Qualified Mountain Leader and Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis Shares His Best Packing Tips

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

My name is Martin Curtis. I’m a Qualified Mountain Leader and I live and work on the Jurassic Coast here in the UK. I’m an Ambassador for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and a guide at Jurassic Coast Guides. I take visitors on walking and fossil tours and spend my spare time fossil hunting for the treasures that can be found here. I’m a keen outdoor enthusiast and enjoy long distance walking here on the coast. I was born in Dorset and my family roots go way back just like the fossils that can be found here. My passion for the area runs deep and as a boy from the coast, I’m proud to be working as an Ambassador for the World Heritage site.

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

How and why did you get into adventuring

As a child, I was fortunate enough to spend most of my time on the coast with my parents. We were always out fossil hunting, rock pooling, or having picnics. It was their input that created my love for the outdoors. Even on our holidays we would travel to some of the best locations here in the UK. A particular favourite of mine was Wales, we had amazing holidays in the Black Mountains and Snowdonia… we would just pull up in our camper on the side of the road and have camp fires — it was awesome. I had the lifestyle that everyone is striving for today… I was very lucky! This foundation is still the drive for my outdoor adventures and exploration today. I’ve always been active so finding the enthusiasm to get off the sofa is never hard for me. Whether with family, walking, fossil hunting or taking tourists on tours I’m out on the coast whenever I get the chance. I also take part in challenge walks here on the coast. I’ve recently completed my 5th Dorset Doddle… this challenge walk covers 32 miles along the Jurassic Coast from Weymouth to Swanage. The ascents along this section are equivalent to climbing Snowdon in North Wales one and a half times… a tough challenge for any hardcore walker!

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

How do you prepare for your adventures?

Working as a guide means I get out regularly on the Jurassic Coast. This in turn keeps me fit. My coastline is full of steep ascents and is the ideal place to do any training for harder adventures like climbing mountains.

When planning adventures, I would first purchase a map of the area I intend to visit. I love paper maps and use OS Leisure maps for all my route planning. As a Mountain Leader, I have great navigational skills so don’t need to look for ideas on line or in books. An adventure starts for me as soon as I open a map. I like to plan my own routes and discover the area during my own adventures. I love preparing route cards and drawing routes on maps, for me it’s important to plan as much as possible before starting any adventure. I like to be prepared to keep things as safe as possible.

When planning a route from the map, you already know what you’re doing and where you plan to go… It’s a good way to create something safe, something enjoyable. It’s important that any adventure starts this way. Safety first, right?

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

How do you finance your fossil walks and adventures?

I don’t have pots of cash to pay for my outdoor activities so running my own guiding company on the coast is a big bonus… I take tourists out on their own adventure while on holiday. I get paid, meet fantastic people and get to spend time in the area I love… there’s nothing better! I’m also a keen fossil hunter so try to get out at least twice a week hunting. I live very close to the coast so it doesn’t cost much to travel there. If travelling to the mountains I would try and travel with friends, this keeps the fuel costs down, this was extremely important when I trained to become a mountain leader… that isn’t a cheap course and I don’t live near any mountains!

I’ve invested in good quality clothing to make sure I’m kept warm and dry while out on the hill. The most important items are my boots. I never buy boots unless they are Gore-Tex lined and have Vibram soles. Gore-Tex gives me reliable breathability and waterproofness… the Vibram soles deliver reliable grip. In my eyes, boots are the most important piece of outdoor equipment you will ever buy… you need to invest in them! I only wear Zamberlan boots as their boots fit my feet perfectly. They are still made by the original family in Italy and have proven longevity during my activities… I’m currently using the new 900 Rolle GTX but my favorite style are the Zamberlan 996 Vioz GTX.

For my waterproofs, I use the Mountain Equipment Kongur Jacket and Berghaus Deluge over trousers. While walking in heavy rain on the hill or in the mountains, they’ve never let me down and I’ve had them for nearly 10 years but this is mainly due to my strict care regime… if that’s not reliability, I don’t know what is!

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

When out on the hill or in the mountains, it’s important you eat regularly. I love to have a ‘cook up’ on my adventures so I carry a Jet Boil ‘Flash’ cooking system. I use this to boil water for the dehydrated meals l like. My favourite meals are ‘Firepot’ by Outdoorfood, their meals are out of this world and being dehydrated don’t add much weight to my back pack! I also like to have real coffee so I carry a Zyliss ‘smartcafe cafetiere hot mug’ and take my own freshly ground coffee with me. These cups are small one person cafetieres and are also insulated. If conditions are not favourable, it’s important to have warm drinks and these cups are fantastic at keeping your coffee hot!

For wild camping, I use a Vaude ‘Power Lizard’ ultra-light tent… it comes in a real small bag and weighs in at just under 1 kg. It’s suitable for 1-2 persons and pitches in a very small footprint. This is extremely handy when trying to find a suitable area to camp on a mountain… any experienced mountain camper will know it’s hard to find large flat pitching spots.

For sleeping comfort, I use a Thermerest all season ‘Prolite Plus’ self-inflating mattress and a Mountain Equipment Titan 650 Down sleeping bag.

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

How do you bring your things with you?

I use two backpacks for my regular coastal adventures My first choice for general day walking on the Jurassic Coast is the Osprey Talon 33. It’s a light backpack with plenty of storage space for the gear I need to carry working as a guide. It’s also an easy pack to fit in the washing machine when dirty. As a tour guide on the coast I need to look smart for my clients!

For my own personal fossil hunting trips, I use Aquapac’s ‘Toccoa’ heavy weight waterproof daysack. I needed a pack that was fully waterproof and robust when fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast. I’m always clambering over boulders and in and out of the water… this pack suited this harsh working environment. It’s a back pack that I can get wet and not have to worry about.

Last but not least, I also use the Osprey ‘Aether’ 70L backpack for all my mountain trips. This pack has enough space for all my leader & wild camping gear. I’ve used it on all my wild camping expeditions in the mountains of England, Wales and Scotland and found it to be very comfortable. I also purchased the waterproof cover for the Aether 70 litre pack, this cover has been amazing during heavy storms in the mountains and has kept my pack totally dry… it fits really well. I’ve also used the Deuter Futura 32L backpackin the past and found these to be extremely versatile in the outdoors.

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

How do you organize things in your bags?

When packing my mountain back pack, I’ll put the most needed items at the top. Snacks, map items and a first aid grab bag generally go in the top zipped pocket. At the top of the main compartment, I have my waterproof jacket and over trousers. Below this my cooking equipment and meals followed by my sleeping bag, first aid kit and spare clothes. In the lower compartment (at the bottom of the pack), I will have my inflatable mattress and emergency shelter. I strap my tent to the bottom of my pack on the outside or strap it in a side pocket… this is so I can access my tent quickly in wet conditions and get it pitched without getting any of the gear inside my pack wet. There’s nothing worse than trying to find equipment buried in a back pack in those type of conditions. I also carry my water bottle in the other side pocket for easy access. All these items are stored in waterproof EXPED stuff sacks inside the compartments of the pack to guarantee complete dryness. My walking poles are strapped to the back of the pack again for easy access.

For my guiding work, I pack my day sack the same way but without the camping equipment.

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

How do your bags and gear hold up?

All the back packs I have used to date have been really good quality and lasted the test of time. I made good choices at the start and invested my money well… you really do get what you pay for now-a-days. 

If I started again I would choose the same packs… without question!

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

Over the years, I have reduced the amount of equipment I take… mainly due to weight but I have learnt to go without things. When starting out, you take way too much stuff… when you have to carry it over long distances you soon change your mind about what’s important and what’s not. However, I would always carry a map. compass, waterproofs, personal emergency shelter, first aid kit and food on any adventure, these are the basic equipment for any outdoor activity.

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

My best purchase is definitely the Zyliss ‘smartcafe cafetiere hot mug’… I can’t function without my coffee on adventures. I like my coffee fresh and hot… the ‘Hot Mug’ allows me to have a proper coffee with minimal hassle. It’s one luxury Item I couldn’t live without!

As for my other favorite gear, I love my ‘Spork’ by Lightmyfire. It has to be one of my most used items in my kit. When it comes to cooking and making a drink, this tool does it all. One major benefit is that it’s cheap to replace if you lose it… I’m ashamed to say I’ve lost a few!

What is your best advice for other adventurers?

The best advice I can give other adventurers is to invest in good equipment… you can’t afford to be out on the hill or in the mountains using equipment that won’t cope with the environment you’re in. I’ve witnessed many ill-dressed people climbing mountains and out on the Jurassic Coast. Come prepared because your safety is paramount! I would also advise learning navigation skills. If you can read a map correctly, you can plan an adventure safely. Good equipment and planning will mean you’ll be as safe as possible leaving you to enjoy your adventure.

Fossil Hunter Martin Curtis

What will the future bring?

I’m looking forward to 2018 and working as a guide on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. I love meeting new people from around the world and introducing them to my home. It’s an honour working as an ambassador and promoting this amazing natural world heritage site. I will continue with my fossil hunting adventures and continue to work hard to find that next big fossil find. Being the first person to set eyes on a fossilized creature that is millions of years old is just an amazing feeling. I’m keen to get to the mountains soon and I hope this will be back to Scotland to climb some Munros that I didn’t climb during my last visit.

I also have some projects I hope to get off the ground on the coast in 2018, they will take some work so I’m going to be busy! I’ll go for any media opportunities that come my way and I’d love to break into TV and present a walking programme. I’d start here on the coast and show the world what the real Jurassic Coast is all about!

My kit is currently all in good condition and ready to go for the new year but if anybody wants to send me some new outdoor kit to review, I’d happily assist. I’m a good example of how you can have adventures close to home. Other than all this, I’m a genuine outdoor enthusiast and will continue to do what I do best and promote the great outdoors and the Jurassic Coast!

Visit Martin Curtis on his website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (personal), Twitter (Jurassic Coast Guide)

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