Monthly Archives: October 2012

How to pack for an epic journey: The bumbag

You may think that bumbags are uncool. You’d be right, bumbags are desperately uncool. However, I have reached that sad but liberating time of life when I care much less about being cool than about practicalities. Bumbags, when you are long distance walking, are incredibly handy.

The thing is, you can’t really wear a handbag with a rucksack. But the stuff that’s in your rucksack is hard to get at while you’re wearing said rucksack. And taking it off is a faff and requires stopping. So where do you put your phone, lip salve, money, fags…basically all the stuff you need every five minutes? A bumbag is the perfect answer.

A woman in her early 40s, with long brown hair, wearing a red top and a red rucksack (yes, they clash slightly), and a black bumbag. It's a very sunny day and she's smiling at the camera and squinting her eyes.

Me, sadly looking very little like Xena

This one I found in a charity shop and is black and kind of smoothly shaped, so it’s not too offensive. But if anyone ever finds a stylish, cool-looking bumbag, a bumbag that doesn’t make you look like an American tourist (sorry USians), but instead makes you look like Xena setting off on a quest, then let me know. I’ll pay you in tea, home-made jam and weak witticisms.

A black bumbag in the middle of the picture, with it's contents neatly (well, neatly-ish) laid out around it. There's millions of them, I'll explain in the text.

Tardis-like, the bumbag seems to hold more stuff than seems possible…

But what to put in the bumbag? My packing here has been refined on long-distance walks over many years, and most recently on three weeks along the River Trent. It is, of course, specifically adapted for that situation, and for my habits and preferences. So, for example, if you don’t smoke, I’d leave out the tobacco…

Contents of front pocket

The contents of the front pocket of the bumbag, laid out beside it. Essentially a close up from the last pic. Contents listed and explained in the text.

From left to right:-


Essential kit for the modern-day, online-enabled troubadour. I was once described as a techno-hippy. I do love my phone. With this I was able to take photos and upload them immediately, write blogposts, post on twitter, check maps, and a million other things. This meant people could follow our journey from home in real time. Just about…


As mentioned, not essential kit if you don’t smoke, obv. And clearly smoking is bad and stupid. But if you are a nicotine addict, a fag break does make a nice little thing to look forward to when you are tired and trudging along in the rain.


I would recommend having a source of fire even if you aren’t a smoker. I once spent four hours on a Lebanese mountain-side, in the dark, in December, before being rescued by the Red Cross.

I was bloody freezing, and spent much of that time trying to start a fire with two sticks (unusually for me, I didn’t have a lighter on me). Turns out it’s really impossible to light a fire with two sticks. Moral of the story: You never know when a lighter might come in handy.


I know not everyone uses lipsalve. In fact my mate Ros has a theory that once you start using it your lips get addicted to it, but if you don’t start, you’ll never need it. She may be right. Although I am now a lipsalve addict and find it very handy, especially when I’m outdoors all day.

But lipsalve is also a good emergency salve for any chafing. (Chafing in delicate areas is quite common when you’re doing a lot of walking and sweating). It also burns really well, so if you haven’t got lots of kindling to hand it’s good for helping to start a fire. Put some lipsalve or vaseline on some cotton wool (a tampon will work) and it goes up like billyo. There you see, you learn something new every day…


I’m assuming the usefulness of this is pretty self-explanatory. I never go anywhere without a penknife (except aeroplanes, obviously). This is a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Spartan. It has everything I’m likely to need.

The knife is handy for cutting everything from bits of rope to tomatoes.  It’s also got tweezers, a pokey thing, a tin-opener, a bottle-opener and a corkscrew. There is nothing more annoying than having a bottle of alcohol you can’t get into…

(Second row)

Solar-powered torch

I’ve got several torches – including a head-torch and a maglite. This one is by far the most useful, and it cost about £3 and came on a keyring. It’s small and easy to use, so for all those times when you need a torch quickly (e.g. you can’t see to put a key in a door) it’s right there. I’ve had it for about 5 years and it still works perfectly and I’m sure I only put it in the sun to charge up about once a year.

One of the best things about it is you switch it on using a slidey thing that stays in place once you’ve slid it. (A lot of keyring torches only give you light when you are holding down the switch). It sounds stupid, but I’ve lost count of the times this has been useful, cos it means you can hold the torch between your teeth while doing something with your hands. Trying to untangle guy-ropes in the dark, that kind of thing…

Button compass

It’s amazing the number of times you are out walking and take the wrong path, or lose track of where you are on the map, and having a compass helps you realise where you are. (‘Aha, I’m facing South, not North!’). For this kind of thing you don’t need a proper big compass, just something that will give you a rough idea of direction. A button compass represents excellent value for its size (also price, I think it was 99p).

Yes, boyscout know-it-alls, you could use the sun, but not if it’s really cloudy, or night-time.

My phone does have a compass on it too, but given how quickly the iPhone runs out of charge, you’d be a fool to rely on that.

Contents of left-side pocket

Some sachets of salt, pepper, sugar. And a hippy necklace.

From left to right:-

Hippy necklace

When you’re walking all day, in walking boots and anorak, you don’t feel very mystical or glamorous. Well I don’t, anyway. When you’re troubadouring and have to do a performance when you arrive somewhere, it’s handy to have some way of changing your appearance a bit. Partly just as a way of signalling to yourself that you’re changing mode. Putting on a costume always helps you get into a different headspace.

But also, people have certain expectations of what a storyteller will look like. It helps them to suspend their disbelief if you can play in to that a bit.

I found a necklace didn’t take up much room but made me look a bit more storyteller-y. And the fact of going and putting it on helped me to ‘get into character’.

Sachets of salt, pepper and sugar

Yes, I am your Gran. I can never resist picking these things up. But sometimes you could really do with some salt, or an extra sugar, or whatever, and it’s incredibly handy to have them in your pocket. And they don’t weigh much or take up much room.

Contents of right-side pocket

A sachet each of mayonnaise, ketchup and vinegar

Sachets of mayonnaise, ketchup and vinegar. As above, with the salt, pepper and sugar, these are just so handy to have, when you find yourself in need of them. I may also be a bit obsessed with dinky/handy things. Ross has to stop me picking up more of these everywhere we go.

Main pocket

Loads of stuff, listed below

Left to right, top row:-

Bank card

Obvious why this is needed.

Spare carrier bag

I always have more carrier bags in my rucksack, but it’s handy to have one to hand as well. You never know when you might need it. Trust me, you don’t want to hear the story about the tampon.


The powermonkey is a charger for phones or other devices. It’s amazing, I love it, it saved our lives so many times (well, OK, that’s hyperbolic. It saved our ability to have a working phone…). You charge it up overnight and it can refill an iPhone with charge twice over.

When you’re using your phone all day and have intermittent access to electricity (for example, if you’re walking along a river…) it’s indispensable. It was my leaving present from Gallomanor, and a better leaving present I’ve never had.

A7 sized notepad

Perfect for jotting down events or thoughts you want to remember. As well as having it in my bumbag I’d put it by the bed at night. Ross would wake up to find me scribbling notes on my impressions of the previous day. Or new crazy plans for future adventures.

Also good for phone numbers, addresses, to draw little maps or sketches to illustrate things… And for if you get chatting to people and they want to know the URL of your website and you haven’t had the foresight to get little cards or flyers printed. Basically, it’s surprising how often you suddenly want a pencil and paper.

Filter tips

Ignore if you aren’t a smoker. I’ve tried, but I really can’t think of another use for these…


See above re notepad. Also doubles as an emergency spoon for stirring tea.

Bottom row, left to right:-


You need to buy things sometimes. Mainly tea.


It’s amazing how often B+Bs have lots of early-morning noise and when you’re walking all day you need your sleep. These ones are from Boots and I love the little case they come in.


Trust me, you don’t want a headache when you’re walking all day and then putting on a show.

Memory stick

I don’t think we used this actually, but I always like to have some extra memory to hand, just in case.

Hard copy of list of venues with times and postcodes

I learnt long ago when I used to work in TV and was setting up film shoots that you ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a paper copy of all key info. You never know when your phone or computer is going to die, or have no signal or something. It’s also often a lot quicker to look at a piece of paper than to load info on your phone.

Sewing kit

This is one I got in a hotel room one time. You may have noticed by now that I have a weakness for dinky handy things. But I do love these little sewing kits. Everything you need for an emergency sewing repair, in a little handy packet.

I used it at one point to fix a button that had come off. And Ross repaired a rip in his trousers, thereby protecting his knee from evil nettles. Without a sewing kit you’d be really stuck for stuff like this, wouldn’t you?


So there we have it, a truly extensive collection of useful things, all taking up hardly any space at all. And when you are spending three weeks doing fairly complicated things, while walking along a river, with only what you can carry, small but versatile and useful things are the order of the day…

If anyone has any suggestions of other cool things they would add, then I’d love to hear it. (I should point out, I did have lots of other stuff in my rucksack, these were just the things I thought I needed easy access to.)

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