Sometime last year, I developed an interest in walking some of Britain’s National Trails and long-distance paths.
Initially, I felt inspired to walk the Camino de Santiago but that interest has since waned… Partly because of its ever-increasing popularity; partly because of my own feelings of intimidation towards the idea of a foreign adventure.
Taking time to complete a long walk in Britain should be cheaper, easier to access, less likely to encounter language barrier issues and it may even be good for the economy. I’ve decided to kick it off by walking The Ridgeway.
General opinion amongst long-distance walkers and hikers is that The Ridgeway – walked in either direction – is somewhat easier and less intensive than most other National Trails. My intention, sometime over the summer, is to walk the full eighty-seven miles carrying all necessary equipment on my back. I’ve decided to walk eastwards and away from Wiltshire, on the assumption that I should leave familiarity behind to explore pastures new.
In the future, I could always attempt to walk it in reverse – or, complete the whole thing in a forty-eight hour non-stop challenge!
It’s not simply a case of planning the times, travel and camp site destinations as I’ve had to re-evaluate some of the kit I already own. Quite simply: some of it is too heavy or not adequate for a backpacking adventure.
There are three key purchases (which I like to think of as investments) that I intend to make ahead of time and the first was to purchase a pair of Leki walking poles.
It took me a good week of reading and researching online before I came up with a shortlist. A pair of walking poles are essential when carrying a stuffed backpack – for both stability and to reduce the wear on your knees and ankles. I then spent a Thursday evening (because they open late) at Cotswold Outdoor, trying out a few different designs…
Sadly, Cotswold’s in-stock range was limited but I did soon realise the benefits of having a handle that was comfortable to hold (one of the reasons I ruled out the Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles was because they were too small for my hands).
Two-days later and, on a Saturday morning, I paid my first ever visit to Taunton Leisure in Bedminster. They had a slightly greater range available to try. I ended up buying the Leki Sherpa XL walking poles. Partly because they were on sale at £80 (down from £110) for the pair but also because they felt stronger than the rest – while I’ll be using these for support and stability, I also wanted something strong and reliable that could be linked together to support a pyramid or teepee-style tent (more on that, soon).
Another key feature was in the cam-style ‘speedlock’ locking rings that secure the pole at the desired length. My previous Craghoppers pole has a twist-lock function… Some people like this, while I have found it frustrating, too many times. Sometimes, one section of pole doesn’t seem to work. Worse still is when the pole’s wet or muddy and you need to take your gloves off to get a firm grip.
There’s an easy to read scale (I’ll forgive the fact that it’s in centimetres…) and the poles do slide smoothly. You can also tighten a screw if you find the clamps aren’t tight enough. One thing I have found is that it’s better to set the lowest section first – this pole almost seems tapered in length and won’t lock properly if you extend it too far.
I also bought these for the extended hand-grips, continuing beneath the main handles – if your gradient suddenly changes to an incline or scramble, you can move your hands instead of having to adjust each pole. This model does not have anti-shock and I’m not sure how necessary that is… I couldn’t find that model available in any of the stores, anyway and I’m not keen on the yellow.
I’m very pleased with this purchase, having already used them several times. I find that walking with two poles can also be a mindful exercise, as you have to consider the position and placement of each (it’s not as automated and stepping one foot ahead of the other).
I did consider the Leki Vario Carbon poles for the fact that they fold out. This, in my opinion, is a great feature if you’re looking to travel abroad (they could pack away more easily and securely). But they were around £50 more expensive, with the Sherpa XL poles on sale.
Next on my list is a lightweight but comfortable tent, considering that my current two-man tent weighs 3.5kg – more than a quarter of the weight I intend to carry!