It is interesting when asked to type up the list of items worn and used on the The Great Outdoors Challenge (TGOC), how each item deserves a comment or two. It can't be helped, somehow we all get an odd close relationship going with these inanimate objects. Strange isn't it?

Due to weather conditions and general temperatures, most clothing items were worn most of the time. I think we can only remember one day when it didn't rain at all and generally we all agreed it was a very cold crossing. As such both base layers of Merino were worn all the way across 90% of the time and I never felt really hot at any time. Not something I was expecting to be honest, as when I put them on at home I was roasting very quickly!

The first day started perfectly. Everyone on the TGOC had a bright sunny morning, a cool breeze and high hopes for a wonderful crossing. Spirits were high all up the west coast, however these were dashed fairly quickly after midday as the cloud dropped, the rain started and the temperature fell quickly. Combined with our chosen route which then required a very steep climb onto the ridge of navigational dispair our mood soon changed and the rest of the afternoon and early evening was spent trying to find a clear path across some of the worst terrain I've encountered on the TGOC.

In years past I spent most of my time walking in just a base layer and windshirt, however this year most agree it was generally much colder and wetter, so I think I only used that combination once or twice.

My general routine is to have most waterproof items to hand in external pockets or strapped to the pack, for swift access. This happened a lot.

I put all the cook items into one bag as I had expected or rather, hoped to be doing more organic cooking using wood on the way. However although I tried this once, to be honest it was just too cold with a stiff chilled breeze to allow any pleasure in cooking. I would say most cooking was done under the shelter of the open door to act as a windbreak. The Evernew burner and Honey Stove performed well and were fairly swift at bringing my dehydrated meals to a rolling boil in 6-8 minutes before popping them into a pot cosy for 20-30 minutes.

Lee used a Jetboil SOL and Tony a Caldera Cone, but both were using freeze dried rations, so all they wanted to do was boil water rapidly and eat. Whenever I wanted just a hot drink, I would beg a mug full from them as it was easier than setting up my system if we weren't in camp. But that aside, my food and meals were a great success. Nothing better than the comfort a tasty meal brings at the end of a hard day.

We tried to spend no more than 3 days walking without visiting a local hostelry or cafe to top up with breakfast and midday meal or a pub lunch. This meant we were generally only carrying a maximum of 3 evening meals, 3 breakfasts, midday snacks (sandwiches/pasties/apples) and a few bars. Plus of course a bag of trail mix. Of course there were extras and luxuries, such as cup soups, hot chocolates, custard and puddings for a treat. Plus a swig of Whisky to top the night off if we felt we had earned it. (That didn't last long I can tell you!)

Wet feet? Yes for the first few days covering tough undulating wet ground this was the norm and I stupidly made the classic mistake of not washing my socks and foot pads out each night. I always advise others to do it, however I either forgot or I was just plain lazy and therefore suffered two beautiful blisters on the balls of both feet as a result.

Although walking through cold streams and rivers or across boggy ground is unpleasant initially, it isn't as bad as you might assume, as I've found my feet radiate so much heat when walking a natural balance gets created and one forgets about it reasonably quickly. However the very, very fine grit in the water and mud is filtered through the skin material of the shoes and socks as you walk.

This grit builds to form a coarse surface on the foot pad and socks, so unless you end the day by swilling both in a stream and washing off the excess, you are liable to be very soon rubbing your feet for 8-10 hours of the next day with a fine sandpaper. Hence my ruddy great blisters.

So I made that mistake on the first 2 days. My mind was elsewhere as we had had a tough time navigating and crossing a section of ground in appalling weather. Looking back I remember putting the tent up in a heavy wind and rain and it continuing all night and into the morning. No excuses really, I managed to make a brew and eat, so a trip the stream was easy. Just pure laziness on my part mixed with some exhaustion no doubt.

That began my suffering for the next 8 days, which was compounded by me breaking my big toe again when falling over (its happened before no biggy) and something akin to shin splints on the other foot. All of which I put down to the fact that I hadn't looked after my feet on day one. So no one to blame but myself.

However they don't call it a challenge for nothing and there were a few days mid way thorough I thought I might have to pull out due to my feet issues. Coincidentally at that time due to the changing weather we had to change our route and use the FWA (Foul Weather Alternative) for a few days. This actually helped slightly as it meant a detour to St Augustus. This was at the end of a long hard track walk, but we were rewarded that night with an excellent B&B, good food and a evening in a pub with a roaring fire. All of which helped improve spirits no end. It also allowed me to spend some time on my blister treatment and foot care. This combined with the right encouragement from Lee and Tony I was able to give it my best shot for the next few days. Feeling brighter and getting better, day by day.

It was good to get away for a couple of weeks, however the weather pattern for this time of year does appear to have changed over the last 10 years, from being 'mostly' pleasant, to very 'rarely' being pleasant for May. We weren't the only people to comment on this and everyone concluded that the general cold temperature, bitter wind, sleet and snow make it more of a challenge almost than the walking itself. We had only one day with no rain during the two weeks, and it certainly felt Spring like for a day or so. There were a few dry nights also, so it wasn't all bad as these pictures indicate.

However two weeks with a couple of buddies like Lee Wells and Tony Bowe is great fun. Conversation, jokes and the gibes never stopped flowing and it was great to pass the hours in such a companionable fashion. We all made new friends and contacts along the way in true TGO Challenge form with a few commenting that is was akin to walking with 3 married couples who were bickering and digging all the time. How true!

Fellowship at its best!

The total weight of all the gear excluding, fuel, food, water and liquid was just over 11kg. This went up to approximately 13kg during fuel and food top ups/parcel collection.


  • Chocolate Fish 195 Merino Long Sleeve Zip Neck (The Chocolate Fish products were great and nicely long int he body. Luxurious to wear and full of merino benefits)
  • Chocolate Fish 195 Merino Short Sleeve
  • Vaude Briefs (Light, quick and easy to wash and dry)
  • X-Socks Light Hiker (My sock of choice when using Inov-8)
  • Montane Terra Pants (8 Years old and still going strong)
  • Inov-8 315 Trail Shoes (Brilliant)
  • Integral Designs Shorty Gaiters (A great combination with the shoes. Perfect)
  • Berghaus Packlite Over Trousers (5 Years old and still ideal for the trip)
  • Rab Volt Jacket (7 Days use - An excellent hill jacket but sometimes I felt it was too clammy for me so after 7 days I changed to) OMM Cypher Smock (eVent and felt more up to the conditions we were in)
  • Sticky Gloves
  • Trekmates Goretex Overmitts (I wish they still made these. A simple Goretex mitt with no insulation)
  • TGOC Peak Cap (10 years old and looking tatty)
  • Buff neckwear
  • In pocket at all times Panasonic Lumix FT3 Camera (Tough, abused, waterproof and ideal for for me. Reasonable stills and HD 720p Video)
  • Exped Lightning 60 Rucksack (With various modifications and extra straps removed)
In Side Pockets
  • Toilet Trowel
  • Rain Cover
  • Thermarest Lite Seat
  • Water Bottle using Mumm Tablets
  • Adventure Medical Survival Bivy Bag (Used under the groundsheet as protection and a heat barrier)
  • Montane Slipstream Smock Windshirt (Has the material look of a bin bag or a 70's shell suit! Does the job though and very, very light)

In Top Rucksack Pocket

  • Multitool (Didn't really need this)
  • Shock Cord + Dyneema (Used in various ways)
  • Velcro Straps (Used to tie clothing to rucksack)
  • Notepad + Pen in Waterproof Pouch
  • Compass
  • Ortlieb Map Case
  • iPhone in Waterproof Wallet
  • Wallet in Waterproof Wallet
In POD compression sack and roll top bag
  • Thermarest Alpine Quilt (Combined with the insulated clothing I was too warm most of the time)
  • Backpackinglight Silk Sleeping Liner
  • NeoAir X-Lite Sleeping Pad 
In POD roll top bags
  • Rab Photon Insulated Trousers - side zips removed (Smart enough for the pub, warm enough to sleep in)
  • Klattermusen Liv Down Smock (An old favourite and great to sleep in)
  • Embers Merino 195 Long Sleeve Top (Performed as well as Chocolate Fish, but had a groovy image on it so I kept this for dry/smart)
  • 2 Pairs Vaude Briefs
  • 2 Pairs X-Socks Light Hiker
  • Buff
  • Chocolate Fish Possum Hat (Very warm but a bit baggy with use)
  • Waterproof Care Plus First Aid Kit
  • Camera Charger
  • Charger Lead/Plug
  • Spare Battery
  • Spare SD Cards
  • Edirol Audio Recorder
  • USB Charge for iPhone
  • Solar Charger (Charged) for iPhone
In Exped Roll Top Bag
  • Wash kit, Towel and Gehwol Foots Creams/Balms (Wonderful stuff)
In Exped roll top bag
  • Honey Stove Ti (All options and used mainly in hexagonal form)
  • Windshield Foil (Needed every night)
  • Evernew Non Stick 900 Pan (This was fantastic. Nothing burned and stuck. Easy to clean in the cold water)
  • Evernew 400 ml Mug (It hold tea/soup/whisky and you drink from it)
  • Evernew Meths Burner
  • Flint and Steel (Used to light the burner every day)
  • Folding Ti Spork
  • J-Cloth and small bottle of Dr Bronners
  • Small Whisk (Very useful for soups, hot chcolate and other powders which require stirring)
In small Exped Bag
  • Nordisk Telemark 2 Tent (Very light and roomy for one. Space for everything, however door needs to be pegged open to vent properly in the long grass and still nights)
Poles and pegs in another small bag

Lose in rucksack
  • Trangia 500ml Meths Bottle (Cooked on Meths ever day so refilled this once during the 2 weeks)
  • Orikaso Folding Plate (Never used or needed)
  • Platypus 2 x 1 lt bladders and hoser (Used more at night for cooking)
  • Ortlieb A4 bag containing food supplies
  • GSI Hip Flask (Emptied fairly quickly)
  • Waterproof boot liner socks (Ex army picked them up cheap years ago and they don't smell)
Author: Bob Cartwright