This was the second time undertaking the Frontline Walk for me, but the first for Ceri. For anyone considering a long distance trek over a short timescale I thought it might be useful to jot down some of the things we found that worked. Of course we’re all different, especially when it comes to feet, but you never know, the info might be of use.
Buy the best you can afford, and ones that are matched to the terrain you’ll be walking on. There is no point buying heavy leather boots more suited to alpine work if you’re trekking across the flatlands of northern France and Belgium. Ceri used a medium range pair of Salomon boots, a mix of gore-tex and nubuck suede. These worked well and stood up to the mud and weather. I used a pair of Alt-Berg Yan-tan boots, a mix of kevlar and nubuck suede. These are the best boots I’ve ever owned and come highly recommended. Naturally you need to look after your boots and keep them well proofed. Nikwax do a specific product for nubuck suede that seemed to do the job.
Again, the best you can afford. Look at offerings from Bridgedale, or 1000Miles. Both of us used the Bridgedale merino socks which performed brilliantly. They wick the sweat away and keep your feet relatively fresh, although a change of socks was needed every lunch break.
Generally the insoles provided with the boots are not the best. Ceri found the Salomon insoles pretty good but I upgraded those in my Alt-Bergs to give me a little more heel cushioning. After trying several types I settled on Granger G20s, but the Superfeet Greens came a close second. You really need to try before you buy.
It’s all down to personal preference. I’m a big fan of Craghopper trousers and their lightweight fleeces are pretty good. My trusty Rohan waterproof did the job it was required to do, but Ceri’s Mountain Warehouse lightweight waterproof held up just as well, although I’m not sure it would cope with extreme conditions. I found Decathlon’s cheap wicking t-shirts ideal, and just as good as more expensive brands. They are so cheap they are almost wear once and throw away. Layers are key so you can quickly and easily regulate your temperature without having to strip off or remove several garments. I tended to walk in a wicking t-shirt with a soft shell or lightweight fleece over the top, and changed the softshell for waterproof if necessary.
- Day sacks
Whatever floats your boat and is comfy is my advice. I upgraded this year to a Berghaus 25l free-flow sack. Very comfortable but the airflow system curves the sack body away from your back which some may not like.
- Foot care
Prevention is always better than cure. If you know you get hotspots then taping those areas with a good zinc-oxide tape will work wonders. Compeed plasters work brilliantly on blisters that form, but are rubbish at prevention. There are lots of youtube videos showing you how to tape the areas of your feet so find a method that works for you and stick with it. Flexitol heel balm is a great product that we both used all over our feet, it makes the feet feel almost instantly better after a long walk. Keep your nails short too! A change of sock halfway through a long walk not only feels good, it’s good for your feet. Apparently we can lose a cup of fluid a day through foot sweat – that liquid has to go somewhere!
- Food and drink
Keeping your energy levels up during a long walk is vital, as is hydration. We all have our favourites but I like almonds, fruit and nut mix, dried mango, and oat bars. I hate banana but that is a key fruit if you like it. Chocolate is good for a quick fix but slow release foods is where it’s at. Staying hydrated keeps you alert, and improves recovery time.
100km or 62miles in 3 days might not sound a lot. We all walk, right? Trust me, you can’t just dive in without any training. Both of us started fairly low and built up the mileage. Once we’d got 16+ miles in the tank on a single walk it was time for the long back-back walks. It’s one thing being able to walk 22-24 miles in a day, it’s quite another having to do it again the next day after only 6-7 hours sleep. Don’t underestimate the fatigue levels, the impact on the feet and the risk of injury. The better prepared you are for such a trek, the easier you’ll find it, and the quicker you’ll recover overnight.
Walking is exercise too, stretch before and after to reduce the risk of injury. Lots of guides online, find a set that works for you and go for it. Hip flexors, quads, calves, and hamstrings all need a good stretch before and after a good walk.
Don’t underestimate the power of rest on the human body. It’s amazing how much you can recover on a good nights sleep, so avoid the temptation to spend too long in the bar, and get your head down. Save the celebrating for the last night!