Do you want to start hiking?

Just in case you want to get out there and explore the fantastic British countryside on foot for yourself, we've put together a few of our tips that will help you get the most out of it. On our 'Links' page you'll find some great sites that'll help with the planning of your walk.

The "prime directive", as far as we're concerned, is to have respect for our wildlife and for all of the environments in which it lives. Our small country's green places and wildlife are under threat from all sides, so please don't unknowingly add to its troubles. Take the time to read the countryside code for yourself and stick to it at all times, taking particular care that dogs are on leads in fields of animals and are not able to disturb ground nesting birds during the breeding season. Much of the land you walk through, particularly here in Sussex, is either farmland and somebody's livelihood or a protected area. Try not to disturb anything and leave it all as you would want to find it and hopefully it will be there for everyone to enjoy for centuries to come.

Feet - These are the main tools of the trade, so you need to get them into an excellent state of health to start off with. Any problems with your feet will have been amplified 10 times after you have walked 5 miles and will seriously ruin a good walk. First check to see whether you have developed any areas of thickened skin on the soles of your feet. Sometimes this is referred to as "hard skin" but this is misleading. They usually form as a small circular lump on the balls of your feet or on the heel and they are not easy to find. Check carefully and remove them gradually over a couple of weeks with a purpose made file. A quick repair can cause soreness to your feet and allow infection in, so use care! Next you need to make sure your toenails are cut short and do not touch the neighbouring toes when squashed up in your boots. This can be very uncomfortable, so do a good job of it.

Socks - We use proper hiking socks that cost a bit more than ordinary socks but are worth their weight in gold. You will find these in any outdoor shop. Make sure you only put them on when you are just about to put your boots on.  If you walk about the house in your hiking socks, then you could pick up all manner of things in the weave (like the toenails you just cut) which will rub your skin later on.

Boots - Make sure you buy your boots in the afternoon, as by then your feet will have swollen to their ultimate size after a days walking around. Make sure you are wearing thick hiking socks as well. Buy as good a pair as you can afford and spend a long time choosing them. Try on loads of different boots and walk around the shop in them to make sure they fit well. They should hug your feet soundly without crushing them and not slip around at all. A good boot shop should have a small ramp that you can walk up to make sure that the ankles of the boot fit well on an incline.
Your boots will need to be well maintained to keep them in top condition. This means that after every expedition they should be washed, left to air dry and then polished well. A layer of
Nikwax or dubbing over the top will help with waterproofing and conditioning of the leather.

Clothes - First off, jeans are a no-no! Once they get a bit sweaty they chafe something rotten and the pain of this will completely ruin a good walk. The best trousers are the purpose made ones that they sell in outdoor shops. They have plenty of pockets and are light and airy too. You can get different thicknesses of material for different times of the year. Combat trousers are very good as well. Shorts are a very good alternative. On top it is best to go for the multi-layer approach. We like to use a tee-shirt with a thin, long-sleeved top on top of that and a fleece over that (depending on the weather).
Another essential item is a hat. In the winter this needs to be woollen or similar to keep your head warm (most of the body's heat is lost through the head) but in the summer a peaked cap will keep the sun off your head. The hot sun on a bare head will make you feel very tired and sleepy, which is no good at all for hiking.
Try to keep in mind that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.

Daysack - A 25 litre back pack will be more than adequate for a days walk. Side pockets are very useful, as is a telephone pocket. You do not need a rucksack or anything with a frame for a days walking unless you are also going to be carrying a tent and sleeping bag etc. You should choose one that has a good padded belt and a chest strap. These will make you much more comfortable.

Water bottle - Get yourself a proper bottle that securely holds at least a litre. Or why not a water bag that fits inside your daysack. In the summer this will be the most important piece of your equipment.

Optics - We can't stress enough the added enjoyment that a pair of binoculars can add to a hike. Not only can you get to see animals, birds and insects that you would normally miss, but you can also use them to look for the next footpath sign or style in the distance. Buy the best that you can afford and the money will not be wasted. A digital camera is also an essential that will not only preserve your memories, but can allow you to identify things such as plants and animals later on when you get home.

Map and compass - Learn to use a map and compass. It really isn't very difficult and is a skill that will make any walk safer, less stressful and more instructive. GPS is a good alternative but a map will never run out of battery.

Smell - As we try to see as much wildlife as possible, we take a certain amount of care to make sure we do not smell of perfumes and other chemicals. No aftershave or heavily scented deodorants.

Food - We are always surprised by the little amount of food we need while we are walking. We do however take enough to see us through. A couple of sandwiches combined with a couple of tea and cake stops along the way. This is not the same as when we are walking in the mountains, when we take a huge amount of grub with us.

Distance - How far should you walk? To start with try a few 5 milers. Why not try the Beachy Head walk? That should get you in the mood for something longer. We tend to do about 12 - 15 miles which may sound a lot, but if you are walking for 10 hours, then that is only about 1 1/2 mph.

Coping with the distance - If you spend your time looking at everything around you and enjoying what you see, then the miles will slip by unnoticed. Walking slowly and quietly will also improve your chances of seeing wildlife. Don't worry about walking up hills, just take your time and try to enjoy them. Believe it or not you will learn to love them, and besides, if you want the best views then you have to work for them.
If you walk along thinking about how much further you have to go, then the walk will turn into a boring slog. Instead try to focus on and appreciate the fresh air, the views, the wildlife, the peace and quiet, the patterns of the land and the weather (whatever it is like).

Sightings book - We like to write down all of the things that we see and all of the things that happened during the day into a small book. We include the date, the weather, all of the species of wildlife seen, the number of each species seen and any other useful information and reminders. We even do some sketching sometimes.

Walking on roads - When walking on roads, walk on the RIGHT HAND side of the road so that you can see cars coming towards you and so that cars do not come up behind you in the same lane. Take extra care on blind right hand bends, where it is sometimes safer to temporarily cross to the other side of the road. At night do not shine your torch ahead of you - it will dazzle drivers. Instead illuminate your own legs - drivers will see you clearly.

Seeing wildlife - A certain amount of sneakiness is required when trying to see wildlife. Try to learn to walk without dragging your feet or stomping loudly. Stop talking. Tip toeing is not the answer as this in fact causes more noise. Try it! Instead, put the heels of your feet down first. With a bit of practice it is possible to progress very quietly indeed. If you are wearing natural colours such as browns and greens, then you should be able to surprise all sorts of animals as you walk along. Whenever you come to a new vantage point on your walk, such as: a style through a hedgerow, the brow of a hill, a blind corner etc then move slowly and cautiously. Animals that are unable to see you may be surprised and viewed before they realise you are there. Do not point or shout when you see something, keep still and make all necessary movements slow and steady, try to keep yourself concealed if possible.

Countryside code
Leave nothing but your footprints, take nothing but your memories!
Shut all gates unless they have been secured open by the farmer.
Do not light any open fires anywhere! 
Do not leave any rubbish! Not even biodegradable stuff (fruit skins etc). You were strong enough to carry it there, you can manage to take it home with you too.
Keep dogs on a lead and under control and dispose of their mess properly.
Only touch wild animals if absolutely necessary, otherwise just look.
Do not pick any wild flowers or collect their seeds.
Keep to paths wherever possible so as to not disturb plants and animals.

Here is a list of the things that we carry between us for a days hiking in Sussex

Camera or mobile phone
Magnifying glass - useful for small plants and insects
Sightings book & pen
Wildlife identification books - or apps
First aid kit - plus prescriptions if necessary
Maps - We usually use the OS Explorer series (1:25,000) - We use the waterproof ones which also double as something to sit on, umbrella, sun shade...
Sun cream
Plastic bag for rubbish
Spare fleece