Preparing For Your First Long Distance Walk
If you are planning your first long distance walk, then you are probably a regular walker and go out most weekends. However, in the evening you can return home, put your feet up and relax for another week. The day after day walking that long distance walking entails, can be quite a shock to the system, not to mention the increased weight you will be carrying with a full backpack. Therefore, it is a good idea to try a long weekend to begin with. A three-day hike would be more sensible than setting off on the Southern Upland Way for example.
In addition, you need to consider that your limitations on a day walk might be different to walking day after day. For example, just because you can walk 20 miles every Sunday, doesn’t necessarily mean that you could keep that up for a week or more. For this reason, it’s a good idea to cut back a little on the miles covered per day when working out your route. Also, its good planning to allow for a rest day or spare day, as there could be times when you might not cover all the miles expected on a certain day. The weather could deteriorate, or there could be other unforeseen circumstances. If you haven't worked a spare day into your planning, then it could make it difficult to reschedule. Considering alternative routes for parts of the walk is a good idea too. There could be days where the weather is bad, or days when you feel tired and would prefer an easier route. Planning your route meticulously beforehand will save headaches later.
Are you going to carry a tent (more freedom but more weight) or stay at youth hostels (less freedom but less weight)? If you are going to be staying at youth hostels then it's advisable to check if they will be open before you go. Most are open all year but very occasionally may temporarily close for other reasons. Sometimes your map might show a hostel that is no longer open, this has happened to me unfortunately. The same applies to campsites, so make sure they are still in existence and open. For peace of mind, you can find a list of campsites here.
If you are wild-camping, then read the map’s features to find good places to camp. A rocky ridge, or boggy ground might be "mile 15" and the end of your planned day, but it isn’t a good place to camp. Also, remember to read the map to find your last water supply for each day. You don’t want to arrive at camp and realise you have no water source or have had to carry water for ten miles just for your planned camping stop. I find that a litre of water per person is enough to get you through the night, including cooking etc. You also need to think about how much food you will need to carry and where you can re-stock. It's a good idea to carry emergency food too, in case of unforeseen delays.
What type of maps are you going to take?
The two best maps for walkers are:
- OS Landranger maps - 1 ½ inch to 1 mile (2cm to 1km)
- OS Explorer maps - 2 ½ inch to 1 mile (4cm to 1km)
Personally, I always use the Landranger maps. On a long distance walk, you would have to take more maps if you chose to use the Explorer maps and this would increase the weight you have to carry. I find the Landranger maps perfect and use them on day walks too, you will notice that I recommend these maps on all the walks found on this site. In my opinion, it's not really necessary to see where every stone wall is and every single tree. When I was walking the Pennine Way, I met a guy from Germany and his only map was a plan of the route on a postcard! This surprised me and I don't recommend it, but it does prove that the smaller scale Landranger maps will be fine for the job.
Check your gear, is it up to the job? If you have some stuff on its last legs, it might be an idea to replace them before your walk. Walking, day after day will put a strain on everything. However, never set off in new boots, even if they felt comfortable on that long day walk you tested them out on.
Good luck and have fun!