Going on expeditions is all bout maximizing efficiency, but prior to going, especially if it is all self organized and implemented, things can be forgotten. This is not just about packing, we also need to remember to take care of electronics (inevitable in this day and age), give our body some extra support and fill those very important emotional batteries before leaving. This little guide goes through the stages in which you need to get ready to go on an expedition or a thru hike.
My assumption here is that you have a family around and that you are planning and executing the trip by yourself. This might still be useful if the conditions are slightly different. I’m writing more about spending time with your family below, but remember that the longer you will be gone, the more you need to reassure your family that it will be ok, they will be fine and that you love them. Young children might not fully understand what is going on (though my 15 month old knows what seeing gear out and packed means by now) but they will still appreciate time together and extra attention. Spend the couple of weeks leading to your departure giving as much attention as possible to your family, they (and you) will really appreciate it.
Get your food sorted at least a month or so in advance. Plan your menu carefully and make sure you have all the food at home well ahead of your departure. Split into the daily rations and carefully repackage to make for the lightest and most efficient eating system. If you are going on a long trip or a thru hike, plan for box drops in relevant places using local services or even friends and family. After the food is organized by days, pack it into a box well in advance and send it off. Having drop boxes can reduce the weight you are carrying substantially.
For my upcoming Cape Wrath Trail 2015 expedition, I am sending 3.5kg (7.7lbs) of food to a midway point collection, which leaves with only 4.8kg (10.5lbs) to take with me for almost a week. I’m using the services offered by local post office and sending my box to the Kinlochewe post office with an ETA – and it is free!
Gear for an expedition should be all well and tested. If you are planning on taking anything new, make sure you thoroughly test it in field conditions! Opening your tent in the garden doesn’t count, you need to see if gear actually is operational when outdoors. Aim to get all the gear at least a couple of months in advance and keep on tweaking your gear list.
My final gear list for the Cape Wrath Trail is very different from my original list as I adjusted gear to my needs or new, better options came to mind. Make sure your gear is clean and dry a couple of weeks prior to leaving so packing will be done easily. On the weekend before leaving (or when you have a few hours), get all the gear out to make sure you are not missing anything. This is the time to make further adjustments (does your first aid kit need re-stocking?) and piling it all together.
Get last minute supplies and gear like fuel for the stove, finding all the cables you need and adding more duct tape (you always need more duct tape) in the relevant places.
Leave your gear loose (no need to compress it all yet) and do the final packing 2-3 days prior to leaving. You want to make sure it all fits comfortably and that you accommodate any issues (order, waterproofing for sensitive gear etc) that will come from a prolonged expedition.
Final checks – 24 hours prior to leaving
Finalize travel – Make sure you have enough fuel and you know where you are going. Printing driving directions can be good practice and keep your electronics comfortably packed. If you are using public transportation check all the services are operating as planned (UK National Rail is known to cause trouble) and that you know where to make all the changes.
Spend quality time with family – This is coming up again, but the night before leaving make sure to have no plans but time with family. At this point you are fully packed and organized, so do nothing but play with your kids, have a great dinner with your partner and enjoy the comfort of family time.
Final checks – 2 hours prior to leaving
Expeditions tend to take anything from 5 days to hundreds of days; in any case, personal hygiene is never perfect during an expedition. Our most important tool during such an adventure is our body, and like all tools it needs good maintenance. Just before leaving get your body fully “serviced”: Cut nails – trim all of them, especially toe nails as they will probably get the most abuse. Make sure to get rid of any snagging sharp corners and keep it all tidy. Shave/trim beard – since you won’t be doing much maintenance on your facial hair (this our chance to go cave man!), do give it a good shave or a trim to keep the final results at the end of the expedition less embarrassing. Have a long good shower – it will be days or weeks until the next hot shower. You might get some freezing lake/stream/spring bath, but probably not a hot steaming shower, have one and enjoy it.
If you are planning things well, your menu is calorie-dense, dehydrated/freeze dried and pretty repetitive. Food on a long expedition is rarely exciting and not at all fresh, so just before going make sure you have plenty of fresh vegetable and fruit. Have a good healthy salad, take some fruit for the travel and just pile on all those vitamins and minerals that you will be deprived from. If you want to be extra manly and also make sure you are not skipping on protein, throw in your salad some kind of meat, any meat; I prefer steak strips, but any thing goes here.
Your family is probably staying behind, missing you and supporting you the whole time. Take that time just before going to spend as much time as possible with them. Try and avoid thinking about the coming travels, the actual expedition and what you might have forgotten; be in the present with your family. It is not accidental that family time is mentioned three times here, it is vital for the success of your expedition. Knowing that they are there to welcome you when coming back, your family is your greatest driving force in the outdoors, they are also your insurance policy: keeping you from taking unnecessary risks and avoiding dangers.
That is it, you are all set and ready to go. I’m walking the Cape Wrath Trail at the moment, making it the longest trip I have done in 10 years and the longest I have ever spent away from my family. I look forward to coming back just as much as I’m enjoying this trip. Hopefully you can find your expedition and use the tools here to make it happen.