The backpacking conundrum – what next?

Entries for The Great Outdoors Challenge (TGOC) 2018 are now open, which reminded me it was around a year a go when I applied for the 2017 event. This gave me a bit of fright, where has the time gone?

Ultimately, I withdrew from the TGOC with unpredictable back pain. I was somewhat disappointed with myself and admit that I often look back and think what if I’d just went for it?

There is no point dwelling on it now, but when my proposed route for the TGOC was first vetted, they commented that my route was ambitious. But they took into account I was still fairly young and likely to be quite fit. They wouldn’t be far wrong.

Fitness aside my right knee occasionally flares up after a few days hill walking, something that first occurred when doing the West Highland Way in 2011. I get a dull burning pain inside the knee cap. It usually disappears overnight or after a 2 or 3 days rest. This knee issue coupled with sporadic back pain put doubt in my mind. The fear of failure due to injury made me anxious and I decided to withdraw.

I cast my mind back to occasions when I’d had knee flare ups and I realised there was a common denominator to this frustrating minor injury. Every time it flared up I was either walking with somebody who was naturally a stronger and faster walker or I was yomping quickly over deep snow or heather over a long distance.

Whether I’m nipping out to the shops or doing a big hike I’m naturally a quick walker. I realised when walking with slower paced friends or taking my time, my knee is generally fine. The obvious suddenly hit home, the route vetters were right. I was being too ambitious and this is where my backpacking inexperience showed. Just because I’m more than capable of covering 20-25 miles on a hill walk, I decided to cover a similar distance each day to during the TGOC. I probably was setting myself up for an injury then ultimately, failure.

If I make the leap from hill walking and wild camping to long distance backpacks then I need to temper myself to slow down and remember it’s not a race!


Wild camping during the Lochaber Traverse.


Will I apply again?

In short, no. Well not yet anyway. Whilst not perfect my back has been a lot better. I discovered I was sleeping in a twisted position putting pressure on my spine. I usually manage to avoid sleeping in the troublesome position and I have seen a marked improvement but just when I think I’ve turned the corner, I get a flare up.

What next?

I still get a lot of joy and fulfilment from hill walking and I bagged my 100th Corbett during the summer, but peak bagging has lost its appeal. Spending nights out on the hills wild camping and in bothies are now firmly my bag.

Up until now I’ve never spent any longer than 2 nights out. This is something I want to build on because I always feel just as you’re just getting into the trip you have to think about heading back.

The long term dream is to do the Cape Wrath Trail and or the TGOC. In the meantime I’m thinking about maybe a shorter backpacking trip. Perhaps something like the Skye Trail or explore all the nooks and crannies of the Cairngorm Mountains or head into my favourite area for wild camping; Fisherfield.

For any backpacking trip to be successful, I must train myself to take it easy and restrict daily distances to around 15 miles a day.

3 thoughts on “The backpacking conundrum – what next?

  1. To be honest, I’ve always had to pace myself both climbing hills and definitely carrying a backpack. As the years have gone by, I’ve got noticeably slower and slower. But, so long as I could continue, I didn’t mind. Now of course, my hip has done for any further plans I might have had so I’ll just have to hope a surgeon agrees to replace it. I can’t wait to get back to ‘life as normal’.

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