Long-Distance Hiker Chris Townsend Explains His Best Tips on Adventuring and Packing Your Gear

Long-distance Hiker Chris Townsend
On the GR20 in Corsica, France, 2004

My name is Chris Townsend. I’m a writer and photographer specializing in the outdoors. I live in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. Whilst I love many outdoor activities, my favourite is long-distance hiking.

How and why did you get into long-distance hiking?

I was brought up in the countryside and as a child, enjoyed exploring the local fields and woods. My interest in long-distance hiking was inspired by books – Journey Through Britain by John Hillaby, The Thousand-Mile Summer by Colin Fletcher and Hamish’s Mountain Walk by Hamish Brown.

As my walk involves walking in the hills and being outdoors, I don’t need to do any training – daily life does that! Even before I became an outdoor writer, I was out often enough to stay fit and I didn’t do anything special for my first long-distance walk.

Long-Distance Hiker Chris Townsend
Camp on the Scandinavian Mountains Walk, 1992

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

On my walks, I generally resupply from places along the way, which can make for some interesting choices! If necessary I send resupplies in the mail. Mostly I eat dehydrated and freeze-dried foods as these are fairly light, quick to cook, and low bulk.

On my last long walks, I’ve used a Mountain Laurels Design Trailstar shelter, Rab and PHD sleeping bags, and the Trail Designs Ti-Tri Caldera Cone stove unit. Being able to camp comfortably is important.

How do you finance your adventures?

My adventures don’t usually cost that much as I’m wild camping most nights. Travel and food are the main costs. I write articles and books, give talks, and sell photographs to cover the costs.

Long-Distance Hiker Chris Townsend
On the Pacific Northwest Trail, 2010

How do you bring your things with you?

Over the years, I’ve used quite a few packs. Current favourites are the Lightwave Ultrahike 60 and ULA Catalyst. These are tough, lightweight and just the right size for me for long-distance walks.

How do you organize things in your bags?

Packing always depends on what items you’ll need during the day so the sleeping bag and mat go low down in the pack. Food, stove and tent go on top of them. Rain gear and a warm top need to be accessible so they’re near the top while small items – sunscreen, insect repellent, hat, gloves – go in pockets. Anything water sensitive goes in a waterproof bag.

Long-Distance Hiker Chris Townsend
On the Scottish Watershed Walk, 2013

How do your bags and gear hold up?

Pretty well. I choose carefully and having been testing outdoor gear for over 30 years I have an idea what to look for. It’s always a balance of weight and performance, especially for long trips where the weight is really important. I do occasionally have to make minor repairs in the wilds but rarely a major one – except with inflatable mattresses, I’ve had three fail in the last few years. I think that’s a general problem with these mats though rather than with any particular model or brand.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

Occasionally, I cut down the gear too much and have to add to it during a trip – not taking spare footwear or a warm enough sleeping pad are two fairly recent examples.

Long-Distance Hiker Chris Townsend
On the Yosemite Valley to Death Valley walk, 2016

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

The Evernew 0.9 litre titanium pot I bought for $40 back in 1991. It’s been on every long-distance walk since and is still going strong.

What inspired you to write your books?

I’m inspired by other books! I wanted to write the type of books I enjoyed reading. Having written several different types of books over the years, my favourites are the ones that tell the stories of my long walks such as Grizzly Bears And Razor Clams, about the Pacific Northwest Trail, and Rattlesnakes And Bald Eagles, about the Pacific Crest Trail.

Long-Distance Hiker Chris Townsend
Starry winter camp in the Cairngorms, 2014

What kind of photos do you prefer to shoot?

I like landcape shots and one showing backpackers and hikers in the wild. My current favourite photos are night-time shots of wild camps, especially ones with snow and big starry skies.

What is your best advice for other adventurers?

Go out and do it! Don’t wait until you’ve the right gear, time, money or anything. Make do with what you have now and tailor your adventures to that and your experience level. For my first long walk, I borrowed a sleeping bag.

Long-Distance Hiker Chris Townsend
On the Arizona Trail, 2000

What will the future bring?

Another long walk! Which one I don’t know yet. There are several jostling for priority in my head.

Visit Chris Townsend on his website

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