There may be light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, but if you've been stuck at home through winter and into spring, the thought of striding free on a multi-day journey through the wilds will seem both hugely appealing and still tantalisingly just out of reach. Hang in there, freedom is coming. Meanwhile, anyone can dream big - and here are some backpacking films to help you do just that.
Stephen Pern drops the latch on his South Coast home and heads for the open hills, or rather the open hill shelters, the hundred or so MBA-maintained bothies which are scattered across upland Britain. His mission is to supply each shelter with hanging points for wet clothes and gear, his supply of hooks and screws gradually diminishing over the course of his 3000 mile walk. It's funny, original and engaging, and despite the quirky hook (see what we did there?) the whole enterprise feels very genuine.
One man and his dog on the Cape Wrath Trail
John and his trusty companion Moss embark on the Cape Wrath Trail, starting from Fort William and ending up at the far northwest tip of Scotland, the remote Cape Wrath. An unmarked (and long may it remain so) 230-mile 'trail' through the best of the northwest highlands, this backpacking journey is arguably the most challengeing semi-established long distance route in Britain, not least thanks to the highland weather.
In the video series, John and Moss hike the trail and describe its challenges, showing the stunning scenery along the way. The video is the first in a series of 15, each covering a day on the trail. The next in the series should play automatically:
To Measure a Mile: A Pacific Crest Trail Documentary
Running from the US-Mexican border to the border with Canada, the 4000km+ Pacific Crest Trail is one of the great backpacking expeditions of the US, and arguably of the world. Whether done in a one-er or in more manageable chunks, it's a spectacular wilderness walk through the immensities of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains. In this hour-plus film, three friends set out on a five-month 'thru-hike' of the whole thing, but will they make the northern terminus before winter snows close in? It's an enjoyable insight in to the dirtbag hiker lifestyle, and quite an advert for the PCT. Maybe one day...
Coast to Coast
Film maker Abbie Barnes walks the 200-mile-odd Coast to Coast route across the best bits of upland England. Abbie set out to walk and camp the trail in a summer heatwave, completing it in around 11 days. It's scenic walking all the way, through fells and woods, across fields and dales, and finishing with the North York moors and the dramatic North Sea coast. Along the way she opens up about the challenge of managing her ongoing mental ill health, revealing the highs and lows that made the walk more than just a hike across the country, but what she calls a "journey of discovery, healing and perspective".
Corrour to Glen Nevis - with a bottle
Is hiking in the Scottish highlands actually the perfect excuse for knocking back the drams and having a laugh? This film is by Whisky and the Wild, and there's a clue in the name. These guys and their dogs certainly seem to enjoy a chilly-looking trip on the classic through-route from Corrour station (of Trainspotting fame) to Glen Nevis.
Cumbria Packraft Traverse - trailer
In this teaser, UKH user Tom Phillips and pal make a 100-mile amphibious crossing of Cumbria from Morecambe Bay to the Solway Firth, on foot and by paddle power, linking up the River Kent, Ulverston Channel, the River Leven, Windermere, Brotherswater, Goldrill Beck, Ullswater, the River Eamont and the River Eden.
The John Muir Trail
More American backpacking adventure as three pals leave the pandemic behind to embark on the 340km route through the High Sierra, making it to Yosemite in a fortnight of amazing hiking. Aside from the expansive scenery, the main preoccupations of the film revolve around the relative merits of different freeze dried meals, and the state of their feet - and anyone familiar with the routine of a long distance hike will sympathise with both. There's a romantic bit at the end, too.
Less hiking, more trail running-plus, as ultra runner Emelie Forsberg sets a speed record on Sweden's famous wilderness trail, a route that means a lot to her.
Pennine Way - a transatlantic perspective
In this vid from BackpackingTV, a North American offers his take on the Pennine Way, Britain's original long distance trail and still one of the greatest. "I must admit, I may have held a slight prejudice in thinking that the UK wouldn't quite compare to the exotic beauty of other locations" he says, "but man was I wrong. I was constantly surprised at the amount of natural beauty and stunning views to be found along the Pennine Way... Setting off from the Old Nags Head in Edale, and every step along the 268-mile long trail to Scotland, the trail had plenty of adventure."
GR11 through the Spanish Pyrenees
Here's a five-parter documenting one of Europe's greatest adventures on foot, the GR11 along the length of the Pyrenees from Atlantic to Med. Film maker/hiker Chase Mountains includes plenty of inspiring footage and some useful advice for would-be trekkers:
West Highland Way in three minutes
Abbie Barnes again, with edited highlights of Scotland's original long distance trail, the West Highland Way, giving a good impression of what the 154km walk looks and feels like:
See our stage-by-stage WHW trail description here:
A wild night at Broadcrag Tarn
The Solo Summiteer enjoys a windy wild camp at Broadcrag Tarn, said to be the highest named tarn in the Lake District (though Foxes Tarn might give it a run for its money).
Papua New Guinea
Back with BackpackingTV, not this time on the Pennine Way but rather further from familiar ground for most of us, as he experiences tough jungle trekking and a cultural mind-blowing on the Kokoda Track, a 60-mile route from village to village in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea. We're not sure 'the world' really needed 'introducing' to the country, since its inhabitants discovered it some time ago, but it certainly looks like an amazing guided experience for any globe-trotting hiker tired of more usual destinations.
Boat-packing in Wester Ross
Scotland's last wilderness is a bit of hackneyed hyperbole, applied as often to Knoydart as here in the far Northwest. But though the notion of wilderness in any sense is problematic in the UK, the rugged and spectacular expanses of Wester Ross are a more than worthy stand-in (indeed, the area visited here is also poetically known as the Great Wilderness, with some justification). In this gorgeous film two friends and a boat attempt a testing amphibious circuit from pine-fringed Loch Maree into the austere heart of Fisherfield, portaging overland and battling wind and waves on the cold empty lochs. Will the weather thwart their planned route? It doesn't much matter: here it's the journey that counts.
Milford Track, New Zealand
"This gem of a track has received the 'most beautiful walk in the world' moniker on more than one occasion" says According to James Lowe, who wrote us an article on New Zealand's Great Walks.
"The wilderness here is so fragile that the number of trampers allowed onto the track is highly regulated. This is enabled by the fact that the track is highly remote, with boats required to reach both of the trailheads. In many ways this only adds to the mystery of the track and makes it quieter than other Great Walks."
"The track is simple, climbing up one valley to a saddle and descending into the next. However both valleys pack a punch. With short days, there is ample time to take in the variety of side trips, often giving access to stunning waterfalls and swim spots. At the high point of the track, Mackinnon Saddle, the vista may well blow your mind with the Fiords diving away into the distance."
"The end of the track deposits you at Milford Sound, where coach loads of tourists will be arriving to ogle at Mitre Peak and perhaps take a boat out into the sound. A visit to the Sound is a New Zealand bucket list item but there is really no comparison between the experiences of arriving with the hordes versus an epic journey along the track."
If this promo film doesn't make you hanker after a Kiwi tramping trip (pandemics aside) then you should probably take up golf.
Bivvy on the Merrick
Not all adventures have to be miles from home, or take a massive chunk out of your calendar. There's an almost limitless supply of backpacking on our doorstep in Britain, and if you haven't got weeks to spare then there's still a lot to be gained from just a night or two out. Post-lockdown, crowds are going to be thick on the ground in the usual destinations, so it will pay to think outside the norm and head for the more obscure corners. The ruggedly under-publicised hills of Galloway fit the bill perfectly.
South West Coast Path
Alternatively, you can go very big indeed, without having to leave these shores. In July 2020 Jon Poulter set out from Minehead on a two-month walk following the longest continuous footpath in England, the 630-mile South West Coast Path. With spectacular coastal scenery pretty much every step of the way, and more than a few hills en route, it's got to be one of the great hikes of Europe.
Down the spine of Japan
More vintage stuff from the interepid and informative Stephen Pern, this time hiking the mountainous spine of Japan.
Crossing Home - A three-week expedition in British Columbia
Jordan Manley, Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots boat, bushwack, ski and packraft across the spine of the Coast mountains in an epic wilderness journey (and this one really is wilderness, in the raw and literal sense of the term). From the interior plateau, and over the Homathko Icefield, to the lush coastal inlets of the Pacific coast, the film perfectly captures the majesty of the northern landscape.
Transfer to two sturdy wheels and you can of course go backpacking without a backpack. Bikepacking evangelist Markus Stitz has been working on a new multi-day trail in Highland Perthshire, and here's a short film he's made about it:
"Bikepacking enables you to reconnect with nature and get a safe distance away from populated places. This year [meaning 2020], this has been invaluable" he says.