Long distance hiker, blogger and author Keith Foskett gives us his top tech tips for anyone looking to get out into the great outdoors this summer...
With the weather turning and the sun shining, it’s about time we all started making use of the great British outdoors once again, and there’s no better way to appreciate England’s green and pleasant land than by getting a pair of sturdy boots on your feet and heading out on a hike.
It really is that easy, although it always pays to be prepared before you head off on a long walk. We recently sat down for a quick chat with Keith Foskett – long distance hiker and author – to ask him about his favourite walks around the UK, as well as get some tips on good quality gear and the mobile apps that no hiker should be without…
Top hiking apps
For some of us, hiking is a chance to get away from the buzz of everyday life and switch off from the world. But nowadays it’s always worth bringing your phone along for the ride – there are some great apps out there that’ll contribute to your hiking experience, and could even get you out of a sticky situation or two. Here are Keith’s top picks…
“Routebuddy is a really convenient way of accessing Ordnance Survey maps for the entire UK,” says Keith. “Not only does it save you from battling with map folding – particularly troublesome in high winds – but the app is GPS enabled too, so you know exactly where you are.”
“A visual reminder of progress, distance walked and calories burned is always a great incentive to get out for a walk. I’ve been using Runkeeper for years, as it displays all this information for each walk, and saves your entire hiking history so you can look back at all your previous routes.”
“The Sustrans app covers 25,000 miles of walking and cycling routes across the UK, and even offers suggestions of where to walk (or cycle, if that’s your thing). Sustrans is a charity that’s enabling more people to safely walk and cycle around the country, so you’ll be supporting a great cause by downloading, too.”
It’s Gonna Rain
“If you’re a Windows Phone user and lots of regular Android/iOS weather apps are unavailable to you, It’s Gonna Rain is a must download. Just download the app and it’ll buzz you with a notification if there’s going to be rain in the area within the next half an hour – and that 30 minutes can make all the difference, giving you a chance to layer up and get your waterproofs out.”
“Hiking is all about the appreciation of nature, and Leafsnap is a really clever way of learning more about the flora around you. Whenever you see a leaf or a flower you don’t know, just take a picture of it with your smartphone camera, and Leafsnap will use visual recognition to tell you exactly what you’re looking at.”
All set? Not quite. Before you head out into the great unknown, there’s just the important business of gearing yourself up. Keith has some good advice when it comes to prepping yourself for your hikes, starting with some key bits of gear to invest in…
“What you wear on your feet is probably the most important area to focus on,” says Keith. “Whilst boots will always have their place, you should also consider trail running shoes if you’re hiking in the summer – they’re lighter and breathe better. If you’re on a long walk, carrying a load, or going through wet terrain, boots are the safe bet as they’re sturdier and offer more ankle support. For wet weather hiking, or walking through the winter months, consider buying boots with a waterproof membrane such as Gore-Tex, which will help keep your feet dry.”
“Even if you’re only out on a short day walk, a pack is necessary to carry snacks, a drink, spare clothing and personal items like your keys and wallet. Packs are sold by volume and generally, 15 to 30 litres should suffice for a day. Worthwhile extras to look for are built-in waterproof covers, zip pockets on the hip belt to access items easily, and side pockets for a water bottle saves you removing the pack for a drink.”
“Considering what you wear is important. Cotton socks or t-shirts will soak up sweat, meaning you could get cold or develop blisters on your feet. Nowadays, synthetic materials are lighter, quicker drying and are relatively inexpensive. If you like to keep things traditional, wool is still a great option, particularly merino wool, which, though expensive, is brilliant if you want something light, comfortable and moisture-wicking.
“If you’re heading off the beaten path, or you need something a bit more heavy duty, you can track your position with a dedicated handheld GPS. These are particularly useful if you don’t want to use your smartphone in bad weather, and they’re made to withstand virtually anything you can throw at them. You could even consider a GPS watch from the likes of Garmin or Polar, if you’d rather have something wearable.”
The great outdoors
“What is it about being outdoors?” Keith asks on his blog. “Human beings have spent the vast proportion of their existence in the wild. Towns and cities are a creation we invented only recently. Our bodies and minds are still becoming used to them, we are not actually meant to be there. This is why I, the friends I walk with, run with and most of the people I meet revel in the experience.”
There is certainly something special about being outside and in the middle of nature, whether you’re alone on a hilltop or hiking your way through a forested valley. So, if you’re planning a hiking trip this summer, here are some of Keith’s favourite UK hikes for you to try:
1. Seaford to Birling Gap
“One of my favourite walks has to be starting from the Seven Sisters Country Park near Seaford, West Sussex,” says Keith, “then following the Cuckmere River down to Cuckmere Haven, and then walking over the white cliffs, known as the Seven Sisters, to Birling Gap. It’s great if you want a challenging walk, and you have to walk back too!”
2. Blairmore to Sandwood Bay
“Last year I had the amazing experience of hiking across Scotland. On the second day I achieved one of my ambitions, and visited Sandwood Bay. It’s been called the best beach in the UK, and is full of mysterious legends as well. The best part is the seclusion; you could well have it all to yourself. Access is via a four mile track from Blairmore.”
3. Hadrian’s Wall
“Hadrian’s Wall spans the width of the UK from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. Built by the Romans in AD 122 to separate them from the barbarians to the north, it is a sight to behold. The whole length is 84 miles but walkers can pick up the wall at various points. It’s a wonderful stroll through history, not to mention an incredible engineering achievement.”
4. Three Peaks
“If you like your walks a little on the extreme side, then consider one of the three highest mountains in the UK; Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in the Lake District, or Snowdon in Wales. These are strenuous hikes, you should allow a day to get up and down but the rewards, and views, will stay with you forever. Be prepared and do your research, mountain weather is fickle and can be dangerous.”
So, you’re kitted up, you’ve downloaded the best apps and you know where you’re going. Hang on just a second there though; Keith has a few last things that you should think about before you leave. These last little bits might be small, but they could save your bacon when the light is dying, and you’re lost with no battery left in your phone.
“External battery packs can be a godsend if you’re heading out on a long walk, especially if you’re using your phone for route finding,” he says. “GPS as we know is quite a heavy drain on your phone battery, so having a backup battery pack to recharge from is a good idea.
“A waterproof jacket is always a great idea too,” he says in closing, “not just because you can never predict the British weather, but also because it can take the edge off the cold if the temperature drops. Finally, don’t forget sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses to protect you on hot days! Being prepared is the key to enjoying the outdoors, so once you’re geared up and ready to go, just enjoy the experience and embrace the freedom!”
And finally, whether you’re hiking in the UK or abroad, don’t forget that we’ve just introduced inclusive roaming for new and upgrading customers – with unlimited texts, calls and picture messages, and up to 4GB of monthly data – across 40 destinations within our inclusive roaming zone on our Pay Monthly 12 & 24 month Red and Red Value bundles!
Check out some of Keith’s books on hiking here. And if you’re a Vodafone customer you can download the Kindle edition of The Last Englishman – Keith’s best-selling memoir following his epic, 2640 mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in America, for just 99p until 30 May!
On a fitness drive? We spoke to fitness trainer, blogger and vlogger Carly Rowena about her journey to her dream career in the fitness industry, and got some top tips on how to keep going with your fitness regimen to boot.