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  • Emily Hayes

Diary of a hiker in training: Fast and light on The South Downs Way

Updated: Jun 30

5 days, 100 miles and 4 pre-booked campsites. These are the key stats I find myself repeating when I recall my hike along The South Downs Way in August. It was a wonderful trip were I found out how it feels to hike "fast and light" covering greater distances than my previous trips but being strategic with food carry and resupply points.

In reality I only walked 88 miles in total because we planned more miles than we could complete in 1 day and ended up having to skip 12 miles out of the 26 we had planned on the second day.

My sister and I at the start of the South Downs Way

I'm very fortunate to live so close to the South Downs Way. I took a train to the start in Eastbourne and finished in Winchester. I chose to avoid the Severn Sisters cliff path at the start of the trail. I knew how hard that section is and I didn't want to put my boyfriend or sister off hiking from day one!

The itinerary I'd planned was averaging 25 miles a days, more than anything I'd done previously. I had a theory that I could walk further and faster in a day with a light backpack. So I mapped out places to pick up food on a daily basis and pre-booked campsites at appropriate distances along the trail. Eating in pubs or cafes, picking up food from shops was a lot of fun and relieved our backs of the burden from heavy packs, freeing up energy to keep on walking at a brisk pace.

This trip was also an ideal time to try walking in trail trainers, I had experienced most of my more recent multi day trips in leather hiking boots. Trainers and a light pack, this is what I mean when I say hiking "fast and light". At the time I was training for a marathon, so although my legs and feet did ache A LOT every evening, I was in good form, avoiding injuries and able to get on with the miles day after day.

A lighter pack meant packing only the bear essentials, and the lightest version of the essentials that I could buy. No towel, no spare clothes, minimal toiletries, no spare anything. It worked, my pack felt very light compared to previous adventures.

Some key things I learnt on the trip:

  1. Start early to get the miles in during day light hours.

  2. My "summer sleeping bag" (350g sea to summit Flame 1) was adequate for warmth and made a big difference to packing and weight.

  3. ALWAYS look after your feet every evening.

  4. Carry extra food, you never know when a planned spot to eat may be closed or you don't make it there in time.

  5. Plan ahead the daily miles and plan where the camp spot will be that night.

  6. Traveling light and carrying less food will mean walking more miles overall to get to food.

  7. I like thick socks, even in summer.

In summary, hiking fast and light is a style of hiking that I feel is only going to work for me in the summer and when there are plenty of food supply options very close to the trail. It's fun to cover long miles but I think I might prefer the mountain adventures I've had in Scotland where I have had to be self sufficient for 5 days.

Camp site at a farm on the South Downs Way


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