Scrapbook's Hiking Tips
Just in case you want to get out there
and explore the fantastic British countryside on foot for yourself, we've put together a few
of our tips that will help
you get the most out of it.
On our 'Links' page you'll
find some great sites that'll help with the planning of your walk.
The "prime directive", as far as we're concerned, is to have respect for our wildlife and
for all of the environments in which it lives. Our small country's green places and
wildlife are under threat from all sides, so please don't unknowingly add to its
troubles. Take the time to read the
countryside code for yourself and stick to it at all times, taking
particular care that
dogs are on leads in fields of animals and are not able to disturb ground
nesting birds during the breeding season. Much of the land you walk through, particularly here in Sussex,
is either farmland and somebody's livelihood or a protected area. Try not to disturb anything and leave it all as you would want to find it
and hopefully it will be there for everyone to enjoy for centuries to come.
Feet - These are the main tools of the
trade, so you need to get them into an excellent state of health to start off
with. Any problems with your feet will have been amplified mercilessly after you've walked 5 miles and will seriously ruin
your fun. First check to see
whether you've developed any small areas of thickened skin on the soles of your
feet. Sometimes this is referred to as "hard skin" but this is misleading.
usually form as a small circular lump on the balls of your
feet or on the heel and they are not easy to find. Check carefully and remove
them gradually over a couple of weeks with a purpose made file. A quick repair
can cause soreness to your feet and allow infection in, so use care! Next you
need to make sure your toenails are cut short and do not touch the neighbouring
toes when squashed up in your boots. This can be very uncomfortable, so do a good job of
You would expect your feet to get tough and leathery after years of hiking, but
the opposite appears to be true. Tough skin on your feet does not stop you from
getting blisters; well fitting boots and good quality socks do!
If your feet are hurting
or rubbing even the slightest bit when walking, then stop and take a look at
them. The secret is to attend to your feet at the first inkling of a problem and
not wait until a blister has formed. A stitch in time saves nine! We've found
the special blister plasters made by
Compeed to be extremely good at stopping blisters forming on sore bits and
they work good over already formed blisters too. Keep a packet in your first-aid
The old trick of using two pairs of socks is far from ideal. The socks can ride
up and slip around, plus the wicking properties of two normal socks is also all wrong. We use proper hiking socks
you can find in outdoor shops. They cost a fair bit more than ordinary socks but are well worth the money. They
don't have any hard seams which in normal socks can rub. Make sure you only put
your socks on when you are just about to put your boots on too. If you walk
about the house in your hiking socks, then you could pick up all manner of
things in the weave (like the toenails you've just cut) which will rub your skin
- Make sure you buy your boots in the afternoon, as by then your feet will have
swollen to their ultimate size after a days walking around. Make sure you are
wearing thick hiking socks as well. Buy as good a pair of boots as you can afford and
spend a long time choosing them. Try on loads of different boots and walk around
the shop in them to make sure they fit well. They should hug your feet soundly without crushing them and not
slip around at all. A good boot shop should have a small ramp that you can walk up to
make sure that the ankles of the boot fit well on an incline. Another tip is to
make sure that the eyes are large enough so that you can take the laces in and
If you need to walk up and down the street outside to test the boots,
then ask if you can do so. Your boots are going to be with you for a long time,
so do everything you can to get the right ones for you.
Your boots will need to be well maintained to keep them in tip-top condition. This
means that after every walk they should be scraped clean, washed with a wet rag, filled with newspaper
and left to air dry (no heat) and then
polished well. The best way to do this is to take the laces out first, so that
you can clean and polish the tongue as well. This is the place where water will
get in if it's not looked after.
A layer of
over the whole boot now and then will help with conditioning
of the leather. Don't overdo it though, as you can make the boots
so soft that they start to fall apart. Nikwax also do a waterproofing wax
that works really well but doesn't soften the leather. We don't work for
stuff is just easily available and does what it says on the tin.
Clothes - First off, jeans are a no-no!
Once they get a bit sweaty they chafe something rotten and the pain of this will
be horrible and almost crippling. The best trousers are the purpose made ones that
they sell in outdoor shops. They have plenty of pockets and are light and airy
too. You can get different thicknesses of material for different times of the
year. Combat trousers are very good as well and shorts are a very good alternative.
On top it's best to go for the
multi-layer approach so that you can add or remove layers to keep your
temperature even. We like to use a tee-shirt with a thin, long-sleeved top
on top of that and a fleece over that (depending on the weather). In the winter
you will want to wear thermals or a proper base layer.
Another essential item is a hat. In the winter this needs to be woollen or
similar to keep your head warm but in the summer a peaked cap will keep the sun off your head
and out of your eyes. The hot
sun on a bare head will make you feel very tired and sleepy, which is no good at
all for hiking. We tend to take both hats with us all year long so that in the
evenings we can switch to a warm hat.
Try to keep in mind that there is no such thing as bad weather, just
- You'll need a good jacket if you are going to be out walking in all seasons.
A proper waterproof one with a wired hood, map pocket, removable lining and sealable
cuffs and collar will cost about £100 but will last you for ages. In the summer you
can probably make do with any light jacket but whatever jacket you choose, try
to make sure it doesn't rustle too loudly.
We tend to take waterproof trousers with us at all times of the year as they are
a good thing to sit on when you want to stop for a cuppa. The
Peter Storm ones are very good and don't make you sweaty.
- Gaiters are not everyone's cup of tea as they look a little strange, but once
you start to use them you'll wonder how you ever coped without them. They keep
all the mud and water off your trousers and stop it from falling into your
boots, they help to keep your legs and feet dry and warm, they stop your wet trousers
from swishing around your legs and they protect you from nettles and thorns.
They're also pretty cheap too!
Daysack - A 25 litre
daysack will be more than adequate for a days walk. Side pockets and net pockets are very useful, as is a telephone pocket.
You don't need a rucksack or anything with a frame for a days walking unless
you're also going to be carrying a tent, sleeping bag etc.
With the bag fully loaded adjust the straps so that they're not too tight to
affect the movement of your arms, but not so loose as to make the bag hang down.
It should sit up, with the weight being taken by your shoulders, not the small
of your back. Many daysacks also come with waist and chest straps and these useful
additions can be used to take a lot of the weight off of your shoulders.
- Get yourself a proper, purpose-made bottle that securely holds a litre. In the
summer this will be the most important piece of your equipment. The NATO issue
ones that the Army have used for over 50 years are perfect and can be bought online
or from Army surplus stores everywhere. There are cheap knock-offs of these
about, but we've found that the lids aren't waterproof. The real ones don't bend
when you squeeze them and they feel more robust and solid. They can be cleaned
by filling with warm water, adding a couple of teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
and leaving overnight.
Optics - We can't stress enough the
added enjoyment that a pair of binoculars can add to a hike. Not only can you
get to see animals, birds and insects that you would normally miss, but you can
also use them to look for the next footpath sign or stile in the distance. Buy
the best that you can afford and the money will not be wasted. A digital camera
is also an essential that will not only preserve your memories, but can allow
you to identify things such as plants and animals later on when you get home.
Map and compass
- Learn to use a
map and compass. It really isn't very difficult and is a skill that will make any
walk safer, less stressful and more instructive. GPS is a good alternative but a
map will never run out of battery or get smashed on a rock.
Smell - As we try to see as much
wildlife as possible, we take a certain amount of care to make sure that we don't
smell of perfumes and other chemicals. No aftershave or scented
Food - We're always surprised by the
small amount of food we need while we're walking. We do however take enough to
see us through. A round of sandwiches, a bit of fresh fruit and some nuts is usually enough combined with a tea and cake stop
(or two) along the way.
A flask of tea may seem like an unnecessary item considering its weight, but
we've found that a hot cuppa can be worth its weight in gold in so many
situations, so we always take one with us. Cake is of course compulsory with
afternoon tea, so we always take our own too.
Don't forget a teaspoon and a cake knife!
"Before modern times
there was Walking, but not the perfection of Walking, because there was no tea."
- George Macaulay Trevelyan, Walking
The main lesson to be
learnt here is not to over pack. This is a common beginners mistake and arises
because they are trying to cover every foreseeable eventuality. If you're just
starting out at hiking then you really shouldn't be anywhere where you will need
large amounts of emergency equipment and loads of luggage. After a few walks in relatively safe
areas (such as Sussex) you will start to get the idea of what you need and what
you don't need.
If you're thinking of
doing a long hike over several days or more (such as
The South Downs Way)
and it's going to be you're first hike, then
I really would suggest you have several day walks first. You will quickly
realise that you need very little in the way of equipment and very few clothes.
The short walks will help you iron out any other problems that will be magnified
when you go on your long walk. We see people every week who are struggling with
huge, badly packed rucksacks full of things they don't need. This will ruin your
walk and make you hate hiking for evermore. The weight will also help to bring
on health problems such as; blisters, twisted ankles, muscle strains,
heatstroke, ripped ligaments... do I need to go on?
Miniaturise and lighten everything that you can. Get a lightweight tent and
sleeping bag if you are camping. If there are two or more of you, then share the
load and share the
food packing too.
Don't take too many clothes, what you really need is a few changes of underwear
and socks and maybe one other t shirt. It's no problem to rinse out a few
clothes and have them dry again in a few hours, especially if they are
lightweight hiking clothes. In the summer you can rinse them out and tie them to
the outside of your pack to dry as you walk. You can even put the clothes back
on wet and let them dry on you.
Make sure that you have a micro stove and a small kettle so that you can quickly
get a brew together. Milk powder is very light to carry and makes great tea
(make a small amount up in cold water as and when you need it. If you put
it straight into hot tea it all coagulates into lumps - yuck!). If you've saved lots of
weight elsewhere then don't skimp on food, as after a days walk you'll be in
desperate need of a good, hot meal. Good food and drink will also keep your
morale up. Food should be high in energy (you use 350 calories per hour when
walking), but it needs to be tasty too. You should of course take salt, but take
some ground black pepper and consider taking dried herbs as well. Some garlic,
chilli and ginger will also add some excitement to what could otherwise be a
boring meal. Plan on restocking your larder on route,
so you only need to take a couple of days supply of food with you.
A few other packing
Put your waterproofs in the top of your pack so that you can get at them
Have your lunch in an airtight, hard container to keep it fresh and in good
condition (squashed sandwiches are 'orrible).
Try to put soft things in the front of the bag, up against your back.
Put the small things you need most often in the outside pocket or in the netting
pouch of your pack (if it has one).
Put the heaviest items towards the top of the pack so that the weight of the
pack is balanced across your shoulders.
Make sure that nothing rattles or squeaks when you walk, as this has the
potential to drive
you, and everyone else, slowly mad.
Here's a list of the things that we carry between us on a days hiking:
plus spare battery and loads of memory storage
Magnifying glass - useful for small plants and insects
phones - switched to "silent" or turned off until needed.
book & pen
Identification books - birds, flowers, butterflies, fungi etc
kit - plus prescriptions if necessary
Maps - We
usually use the Explorer series (1:25,000)
Torch - LED with good batteries.
cloth for optics
Flask of tea
bag for rubbish
Hand warmer (winter)
"Backpacking is the art of
knowing what not to take."
Distance - How far should you walk? To
start with try a few 5 milers. Why not try the
Head walk? That should get you in the mood for something
longer. We tend to do about 10 - 15 miles, which may sound a lot but if you're
walking for 10 hours, then that's only about 11/2 mph. In the end,
it's all down to you, but to explore some of the more remote places of the UK
you will need to walk further. The important thing is to relax and enjoy what you're doing
and forget about the distance - however long or short.
walking distance, if you have the time."
Coping with the
distance - If you spend your time
looking at everything around you and enjoying what you see, then the miles will
slip by unnoticed and you will see some amazing things. Walking slowly and quietly will also improve your chances of
seeing wildlife. Don't worry about walking up hills, just take your time and try
to enjoy them. Believe it or not you'll learn to love them, and besides, if
you want the best views then you have to work for them.
Sightings book - We like to write down
all of the things that we see and all of the things that happened during the day
in a small book. We include the date, the weather, all of the species of
wildlife seen, the number of each species seen and any other useful information
and reminders. We even do some sketching sometimes. It's amazing how easily you
forget what you've seen if you don't write it all down at the time. When you
read it back later you find that you remember everything clearly.
Walking on roads - When walking on
roads, walk on the right hand side of the road, facing the oncoming traffic. This is so that you can see cars coming
towards you and so that cars do not come up behind you in the same lane. Take
extra care on blind corners, where it is sometimes safer to temporarily cross to the other
side of the road.
If you walk along looking at the ground, thinking about how much further you have to go,
possibly feeling uncomfortable, then the walk
will turn into a terrible slog. Instead try to keep your head up and focus on; the fresh
air, the views, the wildlife, the peace and quiet, the patterns of the land and
the weather (whatever it's like). If something aches or hurts, then stop and
take care of it: any fool can be uncomfortable. If your pack's digging into your
back, then stop and rearrange its contents with the soft things against your
back and/or adjust the straps. If you feel tired - then stop! Have a cuppa or
something to eat; sit down and reflect on where you are; take a few minutes to
look and listen for birds and animals. There's no rush.
Walking at night
- If you know that you will be walking along roads at night, then consider wearing
a viz-vest. If you're carrying a torch don't point it forward towards the oncoming
cars as the drivers may veer left to avoid you (believing you to be an oncoming
motorist) and come off the road. Instead use the torch to illuminate yourself.
As we all know, things look very different in the dark, so either make sure
you know exactly where you are going, or plan a very easy, straight-forward
route. Trying to find footpaths across agricultural land and through woods is
very difficult after dark and is best avoided.
When night hiking it is best to try and do without any form of illumination at
all. It takes over 30 minutes for your night vision to start working well, so
don't lose it again with unnecessary use of a torch. Get yourself some red,
sticky-backed plastic or red glass paint and cover the lens of your torch with it. The red light
will not ruin your night vision quite so much.
- A certain amount of sneakiness is required when trying to see wildlife. Try to
learn to walk without dragging your feet or stomping loudly. Stop talking. If you're
wearing natural colours such as browns and greens, then you should be able to
surprise all sorts of animals as you walk along. Whenever you come to a new
vantage point on your walk, such as; a style through a hedgerow; the brow of a
hill; a blind corner etc, then move slowly and cautiously. Animals that are
unable to see you may be surprised and viewed before they realise you're there.
Don't point or shout when you see something, keep still and make all necessary
movements slow and steady, try to keep yourself concealed if possible. There is
usually no need to leave the footpaths to see wildlife, in fact one of the best ways to
see mammals is when they cross the path up ahead of you, so keep your eyes
- You will find that you end up visiting a lot of churches when you're out
walking and these are great places to find out all about the history and peoples
of the villages you visit. The architecture and art to be found in English
churches is of the highest quality and you should take every opportunity you get
to take a good look around. On Saturdays particularly, the churches are not
generally being used for services, but most are open for the public to come in
and visit. Don't be put off by the big oak door, push it open and go in. If
there is someone in there they will be most welcoming and will not try and
convert you to Christianity against your will! Churches need visitors badly, so
that they have some money to keep going, so please sign the visitors book and
give a donation in each one. We can visit up to 5 churches in a long day's walk,
so we like to give at least £1 in each one. If you are just using the car park
while you go for a walk, then please give a donation too: it's cheaper than an
official car park. If everyone does this then these beautiful old places, some
of them over a thousand years old, will still be here for our children.
Churchyards are also great places to relax, eat lunch and observe nature.
It's very important to follow the
Leave nothing but your footprints, take nothing but your memories!
Shut all gates unless they have been secured open by the farmer.
Do not light any open fires, including throwaway BBQs!
Do not leave ANY rubbish! Not even banana skins or cigarette butts. You were strong enough to carry it there, you can
manage to take it home with you too.
Keep dogs on a lead and under control and dispose of their mess properly.
Only touch wild animals if absolutely necessary, otherwise just look.
Do not flush animals to get a better look.
Do not upset or scare any wild or domestic animals.
Do not pick wild flowers or collect their seeds. Hedgerow fruits are generally ok to
pick (in moderation), but NOT from nature reserves.
Keep to paths wherever possible so as to not disturb ground-nesting birds, plants and animals.
- We've said a lot about dogs on this site in
the past and have been criticised for it. But let us have a final say to this
topic by pointing out a couple of very typical scenarios.
Just recently we observed a man with two very large dogs going through a stile
onto access land: not a public right of way, but a path that has been specially
allowed by the landowner. The stile had a big sign on it clearly saying "DOGS ON
LEADS AT ALL TIMES". The field was also full of pregnant sheep. He was carrying
the dog leads in his hand but had no intention of using them. When we asked him
to put his dogs on the lead, he said in an angry voice, "Why's that then?" When
told that it was because of the sheep, he shouted, "my dogs won't hurt sheep".
Well, considering that he'd already shown no knowledge of
the law or of the
countryside code or animal husbandry, it was a pretty clear bet that he'd no
idea what his dogs would do when confronted by a flock of sheep. We can say,
with considerable experience, that the dogs would not have been able to stop
themselves from chasing them. In fact they would have found it great fun. The
sheep however would not have agreed, as they would have been busy aborting their
lambs or having heart attacks.
You may have a very well behaved dog, but it's still an animal with natural
hunting tendencies. We've seen spaniels, terriers, red setters and all
sorts of mongrels chasing sheep, they all enjoy it. Many sheep are mauled and
killed by pet dogs every year and the problem seems to be getting worse as more
and more people take to the countryside for recreation. The farmers and
landowners have the legal right, and the strong intention, to shoot on-sight all
dogs that are sheep worrying. They can, and do, shoot dogs in Sussex regularly!
Dogs are generally
allowed into nature reserves, of which there are many in Sussex, but without
fail all of these special areas ask that dogs are kept on leads. However, most
dog owners mistakenly believe that a nature reserve is just like a town park,
i.e. somewhere to let the dog run about and do what it likes and they ignore all
signs to the contrary. What the dog likes, is to root about in the undergrowth
disturbing nesting birds and animals as it goes. Many of the UK ground-nesting
birds are very rare and are being encouraged to breed safely in our nature
reserves, as when disturbed they quite often desert the nest entirely, leading
to the death of their unhatched offspring.
There are many places to let a dog run about but a nature reserve isn't one of
Do the best for your dog, our beautiful British countryside and its wildlife and
please don't be a bad dog owner. Read the
countryside code and make it your guide for a relaxing and safe walk with
your dog in our green and pleasant land.
YOU AND YOUR DOG IN THE COUNTRYSIDE.