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Sussex 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. They 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 it.
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 kit.

Socks - 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 that 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 later on.

Boots - 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 out easily.
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
Nikwax conditioner  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 Nikwax, the 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 inappropriate clothing.

Waterproofs - 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.
Berghaus Deluge Pants are particularly good and affordable and you can put them on and take them off with your boots on.

Gaiters - 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.

Water bottle - 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.

Osprey water bottle & mug.

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.

Another very good option is the Nalgene Ultralite 1 Litre Wide Mouth bottle which is super tough and can even hold boiling water.

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 deodorants.

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 tips
Put your waterproofs in the top of your pack so that you can get at them quickly.
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:

Mobile phones - switched to "silent" or turned off until needed.
Sightings book & pencil


Identification sheets - birds, flowers, butterflies, fungi etc
First aid kit - plus prescriptions if necessary
Maps - We usually use the Explorer series (1:25,000)
Torch - LED head torch with good batteries.
Water bottle - full
Flask of tea
Sun cream

"Backpacking is the art of knowing what not to take."
Sheridan Anderson

Distance - How far should you walk? To start with try a few 5 milers. Why not try the Beachy 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.

"Everywhere is walking distance, if you have the time."
Steven Wright

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.
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.

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.

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.

Seeing wildlife - 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 peeled.

Churches - 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 Countryside code
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.

Dogs - 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 them.

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.