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Preparing for a Long Backpacking Trip


Gear Organization


Someone once told me that backpacking trips start well before you start hiking. Isn’t that the truth?

Just planning and preparing for a 1 or 2 night weekend trip takes me at least a week of mornings and evenings, before and after work. Once I nail down my route plan, finalize my gear list, and decide on a food list, I need to run around the house and find all my gear, go buy food, wash dirty clothes, plan the road trip and shuttle, fill the car with gas and road food, and on and on. Sometimes, the list of to-dos is amazingly long, but the reward is knowing that I am prepared for any eventuality in the backcountry, with minimal gear, but still several layers of redundancy.

If planning a weekend trip takes that much effort, you can imagine how overwhelming it is to plan a 14 day solo hike in a foreign country! In just 8 weeks, I will start a two week solo traverse of the Scottish Highlands, which I have been planning for over a year.

You might think that 8 weeks is a long time, but I’m going to be traveling for work a lot in the next few months, so I have a lot less time than that to get all my gear and food in order and resupply boxes packed and ready to send. I still have to test some critical 3 season gear that I’m not yet sure of and that I’m still waiting to receive. So the next few weeks should be quite busy, when I’m town that is.

I’m a list maker. So this morning I wrote a list of all of the things I need to do to finalize my preparation. I know I’ve missed things but I’ll be adding new items as I realize they’re needed.

  1. Announce Gear Sponsors
  2. Set up Charity Web Page and solicit my section hiker readers for pledges.
  3. Cut covers off OS maps to save weight
  4. Last minute route refinements, mark with yellow highlighter on maps
  5. Print out route plan
  6. Test out “map case system” – glorified plastic bag
  7. Create detailed food plan
  8. Order and assemble backpacking food
  9. Package and stage resupply boxes for mailing to Scotland post offices – food, purell, toilet paper, lithium batteries, etc.
  10. Email guy who offered to bring me isobutane gas to my starting point
  11. Plan to box and send anything that could be confiscated by airport security to my first B&B, including hiking poles, stove, knife, food, pack stays.
  12. Pack end-point town and travel clothes in separate bag to bring on plane and send ahead when in-country.
  13. Test-proof shoe and sock system on rainy, long day hikes. Inov-8 Men’s Roclite 320vs. Terroc 330s .
  14. Test MLD eVent Gaiters and rain mitts
  15. Seam seal MLD Superlight Bivy Sack
  16. Practice setting up MLD Duomid (when it arrives from MLD)
  17. Cut down Gossamer Gear Polycro ground sheet
  18. Figure out if a framesheet is even needed for my Zpack Blast Backpack
  19. Refresh gear repair and first aid kit.
  20. Order a new Aquaguard inline water purifier. Not strictly necessary…
  21. Set up hydration reservoir system with new Aquaguard.
  22. Do at least one overnight shakedown trip on Connecticut Appalachian Trail with Duomid, before departure.
  23. Get 2 power converter plugs for UK.
  24. Bring some extra lithium batteries
  25. Check and Pack Garmin Geko GPS
  26. Pack digital recorder
  27. Test camera components – batteries, memory card
  28. Learn how to optimize use of new digital camera
  29. Minimize software footprint on netbook
  30. Try to find a digital bird guide for UK for species identification
  31. Register Spot 2 (when it arrives). Take out international adventure insurance option.
  32. Muddle with Spot web-based tracking option, so section hiker reader can follow my progress.
  33. Test proof packing system on long day hikes
  34. Finalize gear list
  35. Refine packing organization and balance.
  36. Assemble all travel documents – passport, tickets, itinerary.
  37. Count out three weeks of allergy pills and vitamins
  38. Get some UK pounds to bring along.
  39. Send resupply boxes to Scotland post offices
  40. Send gear to first B&B.
  41. Take plane to Glasgow.
  42. Catch bus to Sheil Bridge.
  43. Have a pint or three in the Kintail Lodge Bar.
  44. Sign the Challenge sign-in sheet.
  45. Sleep
  46. Get an early start.

Lot’s to do, but I’m sure it will be worth it.


  1. That's indeed a long list. Let me help you with it:

    7. Copy and adapt your last food plan (was "only" 9 days iirc, but is a good start!).

    14. They are excellent, no worries!

    20. Save the $ – its not necessary and adds weight.

    What's the new camera? Have fun and good success with the list, those eight weeks will fly by.

  2. I'm curious why someone would seal the seams on a non-waterproof bivy?

  3. 7 – too much work, not enough time. I'll be eating well, but I've got a shortcut. Don't want to spoil the surprise. :-)

    14: Lot of rain this weekend. I plan on doing some decent mileage with a candidate final gear list.

    20: at 2.5 oz, I've come to like it as an inline purifier. I prefer the instantaneous water over using chlorine dioxide tables, which will be my backup system.

    Great feedback – appreciated.

  4. Chris – you are right. It took such a long time for the MLD bivy to be manufactured and arrive that I forgot what it was made of. It has a momentum top and event foot box, but is not all event. So, I wonder why Ron sent me a tube of seam grip.

  5. You never know with Ron. I think he's so busy he sometimes forgets what he's packing. Ex. I got a DuoMid when they first came out and he forgot to send the guylines with it.

  6. Hendrik – The new camera is a Panasonic Lumix LX3 recommended by Martin Rye. It's a step up from my old Canon Powershot. If you've looked closely at Martin's photos you can see why I wanted a better one, but it's pushing me to become a better photographer too.

  7. I had a Panasonic Lumix for years (granted, it was a big, clunky SLR, but a Lumix, none the less) and I have to say that it took the best pictures of any camera I have ever owned. I ended up trading down to a more compact camera, though I miss the beautiful pictures that i sued to get.

  8. Nice new camera! I have a Lumix GF1 at the moment, and like it a lot, small, compact, lightweight, excellent photos, and can switch lenses. Great camera, if a tad expensive :D

  9. PTC is the man with the LX. His photos are the benchmark. That is a lot to sort out. Rather too organised – you're putting us to shame with such planning.

    P.S Cameron McNiesh has said an ice axe could be needed for the tops over the Cairngorms this year, and the Affric hills hold the snow well and a axe could come in handy there as well.

  10. Great to see the prep is going well. Sometimes I wonder if the planning isn't perhaps even more fun than the actual execution :-)

    I'll be interested to hear how you get on with the Spot2. I got one before Xmas, but it was one of the faulty batch they brewed last year. Still haven't had the replacement back from them, grrrr…

  11. I think the planning helps build the anticipation, but I wouldn't say it's more fun. Can you imagine just planning trips and never going on them!

    The Spot 2 recall was really a huge blow to the company and brand. I wonder if it was the reason they were acquired. I opted for their device because it runs on a private network after I found out that public network PLBs are outlawed for land use in the UK last September.

    One thing in the Spots favor is the optional international medivac insurance they provide, which is something I want even if I don't use it. Mountain Rescue in the UK can charge victims.

    Unfortunately, I haven't received my Spot either, as they are back-ordered so hopefully it will arrive in time.

  12. Mountain Rescue will not charge you in the UK. They are unpaid volunteers. If you do need their help you could make a donation. (Health care you receive afterwards is another matter). Rescue in continental Europe varies, but can charge – especially in popular ski areas, where it usually professionalised. It varies from country to country. If you need a helicopter in the Scottish mountains it will be a Royal Air Force Sea King, and you will not be charged. More at – have a safe trip.

  13. Hi, Earlylite.

    Nos 3 and 17 caught my attention. I'll deal with 17 first. You've probably cut down polycryo before so will avoid my mistake. I'm not good with scissors and left a jagged bit. A rip started there and went across the whole cut down piece in minutes. Cuts in polycryo need to be very smooth, as I learned the hard way.

    As far as maps are concerned, I not only take off the covers but also trim the borders. This saves a bit of weight and bulk and also makes laying maps edge to edge easier. Then I fold them firmly and insert into an inverted freezer bag. The current bit is in view and the next bit on the back. My thumb marks my last known location and I look at the map frequently. Contours on Scottish maps are pretty good now so a compass is very rarely needed. This orienteering style approach is, of course, only necessary in hill fog, which is good because it's not easy with trekking poles.

    Ordnance Survey maps are not very durable these days. In the absence of good, old cloth maps I'll be replacing my battered set with mapping software sometime soon. If you want a laugh, try to get to see some of the old Ordnance Survey maps of the northern Highlands. In many areas hills apparently reached 2500 feet and then formed dead flat plateaux.

    I hope you have a really good walk.

  14. Martin S – I stand corrected about UK Mountain Rescue. Thanks for the clarification. Thanks for that link by BTW. It made for very interesting reading.

    John D. – My polycro cut was straight and true. :-) Love the stuff.

    I like your freezer bag map case technique. I will use it. Cloth maps sound fascinating. I never knew such a thing existed. Thanks for the good wishes – I'm feeling good about my walk prep and think that this will be an excellent ramble.

  15. Philip, which DuoMid did you get, Cuben or Silnylon?

  16. Cuben. It's too expensive but I treated myself knowing I'll probably use it a lot.

  17. Alright, so you were ready to pay that $50 per ounce after all ;)

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