm. The velcro on the door catches my hair as I get in and out.
Laminated aluminium groundsheet (145g) Not sure it adds much in terms of temperature. Perhaps unnecessary but….when I pick this out of the tent in the mornings there’s often damp, (probably condensation from the cold ground) between the tent floor and the mat and I’d rather catch that with a specific layer than have it get my sleeping mat wet. On the rare occasions that water has got into my tent during heavy rain, it’s run underneath the groundsheet, saving my sleeping bag from dangling into water pools. It’s also a good extra layer of protection against puncturing the air mattress – although when bivvying I do roll the tent out and place the groundsheet on top of that too.
Thermarest Neoair xlite inflatable sleeping mat (414g inc pump sack) Just beware of punctures (I’ve easily had more than 10 during the journey, on 3 iterations of this mat! Most of them were before I started placing the flat tent underneath my groundsheet when bivvying though)
In very cold winter camping (colder than minus 8-10c) replace with Thermarest Xtherm inflatable sleeping mat (430g not including pump sack!)
Terra nova moonlite bivvy bag (245g) Even though I carry a tent, I like the flexibility of being able to bivvy whenever I fancy it. Plus it’s a useful cover in very cold winter to protect against ice forming on the outside of your sleeping bag.
Zpacks sleeping bag (607g) This bag is supposed to be good down to -12c but I’ve had it five years and the majority of that time it’s not been stored properly (you’re supposed to store sleeping bags out of their tight stuff sacks so that the down doesn’t get compressed) which means it doesn’t perform very well any more and to be honest, it was never that good in the first place. Eventually I’ll replace it but for now it’s a good bag for spring/summer/autumn. In summer it’s too warm but I can have the luxury of sleeping with it unzipped and laid over just part of my body.
PhD filler bag (257g) A very lightweight sleeping bag which adds 10-15c to any thicker bag. Rather than having a specific bag for each season, I find it useful to have this as a flexible inbetweener. So I can add this into my kit at the end of summer to add warmth to my summer bag as I come towards autumn, then keep it all winter as an addition to my winter bag that doesn’t take up too much weight (if you wanted to, and trusted your winter bag through the coldest weather, you could send it home and get it back in spring with your summer bag, but that would be too much faff for me on this journey). It also means that I can get a slightly lighter winter bag with this as an add on. Basically, it’s a great addition to sleeping kit that has a big effect but weighs so little you hardly notice the difference.
In full winter conditions switch to the PhD Hispar 400 down winter sleeping bag K series (655g) – this is the real deal, much better quality than the Zpacks bag. With a hood, which Zpacks don’t have. Snug and cosy down to -9c, so with the filler bag I’m good (or at the very least I’ll stay alive) down to -20c.
Decathlon silk sleeping bag liner, modified with an extra piece of silk to make it wider so my big hips don’t strain the fabric. This also means that I’m never having to pull it into place, there’s always enough fabric for the position I change to, which maybe a useful modification for the people who complain about getting tangled in theirs. Some people consider these unnecessary but as I’m sleeping in the clothes I’ve walked and sweated in rather than changing into special bedclothes, I consider the liner essential for keeping the sleeping bag clean. It’s much much easier to wash a liner than a down sleeping bag, which needs special treatment. Also adds an extra couple of degrees of warmth. (130g)
Trespass travel pillow (203g) (I tried inflatable pillows but they weren’t that comfortable and after they got holes in twice I gave up and got a small pillow, filled with polyester stuffing. A luxury!)
Cloth to tuck under cheek and catch nightime dribble (yes, gross, but it’s easier to wash a cloth in a hotel room sink than a pillow, meaning you’ll have a cleaner pillow for longer, until you can get to a place with a washing machine. It’s also a good idea to add extra protection for your down sleeping gear which you’re tucking close to your chin to keep warm air inside the bag and that you really don’t want to drool over)
Mohair bedsocks plus cotton inner socks (111g) I love my handmade mohair socks, which were a gift from somebody I cared for, but they’re not the most efficient. Adding a pair of liner socks in winter traps more air close to the skin.
I have a very simple kitchen kit as I don’t carry a stove and mainly eat rehydrated food made with cold water. Harsh, but you get used to it.
The only times this could be a problem is in winter when you need to be aware that putting cold food into your body will cool it down. I had an intense experience in a shepherd’s hut in the Pyrenees where I walked in very strong cold winds for an hour or two then set out my camp in a drafty hut. I was fine until I started eating, when I began shivering uncontrollably.
I was safe in that situation, already in my protective sleeping system, so just had to do a few situps and wait longer to warm up but it’s an important detail to bear in mind for attempting winter camping without hot food.
Silicone bowl (92g) which folds flat, a useful detail for efficient packing
Teaspoon (28g) I initially set out with a camping spork but it snapped pretty quickly in Ukraine and I went to a shop and bought my teaspoon which has been good enough ever since. It weighs 10 grams more than a titanium camping spork but cost me less than 10% of the price. Specialist kit is not always worth the price or effort and often, unnecessary products only exist to cater to a hobby market who get excited about buying new gadgets in anticipation of the weekend.
Folding knife (124g) I have used Opinel in the past but am currently using a knife I bought for a fiver in a street market in Ukraine.
Small army style basic tin opener (11g) – in case I accidentally buy a tin without a ring pull opener and don’t discover the fact until I’ve walked miles away from the town and am in a tent with an unopenable tin, in need of a meal. Which has happened.
Flannel, which will do you as both to wash with and use as a towel to dry off.
Wash kit (229g)
Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
Moisturiser (in winter, put moisturiser on your lips and nose every day to protect your skin from getting crusty, much better than vaseline or lipbalm)
Pumice stone for regular foot baths
Foldable travel hairbrush with mirror
No shampoo or conditioner or soap, just use what’s available wherever you stay, even if it’s handsoap. Yes you will have bad hair but the trees don’t care (they might even prefer it).
Suncream in summer
Tissues (in handy packets stuffed into hip pockets. Use for drying bowl after eating, as well as toilet and face)
Pee rag (19g) (useful way to minimise tissue use. Wipe after weeing and hang it off your rucksack to dry off. Rinse regularly)
A small collection of plastic bags stuffed into an outside rucksack pocket – keep all your rubbish, even toilet paper and take it out of the wilderness with you. Yes. Even toilet paper.
Anker external battery. (398g) I carry one big enough for five charges, which lasts me a week.
Phone, (207g) which doubles as camera, torch, notepad, map, music, etc etc
Phone charger, USB (79g) also used to charge battery banks and keyboard
Purse, cashcard and money (67g on the day)
Solid bar of laundry soap for washing clothes in hotel bathrooms (100g)
Compass (35g), just in case the electronics fail completely
Peacocks handwarmer, plus lighter fluid and matches (158g) (the ultimate last resort and safety measure for cold camping, a heat source. Put it in the small of your back and slowly but surely it will heat your blood, all the way down to your toes)
Tenacious tape (10g) (very good fix for rips and holes in pretty much everything except clothing)
First aid kit (196g) – plasters, painkillers, tweezers, scissors, bandages, needle+thread, alcohol wipes, razor blades, nail file, spare hairbands, micropore tape, super glue, lighter.
Kinesiology tape (75g per roll) (used to strap knees, feet, hips and stomach at varying points in the journey. Very useful for supporting painful joints to improve posture.)
Kit that is possibly unique to my journey as a writer
Books – lightweight travel enthusiasts are screaming in horror but I like paper books. Kindles don’t give authors a good deal: as a writer, that’s important to me not to compromise on. Books on this journey have been a mixture of travel/historical/political writing about each country I’m travelling through, providing essential background information to inform my own writing. Also occasional novels and even more occasional guidebooks.
Paper map and marker pen. (147g) A map per country to draw on the route you’ve followed week by week for a future memento. One day you will be able to put all the maps together on a giant wall and marvel at your achievement.
Knitting needles and ball of wool – doesn’t weigh more than 120g but provides hours of use, usually on days off while watching TV. Knit blanket squares, send them home and at the end of the journey you’ll have another keepsake.
Notebook and pen for daily diary writing (104g)(useful because the mind works differently when writing by hand rather than typing)
Foldable wireless keyboard for easier blogging (167g) (complete gamechanger for writing on a phone, brand: iclever, about 20 quid)
Oops, I almost forgot my walking poles.
They’re one of my favourite things.
Very heavy at 800g so extra effort required from the arms, meaning extra calorie consumption, (details for the purists).
But beautiful and £0. One I cut myself from a hazel hedge, the other was a gift. They’re better than ordinary walking poles because they’re longer, so I can change the handhold on them much more easily in awkward situations. They’re probably stronger too so I can lean on them heavily when going downhill or on rocks.
Drawbacks are the 1% of times they get in the way and I can’t pack them down, usually at a key and very dangerous mountain scrambling point.
Also means I can’t buy tents which use walking poles as part of set up unless I buy extra poles, which means the tent weighs more,and I feel like the carbon straight vertical poles probably aren’t as strong as the walking poles would be.
You can see that I’ve weighed almost everything I carry. I did that for this blog and am not normally quite so fanatic about gram counting.
In my opinion, about 80% of the effort and energy that you put into caring about the weight of your kit is absolutely essential. What’s in your rucksack, on your shoulders, is going to affect every single step you take, the strain on your body and the amount of pain you experience after months of doing this. It’s vital to assess what you carry and whether you actually need it and whether there’s a way to change it for something lighter.
However. In my opinion, the final 20% of effort and energy that you put into caring about the weight of your kit is absolutely pointless. Don’t get obsessive. The cost of spending money, often a lot of money, or suffering a little bit every day, just to save a few grams, is absolutely not worth it. Take my pillow for example: 200g vs 60g for an inflatable one, but I sleep better every single night with that ‘heavy’ pillow. Remember that the weight of your rucksack will fluctuate by a few kilos just through your consumption of food and water.
My base weight is between 8 and 10 kilos, depending on the season. Which means that once you add in food and water I’ll usually be carrying between 12 and 15 kilos. It’s fine by me.
There are a few things I could do differently in this kit setup.
My rucksack is relatively heavy. If I changed to a proper ultralight one I could save about 500g. (an example would be the Arc Blast 55litre backpack from Zpacks, weighing in at 569g) But partly, weight is saved in these packs at the expense of strap padding and comfort, which is perhaps manageable for a weekend but could really affect muscle tension and pain on a long term journey of a month or more. I really like the fit of the Osprey and I can’t try on the online ultralight brands without buying them, so for now it’s easier to stay with the Osprey.
My bedsocks aren’t the most efficient at 111g. The lightest way to keep warm in bed would be down bedsocks, weighing in at 45g, currently £166 from PHDesigns. But would I want to slip dirty walking feet directly into them? Wouldn’t I need a normal pair of cotton liner socks too? And so, given the price, I think this one enters into the completely unnecessary 20% of gram counting I mentioned earlier.
My Msr tent is full of holes and will soon need replacing. Although I’ve come to love it, quirks and all, I’m not sure I’d buy it again for a few reasons – it’s not great in high winds, the door fastening is really badly designed and the lightness of the fabric means it’s not very durable.
I’ve been considering the Zpack plexamid tent, which comes in at 689g (including extra groundsheet, pole and stakes). But feel wary about the single pole design, which I couldn’t use a sturdy walking pole for.
There’s also the Hilleberg Enan at 1.2kg.
For a long journey, I don’t want to carry a tent that weighs more than a kilo, which severely limits my options.
Laminated aluminium groundsheet (145g) Could I just place the sleeping mat on the floor of the tent and not notice the difference? Maybe. Or possibly to be replaced with a Dyneema/cuben fibre type groundsheet for about £75 and 90g weight. (again, this falls into the obsessive and unnecessary 20% of gram counting)
Replace the underperforming Zpacks bag with one that is rated for a lower warmth but is much lighter (example being the M degree 200k down sleeping bag from PHDesigns. £545 and 340grams) So saving 250g, but only once I’ve got a spare few hundred pounds. Unlikely to happen.
I keep my passport in a zipped bag with a waist strap so I could, if needed, wear it on my body underneath my clothes. I haven’t needed to do it once during this journey! So could save myself 100g by leaving it out.
I carried a water filter for more than a year and never used it so sent it home. But really, I am running a risk by not using one and need to get accustomed to water filtration as standard and include this as part of my essential kit.
PS If you’re tempted to reply to this telling me what I should do differently, (of the “you should only carry one pair of socks” or “you should wear shorts in summer” variety of advice), please think very hard about whether you really do know better than I do (8000 miles trekked and counting) about what works for me.
I’m not saying this is what everybody should do, just that this is the excellent system I’ve come to after years of experience, which works really well for me and will probably form useful information for many others.