Tips from the field

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Nov 29, 2003
Tips From The Field

I am no expert, but I have made a good few expeditions, either on foot or by Canadian canoe. Here's a few things I've picked up. I make no claim to originality, as a lot of these come from fellow BCUK members. I promise that everything is grounded in experience.

  1. For longer trips (3 days+) on foot, freeze-dried food is the only way to go. It's light, you just add boiling water to the foil sachet, it tastes pretty good, is fairly nutritious (circa 600 kcal per main meal), all you need to pack out is the empty sachet, and the only thing to wash is your spork or whatever. The downside is the cost – at £5-£6 each it is about as expensive as eating out... but then again, you are eating out!

  1. The '3 in 1' or '2 in 1' coffee sachets from Kenco or Nescafe are much easier than faffing around with coffee whitener and sugar. One sachet makes 200ml of white coffee.

  1. Esbit/hexy/meths stoves all work much better with a home-made aluminium wind shield. Of course the standard and military Trangias include a wind shield, but the mini Trangia doesn't. I figured I could improvise a wind shield with rocks, but it simply does not work as well, and you end up wasting fuel.

  1. Getting ill outdoors is no fun, so be very careful with water. Where fires are feasible, or stove food is plentiful, I boil all water. If I cannot do this I use chlorine or iodine purifying tabs. Drinking untreated water is usually okay at altitudes too high for sheep farming, but there is still the risk of dead deer or backpacker poop somewhere upstream.

  1. For shorter trips,you can wash pretty effectively with baby wipes.

  1. Much of the Scottish highlands are littered with white pine roots, remnants of the old Caledonian forest. They will burn (though not brilliantly well) but can't be split easily as they have a rather spiral grain. Of course you should consider carefully if a fire is appropriate at all in that environment.

  1. Midges can be hell. Often all is okay during the day, but in the evening the wind drops, and bam – you are on planet midge. Warm humid still weather, near shaded water is the worst. A head net, repellent and a smudge fire help. In the worst conditions, retreating into the tent is necessary. Burning bog myrtle (abundant in midgy areas) on the smudge fire might help. Avon Skin-So-Soft is undeniably popular locally; I personally find Ultrathon is better. It's cheaper to buy Skin-so-soft from Avon rather than tourist shops in midge country.

  1. I understand the atttraction of tarps, hammocks and bivi bags, but in foul weather, or midge hell, or when trying to change clothes, or if using a commercial campsite, you really, really want a tent.

  1. Head torches are preferable to hand-held torches, and the Alpkit one is justifiably popular.

  1. Lip balm with sunscreen is well worth having, especially if like me you have an indoor day job.

  1. The Thermarest Neoair is much lighter, packs smaller and is much more comfortable than the standard sleeping mats. However it is not warmer, is expensive and arguably more prone to puncture. I still sleep better on it than the alternatives.

  1. Once the fire is going well, the 'star fire'/'lazy man's fire' saves a lot of cutting wood. But it is not a good way to start a fire.

  1. Birch bark is much better tinder than paper. In fact it's much better tinder than just about anything.
  2. A nightcap is pleasant but beer is too heavy to carry and keeps you up with fluid overload. You could take spirits but there is a lot to be said for port. It is sweet, has plenty of sugar calories, and at 20% alcohol, you don't need to carry much.

  1. One old book said that the fire should be no larger than your hat (referring to a stetson rather than a beanie...) It's still good advice.

  1. Pack light. I spent a week in the Arctic Circle in summer with a 12kg pack. You often see kit lists that involve a lot of duplication (like four knives!) or unnecessarily heavy gear. A 45l rucsac is good for packing discipline.

  1. Do not be too swayed by other people's opinions (including mine) unless it is completely unanimous advice (such as 'buy a Mora'). People vary in how much insulation they need in a sleeping bag for instance. My preferred outdoor knife (the Canadian Grohmann) is not at all popular in the UK or Scandinavia. People will tell you the Sabre 45 is a great rucsac. It is, if it fits you – it's non-adjustable. Be critical and weigh things up.

  1. The military Trangia is heavy but a very, very reliable stove that is designed to be used with an open fire as well as with meths. It is self-contained with two pans and room for the fuel bottle, mug, spork, brewkit and lighter. They are currently cheap as the Swedes sell off their Cold War surplus, and people unfairly look down on them because of this. If it was entirely titanium it would be the perfect stove.

  1. Ultralight kit is expensive and less robust, but people happily pay the premium because a light pack makes travel a pleasure, not a misery. But most of us are carrying a few extra kilos of body fat. I think the best plan is to work on keeping the outfit weight down, and keeping your own weight down.

  1. Psychology researchers have shown that possessions do not make you happy. For long term happiness, you should spend your cash on experiences rather than things (the research also shows that spending time and money on other people rather than yourself makes you happier, but that's another story). So next time you're thinking of buying kit, consider spending the cash on a cheap flight to Scandinavia, or a train ticket to the highlands, or a trip to Canada. And if the thought of a more adventurous trip is intimidating – well, feel the fear and do it anyway. There are plenty of folks on BCUK who will help you make it happen.

Hog On Ice

Oct 19, 2012
Virginia, USA
one thing I disagree with is the statement "If it was entirely titanium it would be the perfect stove" - a Trangia burner in Ti would not work anywhere near as good as the existing design because Ti does not conduct heat very well at all and spirit burners need heat to be transferred to the fuel to get good vaporization for the flame to burn well. All the other parts of the Trangia system could be Ti with no issues but not the burner itself - aluminium could be used or the existing brass but not titanium.

Another item to comment on is wrt the statement "freeze-dried food is the only way to go" for longer trips - true if you realize that after 5 or 6 days of freeze dried food the ahhh gas production will be reaching notable levels - generally I choose to go with cheaper dry foods that I can find in many markets where I would resupply after a week or so on the trail


Nov 23, 2004
The midge thing can never be underestimated, smudge fires are the way to go if you are static for any length of time. I test this on a daily basis at present and weirdly fruit wood smoke seems to work the best.
Got t say I agree with most of the above tips.
Apart from the coffee one but only because coffee is foul.
And ive personally found having both head torch and hand held can be beneficial. But thats just my findings.

Definitely agree with experiences over kit.
I'm pretty much happy with my kit now (after years of fiddling about with it) so now its getting out and doing more


Apr 3, 2012
Runcorn, Cheshire
A crank torch as a back-up will serve you better than a spare set of batteries (batteries can leak, are affected by weather and altitude), it might weigh a little bit more but for the reliablity of friction conduction it's a small price to pay.


Hill Dweller
Sep 17, 2003
Sounds a bit trite, but knowing your own limitations is important. Feeling the fear at the beginning of a solo journey, in a new place is a real buzz.

Andy BB

Full Member
Apr 19, 2010
Good stuff!

Re the Military Trangia, also worth noting that you can also use the windshield to burn wood. It might turn a rather nice bronze colour, and be a little bit softer than before, but I've one such piece of kit that I've used 50+ times with woodfire, and it still does the job! And you can put the pots on it (as normal with the meths burner) without worrying about building hangers etc.....


Jan 28, 2005
Good advice , although you forgot one important bit with reference to the head torch .
whilst it may be a good thing to use , be considerate of not shining it in other people's eyes or you may get a finger poked in yours lol . When around groups of people hang it round your neck !


Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jan 25, 2011
North Yorkshire, UK
Take a head torch that has a 'red' setting, or a cheap bicycle LED. You can use it a night without destroying your night vision, even use it to read by without disturbing other people.


Bushcrafter through and through
Oct 5, 2011
West Riding
Wear your head torch around your neck to preserve night vision .....

Sent from my HTC One X using Tapatalk 4 Beta

Hog On Ice

Oct 19, 2012
Virginia, USA
wrt head torches shining into other peoples eyes - the head torches with a good hinge that permits the torch to be worn pointing down is another good way to keep the beam away from other peoples eyes and yet still be useful for walking around at night

one funny item of note wrt head torch around the neck - I have a longish white beard and if I put the torch under my beard it "lights up" - a side effect of the white whiskers I think - interesting to see but of limited use for walking around at night

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