Have an Outdoors Question? Here Are 10 From Readers
In March I launched Unlost Outdoors on Facebook, a growing and inclusive community for people to share their outdoor passions. It’s a place to ask questions, offer help and seek advice, and the people on there are wonderful (come and join us!). One evening in March, I decided to do a Q&A and ask if anyone had an outdoors question they’d like me to answer. It was such fun and the questions were great. Here are 10 of the questions I was asked, along with my answers. They’re rough and ready as I answered them on the spot! Lots of fun, and more to come!
Outdoors Question 1: How do you get the confidence to take on a challenge? Covid has knocked mine. I stopped walking outdoors and I’m struggling to restart. I used to do 8-9 miles a day and up to 18, but now I’m lucky if I manage more than 2 miles.
A: Did you have to stop working or walking outdoors because of Covid? I’m sorry to hear it either way. The first thing I’d say is that you do have the ability and the confidence to get back out there, but at the moment I don’t doubt that it feels very real and like you don’t anymore. You know you’ve achieved it before, and so you are very likely to again! There are people who hike the whole AT who don’t manage the long distances that you have hiked. Covid has taken lots from many of us, including the patterns and momentum we’d built – even for those things we know we love. It’s harder when we really want to do things but feel unable or too insecure to try. It seems even more frustrating because if you want to, then why are you stopping yourself? I really do understand.
I would recommend that you try to figure out what has shaken you so much. Is it that you’ve not been consistently outdoors for ages and can’t remember how you even went about it? Or is it that you don’t want to bump into people because chatting and being social feels strange? Or maybe because you’re feeling really tired? All those things are lockdown related and normal, and absolutely temporary.
Make it interesting…
If I were you, I wouldn’t think about the mileage you used to do. When I do that it undermines me, especially if I just am not up to that distance at that moment. I put that to one side and start from where I actually am. So, if you’re at 2 miles, then that’s where you start from – honest and strong. Next time make it 3.
If you want to make it interesting then research 3 facts you didn’t know about a short route the next time – historical, geographical or local interest. Look out for these things when walking rather than thinking about distance and energy. Don’t put time limits on yourself. Speak kindly to yourself about what you do achieve. Your trajectory might surprise you. Your body and mind might baulk at 2 miles and 4 miles and 6 but then after 2 weeks it might go Ohh I remember this! and suddenly from nowhere, 12 miles feels easy and happens almost accidentally one day.
And finally, please use our Unlost Outdoors FB group. Tell us what you are going to try to do each week. We’re here, we’ll cheer you on and we won’t beat you up or let you beat yourself up if you don’t get it every time. I have no doubt you can get back out there. Oh and finally finally, I have actually written a free guide and workbook for getting back outdoors after covid/lockdown. Let me know if you’d like the link. (And if you’re reading this feel free to email me to get the link too!).
Outdoors Question 2: How do you balance adventures with ‘real life’?
A: I used to find it hard. As a teacher I would use all my weekends and holidays to adventure. It was exhausting, yet at the same time really exciting. Over time, I deliberately changed how I worked in education so I had more autonomy over when/where I would work. It was scary do do but worth it!
I moved into high-end tutoring and took roles overseas so I could have adventures in places I was working. Places like Bali, Switzerland and the Bahamas! Then, I gradually made my working stints shorter and really honed my teaching skills to excellence. This meant I could command better fees and extend the adventure time I had in between. I’m now trying to make ‘adventuring’ my real life by writing about it – my book is a great start! I’m also creating a business that brings adventure to more people, keeping me in the adventure space too!
Outdoors Question 3: With all the time to reflect on a thru hike, do you find a lot of well–buried experiences resurface? And if so, is that a good thing? The prospect is a little scary!
A: You’re spot on! Walking is cathartic, as is being in nature. I found myself in turns laughing hysterically, screaming with joy, and crumpling to my knees with grief on the AT. Not so much on the SWCP, as you keep stopping for people and dogs and villages. But the AT, a long trail in remote woods, will start winkling things out of you. Things that you haven’t given the space or time to consider. It’s ok and it’s a good thing, and people are accepting and understanding if you have a meltdown.
Everyone has a trail meltdown on trail – or more than one! A long trail has a way of taking your heart out of your chest and gently making you look at it, before it puts it back in all cleaned up and spiffy again. Things will come up, but if they are too painful or uncomfortable then pop in those earbuds. You can listen to a podcast or audio book as a distraction. Or you could sing to yourself, or hike with folks and tell silly stories. It’ll be ok, and it won’t be more than you can distract yourself from. In the end, it’s the best way to process anything that you’ve held off and you’ll be glad of it!
Outdoors Question 4: What are your go-to trail snacks?? What keeps you ticking over between ‘proper’ meals?
A: I love snacks! But my snacking is not a glamorous scene and I need to plan better going forwards. When on a long thru and supply options were limited my main snack was usually a Snickers. Sometimes the only places to buy food were gas stations and liquor stores!
I would have a Snickers and some lumps of cheese for morning hike break. Then I’d skip a big lunch and just have Snickers, crackers, nuts and dried mango or cheese for mid-afternoon. Then, at night, a massive one pot dinner. Not great, but it was the best I could do. When I had better places to resupply then I would buy almonds, Lara bars, peanut butter, wholewheat tortilla wraps, cheese and…yep a Snickers. I used to love Peanut M&Ms, but now I can’t look one in the face because I ate so many.
Outdoors Question 5: What footwear do you wear for your hikes?
A: I use Altra Lone Peaks. At the moment I have series 4 and had them for all of the SWCP and half the AT. Before them I used their series 3.5 and the 3’s as well. Their large toe box is brilliant for foot splay and preventing blisters. They are also very light which helps when doing big consistent miles. Altras are zero drop though, so look out for that if you’re not used to it. Zero drop can affect tendons in your heel/Achilles if you don’t ease in slowly to using them. Let me know what you get!
Outdoors Question 6: On your long hikes how many days worth of meals to do carry before stocking up? How much food weight do you think you carry? Same question re:water and what you do for refills?
A: On the long thru hikes it can really vary with carries, depending on
1. The trail itself and where the next convenient place is to get off trail to either walk to a town or hitch into one.
2. The people you’re with and whether you want to stay with them/around them (trail family) and if they are stocking for a long set of days then you might want to as well, as coming off trail to find a resupply then getting back on can mean you fall behind and don’t catch up!
Different trails = different requirements
The longest I carried was 10 days food. That was in the 100 mile wilderness in Maine, which is actually 118 miles I think. It was the start, so I was slower, and it’s tricky underfoot – super slow going. So, because there are no exit/entry or resupply points, you carry everything in. Or you can get a food drop stashed off a logging road somewhere. This would usually be halfway in, and gets covered with ropes and tarps in the trees to stop bears getting it! Generally though, I’d carry around 4 days worth on the AT. I’d also stash some emergency oats or something simple in my pack for when extra hunger struck. Sometimes it would be more than 4 days, but Maine and New Hampshire were about that.
Further south on the AT there are more roads and stores. In New Jersey and New York there’s a run of Italian delis by the trail. You can get a meatball sub and a soda every day if you want it! So food supply varies. On the South West Coast Path I didn’t need to carry any food beyond 1 day and an emergency snack. There were so many places to resupply or eat.
The Continental Divide this summer will be different. There’s a 250+mile stretch with no stores or gas stations, and miles to hitch a ride to get to one. I am trying to work out resupply strategy now! One important thing is to work out high cal food for low weight. Eg. take a bottle of olive oil and pour it on every meal, even if it’s gross. Calories are so valuable. My food weight is always high, but the good thing is it gets less after every meal!
On the SWCP it was harder to get water during Covid because cafes wouldn’t often fill you up. Many toilets were also closed for refills, so I had to buy some plastic bottles which I hated. I took my Sawyer filter and filtered some streams, but I don’t like the agricultural run off by the coast. I didn’t trust it even after filtering because of the chemicals it could contain. It was tricky!
On the AT water was everywhere in the northern part. We’d use apps and word of mouth to find streams, springs and rivers to filter from. In the south we hit a drought in NJ/NY/Virginia which was super tough. Kind folks left gallon jugs of water at road crossings which were lifesavers. Despite this I still got delirious with heat and thirst at times, but I made it! Water weighs a TON but it’s better to lug 5 litres than risk no water again for 25 miles!
Outdoors Question 7: I desperately want to hike the SW coast path, but I’m so nervous about dealing with periods on trail. I’ve tried mooncup but didn’t get on with it. So two questions: How best to deal with the periods, and how to make sure you stay clean?
A: Brilliant question! I was nervous about periods on trail too. After some research I actually ended up with a Mooncup. I have used it religiously ever since and although I also didn’t get on with it at first, it became MUCH easier. It was without doubt the easiest way to manage periods in the outdoors that I or my fellow period-having hikers found. It’s (kinda counter-intuitively) super UN messy. You can leave it in all day and not have to fuss or worry about it. You can pour it out into a privy/loo or hole in the earth, and not worry about waste and carrying out anything else.
I checked with my friend who is a midwife before I left about how I should clean the Mooncup. I asked whether I needed to boil it every day or whatever – absolutely not. She said that our bodies are super good at dealing with bacteria, and that a good rinse and wash of it with soap when you can will be more than enough. It was hard to use at first for me because of:
1. How it felt (now feels fine and not weird – I got used to it pretty quickly)
2. Putting it in (I found it SUPER unpleasant, awkward and a bit painful at first, but this gets much better and into a v quick habitual action after a while)
3. The length of the stem, which I cut down more than once so it didn’t hurt when I sat etc.
I really do think if you can persevere it will be your best option. Otherwise you’re back with pads, or tampons – both of which can be messier and leave you with waste to carry… Or the last alternative is a free-bleed which I don’t recommend!
Our wonderful vaginas are self cleaning anyway so they’re pretty good at that. I did however take some general purpose wipes which I used and then packed into trash. I was sparing and ripped a bit off each wipe to use each night. When you’re on trail for 5-6 months you need to think about what waste you’re making and what you can conserve. I washed with Dr Bronners (safe for natural water courses) in streams to keep clean, and I generally didn’t get too stinky! Some people DID get stinky tho – girls and boys, and they just didn’t care.
If you’re on a long thru hike then everyone stinks and everyone gets used to it. If you’re on a shorter hike you can probably put up with it and know it’s part and parcel, and if you’re on something like the South West Coast Path, then I think you can probably have a wash pretty often anyway. I think it might be different and you’d struggle more if you suffer from regular thrush etc, but there are ways people managed that too! Hope that helps!
Outdoors Question 8: Have you ever done a hike that you’ve really not enjoyed?
Ooh good question! I think I have had days that I didn’t enjoy, but never a whole hike. I’ve also had bad ‘parts of days’ on a day hike. When I first attempted the SWCP last year in Feb it was thick mud, storms, sideways rain and it was awful. I fell over all the time, really hurt my back, pulled my hip out of place, cut my hands and just hated it. But it was the conditions and not the hike.
Similarly on the AT – I found parts of Pennsylvania absolute torture because of the spiky rocks underfoot that had us crying tears of pain at the end of 25 mile days just because of the sheer pulping of the soles of our feet.
I guess, if I’m reallllly honest, I sometimes don’t like hiking on moors. Argh I can’t believe I said it. Ha! I can find them a bit melancholy and the tussocks and tuffets underfoot can really hurt my back as my hips move to accommodate them when you can’t see that you’ve stepped on one and slid off the side! I do see the beauty of them, but as yet they haven’t made for my most satisfying hiking days!
Outdoors Question 9: How do you find the confidence for solo wild camping? And what are the best tips for beginners?
Super important question and one I have struggled with. I’m working on a more detailed and useful answer to this issue for you and the community. Camping solo has caused me quite a lot of anxiety, which isn’t unusual, but I’ll say quickly that it’s very rare for bad things to happen.
Pick a spot early so you know what’s around it (livestock, road access, what you might expect to hear at night, whether it’s a place locals come to let off steam eg beer bottles in the grass etc), make sure you’re not being illegal or that an annoyed farmer isn’t going to come and shake the tent on his land and scare you to death, and settle in before nightfall so you’re used to the sounds and movement in the area before it gets darker.
Tell people where you are and if it’s a first time then know your way out if you hate it and want to bail. Listen to something soothing in one earbud or a podcast if you like to keep your mind from spiralling, but keep one ear open – not for bad things necessarily but for common sense – in case there’s a flood or a tree branch breaks or cattle come running over. Know where your torch/head lamp is, and your alarm if you have one. Then, try to sleep.
You probably won’t get much sleep in the beginning! It’s our nature to feel exposed and nervous – everyone’s! Not just you or me or even just women. Men get nervous too! As a woman for an extra precaution, pull any identifying items inside your tent fly like shoes or anything that shows you might be female. Then, should anyone wander past, they don’t know if it’s a 6 foot 4 man inside or a 5 foot woman. It’s just a tent.
Anyway, more on this in a longer post later. It’s a great question and I have long struggled with it – I won’t say ‘Ahh it’s so easy, just do it!’ because I know it’s not, but the truth is we are much safer out on trails and sleeping in the wild than we are walking through a city or crossing a road.
Outdoors Question 10: Would you ever consider combining your teaching of kids with outdoor/ walking type activities?
100% YES! And something like this is on the cards for when I return from the Continental Divide this summer. I’m very passionate about outreach and taking young people into the outdoors, as well as supporting people who have access issues and fears around it too. Can’t wait to set up the company and my charity arm of it as well!
If you have an outdoors question, I’d love to answer it!
You can find me on my Instagram or on facebook here and here and I’d love to hear from you with any thoughts or questions you have. If you’re not. asocial media user then feel free to ask anything in the comments below or send me an email on my contact page! I look forward to hearing from you.