I’m planning to walk the whole length of the South Downs Way (100 miles/160km) in one go. No sleep and no big breaks but some food. This has been a planned challenge I gave myself quite a while ago and I think I finally reached the physical ability to pull it off. This is also part of my Cape Warth Trail training.
This is also the perfect case study for the previous post about the conditions to consider when packing for the outdoors. I hiked most of the South Downs Way (SDW) in parts, but never in one go and never in such conditions. I’ll be going over the process for packing to show what I do. The aim is to show you how to create the perfect list that optimizes weight and comfort.
Route and transportation
I bought the Harvey SDW map a while ago, but map acquiring is number one. After that is deciding where the start point and end points are. For me it is easy – start point at Winchester, aim to finish at Eastbourne. Both places have good train services for my needs (from/to London) so I bought a ticket to Winchester. I haven’t bought a ticket back as I’m not yet sure where I will actually be able to get to.
At this point I usually also check the remoteness involved with the trip. I know that the SDW has cellphone reception throughout and there are a few points in which I can take a bus to a town with rail services. I downloaded and printed a map with the bus routes to make sure I can escape or end the trip if needed. I will also make sure I have enough cash to be able to pay for public transportation if needed.
I usually check in several places and make sure they are consistent. I do a final check the night before going out, but now I know that there is a low chance of rain on Saturday morning with temperatures at around 10°c (50°f) and then it will dry out and get pretty cold (2-4°c / 35-39°f). The temperature isn’t that bad, and no rain means much easier going. It will also be windy on Saturday morning, and very clear and sunny on Sunday morning. From experience I know the SDW is very windy, so I need to keep that in mind.
By now we know the weather and the exposure levels. What I will take from that:
1. No need for waterproof gear. Maybe just an emergency jacket.
2. It won’t freeze or will be wet, so no need for ice friendly or waterproof footwear.
3. The temperature range means I need to really focus on synthetic layers.
4. I will need a good warm layer for breaks.
5. Wind protection is important but it needs to be very breathable.
Unlike most outdoor activities in the winter, darkness won’t be an issue as I plan to walk non-stop. Just in case I checked the sunset/sun rise times and kept them in mind (light at 8, dark at 16:20). I will need a powerful headlamp though and spare batteries.
Pace – this is the trickiest one here. I think I can make it through the whole trail, but I must accept that I may not be able to. Having escape routes (see above) and getting myself prepared that I might not make it are all I can do. I’m expecting 3.5 miles an hour, but will probably hit 3 mph in the dark. Breaks will be every 5 hours, so I’m hoping to get to Eastbourne by Sunday evening.
To be truly honest, I’ll be very happy if I manage to walk just half of it in one go.
Not an issue here. The SDW is on a ridge with no standing water and has no wildlife around. My only concerns are grumpy farmers and lost cows.
As I said, I’ve been on the trail several times so I know it. If you haven’t, a simple search on Google will give all the results. Worst case scenario – ask someone who has been there. As for the SDW, it is either well-packed grassy trail, packed gravel or muddy grasses. My trail running shoes will be perfect for this.
Though I covered some of this when going over the map, I’m doing a second look at the map. There are clearly marked water points, but from experience in the UK they might be shut off in the winter. There are pubs and villages that are in easy reach of the trail, so water and extra food will be available. The distances are pretty long though, so at least 3 litres of water and enough snacks will be carried. I will just have to go into places along the way for extra fueling. The SDW site has some updates too and it is useful to check any websites for information.
So we covered all the points, which means the list easily comes to place.
I won’t list it all here, just click here and have a look at it on a pdf. You can also check the image below for more information.
Because the gear is so light and simple, I decided to go for a running pack. The problem with this kind of pack is that they have no real frame or back padding, so knowing how to pack the gear into them makes all the difference in terms of comfort. You want to keep weight close to the back, essentials kept accessible and have some thing soft to protect you and the gear.
I’m all ready to go now. I’m writing this prior to the trip, so I have really nothing but excitement and guess work. I will write another one when I get back to cover it all. This will be posted after I went and came back, but I promise not to change anything to stay true to the order of things. What do you say, can I make the whole trail?