Essential Dartmoor Kit
I recently recieved an e mail asking what equipment should be carried when on Dartmoor (see the Visitor's Book - Aug. 15th) and so I am going to open up mine for all the world to see. What's in yours? It's a bit like asking a woman what she carries in her handbag - a very personal question. Everybody will carry different things depending on what they are doing, for instance letterboxers will carry different things to a rambler. The Barbour clothing company at one time used to have a display which they took to various shows of the items they had found in the pockets of coats that had been returned to them for repair - totally astounding what people carry around with them. But I would say that for me there are 13 essential things that will always be in my rucksack and that, if I am going above three miles, will always be with me. I remember when I first started walking the moor I would stagger around with a 65 litre rucksack that contained every survival aid imaginable, and that was just going around Haytor. Today that has shrunk to a 25 litre rucksack with just the necessities which would be needed in an emergency. So. lets brush off the dried peat and see what's inside, no maybe first it's best to start with the actual rucksack:
RUCKSACK - Crag Hoppers Dry Sac (25 litre), this model is no longer made but it's perfect, it has a good contoured shape, with ventilation mesh, it's lightweight, has plenty of pockets and good waist and chest straps, even better it comes with a separate liner. The important thing to remember about your rucksack will be that on a days walk it will be closer to you than your loved one and you know how selective you were when choosing them. The other point is that very few if any rucksacks are 100% waterproof so always make sure it comes with a liner or you buy a separate liner, that way the contents will keep dry no matter what. On Dartmoor you see numerous walkers with rucksacks festooned with sew-on badges and although you may want to demonstrate that, "I ♥ Dartmoor Ponies" there is one thing to remember. Every stitch that has gone into sewing such a badge on has also gone through the rucksack fabric and it's unbelievable how much water will seep through those tiny holes - you have paid good money for a rucksack not a sieve.
As far as the actual contents go I have split them into two categories; essentials and enhancements, the former are what I consider you would need to stay safe and comfortable (even during an unexpected stay) and the latter are items that enable you to enjoy your walk. This list is my personal one and should in no way be taken as an officially recommended checklist of rucksack contents. All I will say is that I have been walking Dartmoor for years during which time I have met most conditions and I am still here to tell the tales.
1) FIRST-AID KIT - This should contain at least the following; a range of bandages, a selection of plasters, blister kit, antiseptic wipes or spray, aspirins (pain relief and heart attack), dressings, cotton wool. micro tape, disposable gloves, safety pins, tweezers (try walking around with a gorse prickle in your hand) and a resuscitator mask. Two further points, remember that your first-aid kit may be needed for someone else so don't think for example, "I don't get blisters", someone else might. If you do suffer an accident you may be unconscious and the first person to find you may not be carrying a kit, therefore always keep it in one of the side pouches of the rucksack and mark it clearly, "First-Aid". That way time can be saved with someone being well aware where there is a first-aid kit. It also never hurts to stick to the front of your first-aid kit a label stating your name, address, contact phone number, blood group and any allergies you may have. Finally keep a regular check on the condition of the more perishable items, there's nothing worse than coming to use an antiseptic cream and its all dried up.
2) MAP - Needless to say, this is vital for navigating around the moor in all weather conditions and debatably the best one to carry is the OS 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Map No. 28. Either that or purchase a digital map from which you can print the relevant map extracts for where you intend going, this is certainly the most economical method should you be using the map a lot. If possible get a laminated OS map or print the digital map onto water-proof paper which is now available and thoroughly recommended. Failing that buy a decent water-proof map case, by doing one of those options you will ensure your map never gets soggy and is always readable. The Dartmoor OS map is printed on two sides with the north on one side and the south on the other and for that reason, even though it sounds ridiculous, practice opening, unfolding and reversing it. You would be amazed how many people I have seen trying to do exactly that in a gale and have ended up holding one torn half as the other is blown across the moor. Most importantly, learn how to read the bloody thing, I have met people on the moor who were totally lost despite having a map with them, all because they didn't know how to read it?
3) COMPASS - Just as Bonnie went everywhere with Clyde so the map should accompany the compass. There are numerous ones on the market, digital and steam powered, so you pay your money and take your choice. I always carry a Silva and apart from the odd bubble have had no problem. The range can be found on their website along with a tuition pdf if required - click HERE (opens in new window). As with the map, make sure you know how to use a compass! As a good compass can cost a fair wedge it's always best to put a lanyard on it, that way it won't get lost. Never attach the lanyard to the compass with a metal clip as this can seriously effect the accuracy of it, as will any metal object.
4) FOOD - Always take a supply of food, if anything take more than you would need just incase you have an unexpected or extended stay on the moor - apart from the sheep there's not a lot of good eating to be found.
5) WATER - Most people would say that water is more important than food but on Dartmoor you will never be that far away from water. Granted some of it will not be tap water quality but if it's taken from where a stream runs swiftly over a stony bed or the bottom of a small cascade then there should be no problem. If you are unhappy with this take some form of purification such as a steri-straw. Remember, 1 pint of water weighs about 1lb and for a hot day on Dartmoor you would need at least 4 pints, that's a minimum of 4lbs to carry. One type of drink that should never be taken is alcohol, it impairs the senses and lowers body heat which in cold conditions is the last thing anyone wants, there are plenty of good pubs for when the walk is over. In the case of both food and water PLEASE bring back the empty packaging and don't just shove it in some rock crevice. It always amazes me when people go to the effort of carrying food and liquid out on the moor and then, when the packets and bottles are empty they simply dump them. This is when said containers are at their lightest and therefore easier to take back than bring out!
6) SURVIVAL BAG - This would become crucial if you are stuck on the moor, especially in cold, wet conditions. There is a choice of thick polythene or foil of which I carry a polythene type. There are two advantages with this sort, they are more durable and come in vivid colours which can easily be spotted from a distance.
7) WHISTLE - If the situation arose where help needed to be summoned then this is the traditional method of doing it. Simply give a short, sharp blast every 10 seconds (6 a minute), sound carries an incredible distance on the moor especially when the mist is down. Any body hearing the six blasts should reply with three blasts to let it be known that help is coming.
8) TORCH - Sometimes a walk takes longer than expected and it's hard enough traversing clitters and mire with a torch so imagine what it would be like in darkness. There are a whole range of torches which go from traditional hand-held ones, through head torches to those that clip on anything. The best one I have found is the Inova 24/7, it has 8 modes which includes a bright flashlight, night vision red, locator beacon, distress strobe, signal strobe and a S.O.S. signal. It comes with a lanyard and a clip for fixing to rucksacks or jackets. One thing to bear in mind is that when walking its always best to have both hands free and a traditional torch uses one of them. As with the whistle, a torch can be used to summon assistance, exactly the same procedure applies.
9) KNIFE - I know that in today's world knives are a very emotive subject but the times mine has proven to be invaluable are too numerous to count. Personally I prefer a lock-knife, purely because I have two deep scars from two occasions when the blade of an ordinary pocket knife has folded back on my fingers whilst cutting something.
10) WALKING STICK - Modern thinking is that walking poles take a lot of stress off the knees but sorry there is no way I could 'ski' across the moor with two of those things. Forget the stress relief for a moment, a walking stick is always useful for extra balance when crossing streams or clitters. When you meet a suspect patch of bog the depth can soon be established with a walking stick which saves a bootful of black smelly stuff. They are also useful when poking around under rocks as at best there is often broken glass lurking about or at worse there could be an adder coiled unseen, a stick will take the 'sting' from both thus saving your fingers. But please, don't go spending a fortune on walking poles, any countryside hedgerow will contain at least one suitable hazel pole and that won't cost a penny - cut it in winter when the sap's down and let it dry for a year.
11) PARACORD & GLUE - Both are handy for running repairs to clothing, equipment and boot/gaiter laces, ever tried walking in a lace-less boot or a jacket flapping open because the zip has burst?
12) SPARE CLOTHING - Depending on how much you want to carry, it's always handy to have a least a dry polo shirt or a pair of socks. Whatever you take make sure its in a water-proof bag, that way it stays dry.
13) CIGARETTES & MATCHES - I did say this was my personal list - the most miserable day I ever spent on Dartmoor was the day my lighter packed up whilst miles from anywhere. Since that day I always carry a spare packet of Marlboro and a box of Swan Vesta.
MOBILE PHONE - How did we ever manage before the days of the mobile phone? Unquestionably they can literally be a life-saver when needing to summons help - that is if there is a signal and on Dartmoor that is not always the case. If you do carry one always ensure that it's fully charged before going on the moor and then switch the sodding thing off. There is nothing worse that having the peace and tranquillity of the moor ruined by someone else's conversation or latest ring tone. Surely the whole idea of getting out into the wilderness is to enjoy the solitude not phone home to get the latest football results. Provided there is a signal, how do you summon help? Phone the police and explain the problem and they will dispatch the most appropriate form of help. Another useful number to carry is that of the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society and this is for when you come across sick cattle, sheep or ponies, their number is: 07976 446263 - website - HERE One last point about summoning assistance, if you have called for help and for whatever reason get off the moor on your own PLEASE contact the emergency services to tell them you have done so. If you don't the search for you will continue and that usually means that the searchers are needlessly wasting their own time when they could be doing far more pleasant things at home. Just remember a lot of these people, especially the Dartmoor Mountain Rescue teams are unpaid volunteers.
GPS - Hmmm, well they're here to stay so why not, all I will say is that in the event of a malfunction just make sure you have a map and compass and are competent at using both. Having said that I do carry one and the function I find very useful is the ability to get a six figure grid reference for any feature I come across. It does make things easier if it needs to be found again or referenced.
CAMERA - Pretty obvious this one, there will always be something to take a picture of on Dartmoor which can range from a stunning view to some spectacular wildlife or interesting landscape feature.
SPARE BATTERIES - I always keep a supply of various types for use with the torch, gps and camera but ensure they are kept in a water-proof container to stop any corrosion.
BINOCULARS - Always handy for working out who's who and what's what at a distance, the latter can be very useful when navigating. The times I have mistaken a person for a standing stone and a pony for a particular rock.
NOTEBOOK & PENCIL - You never know who or what you will meet on Dartmoor, I once met someone I hadn't seen for twenty years and was glad to write down their contact details. I say pencil because they can never leak or run out and are also useful for stirring cups of coffee.
SUN CREAM - In this day and age the general consensus is that one has to be careful of too much exposure to the sun so it's always a useful enhancement to have. Luckily I am dark skinned so I have never suffered from sunburn so that's why I have not listed this as an essential. Although having said that, the famous lines, "time will not weary them" used to be true but in recent years I have noticed a much dryer skin.
INSECT REPELLENT & BITE CREAM - This one is sort of dear to my heart, for some reason every flying and crawling assassin loves to either bite or sting me. My preferred method of treatment in such cases is to scratch the surface of the bite/sting until it begins to bleed and then squeeze all the irritant out. This I find works well, the only slight drawback being limbs that are peppered with scars. If you too are very attractive, to flies, and don't want scars then both are good enhancements for summer walking.
THERMOS - A handy enhancement to have on a cold day because although not essential it's nice to have a hot steaming cup of coffee at regular intervals, maybe this could be described as an indulgence, one of life's little luxuries. Only don't do what my beloved wife does, she insists on taking the china mugs from the kitchen - embarrassing or what? Oh,and remember, a thermos flask will keep things cold as well as hot and are idea for drinks on a hot summer's day.
And there we have it, the contents of my rucksack. I apologise if a lot of the above (and what's on the clothing page) sounds like stating the obvious if not even patronising. However, I would ask you to remember the context of which this was written, someone who is new to walking wanting to know what equipment to take on the moor. If you are still not convinced then I would ask you to click - HERE. This link will take you to the call-out log for the Dartmoor Mountain Rescue Group, just maybe if some of these people had the right clothing or equipment things may have been different?