Equipment choices

The gear one takes makes a big difference to comfort and safety and general happiness, and striking a balance between utility and weight is tricky. Earlier walks in the Pyrenees and Corsica have been really helpful in finding out what works well and how much to bring along. I'm no gear nut, but I do like stuff that's simple, light and effective.

This won't be a wilderness walk, though the weather will be very variable, from -10 to +35C, and I'm choosing things based on my strengths and weaknesses. For example, I'm pretty good at keeping going, and quite quick, but also not very strong and rather frail. I keep warm while moving, but get cold afterwards. I'm comfortable with technology but likely to play it safe with key items.

As this is a walk in aid of a charity, and with sponsors, information has to get back to the UK regularly. Also I need to collect notes and photos for handbooks after the walk.

Maps & guidebooks

An interesting problem with this walk. The only guidebook specifically for the Via Alpina covers Southern Germany (in German). Also the trail sometimes coincides with another trail for which there is a guide (the Swiss passes route for example, and parts of the French GR5 and Italian GTA). This took me by surprise, and during 2008, I intend to publish a lightweight, modular series of guidebooks for the many sections of the Via Alpina I am walking.

There is also no dedicated map base. The Via Alpina web site shows 'maplets' for each stage, that on close inspection can be inconsistent with detailed maps for that stage. I would have big reservations navigating in poor weather using maps from the VA web site.

I've bought a range of paper and digital maps and after careful review I am digitising and normalising all the paper maps, and printing sections in stripes (rather like Harveys maps) on both sides of lightweight paper. I am also adding route profiles, and information on supplies and huts as overprints. In this way, the entire route condenses to 144 sheets of A4 (1,200 strips) or about 800g. This will be a long job.

Moreover, as the cost of reproduction of the maps is low, I can post copies to various points along the route, knowing that there is no big financial penalty if I miss a postal drop. My experience of through walking and hoping the maps you need are available when you get there is that they generally aren't. I shouldn't need to carry more than 150g of maps at any time. I'll scribble notes and corrections on the maps as I go, and post them back to form the basis for the guide books.

World sites atlas supplied the maps on this site.