Feather-weight adventures on foot

A man with poles and backpack, walking past

Photo: Dave MacFarlane / inov-8.com

Fast-hiker James Forrest recently set a solo, self-supported Three Peaks Challenge record. Here, he reveals how he planned and prepared for his 500-mile adventure and kept his pack under 5kgs.

It was the journey of a lifetime – and the longest continuous walk I’ve ever completed. In August 2021, I walked 17 marathons in 17 days to complete a 492-mile journey on foot, climbing Great Britain’s tallest three peaks Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon - and hiking every mile in-between them - in 16 days, 15 hours and 39 minutes. It was a new record for a self-supported, solo walk of the National Three Peaks beating the previous best of 19 days, 18 hours and 35 minutes by Tina Page. But why on earth did I do it?

I absolutely love challenging myself, pushing my boundaries and seeing what I can achieve in the great outdoors. I was very sporty and competitive as a child, and I think that mindset has been mirrored in the way I choose to enjoy the outdoors. Long, arduous journey aren’t for everyone, but personally I get a real endorphin rush from the exercise and a buzz from venturing outside my comfort zone. There’s a calming aspect, too. I find the simple process of walking incredibly therapeutic – it works wonders for my mental wellbeing and brings contentment to my life.

Smiling portrait of a man

Photo: Dave MacFarlane / inov-8.com

How did I plot my National Three Peaks route? 

When it came to route plotting, I let the wonders of modern technology do the hard work. Using the mapping app Komoot, I simply entered my parameters – a start point, end point and visiting the three peaks in-between – and let the software plan the most efficient, off-road route available. It worked brilliantly and saved so much time. Once I had the algorithm-generated route, I went through it with a fine-tooth comb and tweaked it to suit my needs. The only big change I made was diverting to the Wales Coast Path beyond Ellesmere Port, rather than taking a more direct route through North East Wales. I fancied the variety of some coastal scenery. I also took advice about my route from ultra-runner Alex Staniforth, who ran the National Three Peaks (with support) in just under ten days in 2020.

A man celebrating on top of a mountain

Photo: Reaching the summit of Snowdon. Dave MacFarlane / inov-8.com

What else did I have to plan?

The nitty-gritty of the expedition logistics wasn’t too complicated. I simply had to plan a day-by-day itinerary, based on a realistic daily mileage for myself, and then figure out where I could sleep, eat out, and shop for food supplies. Most of this simply involved Google and a few phone calls, until I had a comprehensive spreadsheet with 17 daily stages, accommodation choices (either wild camping, campsites, hotels or B&Bs), and places to pick up supplies. In terms of travel, I booked public transport to and from the start and end – which helped make my trip more planet-friendly – and I also hired a GPS tracker from Open Tracking (opentracking.co.uk) to ensure my record was officially logged.

How did I get fit for the challenge?

I didn’t stick to any diet fads or crazy gym routines to get fit for this challenge – that’s not me. Instead I just went out walking as much as possible, increasing my mileage steadily over time. In the months leading up to my expedition, I completed three shorter long-distance walks – the 154km West Highland Way, the 299km Pembrokeshire Coast Path and the 293km Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk. These trips also enabled me to refine my camping skills and my gear knowledge for life on the trail.

A man with poles walking along a path in front of wind turbines

Photo: Dave MacFarlane / inov-8.com

What kit and clothing did I take? 

I’m sponsored by inov-8, which fits perfectly with my fast-hiking approach, so I exclusively wore inov-8’s lightweight clothing and footwear. For camping, my 4.6kg base weight was as light as possible without compromising too much in terms of comfort, performance and durability – something I achieved by packing the bare minimum (only one spare pair of pants!) and investing in ultralight, high-quality kit. My top three items of gear were my Zpacks Nero 38L frameless backpack (375g), Gossamer Gear ‘The One’ single-skin trekking pole tent (505g) and inov-8 Rocfly G 390 boots (780g), which proved to be really cushioned, comfy and light. My full kit list is below. 

Backpack Kit List 

Camping 

  • Backpack: Zpacks Nero 38L + hipbelt 375g 
  • Drybags: Exped fold UL x 7 195g 
  • Tent: Gossamer Gear The One (trekking pole tent) 505g 
  • Pegs: Sea to Summit tent pegs x 11 99g 
  • Sleeping mat: Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite (small) 168g 
  • Sleeping bag: PHD M.Degree 300 K Down 424g 

Clothing 

  • Spare underwear: Saxx Merino Boxer Brief x 1 95g 
  • Spare socks: Darn Tough x 2 95g
  • Thermal baselayer: inov-8 Technical Mid Layer (small) 156g 
  • Thermal trousers: Helly Hansen LIFA pant 130g 
  • Insulated jacket: Haglofs LIM Essens Down 56g 
  • Waterproof jacket: inov-8 Ultrashell Pro 107g 
  • Waterproof trousers: inov-8 Ultrapant 78g 
  • Cap: inov-8 Race Elite 2.0 36g 

Miscellaneous

  • Toiletries bag + first aid: toothpaste, toothbrush, paracetamol, ibuprofen, Imodium, plasters, blister plasters, toe caps, sun cream, earplugs, water filtration tablets, Vaseline, tick tweezers, Canesten, scissors, wet wipes, Opsite, E45, talc, foot tape, sleeping mat repair kit, doxycycline (ticks) 679g
  • Plastic spoon 9g 
  • Toilet roll + hand sanitiser + trowel + ziplock bags 97g 
  • Water bottles: 1L Vapur Anti-bottle x 2 86g 
  • Powerbanks x 2 (1 x 20,000mah, 1 x 10,000mah) 556g 
  • Plug, charging cables, Jaybird Vista 2.0 earphones 218g 
  • Headtorch: Petzl Bindi 35g 
  • Tracker device 75g 
  • Waterproof phone cover: Aquapac 37g 
  • Phone 190g 
  • Bank cards + house key 15g 


Total Base Weight 4,616g 

Food 1,297g 

Water 1,000g 

Total Backpack Weight 6,913g 

Wearing  

  • Boots: inov-8 Rocfly G 390 780g (pair) 
  • Socks: Injinji 2.0 Liner Crew Toe Socks / inov-8 Speed Sock 69g 
  • Underwear: Saxx Merino Boxer Brief 95g 
  • Shorts: inov-8 Race Elite 6” Short 2.0 115g 
  • T-shirt: inov-8 Base Elite Short Sleeve Base Layer 79g 
  • Mid-layer: inov-8 Base Elite Long Sleeve Base Layer 96g
  • Smartwatch: Garmin Solar Instinct 54g 
  • Trekking poles: Gossamer Gear LT5 Carbon 278g 
  • Buff: inov-8 buff/running wrag 33g

All equipment laid out flat

Photo: Dave MacFarlane / inov-8.com

Would I encourage others to take on a similar adventure? 

One hundred per cent. Long-distance walking is a magical experience that will boost your physical fitness, allow your anxieties to float away, renew your verve for life, and deliver an intimate interaction with the landscape and nature. Of course, you don’t have to take on something as hardcore as a 500-mile expedition – but a shorter trail such as the Cotswold Way, Snowdonia Slate Trail or Cape Wrath Trail will still be a memory-forging, happiness-inducing journey.

James Forrest is a former newspaper reporter-turned-outdoors writer. He is the award-winning author of Mountain Man, published by Bloomsbury, and is best known for climbing 1,001 mountains across the UK. Follow James’ adventures at jamesmforrest.co.uk or on Instagram at @jamesmichaelforrest.

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