What’s in my bag?
At the beginning of 2017 I began working with MyOutdoors in reviewing and testing outdoor equipment. In addition, my 10 years as an outdoor leader was in full swing, so on a weekly basis I get my hands on the latest kit or old favourites and testing them in real world scenarios as I teach, hike on expeditions and my personal photographic trips in any weather.
I always have my bag packed and ready to go for any adventure. It’s not left in my car or by the front door but tucked away ready to grab at a moment’s notice and drive to somewhere remote.
You’ll never forget your first wild camp, whether it be with a group of friends, Duke of Edinburgh or Scouts expedition or a solo venture. Put planning is required whether new to camping or a seasoned expert. My first camp I remember having every outdoors item I owned spread across my bedroom, in my mind I was trying to persuade I needed every item in the bag despite it not fitting. The next was how am I going to lug this 20kg rucksack a mile let alone 30+ over the weekend.
15 years on, even though my kit has got lighter and smaller, I still do this same thing to ensure my kit is up to standard, after which it returns to the rucksack ready to go at a moment’s notice. This saves time having it pre-packed and avoids you making excuses. Perhaps the most common question I get asked as an outdoors leader is about kit, so I have answered some of that below with what I use for my adventures, I have included weights of items to help show the overall pack weight at the end.
Do remember, gear is a very personal thing. What works for me isn’t going to be right for you, but I hope this guide helps you to create your ideal kit list. If you are stuck and want to advise, please feel free to quiz me as I am always happy to help and point you in the right direction for what you need.
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I’ll start with my photographic equipment. I use a Micro 4/3s system for my trips, it’s lightweight, small and robust plus weatherproof so I can be out photographing no matter the weather, better yet it won’t add a silly amount of weight or size to my already full rucksack.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 markII + 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro = 800
Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f.2.8 Pro = 880
Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 = 120
Olympus MC 1.4 tele converter = 100
Lexar Memory Cards 2000x
Gobe M4/3 - OM adapter
G.Zuiko 50mm f/1.4
Vivitar 28-80mm f/3.5 tele-macro
Hoya Variable Density filter (For video purposes only)
Kase Filters GCPL circular polariser
Kase Filters AGC 6 stop circular ND filter
Kase Filters Protective Caps for circular filters
Bags and wraps
To keep my camera kit safe, I use a number of options, however if you want to keep your pack weight even lighter, rather than using inserts you can use a fleece or jacket to wrap your kit inside. I typically use a camera wrap, one which I have from Vanguard Photo which is water repellent and protects the kit inside or often using inserts so I can quickly chop and change from a big 40L to a small 20L pack at a moment’s notice.
My photographic dedicated rucksack brings the best of both worlds being a large 30L rucksack which uses camera inserts, making the bag fluid and adaptable for use in the outdoors or photography. Currently this rucksack isn’t available to purchase in the UK.
I have two options of tripod to use. I often rely on the Vanguard Alta Pro2+ for all creative situations. I can transform the tripod from flat for macro to standing tall in a few seconds. It’s taller than me at full extension (6ft2) and is tough and withstand any weather that has been thrown at it. For weight conscious trips I use the Vanguard Veo2 travel tripod which although smaller is still just as tough but half the weight. In addition to these two tripods, I carry a small mini tripod all the time which is the new 2019 Vesta TTi from Vanguard. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket and is perfect for areas you can’t take tripods.
Vanguard Alta Pro2+ 263CT plus BH-250 ball head = 2100
Vanguard Veo2 265CB travel tripod = 1300
Alta Pro2 spiked feet & Veo2 spiked feet
Vanguard Vesta TTi mini tripod = 180
Vanguard Photo Veo2 AM-234 monopod = 550
Is likely the biggest challenge when it comes to hiking. There is so many options in styles, features, looks, size and comfort levels. It can be overwhelming as rucksacks get more complicated and technical. The first thing you need to do is ask what you hope to achieve with your rucksack? Is it hiking alone? Out in the mountains for photography? SUP/sailing or evening rock climbing and caving? Each will have a style and extras to help. However, to help narrow down your options mine is tailored to hiking throughout the year.
I tend to use a 40L rucksack now which is plenty big for me and my kit. However, 40L can be too small for some and if you’re unsure about what kit you need then I suggest bigger is better for you and aim for a 50-60L. Some great larger packs are from Vango Sherpa or a Lowe Alpine AirZone Pro but my favourite is my current set up, the Snugpak Endurance.
Not all bags are weatherproof so your rucksacks should be lined with Dri-bags to further protect your kit inside. They are cheap, lightweight and in all DofE/Scout expeds we do not allow groups to go out without them. They also help divide your bag, for example if you have a wet tent and dry warm clothes inside.
As the headline suggests, there is lots of options again and all different sizes. Most will use a tent as this is easy, compact and offers the protection they need. Tarps are a little more creative and if you’ve never used one before I suggest practice first and find a set up that works for you. I have some suggestions here for solid, fully protected set ups here.
I use tents and tarps depending on time of the year. Tarps are lighter and fast to set up, so I use a tarp typically during the hotter Summer months. (It’s worth noting tarps require a walking pole to make them stand up right.) In Winter I swap to a tent for ease and further protection and warmth. I use two tents depending on my mood and weather. The Snugpak Ionosphere which is a lightweight 1-man tent or the Snugpak Scorpion II which is a 4-season/2-man tent which is more robust, essentially bomb proof and great in any weather or storm. Even in blizzards! Better yet it’s big so room to spread out. Both of which are lightweight and don’t cost a fortune, especially the 4-season Snugpak Scorpion II tent.
Another area you do not cut corners and worth the research and picking up in store. Also consider where you’ll be using it and what you’ll be doing more of. If it’s hiking, weight and size is important to you, if you are primarily base camp and do little walking then weight won’t be as much of a concern.
I use one bag for the whole year, I can rely on this bag whether it’s down in a valley in Summer or up high on a mountain in Winter. It’s a 4-season sleeping bag, the Snugpak Softie 12 Osprey. It’s not the lightest bag on the market but temp range is superb for its price and I’ve used it down to -20ºc and been very comfortable. My other bag I use is the Special Forces system. This is two bags, SF1 and 2 combine to make a sleeping system down to -20ºc or individually you have a bag for Summer and another for Spring and Autumn.
I don’t feel the cold as much so to extend your sleeping bags comfort and temp range, rather than buying £600+ bags which have temp ranges down to -30ºc that you’ll use once a year I suggest using sleeping bag liners and layer up your bag as you would with clothing. This system is the same as I explained above with the Special Forces system from Snugpak, combine with the Bivvi bag helps with weatherproofing and warmth again.
These aren’t just for comfort and I suggest spending as much on one of these as your sleeping bag. Don’t cheap out and buy the cheap foam ones which cost a mere £5. A camping mat is designed to stop the ground from zapping that heat from your body. Lying down you can lose some 65% of your body height through the ground. Mats come in all kinds and sizes from foam, down fill to self-inflate. I use two, again depending on the time of year.
The Snugpak airmat with foot pump is a self-inflate option which is light and great for comfort and is good value. During Winter I use a Snugpak Antarctica Softie filled roll mat which is warmer and better for colder conditions and won’t crack like most rubber-based mats. Another great option is the Exped Downmat Lite 7m, a downmat which although expensive is tough, warm and lightweight.
Snugpak Softie 12 Osprey bag = 2000 (4-season sleeping bag)
Snugpak Special Forces Complete system = 3200 (2x bags layering system)
Snugpak Special Forces Bivvi Bag = 400
Snugpak Antarctica sleeping mat = 560
Snugpak Air mat with footpump = 630
They come in all varieties and sizes. If you’re a coffee connoisseur, then this will dramatically impact you and the choice of stove is crucial to you. I don’t use instant coffee and use beans and ground coffee so I need filters or a press. I’ve used loads over the years from the all mighty and indestructible Trangia which I’ve seen a 20-year-old set up battered and used well still working in perfect order. My favourites however are the Alpkit Jackal (No longer available), Colemans Fyrestorm PCS or the Roben’s Firefly stove with Settlement Pot.
The Alpkit is an all-in-one with burner and pot, great if you’re just boiling water.
Fyrestorm PCS I have yet to find a stove that is as windproof/stormproof as this stove. It’s big however and suited to 2 people cooking with its large pot. The burner also has an igniter and feet to make it more secure. (Better for Winter). The Roben’s Firefly is a small fold up burner that fits inside the Settlement pot which has a coffee press built in.
P.S – Don’t forget the gas! I suggest the Coleman C100 or C300 extreme.
I bring a few extras to add to my comfort when eating. A Sea to Summit folding mug which fits inside the stove pouch, tough, lightweight and easy to clean plus it’s big so if you like a big brew it’s worth getting. I also use folding spork sets from Roben’s which fold in half and sit inside my Settlement pot along with the stove, lighter and ground coffee.
To carry water, I use a mixture between a 2L hydration bladder which is the easiest means to fill and drink from whilst hiking. During Winter I often carry a flask to keep my coffee hot.
When wild camping/hiking however you are restricted to how much you can carry so planning to visit a water source is key. I always leave this packed in my bag at the top and has never left my bag since. The Sawyer Water filter system which allows me to drink straight from lakes or rivers with no worries of dirt, pollution or any nasties.
If you are stuck however, you can also boil up the water from the river but do ensure it’s REALLY boiling. One issue is you have to wait for it too cool down after.
Robens Firefly stove with Settlement pot/coffee press = 290
Sea to Summit folding X mug - 80
Robens folding spork set
Vango Hydrant bladder = 2l
Robens Wilderness Vacuum flask = 0.7L
Sawyer water filter system = 130
Multi tools = 200
Never skimp out on food, if you’re out in the mountains climbing you will burn a lot of calories and you need the energy. I know someone who only took Cup-a-soups and bread on an expedition and by day-two he had to get emergency food and taken to a shop because they made themselves ill.
My main food pouches I use are dehydrated food packs where you just add water. I often buy Firepot packs as I’ve found these to be the highest calories to pack weight and best tasting. However, they are more expensive than most you find but well worth the extra £1 in flavour and nutrition.
Snacks - Cereal bars, flap jack, nuts, fruit bars, graze mixes, you want high calories and nutritional packs again. Gummy bears and Haribo are also great to store in your pocket for on the go. Little sugar goes a long way when you’re tired on a hike.
Another helpful item to carry is a supermarket carrier bag. This doubles up to carry rubbish and is useful as a seat when the surface is wet. It’s lightweight and folds up so no excuses.
You should always have one packed, but I don’t mean the red bags you get from hiking stores. I was taught by another DofE leader to pack the essentials and make a personal first-aid kit. It’s still in a bright red pack, stored at the top of my pack and is no larger than a wallet. Inside there are plasters, Compeed (for blisters), sterile wipes, multi-tool, tick removers, bite cream, tissues, pain killers, duct tape, batteries plus a support cast for my knee and a few snacks for emergency.
As you will see it is a mixture of items and is a personal set up for myself with everything, I know I need. If I need to start putting bandages or slings on it’s a sign you need more help and need to go to the hospital. This is stored with a dri-sak which has a thin pair of gloves, buff, more spare batteries and a Micro-USB cable, Smidge bug spray and sun cream. Hat’s and thick waterproof gloves are stored in the top lid of my rucksack for quick access as well as a power bank. I primarily use Sealskinz gloves and hats as they are waterproof. However, for Winter I use a thicker Vallerret gloves which are designed for photographers in mind but are expensive so these aren’t for everyone.
Always pack a pocket sized sun cream and bug spray. Firstly, the sun’s harmful UV rays aren’t just around for Summer, they can effect us throughout the year even in Winter. If you’re climbing or in the snow you can still get sun burn. Bug spray is helpful in Winter still if it’s warm and still like we’ve had over 2018, midges are still around so better be prepared. Smidge do a credit card sized bottle which slips inside a first-aid kit and does little to space and weight.
Another vital piece of kit and in to Autumn and Winter months you should carry one regardless in case of emergency whether running or out in the hills. A head torch is best as it keeps your hands free to do other things required such as if you’re camping you can set up your tent or stuff kit inside your rucksack. I use GP Batteries latest Explor headtorches and use two versions, one has a red light for my astro photography and for longer walks I use the rechargeable PHR-15. Another good headtorch is the Petzl Tikka which can be recharged if you purchase the CORE battery.
Vallerret Photography Gloves Markhof Pro2 = 200 (Winter gloves)
Sealskinz Dragoneye waterproof gloves = 160
Decathlon Quechua Trek 500 Trekking Mountain Gloves =50
Sealskinz waterproof beanie = 150
Buff = 50
Smidge bug spray
GP Batteries Explor PHR150 headlamp = 130 (Rechargeable)
GP Batteries Explor PH14 headlamp = 110 (Red light)
GP Batteries Recyko AAA batteries
FREELOADER Off-grid solar battery pack - 700 (360 with just the power bank)
Google Maps isn’t enough to get you by in the mountains and hiking, for one there is little to no signal and to run Maps on your phone requires a lot of battery power and if it’s cold your phone will lose power even quicker. Always pack a Map and Compass regardless. They’re small, lightweight and there is no excuse not pack one. By all means use a phone or GPS as extra but paper never runs out of batteries. It’s worth spending a little extra to get waterproof maps too but if not buying a waterproof map case will help make your maps last longer.
I keep my ViewRanger up to date with my latests routes and trips which can be downloaded for free for all to enjoy. I use Splashmaps as my choice of maps when orienteering, these are waterproof, fabric maps which are lightweight and durable in any weather conditions. They are also wearable as toobs and hats.
You might think these are needed and I was like you for a long-time, but they do help a lot!
I’ve injured my ankle and knees plenty of times coming off hill tops and walking poles help to balance and distribute weight when wearing heavier packs. If you’re using them right, you can find you are quicker.
If you’re like me as well and use Tarps as your shelter then they double up as a centre pole. I use a set of Leki anti-shock walking poles which has suspension built in to help reduce the impact on hard ground.
Don’t forget in Winter you will need crampons and an ice axe if you plan to head in to the hills or mountains with ice and snow.
Lower levels and flat surfaces then walking poles can be good to use but any sloops with ice then an axe will give you great stability and help you down. If you don’t know how to use crampons or an axe I suggest attending a Winter course to learn how to use them. Otherwise you may as well had taken a banana out on the ice sloops.
Part of the three-layer system – Baselayer next to the skin, midlayer for warmth, waterproof/windproof as an outerlayer. Of-course all come in a variety of thickness and qualities. Some of my midlayers are weatherproof and suitable in short showers or offer further protection from the wind. It’s worth having a few styles for example I use long sleeved baselayers for Winter or cycling. Zipped fleeces are good for Summer, whereas over the head fleeces can be better suited in Winter with less openings.
With baselayers it’s worth looking for fast drying, wicking tops these are better suited for activities such as hiking in various conditions and reduce sweat and keep you comfortable after long wear. Your normal T-Shirts you buy which are polyester are not quick drying and absorb sweat which can cause further rubbing and rashes. When it comes to fleeces I use a lighter pull on top from Ascendancy Apparel and Rab in warmer months. In Winter I go for the heavier and thicker Snugpak Impact Fleece which is a great combo with the Snugpak ML6 Smock or Snugpak Torrent Jacket.
Tshirts = 1150
You should always pack a waterproof jacket no matter the time of year. You should look for not only a waterproof jacket but also breathable, this stops you from getting damp inside. In warmer months a lightweight one is fine. I use either Snugpak waterproof ponchos or AR Windtops during these months.
In colder months and Winter, you’ll need something more robust and warmer. Go for a helmet compatible if you plan on climbing or cycling and one with a stiffened peak, adjustable cuffs, hoods, hemlines all help with fit and keep you better protected. Waterproof zippers will help but all zips leak so don’t put any expensive items like mobile phones in external pockets. For Winter I use the Snugpak ML6 Smock or Torrent Jacket depending on the severity of rain and storms. The Snugpak ML6 is weatherproof so suitable in high winds and light showers but not long periods of rain which is where the Snugpak Torrent Jacket is better suited.
Insulted jackets are great for adding another layer of warmth, so whether you’re stopping for food or finished for the day and around your campsite. They also double up as a great pillow if you’re reducing weight when wild camping or on expeditions. Again, I use Snugpak SJ3 or SJ9 jackets for the different times of the year which are compact, weatherproof Softie down filled jackets.
The layering system isn’t just for the top half, I use a variety of trousers or tights for different points and conditions in the year. In warmer months, running and cycling Trail tights are perfect but always pack a pair of quick drying hiking trousers for backup. In colder months thicker hiking or snow trousers such as the Quechua SH500 or Rab Vapour Rise Guide trousers are perfect as they have fleece lining to keep you warm but a tough, water repellent exterior to provide protection from the elements and outdoors. If you get really cold I suggest layering up below these Winter trousers with another pair of Trail tights or fleeced trekking tights.
One thing I often forget but always suggest packing is over-trousers which are a waterproof trousers for longer expeditions and severe weather. I suggest getting zipper or buttoned over-trousers so you won’t have to remove your boots in order to put them on.
When it comes to footwear, don’t cheap out here! Your feet will take the worst of the walking and boggy ground. Investing in a good pair of hiking boots will keep you going for longer and the boots will likely last a lot longer. I typically replace my boots every two years and will spend anything from £150-400 on a new pair. However, you don’t need to invest in the top end unless you plan on going hiking in the snow and up mountains where crampons will be required.
Not only will you need a good pair of boots but a good pair of socks! A good pair of socks will stop blisters and reduce sweat and smells from hiking. A good thick pair of merino wool boot socks are perfect for hiking and during Summer a lighter trail sock is perfect when you will be in shorts or low ankle boots/shoes. In Winter, sock liners or thick snow socks are best to keep your feet warm.
Another set of socks I highly suggest everyone to invest in are waterproof socks! Yes, they are a thing and are the best things ever. I use Sealskinz waterproof socks and always keep a set in my rucksack all year. My boots are waterproof but I often hand them out to those who aren’t lucky enough and get a soggy foot. On the same note, I highly suggest looking at a waterproof pair of gloves and hat which again, I use Sealskinz to help keep me going through, whatever the weather.
Finally in very wet conditions, bogs and high grass. Wellies are useless for walking in and very uncomfortable after walking in for a long time. A pair of gaiters will go a long way, these help reduce dirt and water ruining your trousers, further protect your boot and ankle and help a great deal in boggy environments and the snow. I use two varieties depending on the activity. Hiking I use a high knee GTX gaiter from Extremities and for trail running in wet conditions I use lower ankle running gaiters.
Extremities Novagaiters = 200
Extremities Fellagaiters = 120
Base weights with no food or water:
Photographic kit = 3.8kg MAX
Summer kit = 7.5kg
Winter kit = 14kg
Total weight with photographic kit:
Summer kit = 11.5kg
Winter kit = 18kg
As you will see their is a great deal of equipment and clothing to keep you outdoors at any point of the year, whether wet, sunny, snow, Summer or Winter.
I hope this guide helps you to sculpt your kit list. As I mentioned previously, kit is very much a personal thing. What works for me, might not work for you but don’t treat! If you get stuck please ask. I know a lot of equipment and brands from all price points to achieve what you need.
Transparency Notice: Please note that I (Matthew Holland) receive free products for review from brands and manufacturers, but I only accept products for review on condition of total independence and no guarantee of endorsement. I am a Vanguard Photo UK and Snugpak brand ambassador and receive the products for free to review from both brands. The review is no guarantee of endorsement. I receive no monetary gain from Vanguard Photo UK or Snugpak from the reviews or discount codes. Any Vanguard kit I own has been bought by myself. Any Snugpak equipment is gifted to me for the purpose of the review. I work with MyOutdoors who receives free products for review from brands and manufacturers, but we only accept products for review on condition of total independence and no guarantee of endorsement.