self-supported trekking without a trace

Whether in preparation for something more ambitious, a way to squeeze the most out of a long weekend or simply an excuse to spend more time outside, there’s no better way to get amongst it than a multi-day hike in the wild. With a little creativity, you’ll be surprised what you can fit around you’re normal working routine and the rewards for doing so are bountiful.

But if you’re new to wild camping and hiking self-supported, knowing where to start can feel a bit like a minefield. If that’s you, we put together the following guide to get you there.

Hiking on the Kamchatka Peninsula © Secret Compass

Be realistic

If this is your first foray into the outdoors, don’t be too gung-ho. Plan a route you’re confident to navigate and cover during the time frame you have. One of the inherent freedoms of a hiking overnighter is keeping your camping locations flexible, but have some options in mind and do a little research into where you’re allowed to camp. The last thing you need is an angry farmer on your case. Consider how weather changes might affect the camping ground. Are you near a river which may swell? Is it boggy? Is there enough of a clearing? Choose somewhere you want to spend time. Spending time around camp is as much a part of the experience as the hiking itself so make sure it’s comfortable and memorable for the right reasons.

Expedition leader Phil de-Beger keeps in touch using a satellite phone in Kurdistan © Secret Compass

Let someone know where you’re heading

Or better still, take a friend. Letting someone know where and when you expect to return is always good practice from a safety perspective and taking someone along to share the experience will also allow you to share some of the responsibility and decision making of being self-supported. While switching off communications entirely can be pretty desirable, making sure you have a way to make contact should you need it is a vital component of preparation.

Get your kit right

Unpredictable weather is synonymous with wild overnighters and getting your kit right to cover all eventualities can be the difference between getting hooked on the outdoors and never stepping foot outside again.

If you’re buying new boots, make sure they’ll offer sufficient support for the environment in question. Make sure they fit comfortably and invest in good walking socks that won’t wrinkle up and rub. If you’re in the rain for sustained periods, the first thing to accept is you are going to get wet. But a decent waterproof and boots will make your life a lot more comfortable so these are probably the best bits of kit to invest in.

Make sure your pack us 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.

At the end of a long day, your body temperature can very quickly plummet, so make sure you’ve got layers to keep you warm. In the way of down or synthetic jackets and sleeping bags, there are some great options for maximising warmth with minimal weight and packing space making them invaluable for overnighters. 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.

Packing up in preparation for a self-supported mission in Mongolia © Secret Compass

Stay fuelled

Energy dips and sugar lows aren’t the same as poor fitness. You’ll be burning far more calories as you would in every day life so you’re diet needs to reflect that or you’ll soon find yourself in a dark place. If you rely solely on sugary food, your energy will spike and crash but with a more balanced plan that includes fats, protein and complex carbs you can minimise this. When you’re carrying all your food, keeping sustained without over-loading your pack can be a fine balance to strike. In this case, dehydrated expedition meals are a good weight saving option and taste pretty good too. Snacks are also a great way to boost morale.

Dave Lucas makes time for lunch on expedition in the Sinai desert © Secret Compass

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 much distance. Do your best to keep them dry and treat any hot spots before they become blisters. If they get wet, put on dry socks. Wring out the wet ones and dry them inside your sleeping bag at night.

Walking on broken terrain can prove difficult if you’re not used to it. Focus on where you put 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.

Sure footing in Burma's Nagaland © Secret Compass

Look after yourself and be organised

The outdoors isn’t equipped with all the comforts of home, so make the extra effort to be organised and look after yourself. Take the time to pack your bag in a way that you know how and where to find everything and avoid ejecting everything onto the trail every time you need a snack or a layer change. Pay attention to hygiene and reapply sun cream and mosquito repellent when you sweat it off. If the weather allows it, dry damp clothes and sleeping bags outside your tent.

Camping on expedition in Mongolia © Secret Compass

Leave No Trace

The importance of taking all your rubbish with you goes without saying, but if you need a separate bag within your pack to keep the rubbish contained make sure you’ve got one handy. If you’re cooking or making fire, you’ll need to consider the impact on your surroundings and any wildlife close by. Going to the toilet in the wild is a fundamental joy of an overnighter, but if possible, bury it and if you’re using toilet roll, make sure you take it back out with you. No one wants used toilet roll sprawled across the hill.

Allow yourself a little luxury

Little lightweight luxuries make a big difference when you are in remote areas. The ability to make good warm food in the evening and coffee in the morning keeps us happy.

Climbing Pen Y Fan as part of the Secret Compass UK Adventure Weekend in the Brecon Beacons © Secret Compass

Get out there

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 option and the easiest mountains to get to from London and the south of the UK. For gnarlier mountain terrain head to Snowdonia in North Wales, 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.