With only a day to go before I set off on my walk to Rome, one of the questions I’ve been asked the most in the run up to D-Day is…what are you taking with you?
Packing for a long weekend away, let alone a three and a half month adventure, is challenging enough. But when everything you pack is going to be carried on your back, the ruthlessness in you comes out.
When it comes to packing, we all know that the more space you have the more things you pack. So my first, and most important, consideration was which backpack to take. I’ve used Lowe Alpine backpacks in the past when trekking in Nepal, and have always found them to be fantastic. So I opted for the Lowe Alpine AirZone Pro+ 33:40, a 33 litre backpack that can expand to 40 litres if necessary. It has a fully adjustable, breathable, back support system, plus tons of pockets and gizmos to ensure I can access extra layers or blister plasters with ease. With some help from a public vote on Instagram, she’s been christened Bonnie the Backpack.
Bonnie was very kindly bought for me by my wonderful friends at Estancia Los Potreros, a horse riding and working cattle ranch in Argentina where I worked for a number of months earlier this year. Their support for my walk to Rome has been both impassioned and unwavering, and I can’t thank them enough.
With my backpack sorted, my next big consideration…what should I put in it? Well, that’s proved to be something of a science, and most definitely an exercise in practicality and restraint. I’ve had a stab at packing a number of times only to realise (after picking Bonnie up and seeing how heavy she is!) that I need to start again, with more ruthlessness. Clothes that have been laid out ready to be packed have instead been folded up and put back in their drawers. If it’s not lightweight, durable, practical, and, most importantly, necessary, it’s not going in.
Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to about my walk has been disproportionately interested in the contents of my backpack, perhaps because they can’t imagine what three and a half months of your life, packed into a small space, looks like! So for those of you who have been interested in the particulars, here’s what it’s come down to…
Things I’ll walk in:
- A pair of full length leggings
- A pair of knee length leggings, kindly donated by Sweaty Betty
- A pair of shorts
- A t-shirt, kindly donated by Sweaty Betty
- x2 merino wool sleeveless tops
- x3 pairs of knickers
- x2 sports bras, kindly donated by Sweaty Betty
- x2 pairs of merino wool socks
- Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX hiking shoes
- A linen shirt, for protection from the sun
- A jumper, kindly donated by Sweaty Betty
- A thin insulated gillet
- A raincoat
- A pair of waterproof trousers
Things for the evenings and rest days:
- A pair of lightweight baggy trousers
- A Mind t-shirt
- A lightweight jersey dress
- A pair of flip flops
- A pair of pyjamas
Other bits and bobs:
- A Buff, kindly donated by the travel agent Far and Ride, who specialise in horse riding holidays
- A lightweight scarf to cover my shoulders when visiting churches en route
- A pair of walking poles
- A pair of sunglasses
- A sun hat
- A bikini for soaking in the hot springs I’ll pass en route
- A travel towel
- A silk sleeping bag liner
- A 1.5 litre water bladder and a 1 litre water bottle, plus an emergency collapsible 500ml water bottle
- A head torch
- A Swiss Army Knife
- Gaffer tape (which can be used for so many things, from repairing clothes to holding a smashed iPhone together!)
- Some basic toiletries, kindly donated by Lush and Neal’s Yard Remedies
- A bottle of travel wash
- A first aid kit (including plenty of Compeed)
- An iPad
- An iPhone
- A power bank
- Charging cables and adapters
- A notebook and pen
- A French phrase book
- My passport!
I have allowed myself one luxury item, though. A number of years ago I was travelling in Nepal and was given something called a mani stone by a Tibetan refugee, a small stone inscribed with the Buddhist mantra “Om mani padme hum”. This mantra has a number of different meanings, all of which resonate with me, but it’s also a prayer for protection for travellers. When trekking in Nepal you see piles of mani stones lining the mountain paths, placed their as offerings to the gods for the protection of all who pass them. A few years ago I actually gave that mani stone to a friend who spends a lot of his life on the road in countries far from home. So on a return trip to Nepal I acquired a new mani stone, and, call me superstitious, but I take it with me whenever I embark on a long journey. And this time around it’ll be coming with me all the way to Rome.
So that’s it…my worldly possessions for the next three and a half months. When written down it sounds like a lot, but I promise you that it’s actually very little. Isn’t it amazing, though, how little we need in life. I think that’s where much of the appeal of this walk lies for me, in stripping things back to the very basics and living simply. Like a pilgrim from the Middle Ages…except with an iPhone, high tech walking shoes, and a lifetime’s supply of blister plasters!
My bag is packed, my shoes are waiting by the door…tomorrow it’s time to start walking to Rome.