The DofE have published a Expedition Kit Guide. It’s a good summary and well worth a read. It can be accessed here: https://www.dofe.org/shopping/dofe-expedition-kit-guide/ Of course, other brands of kit are available in addition to those listed in the DofE Kit Guide. To help you choose, we have listed below some of the main areas we look for when considering various items of kit for Expeditions.
There are a lot of rucksacks out there and the DofE recommended kit is a good option. When looking at buying a rucksack consider the following:
- Rucksack sizes are measured in litres. The “standard” size is 65 litres. Be careful if you are considering a larger rucksack than 65 litres, more space means you may take more items but that in turn means more weight.
- Ensure that the carry system fits your body frame, probably the most important point to consider. A correctly fitted rucksack makes an enormous difference to your comfort. Most carry systems are adjustable – check that adjustments can be made so that the rucksack fits your back and hip size.
- If buying new ask the shop assistant to load the bag with some items to reflect the weight you will be carrying. Then check to see whether the back length system can be adjusted to fit your back length. Also check the waist belt to see if it can be tightened correctly. A good fitting waist belt should sit around the top of your hips and should be reasonably tight, although check that you can slip your hand between the belt and your body.
- Some brands have rucksacks that cater for smaller body sizes.
- Rucksack features are nice, but it’s the fitting to your body frame that counts. Most rucksacks come with pockets on the lid and some form of side pockets, that is really all you need.
The importance of waterproofing the things in your rucksack cannot be underestimated. No rucksack is waterproof, even when using a rainproof cover, so you need to carefully consider how to keep your kit dry.
The most effective way of waterproofing is to use several dry bags or tough plastic bags (see below). A dry bag is a purpose made stuff sack that is designed to keep the contents dry. They are great, but they are expensive.
An alternative to dry bags is to use a combination of tough plastic bags.
- Bin bags are effective at waterproofing and are cheap, but can tear easily.
- Rubble sacks, obtainable from a DIY store, are a great option for larger items such as sleeping bags.
- For smaller items of kit, such as food, clothing and medical supplies, you can use resealable plastic bags.
Place your items of kit in groups so they can be packed appropriately and are easy to find in your rucksack. For example, your sleeping bag can be packed in its own tough plastic bag at the bottom of your rucksack. You can then place your clothes, packed in a separate plastic bag, on top of that. Doing this will minimise the chances of your sleeping bag getting wet should you need to put on another layer of clothes when its raining.
Items such as crockery and Trangias do not need to be waterproofed. However, you may choose to place them in a plastic bag as part of organising your rucksack in any case. Using different coloured bags helps quickly identify contents.
And remember to reuse your bags once your expedition is finished. They have a wide range of household uses and are much better for you and the environment being in the cupboard rather than landfill.
For DofE Expeditions, a sleeping bag should:
- Be at least rated for 3 seasons or have a comfort rating of above 0°C
- Synthetic as opposed to down is the preference for DofE. Down sleeping bags are great but they need to be kept dry. When down gets wet it loses a huge amount of performance and will not keep you warm. If the expedition is wet it will be extremely hard to keep the sleeping bag dry. A good dry-bag will do the job when the sleeping bag is in your rucksack, but you also need to be aware that moisture can arise inside your tent. Synthetic bags will provide warmth even when wet. Sleeping in a wet synthetic bag may be uncomfortable but it is a lot better than a wet down bag which is next to useless.
- If you can get a compression sack for your sleeping bag that would be useful. Don’t store the bag at home compressed, but a compression sack makes packing your rucksack on Expedition a lot easier.
- If you “sleep cold” take some thermals with you. Also consider a sleeping bag liner, these add some warmth as well as helping to keep your sleeping bag clean.
- A sleeping mat is an essential, it insulates you from the cold ground and provides a level of comfort.
- Traditional closed-cell foam mats are reasonably affordable. They need to be designed for using outdoors. Yoga mats do not insulate or are as durable.
- A self-inflating mat can provide more comfort and warmth but may well be heavier than a traditional closed-cell mat. Total pack weight is important, so consider the additional weight of a self-inflating mat before you buy.
- You do not need a sleeping mat that is longer than you! Closed-cell foam mats can be cut down. Self-inflating mats can be bought ¾ length.
- The bag your sleeping bag comes in will not be waterproof, so it should be stored in one of the waterproof bags listed above.
- You will need a torch for moving about your campsite in the evenings or for finding your way in the dark. It is an essential piece of kit.
- A headtorch is really useful as it keeps your hands free, but if you have a really good quality hand held torch you can use that instead.
- Make sure the torch has new batteries inserted and spare batteries are another essential. Torches can exhaust batteries quickly if used on full power and on a longer expedition you may well need replacement batteries.
Sunscreen and Insect Repellent
- You will be outside all day so a high factor sunscreen is another essential, use factor 50. Take sunscreen even if the weather forecast is not predicting sun. Weather can change quickly and sunburn is a serious issue.
- A combined sunscreen and lip salve “duo” pack means you also have a lip salve on hand.
- There is a variety of chemical and natural ingredients used in insect repellent. Take care if choosing an insect repellent using DEET which is extremely useful in repelling insects but you need to follow the usage instructions on the insect repellent carefully. There are a wide variety of non-chemical insect repellents. Those using lavender or citronella oils can be a good alternative.
- The chemicals in some insect repellents can damage tents and should not be breathed in, so do not spray inside an enclosed area such as a tent.
- Avon Skin So Soft Original Dry Oil is well worth researching to use as an insect repellent. It’s effective against insects in the UK due to the inclusion of citronella and there are even rumours that the Armed Forces use it.
- You need to carry at least 2 litres of water.
- Your water bottle needs to be sufficiently robust so it will not break if knocked around. Disposable water bottles are not robust enough for use on Expedition.
- You will also need a method of purifying water if your Expedition is in wild country. Water purification tablets (specifically chlorine dioxide tablets) are a good choice here.
- Water can also be boiled to purify it. Alternatively a bottle such as the Water to Go Bottle that purifies the water is a good option. https://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/15893289/water-to-go-75cl-water-bottle-15893289
- This is an area of kit where you probably need less than you think. Make sure what you bring is robust and heat proof, but also consider weight.
- Think about how you will be eating your meals: for example, if you are using dehydrated expedition food there’s no point bringing a plate as you can eat straight out of the pouch.
- Some participants get by with just a large mug and a spoon, as the mug can be used for both meals and drinks.
- A watch is another essential piece of kit. It is needed for timings that will be recorded on your route card. You will be practicing and using timings to calculate distances walked: something that cannot be done without a watch.
- Don’t forget you will not be using your phone on Expedition so an alternative method of telling the time is required.
- A watch with an alarm is handy if you need to be awake at a certain time.
- Another area where you need less than you think.
- Toilet paper (not a whole roll) and hand sanitiser will be required. Poo trowels (basically a garden trowel) will be on most expedition kit lists as the alternative to digging a decent sized hole is to use nappy or plastic bags take it home with you (or deposit it in a dog poo bin). Toilet paper should never be left along a route. See https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/dispose-of-waste-properly/ for some good information on this topic.
- Toothbrush and a travel toothpaste (don’t bring a large electric toothbrush or full standard tube of toothpaste).
- Deodorant is not a necessity (you’ll likely smell regardless), but if you are bringing one, opt for a compact roll-on rather than a bulkier spray-on.
- If you have any additional toiletries that are necessary, such as feminine hygiene products or, use your own judgement to bring what you need.
- You will need a whistle to attract attention if in an emergency situation.
- Check your rucksack chest strap before you buy as lots of modern rucksacks have an integrated whistle.
- A bag for food rubbish is required. You will probably come across another time when a plastic bag is required so take a spare as well. Reuse bags if you can.
Some items of personal choice
If you pack carefully and think about the total weight you are carrying you may want to consider taking some additional items along with you to help make your Expedition more enjoyable.
Items that are commonly taken are
- Camera. Don’t forget you will not be using your mobile phone. Having a camera to record the Expedition is a great idea
- Walking Poles. These help reduce stress on knee joints
- Campsite footwear. Light weight “sliders” or “Crocs” are a good choice
- Campsite games. Playing cards are the game of choice
- Whilst you will be carrying a pen and paper, consider additional items to sketch with