How Making the Move to Lightweight Hiking Was a Game Changer
I've just completed my second back-to-back, coast-to-coast hike across Scotland, hiking from west to east and covering more than 300km in the process. The Great Outdoors (TGO) Challenge is a unique event that runs every year. This year was its 40th year, and around 350 hikers of all shapes, sizes, ages, and nationalities trudged across the country. The TGO Challenge is defined by its ability to create close bonds between its entrants. It is the ultimate social hike, and almost everyone who completes it (and even those who don't) will feel the effects of the TGO family. I liked it so much last year that I decided to do it again this year, and embracing lightweight hiking this time was a real game changer.
The format of the challenge involves an entry ballot, with 350 to 400 places available. Once your place on the challenge roster is confirmed, route planning can begin. There are 12 potential start points on the west coast of Scotland, and the end point must be between two points on the east coast. Apart from that, you are free to roam wherever you please within the boundaries of the challenge. Some choose to go high into the mountains, ticking off the Scottish Munros and Corbetts as they go, others stick to lower routes, following drove roads and rights of way across the country. Whichever route you choose, you are bound to find another challenger along the way.
Every route is vetted individually by a team of experienced past and present challengers. They provide helpful tips and suggestions on your route, and advice on alternatives for bad weather. Once your route is approved, you can begin to plan the really exciting stuff, such as which kit to take, resupplying on the trail, and the logistics of getting to your start point (which sometimes can be tricky given the remote locations of some of them).
Prior to my most recent hike, I spent a lot of time thinking about the differences I would experience from my previous year hiking. Aside from my improved fitness and confidence, I'd made some pretty drastic gear changes over the past year. On my first TGO hike, I was carrying almost 16kgs over the first four days. I struggled under the burden. I felt its impact most when tackling steep ascents, as well as at the end of each day. Although I coped with the weight at the time, it was uncomfortable and held me back from making the most of my time on the trail. At the end of every day, my shoulders and back ached from the weight. I managed to cut the weight down to 14kg halfway through the hike, but it was still too heavy; I needed to get lighter to make the most of my time on the trail. I didn't want to just cope, I wanted to enjoy my time regardless of my pack weight.
The first thing I had to change was the weight of the actual pack that I was carrying. The Osprey pack that I used in 2018 was almost 2kg all by itself. Teaming up with Gossamer Gear, a connection I actually made during the 2018 challenge, I got my hands on the Gorilla 40 pack–weighing in at just 800kg–1.2kg saved already!
I also swapped out my heavy Luxe Hexpeak V4A tent for Gossamer Gear's " The One," which, compared to the Hexpeak, was over a kilogram lighter. I was now down over 2kg just from swapping out my two most important items of gear.
Thirdly, I invested in a down sleeping bag. After a lot of research, I went for the Carinthia D400. I sleep cold and thought a three season bag would make a lot of sense, especially in Scotland when the temperatures can be just as low in the summer as in the winter. This proved to be a great decision when I woke up to a frozen tent on the third day of the challenge. Swapping my sleeping bag saved another 400g of weight.
Combining the weight savings from these items and making smarter decisions on other aspects of my kit meant that I reduced my base weight from 11.5kg in 2018, down to 6.7kg base weight in 2019. Lowering my base weight meant I could allow myself a little extra weight for consumables; having compromised on this to lower weight in 2018, I was able to pack more food and therefore more energy for my 2019 hike. I also changed my water strategy, opting to take a 1L bottle over the 3L Platypus bladder, therefore carrying less water weight and refilling more regularly. This strategy worked really well; however, I did add a water filter to my kit to ensure I could refill whenever I needed to and without worrying about finding a totally reliable water supply.
So, what were the main differences between carrying a 16kg bag versus a 10kg bag? I climbed quicker, I felt fitter, and at the end of the day, I still had the energy to walk farther.
Unlike the previous year, my shoulders weren't crying from the pain of the weight that they had struggled under for days that were 16 to 18 miles long. The confidence I had in myself that I could complete a more than 200-mile hike was significantly higher than the previous year. It was no longer a hassle to take my pack off during the day. Last year, the weight of my pack took so much energy from me, both physically and mentally. This year, I wasn't worried about tackling difficult terrain. In fact, I planned a route with sections of pathless and often very boggy ground. I also added two unplanned Munros into my route–although I have to admit for these that I did stash some of the weight from my bag and return for it later. However, I only had the energy to do those extra summits because I was carrying less weight overall.
I definitely didn't make any compromises with the gear choices I made on this year's hike either.
The shelter I used, The One by Gossamer Gear, was a great choice for the walk. It's super roomy, really quick to pitch, and utilizes the LT5 trekking poles as its main supports–meaning no need to carry additional poles. It's also great for pitching in the rain, which we get a lot of in Scotland; it dried really quickly each morning.
The Gorilla 40 was the ideal pack for the two-week trip, fitting in everything I needed with space left over. Apart from the familiar ache of bearing weight over a long distance, that I felt on day one, the pack was the comfiest I've ever used. Its huge front pocket was my friend when I wanted to stash huge bags of M&Ms and Haribo to keep me going over long stretches of bog, and the built-in sit pad was great for taking breaks on the trail.
I still have a way to go with lightweight hiking, and there are definitely more changes that I could make to lighten the load even further. Every hike is a lesson, and I am definitely learning to take less and do more.
I used 2019.