Listen to your stomach… and the Army

There has always seemed to be a myriad of sayings attached to the Army and walking but probably the best known is Napoleon’s assertion that ‘An army marches on its stomach’.

As someone who likes his food and can easily get ‘hangry’, hunger induced anger, I always bear this in mind for myself and others, wherever I am going.

One of my more home-based favourite sayings though is that ‘any fool can be uncomfortable’.

Too often it has been my experience that people have been put off walking, camping or the outdoors after having a miserable time as a result of going out without enough to keep them happy and comfortable, seemingly under the idea that all adventure has to be about suffering for it to be an adventure.

Personally, I have never subscribed to that notion.

As a small boy I once made myself some homemade bike panniers from a couple of boxes, packed a blanket and some cream crackers with marmalade (a favourite of mine at the time) and decided I was going to have an adventure.

After leaving my parents a note early in the morning to tell them that I had set off and wasn’t sure when I was coming back. I then pedalled off down the road until I reached the point where the countryside started (all of about half a mile).

Stopping there, I spread out my rug and sat down to eat my crackers feeling very pleased with myself on the successful completion of my mini adventure. Returning home a little later, the note was still there and whilst I completed many greater adventures later in life, the sense of complete independence and happiness from that initial trip never left me.

Never leave home without these things

Today there are certain things that I never leave home without.

The must have items are a rucksack, some water, a waterproof and, depending on the weather, some sort of head covering. Head coverings can include an umbrella, which can also make a very good temporary sunshade.

My second ‘go to item’ is something to sit on and for this I have three items:

  • a small waterproof sitting mat
  • a small collapsible stool
  • the much derided but always used tartan rug (with a waterproof bottom)

Of course, it’s not always necessary to take all these items together. The rug is more than adequate for most journeys, especially if I’m walking with others.

Upon taking a break, two of things that always get laid out with me are:

  • My trusty thermos flask. I prefer stainless steel ones, as I find them easier to transport and less likely to break. I even take two sometimes; one with (good) coffee for the morning stop and one with tea for the afternoon.
  • Cake or biscuits – the perfect accompaniment to tea and coffee. My wife and daughter both love to bake and my son has almost perfected his chocolate muffins, so I am spoiled for choice. I also have a friend who refuses to join me on a ramble unless I bring what he calls my wife’s ‘weapons grade flapjack’.

Never underestimate the power of food and drink on a walk, and not just from a survival point of view.

When I was travelling in New Zealand, my brother sent me a mini hamper from Fortnum and Mason’s. I took the contents with me on a walking trip to the Mt. Angelus national park and was amazed at how much everyone looked forward to something from the box when I shared my goodies each night.

As a note of warning, whilst it is useful to have a few sweets to keep you and others going, especially children, don’t overdo it. The only cases of ‘walking illness’ I’ve had to deal with is from students eating too many sweets on their Duke of Edinburgh expeditions.

Another nifty invention which I take on a winter walk is a survival shelter, or as they are more commonly known, a bothy bag.

Despite the grand sounding name it is simply a large piece of nylon (like a small parachute with no hole in). Everyone forms a circle and puts the nylon over their backs and under their bums. You then all sit down to pin the cover down and then your heads form the poles.

What is really surprising is how quickly the space warms up just using body heat. The only problem can be to convince people to get out when it is time to leave.

British Army magic

I started my teaching career in a very traditional boys independent school which, having only attended very average state schools myself, I found it quite a fascinating experience especially the importance given to the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) and the fact that it was run by a real Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM).

One of his great ‘starter lessons’ with the new students, was to talk about the value of ration packs in making the British Army so effective.

He would stand there with two boxes, one of supposed U.S. Army rations and one of British. Taking everything out of the first box (the U.S. one) he’d point out how useless all of it was.

He’d then start dipping into the British box and pull out an ever increasing range of items, which he warmly praised as extremely useful and a marvel of British ingenuity. To the increasing amazement of the new recruits, he pulled out an impossibly large number of items from this tiny box, like some sort of military Mary Poppins with a carpet bag.

Unbeknown to the assembled audience, the RSM had prepared a hole in the ground beneath the British box to conceal these extra items.

So, next time you head out, make sure you think of what it will take to keep you happy and pack according to where you are going and who you are going with.


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