Now that we've completed the Thames Path, I thought I'd do a review of the gear we thought we needed versus the gear we actually did use. There were more than a few things we brought that we didn't need and only a couple of things we had to hunt down and buy while there.
Clothing. To begin with, we brought way too many clothes. The nice denim skirt Marcie packed never got worn, nor did the dress shirt I packed or our lower baselayers. We both packed too much underwear and socks, and I packed a rather heavy second pair of cargo pants that were only worn when my usual pants were getting laundered. The original plan was to carry several changes of underwear and socks, with the thought that we'd find a laundry every few days. The reality was that after hiking all day, neither of us wanted to go find a laundromat, and very few of the pubs we stayed at had a washer/dryer. What we actually did was to shower at the end of the day and switch into a clean set of undies/base layers. If we then hand washed our socks, undies and base layers each evening and hung them up to dry overnight, with only a few exceptions they were dry by morning and ready to pack. This worked well with quick-dry synthetic or wool/synthetic blends, but I made the mistake of bringing cotton boxers, which take two to three overnights to dry. Fortunately, I brought enough pairs that I could usually manage a clean, dry pair most mornings. In the 27 days we were gone, we only needed a washer twice.
We could have saved considerable weight and space by reducing the clothing list to the following:
Gear. The gear we brought was pretty much what we needed. The only exception was the trekking poles. We only used them a couple of times, and could have managed just fine without them - the Thames Path was, for the most part, pretty easy going. Our rain jackets, while they served quite well on the few rainy days we encountered, were both about a pound heavier than they could be – if money were no object and we were inclined to get the lightest, best possible gear out there.
Personal Items. We carried more than we needed in this category as well. Most places we stayed had shampoo and soap, so we could have reduced the amount we lugged around with us. We didn't need the insect repellent, because we saw nary a mosquito – only an occasional house fly. (This may vary by season, but our September-October trek was mozzie free). The travel razor I bought used AA batteries, and I brought an extra set in case one set didn't last the entire trek. They weren't necessary, as the batteries lasted the whole trip, and anyway, AA batteries were readily available everywhere. Finally, Marcie packed a small bag of makeup, which wasn't used at all.
As to what we needed and didn’t bring, we both caught colds – probably from being confined on a plane for 10 hours – and needed to buy some local cold remedies and more ibuprofen than we brought. Fortunately, these were readily available over the counter at a reasonable cost. Marcie also needed a large quantity of blister bandages (or plasters as the Brits call them). These were also easy to find at most large groceries and pharmacies.
Electronics. The only thing we would do differently would be to reduce all the chargers and adapters we brought. The UK power adapters are big, bulky things, and we brought two so that we could charge two things at a time. The combined weight of the power adapters, the USB charger cubes, and the notebook charging brick was 18.8 oz., or slightly more than a pound. This doesn't seem like a lot, but when we're trying to keep our packs to less than 20 pounds, allocating over a pound to chargers and adapters is significant. They also take up a lot of room in the packs. I've since found a clever universal laptop charger that is smaller and lighter than Marcie’s Dell computer adapter, and which includes two USB charger jacks. We’ll see how it works out next time.
Marcie's pack was right at 20 lbs., while mine was about 22 lbs, plus whatever food and water we carried each day. I think we could have reduced our pack weights by 2-3 pounds each by eliminating the unused items and choosing lightweight options for what we did use.
In November when we're be back in the U.S, we’re planning a 70-100 mile backpacking trip. The objective is to see whether we're still capable of sleeping on the ground for several nights and actually being able to walk the next morning. The gear requirements will be different; we'll need a stove, fuel, tent, water purifier, sleeping bags and sleeping pads, not to mention several days of food. On the other hand, we'll be doing without most of the electronics, extra clothes, and some of the personal items we carried on the Thames Path. The goal of keeping the packs to 20 pounds or so is still the same, however. I'll do a blog on the gear we take for that in a couple of weeks.