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What I Carry In My Hiking Backpacks

Bruce with his hiking pack at the start of hadrian's Wall
Bruce with his hiking day pack and travel pack at the start of Hadrian’s Wall.

My Long Distance Hiking

In 2022 I hiked two long-distance trails, the Rota Vicentina, or the Fisherman’s Way in Portugal, and Hadrian’s Wall in England. The Rota Vicentina works its way down the west coast of Portugal from above Porto Covo to Luz on the bottom. I walked 5 legs of it. It is a fantastic trail. Hadrian’s Wall goes across England from Wallsend (Newcastle) on the east to Bowness-on-Solway (Carlisle) on the west. Kind of on the English/Scottish border. If you are into Roman history, this is your trail. This is a very popular hike with people going both ways. Running about 84 miles long. I am now getting ready to walk the West Highland Way in Scotland in September 2024. The WHW runs for 96 miles, from just north of Glasgow to Fort Williams. This is also a very popular trail. For both of these hikes, I went from BnB to BnB. I didn’t camp.

The list below was created from what I learned on my hikes. On my Portugal hike, I carried one big backpack the entire way. I didn’t know about luggage transfer. In luggage transfer, you walk with a day pack and have your big back moved from location to location. It is much easier, lots of people do it.

What Kind of Pack Do You Use?

The list below was created mostly from my hike along Hadrian’s Wall in England in September of 2022. For that trip, I brought two backpacks. A pack for my main clothes and gear, and a day pack. Because I was using the luggage transfer option, I needed to bring just the supplies for the day. Every day your luggage is picked up around 9:00 am and moved to your next destination, it is usually there around 4:00 pm. The system works great. Pretty much everyone is doing it this way. It makes walks like this so much easier.

My big backpack is an Osprey, Kestrel 38. 38 stands for liters, it is the capacity of the pack. This size works perfectly for airplane carry-on. It is also an excellent general-purpose backpack. This is the same pack I used in Portugal, where I carried it.

My day pack is an Osprey, Talon 22, and worked very well. It holds two, 1-liter water bottles, has adjustable straps, and is quite comfortable. It carried everything I needed. I also picked up a rain cover for the pack in case of poor weather.

Waterproof backpack cover for rain, REI Duck’s Back

For my passport and money, I used a Lewis-n-Clark pouch. I carried the pouch in my pants cargo pocket. The pouch is designed to go around the neck, but it is kind of clunky. Putting it in my pocket with the lanyard around my belt worked fine.

Gear I Brought

Backpacking Gear

• Trekking poles. I hike with poles. For me they are very important and an essential tool. They really help with stability on uneven ground and for knee and ankle support. Some of the roads are on some pretty steep hills. They helped my knees and also reduced fatigue. I like the ones with clamps rather than twists, but either style will work. I also removed the rubber tips; the carbide tips grab better. Something like the Trailmade Trekking Poles works just fine. Something to remember if you are traveling by plane to your hike. You can’t carry poles on the plane. Checked luggage is fine, but not carry-on. I just buy the poles when I get to my destination.

• Headlamp and batteries. I never needed it, but if I had gotten into the evening after dark this would have been absolutely essential. It can get very dark and you are always in new and unfamiliar surroundings. Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp.

• Small LED flashlight. I always travel with a small flashlight. You are in a lot of unknown places.

• Pocket knife. I picked up a small Swiss Army knife, the Victorinox Swiss Army Rambler Pocket Knife, at a sporting goods store. If you need to open a package, cut moleskin for a blister, or trim a nail, it is very handy for those unforeseen circumstances. I don’t check my luggage, so carrying a knife is out of the question. But you can pick one up in the same store that you get your poles. Get one with scissors, you will use them for cutting moleskin.

• Two, 1-liter water bottles. There was plenty of water along the trail. There are lots of pubs and gas stations with small stores, and several honesty boxes. Keeping hydrated is very important. Two bottles worked well for me. I used an REI Nalgene wide-mouth water bottle, 32 fl oz.

• Sports drinks. I regularly drink Gatorade types of sports drinks when hiking. In the UK, I drank Lucozade Energy drinks. They were available everywhere. This made a big difference. On an earlier hike to Portugal, I didn’t manage my hydration very well and got dehydrated, and had to deal with cramps. I am also an older hiker and keeping my body in balance is important.

• Bloks Energy Chews. One of my daughters turned me on to these. They are a bite-size energy gummy made by Clif. Come in different flavors and give you that quick energy burst. Different flavors. They work pretty well when you are getting tired.

• Nuun Hydration Tablets. Think of Gatorade in a tablet. Drop the tablet in your water bottle, let it dissolve, and drink. There are a lot of different versions of these. One of the things people like most is the low or no sugar. There are lots of flavors available, but the taste can be a little harsh. They are an easy way to carry extra electrolytes. Liquid IV is another popular brand.

• Sleeping sack, travel sheet, useful in hostels, I never used it.

Navigation

For my Hadrian’s Wall trip and my upcoming West Highland Way walk I used MacsAdventure.com. MacsAdventure is a Scottish company that sets up and books your trip. They have self-guided walking and hiking trips all over the world, but really specialize in the UK and Scotland. They make all the arrangements. They did a great job. They are very popular. Hillwalk Tours.com is another company that is also quite popular.

Hadrian's Wall Path by Henry Stedman plus my travel maps
Hadrian’s Wall Path by Henry Stedman plus my travel maps

• MacsAdventure.com. Once you book, they send an excellent kit for the trip; your itinerary, a map book, a physical map, a luggage tag, and a Path Passport.

MacsAdventure.com App and GPX reader. Macs also have an excellent app for your phone. The app contains the GPX files of the trip, all your BNBs, and documents. It works on or offline. GPX files are map files of someone who walked and recorded the path. For hiking just follow the map on youdr phone. With the app, you can zoom in and out and see where you are. Think Google Maps but specific for this trek. This app and your Stedman book are your two key tools. The trail is well marked, but sometimes you may wander off or get lost by accident. On Hadrian’s Wall, I got lost 3 times. The GPX maps will get you back on track. I also downloaded all the files and had a second GPX reader on my phone, called GPX Tracker. It also worked pretty well. The MacsAdventure app is available in the app stores.

Bruce hiking near Chollerford, UK along Hadrian’s Way. Photo by Bruce Jones
Bruce hiking near Chollerford, UK along Hadrian’s Way. Photo by Bruce Jones

• Guide Books. For Hadrian’s Wall, I used the Henry Stedman book, Hadrian’s Wall Path. This is the standard map book that almost everyone carries. Works both West to East and East to West. Before my trip I located and highlighted all my bed & breakfasts, deviations from the trail, and important locations I should look out for. The book breaks the trail down into multiple steps. You will use this book all day long. Henry Stedman wrote the books on many British trails. He is the standard. Stedman has a guidebook for the West Highland Way.

West Highland Way by Henry Stedman and Charlie Loram.

• Trail Maps. I used Harvey and Footprint Waterproof maps for my hikes. These are tough weatherproof maps. I also marked up this map in the areas where I was walking. Noting the BnBs, and important location. I would often use the map for planning at nighttime. Sometimes you have to adjust. the maps are available at Amazon.com, West Highland Way Trail Map.

• I carried a compass, never used it, but a good safety item to have.

I ended up using all of these map tools. The bigger trail map gives you a global view. On Hadrian’s Wall, I cut off some mileage by studying the map. You use your Stedman guidebook all day long. You refer to it constantly; it is your bible. I also referred to my phone and my GPX files to make sure I was on the right path. At times I also would check Google Maps. One day in Portugal, there were four of us hiking together and we were all using different mapping apps and we still didn’t know where we were. Sometimes it can be very confusing especially if you get off the trail.

Path Passport, you can often buy this on the trail, or at local shops. Locations are marked for you to get a stamp. Think trail-long scavenger hunt. You don’t need this, it is a little goofy, but it is a nice souvenir and gives you things to look for.

Hadrian’s Wall, Chollerford, UK. Photo by Bruce Jones
Hadrian’s Wall, Chollerford, UK. Photo by Bruce Jones

• Garmin Instinct 2 wristwatch. You could also use an Apple watch or any other tracking watch. The advantage of the Garmin is that it is very tough and water-resistant and the battery lasts for 24 days on the rechargeable version and forever on the solar version. I used this watch to record steps and more importantly, my heart rate. This is a very popular watch among hikers. It can do a million different things, but for me, steps and heart rate were the most important. I tend to walk too fast and using this watch I could pace myself much better and not get overtired or wear out my knees. My walking pace is in the 96-bpm range, with a pack, 107-bpm. If I creep up to the 120 range, I am walking too fast and need to slow down. These watches also have GPS and notifications and all kinds of features, which can be confusing, so I keep it simple and just use a couple of features.

There is also a solar version.

Kitchen/Bath

• Spork, for eating, never used it.

• Quick dry towel, I have carried a mini multi towel for years. When things get sweaty, it can be a life savior. They can absorb a lot of water and make things more comfortable.

• Small bar of soap, never used it but good to have.

Health

• Hand sanitizer, never used it.

• Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, and toiletries

• Toilet or Poop Trowel and half roll of toilet paper. You might have to go to the bathroom outside. In reality, I never used it. There are enough pubs and gas stations and your body just waits. I never had any stomach issues, but I could have and then it would have been important.

• Medications, whatever you need. Make sure you carry them in your day pack.

• Tube of Cortizone • 10 for rashes. You will get rashes from all the walking; this stuff is a miracle. A rash in your crotch will really slow you down. Cortizone•10 is over the counter and you can get it at any drug store. If you are walking all day and sweating, you will get a rash.

• Pepto Bismol and Advil. You can get small travel tubes of each, at any drugstore. Pepto Bismol will save you from unfamiliar foods or an upset stomach. If you feel a little strange, take two.

• Moleskin for blisters. This is a vital part of your kit. If you get a little blister or feel one coming on, cut a patch of moleskin and apply it. Compeed is the UK version.

• Ear plugs, especially if you are staying in a hostel or have a roommate. People snore.

Outdoor Walking Stuff

• Glasses and/or sunglasses.

• Sunblock, and lip balm. I didn’t need lip balm on this trip, but I really needed it on a hike in Portugal. Lips can burn very easily in the sun.

• Hat, cap, or brim hat, I also had a knit hat for when it got cold. A lot of the new hats come in a lightweight fabric. Get sweaty, they dry quickly and are easy to wash out.

• Personal First Aid Kit. I had a small day hike kit. It has some bandages, aspirin, moleskin, a small set of scissors, a quick guide, etc. Throw in some safety pins, a little extra moleskin, and elastics/rubber bands. Pretty basic stuff. Add a 36” SAM Splint and triangle bandage.

SAM Medical is a leader in lightweight splints for trail, sports, and emergency medicine of all kinds. SAM Medical has great products and training. Check out their trainingIf you have a chance to attend a wilderness first aid course, I recommend it. AMC, Appalachian Mountain Club is a great place to start.

• Mosquito Head Net, insect shield. Goes over your hat and tightens around your neck. Those little flies can drive you crazy with their bites. Especially on the West Highland Way. If you are in England, the Smidge Headnet is also quite popular.

• Ace bandage, great for knees or a sprain. Available at Amazon or any local drug store. There is the old-school ACE Elastic Bandage or the newer ACE Self-Adhering Elastic Bandage.

• Insect repellent, Ben’s, and Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard. Be sure to test and make sure they work. Not everybody works with every repellent.

Very popular in Scotland is Smidge Repellent, which keeps away the Scottish biting midges.

Check out my companion article, My Hiking Backpacking Checklist

Download my Backpack Checklist

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