Seven Steps to a Blunder-Free Expedition
Top tips to prepare you for your expedition...
Written by Chris Hunt and Lachlan Bucknall of Secret Compass
Clueless as to how your body will react, how your new kit will fare and the little hacks to keep you smiling, several days out in the wild for the first time can feel like a leap of faith. With that in mind, we enlisted the help of expedition leader Lachlan Bucknall.
Lachlan spent over a decade in the British army training and leading people in the most extreme environments. He’s skied from summit to sea in the Arctic Circle, climbed Illampu (6,400m) in Bolivia and survived two nights in a bivouac on the North Face of L’Aiguille du Midi. For the past three years, he led the Secret Compass expedition into Myanmar’s Nagaland. After his first two attempts at reaching the summit of Mt Saramati were denied by poor weather conditions, in November 2017 he returned with our first successful team, complete with ear-to-ear grin!
Below are his seven steps to ensure a blunder-free first expedition.
1. Prepare Mentally and Physically
Be as fit as you can be. A healthy body is better prepared for dealing with harsh environments. Mentally prepare yourself for what to expect, accept that it will be hard and develop your own coping mechanisms for when things get difficult. Quite often it’s the mind that gives in when the body is still able to go on.
2. Get Your Kit Right
Heading out into exposed wilderness with changeable weather conditions makes getting your kit decisions right absolutely paramount.
1. Boots: Boots are designed with specific environments in mind, so make sure your boots suit the environment in which you will be walking. If you’re buying new boots, make sure they’re used before departure so you know they fit comfortably and invest in good walking socks that won’t wrinkle up and rub. Check the links for advice on choosing the right socks and boots.
2. Waterproofs: If you’re in the rain for sustained periods, the first thing to accept is, however good your jacket, you are going to get wet. But a decent waterproof will make your life a lot more comfortable and keep you relatively dry, so after footwear it’s probably the next best bit of kit to invest in. Shells with no built-in insulation are the most versatile. You can layer them over insulation if needed so make sure it is big enough to go over the layers you will use underneath. For a comprehensive guide on choosing a jacket, check out the guide to waterproofs.
Waterproof trousers are often overlooked but they will keep your feet dry by keeping your legs dry, so they’re well worth having. Three quarter length zips allow you to get them on over boots and they often don’t weigh much at all.
3. Backpack: A comfortable pack is mostly about how it fits. Try it on in the shop and ask to load it with some weight to replicate how it will feel. Buy a pack big enough for what you do need but not so big you fill it with stuff that you don’t. By packing it well so there are no gaps, it’s amazing how much stuff you can get into a medium sized pack. See some top tips on how to pack a rucksack.
4. Sleeping Bag: Obviously, the climate and how warm you sleep as an individual makes a difference to what you choose. Some people like myself get away with a thinner bag meaning less weight and bulk in the rucksack. If it’s likely to get wet then synthetic insulation is often better than goose down. Synthetic insulation is bulkier and heavier for the same warmth, but it will remain warmer than down if it gets wet.
5. Thermal Mat: Don’t forget to pair the sleeping bag with a thermal mat of some sort, either foam or inflatable. This will increase your warmth dramatically by stopping your body heat escaping into the ground. Check out an excellent selection of sleeping mats and pillows.
3. Get Outside
For really accessible wild camping practice, Dartmoor is great. There are large areas where it’s your legal right to do so. The Brecon Beacons are also an excellent place to stretch your legs and test out your equipment before a trip and they are the easiest mountains to get to from London and the south of the UK. For gnarlier mountain terrain head to Snowdonia, it has some of the most varied and interesting terrain in the UK and is very accessible in a weekend from most of the UK.
4. Stay Fuelled
When you’re carrying all your food, keeping sustained without over-loading your pack can be a fine balance to strike. Source food locally when you can and know what sorts of food are safe to eat. Dehydrated expedition meals are a good weight saving option and taste pretty good too. Boil in the bag meals are also great but do weigh more, though they have the advantage that you can eat them cold if needed.
If you rely solely on sugary food your energy will spike and crash. With a more balanced plan that includes fats, protein and complex carbs you can minimise this. Whatever you take, get used to it before you go. Head out for a couple of active days using the food you intend to take and see how you cope with it before deciding if the plan is going to work for you mentally and physically over a much longer period of time.
5. Watch Your Step
Pay particular attention to your feet. They’re the most likely thing to cause problems if you’re not used to covering great distances. Do your best to keep them dry and treat any hot spots before they become blisters – get them taped up and protected. If they get wet, put on dry socks and use talc if it helps. Wring out wet socks and dry them inside your sleeping bag at night. See some top tips for preventing blisters.
Walking on broken terrain can prove difficult if you’re not used to it. Focus on where you put your feet. Trekking poles can help but in my experience one pole is better than two for most people as less to think about means added concentration on your feet. If the terrain is steep and the consequence of a slip is serious, footwork is what will keep you safe – use your hands where necessary to balance but keep the weight on your feet.
6. Look After Yourself and Be Organised
You will be tired – so make the extra effort to be organised and look after yourself. Be hygienic and reapply sun cream and mosquito repellent when you sweat it off. Get medical advice before departure, know what precautions to take for the region and take medication as prescribed. If the weather allows it, dry damp clothes and sleeping bags outside your tent. Shop for insect repellent and sun creams.
7. Allow yourself One Luxury
Little lightweight luxuries make a big difference when you are in remote areas. The ability to make good coffee keeps me happy!
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