Tina Chantrey tells us exactly what we need to prep, plan and pack for a camping running holiday
2020 saw a camping boom due to Brits staying on home soil rather than holidaying abroad, and this trend is set to continue this year. Why not let nature soothe you, and spend your evenings under the stars by a campfire, while you meander through trails during the day at a pace that suits you? By combining camping with trail running, you realise you don’t have to travel abroad to explore stunning scenery and watch mountain-top sunsets while you boost your fitness. We have many adventurous trails and zen locations in the UK to fulfil your wanderlust. It’s time to unplug from the world, leave your tech behind (except your GPS of course) and be outdoors 24/7.
Where to start
If you’ve never camped before, it’s worth starting small. Taking on an epic challenge with many miles or hills, while you’re carrying all your gear on your back is something to work towards. You may choose wild camping next to a loch, bikepacking to different locations, or having your boot full of provisions and turning up at a campsite. A self-supported camping holiday with endless day trips along the trails is achievable and affordable for anyone, regardless of running ability. Whether you get away on your own, head to a race and camp for the weekend, or take the family, the beauty of this type of holiday is that it isflexible .
“When first contemplating a trail running and camping adventure, it’s worth thinking about how comfortable you are with camping,” says Emily Scott (@adventure_scottie). Emily climbed Scotland’s 282 munros – that’s mountains over 3,000ft – in one continuous, self-propelled solo journey in 2018. “If it’s going to be your first time, it’s probably worth sticking to a campsite. If you are comfortable with wild camping, but haven’t run with your camping gear before, consider planning a two-day trip to start with so you can ease yourself in gently with just one night’s camping to see how it goes.”
Emily has completed a number of long-distance running challenges, from the West Highland Way in Scotland, to Hadrian’s Wall and the Walkers’ Haute in the Alps from Chamonix to Zermatt. “There’s something very satisfying about pushing myself physically, although sometimes trail ‘running’ does feel like a bit of a misnomer and in fact what I do would be more appropriately described as a mixture between fast hiking with a little bit of running thrown in.”
Popular-long distance trails, such as the West Highland Way, have options where you can do a self-guided trip with baggage transportation. This means you run between camp spots, but have your bags dropped off at the end of each day. This keeps weight in your backpack to a minimum and you can camp in style, without having to haul your tent around with you.
Planning your adventure
Knowing what you want to achieve in terms of running will help you plan your trip.
“I enjoy covering a set route in a shorter time to what the guide book says,” says Emily. “That doesn’t mean rushing through a landscape and failing to appreciate it, but instead to feel a sense of physical challenge and to set myself a goal that I’m not sure if I will manage. In a way, I seem to feel more connected to the landscape by challenging myself.
“When deciding to do these types of challenges, I think it’s important to consider why you want to do it, especially if you are setting out to push yourself. There are times when it will be hard, and knowing your motivation will help you get through those times.
“When I climbed Scotland’s 282 munros in 2018, I had to carry everything I needed for a summer out in the hills. Being Scotland, that meant sufficient kit to keep me warm and dry. I got snowed on in June and experienced wind-chill down to -10 degrees C in August! During the planning stages for that expedition, I thought I would run a lot more than I did. Injury prevention was a key factor in that decision and I found when I was carrying all my camping equipment and food for multi-day trips out in the hills, my 65L backpack made it difficult to run much. However, there were times that I was able to strip things back to a smaller day pack and as my hill fitness increased, I ran more.”
Where to stay
If you plan to run a lot every day, it’s important to remember that the more weight you carry, the less enjoyable the running will be (and also the greater risk of injury). “A trail run with B&B stops might be preferable to running and camping, or consider a very lightweight, minimal setup instead,” says Emily. “A bivvy bag rather than a tent will be much more space efficient and lighter, but make sure you check the weather forecast.”
“Camping can seem like a faff, and be quite daunting,” she says, “but really, there’s not much to it. You need somewhere to pitch, something to sleep under, and something to sleep on or in. This stays the same whether you’re planning on being fast and light (think ultralight tarp and fast-packing kit), or whether you glamp in the valleys. I take the middle ground; I don’t like to be burdened by a heavy pack during the day when I’m on the move, but equally I want to be able to stay warm and dry in an evening. However you choose to camp, just get out there, and enjoy it.”
If you don’t like the idea of staying in a site with other people around, you might like wild camping. “There’s nothing better than a day in the mountains finished off by a wild camp,” says Laura. “Throw in a dramatic sunset and an epic sunrise, and you’ll fall in love with it.”
The back-to-basics nature of wild camping will help you slow down, stop and pause. “You realise there’s no need to rush, no timetable, just following a schedule set by daylight and how much you want to do,” she adds. “As trail runners, so much of our focus is on keeping on moving, making progress ever upwards and forwards, and that has its time and place. Wild camping is the perfect antidote.”
Laura advises to start local. “There’s a chance you might forget something. Also, don’t underestimate how much slower you might be moving with all your kit. Then get more adventurous as you get used to it. Don’t rush. With everything you need on your back, you can take your time.”
When it comes to pitching your tent, choose your spot well. “An extra 10 minutes searching for that perfect spot remember that wild camping is not permitted everywhere – you may need the landowners’ permission.
Wake up for sunrise, because when else are you on a summit before dawn? You can go back to bed afterwards.” And to pitch is time well spent,” she says. “Don’t compromise and pitch on the first rocks/ tufts/bog you come to. A decent sleeping mat and bag is key, as well as ear plugs and an eye mask.”
What to take
The four main basic items you need are a tent, backpack, sleeping bag and sleep mat. It’s worth spending extra cash on your running and sleeping comfort. All of your essentials need to be lightweight, be able to be packed small leaving room for limited spare clothing including waterproofs and possible cooking equipment if you’re self-supporting.
Backpacks shouldn’t be too big; they need to be comfortable while running with a waist belt so test them first. Bladder storage is ideal, as are lots of internal storage options. Make sure the pack is waterproof and if not, invest in dry bags, especially for spare kit.
Sleeping bags should be lightweight, pack down small and provide warmth down to 5 degrees minimum; even in the summer the temperature can drop at night. Sleeping mats should be self-inflating. A bivvy bag option is ultra-lightweight for races, but consider whether your other kit will stay safe from the elements.
If you’re thinking of investing in a tent, try to find one that allows the inner and outer layer to be pitched at the same time, with limited poles and a good hydrostatic (water protection) rating of at least 5,000ml to protect you from the UK weather.
If you feel bewildered by all the kit, OMM does an essential kit list for races which is worth checking our for the basics.
If you’re going on trails that are new to you, make sure you stay safe. Even though using your phone on the trails may be the last thing you want to do, downloading some apps can help you stay on track. Avoid wrong turns that add unexpected miles using an app such as RunGo, which will give you turn-byturn voice navigation. The OS Maps app means you don’t have to worry about paper getting soggy in the rain, and if you also want an extra level of safety, the NeverAlone+ app is programmed to contact a phone number of your choice if you remain in one place for a set time, sending a pre-programmed SMS message along with your GPS location. In remote places, you may struggle to find phone service so out-and-back runs, or a loop can also provide peace of mind.
“If you’re going out into the mountains or into more remote places, you’ll need to make sure you’re equipped to deal with things not going quite to plan,” suggests Emily.
“Having waterproof outer shells, a warm layer and some spare socks in a dry bag will make a difference in bad weather, and having a map and compass are crucial in the mountains, if you know how to use them.”
Going with a friend will probably make the experience more fun and keep you safer too. “There may be times that you will drive each other mad, but there will also be times when the solidarity you have will help you both pull through the tough sections,” she says. “These will be the bits that you will look back on and remember fondly.”