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The South Downs Way is 100 miles (160 km) of pure delight. One of England’s acclaimed National Trails, the South Downs Way meanders past dramatic landforms like the Seven Sisters cliffs, Bronze Age ruins, picturesque countryside, seaside vistas, and storybook villages. Although it’s known for being relatively easy and enjoying some of England’s sunniest weather, this is no walk in the park. You’ll need to be prepared for all sorts of weather, and well as some challenging hills and tough underfoot conditions.

However, before you go packing a rucksack bigger than you are, remember the golden rule of backpacking: keep it as light as possible! Carrying minimal weight is one of the best things you can do to ensure you enjoy your South Downs Way trip to the fullest.

So how does one strike that elusive balance between having all of the necessities without feeling like they have a baby elephant on their back? Read on for our best advice and detailed kit lists to learn everything you need (and everything you don’t) to have your best possible South Downs Way Walk!

In this post:

Looking down at the incredible Dyke Valley, South Downs Way
Looking down at the incredible Dyke Valley.

Packing Basics for the South Downs Way

There are so many variables when it comes to packing for the South Downs Way, such as your accommodation type, hiking style, trip length, baggage transfers, time of year, and many more. Every hiker will have a unique kit to best serve their individual needs. Despite all of those factors, there are some universal rules that all hikers should follow when putting together their kit for the South Downs Way.

How Much Should My Pack Weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? 

As a very general rule, campers should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. Those staying indoors should carry no more than 9kg. If having your luggage transferred along the trail, most transfer services will limit you to 20kg, and your daypack shouldn’t exceed 4kg. If you are backpacking for the first time or have a chronic injury, the weight of your pack should be significantly less than these guidelines.

Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for lightening your load:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Bring quick-dry items that you can rinse out in the sink or shower.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.
Backpacking backpack
The type of pack you’ll need for the South Downs Way will depend on your individual itinerary.

Choosing a backpack for the South Downs Way

Just like with footwear, a properly fitting backpack is crucial on the South Downs Way. Also similar to your boots, your pack needs to be broken in for optimal comfort. We recommend carrying a weighted pack on your training walks to get used to the extra weight and ensure it fits well.

If you plan on staying in B&B’s along the route, you won’t need a very large rucksack. A 25-liter pack should be enough to hold a few clothing items, food, water, and toiletries.

Those staying in dorms and bunkhouses will most likely need to carry a sleeping bag and towel. A 30-40L pack will be more than enough space for everything you need.

If you plan on camping, you’ll need a larger pack to fit your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and cooking equipment in addition to your basic supplies. A 45-60L pack will be suitable for most campers.

Last but not least, don’t forget to bring a pack cover to protect against rain! Many newer packs come with one built-in.

Read More: South Downs Way Maps and Routes

Coast to Coast Walk hiking boots
Footwear on the South Downs Way comes down to personal preference and fit, but always break in new boots ahead of time!

Footwear on the South Downs Way

One of the most challenging aspects of the South Downs Way is the strain it puts on your feet. The combination of following many miles on old drover roads, plus the rocky chalk landscape conspire to create conditions that will leave your feet feeling sore and tired. Add in some moisture, and you’ve got a real recipe for trouble. While some soreness is inevitable with longs days of walking, blisters, bruising, and extreme discomfort don’t have to be. Therefore, it is imperative that you test out your footwear ahead of time and make sure you break it in!

Hiking boots, hiking shoes, and trail running shoes will all work for the South Downs Way, provided that they will work for your unique needs. The most important thing is that they’re adequately broken in and that you’ve tested them on multiple walks to ensure they are comfortable. You’ll likely need to go up half a size to account for thicker socks and/or swollen feet. Some people may prefer the ankle support of traditional hiking boots, while others may seek out the cushion and breathability of trail shoes. Again, it’s all about trying a variety of options and finding the best one for you.

In terms of waterproofing, there are two opposing schools of thought about this. It is inevitable that your feet will get wet at multiple points along your walk, from driving rains, flooded paths, and so on. Many hikers prefer to use sturdy boots with a thick layer of waterproofing to keep the moisture out as much as possible. This is a good strategy, but keep in mind that when these heavier shoes get wet they can take a long time to dry.

Others prefer to use breathable trail shoes. These will get wet right away, but they’ll also be dry again within a couple of hours and allow your feet to get some air in the meantime. It’s totally a matter of personal preference, but it’s a good idea to try a few options out prior to setting off on your South Downs Way journey.

Good socks are also a game-changer on the South Downs Way. We love merino wool socks like these for their comfort, breathability, and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister-prone, consider trying toe sockssock liners, and/or body glide.

If you need more underfoot padding, try using socks with extra cushioning or even some custom insoles.

Red and white Beachy Head Lighthouse, South Downs Way
The iconic Beachy Head Lighthouse is a welcome sight for walkers.

Good Waterproofs

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad rain gear! Even though the South Downs Way passes through one of the driest, sunniest parts of England, let’s face it you’re still in England, and you should expect rain at some point on your trek.

At the very minimum, make sure you have a lightweight rain jacketrain pants, and a pack cover. Some hikers pack their clothing and other items inside trash bags or waterproof packing cubes as an extra precaution. A hat can be nice to keep the rain out of your face. A waterproof carrying case for your map and/or phone isn’t a bad idea either.

Man standing in red rain jacket on the South Downs Way
Good waterproofs will keep you smiling throughout your walk!

Personal Gear

Whether you’re camping or staying indoors, these items are must-haves for your South Downs Way packing list. While we’ve included some toiletries that are absolutely essential for this trek, we’ve left it up to you to determine your own list of additional self-care items (comb, toothbrush, prescription medication, etc). 

Most Valuable Personal Item: Black Diamond Alpine Flz Trekking Poles

The South Downs Way has the reputation for being one of the “easier” of the U.K.’s National Trails, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it will be a walk in the park. There are a LOT of hills on this route, and the constant up and down can really wreak havoc on knees and hips after awhile. Trekking poles make a huge difference in relieving the impact on your joints, not to mention they also make climbing hills feel much easier. They’re also great for saving ankles and helping with stability on loose, rocky trails (which there are plenty of on the SDW). We love this Black Diamond pair because they are sturdy, lightweight, easily packable, and the cork handles fend off sweat and blisters much better than the other styles.

ItemOur RecommendationWhy We Love It
Multi-ToolBibury 21-in-1 Multi-ToolPerfect for cutting cheese or opening cans when you need some trail-side snacks!
First Aid KitSurviveware Small First Aid KitA good backpacking first aid kit is essential. You hope to never have to use it, but will be glad you have it when you need it. We like the labeled compartments and waterproof case on this one.
Hydration BladderPlatypus Big ZipWay easier than a water bottle! We suggest carrying a 3-liter version.
Small DaypackDeuter Speed Light 20An optional item that is great for walking around town. Deuter makes one that is versatile and good quality.
Pack CoverSea to Summit Ultra-Sil Rain CoverThis is a truly essential piece of gear given how hard it can rain on the South Downs Way!
Men’s BackpackOsprey Atmos AG 50While backpacks are a very personal item, we find Osprey to make by far the most comfortable packs on the market. This 50L model will work for minimalist campers or those staying indoors. W
Women’s BackpackOsprey Aura AG 50One of our favorite features of Osprey packs is the ‘anti-gravity’ mesh. So comfortable!
Trekking PolesBlack Diamond Alpine FlzThese can help take the load off your knees and they’re great on steep sections.
Travel TowelEono Microfiber TowelGreat to have in hostels and campsite showers.
Headlamp/ Head torchBlack Diamond StormGreat headtorch with long battery life and adjustable brightness.
Dry BagsEarth Pak 10L or 20LKeeps your clothes and other items dry in a downpour! These are also great for keeping your kit organized and packed efficiently.
Hiking GaitersPeter Storm Ankle GaitersOptional. These will help keep your boots dry when walking on muddy or boggy trails and they’ll keep out stones, dirt, and gravel.
SunscreenWe recommend a waterproof sport version with SPF 30 or higher.
Bug SprayBen’s Insect RepellentYou’ll be glad you brought this when the mozzies or midges come out.
Toilet Paper and TrowelThe TentLab Ultralight TrowelAs any hiker will tell you, it’s always better to be prepared and Leave No Trace!
A sunny section of path near Winchester.
A sunny section of path near Winchester.

Miscellaneous Gear

These odds and ends are the unsung heroes of any South Downs Way packing list. From getting your stinky shirt clean to keeping your phone charged, these items help your trek run smoothly. Make sure to use this list in addition to the other categories to complete your South Downs Way kit. 

Most valuable miscellaneous gear: Anker Powercore 10000.

Chances are, you’re getting out on the trail to get a break from the constant demands of screens and technology and that’s wonderful. However, don’t underestimate the importance of having a charged cell phone on the South Downs Way Walk. Your phone can be your navigational device, your camera, your guidebook, and your notepad all in one. Charging opportunities can be unreliable along the route, so a battery backup can be an absolute lifesaver. This one is dependable, relatively small, and can fully charge your phone 1.5-2 times between charges. Check it out here:

ItemOur ReccommendationWhy We Love It
Guide BookCicerone: Walking the South Downs WayWe love Cicerone guides for their informative, yet straightforward advice and Kev Reynold’s is one of the best guidebook authors around.
Ear PlugsMack’s Ear PlugsEssential for a good night’s sleep! We find the silicone ones to stay in place and block out noise best.
Sleeping MaskAlaska BearPerfect to block out light while sleeping in hostels or campgrounds on the South Downs Way.
Travel AdapterLYSEDa All in One USB Travel AdapterIf you’re coming from abroad, this is going to be necessary. This one is super compact and the two USB ports are very handy!
Digital WatchCasio Classic Sport WatchWe recommend a simple digital watch to keep track of hiking times. This one is a great value and nearly indestructible.
CameraSony Alpha 6000Optional, but this compact camera takes beautiful photos and is easy to use.
Battery BackupAnker Powercore 10,000Great for charging electronics when you don’t have access to an outlet.
Biodegradable SoapCoghlan’s Camp SoapPerfect for doing the dishes or washing a few clothing items.
Plastic Bags- quart, gallon, and garbage bags.We used these constantly for everything from storing trail mix to keeping our sleeping bags dry. A must-have for backpacking. They can be repurposed many times to minimize plastic waste.
Coast to Coast Walk women's packing list

Women’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for over a week in various weather conditions and while doing some serious walking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials for your South Downs Way Walk. Plus, if you’re anything like us, you have no idea how many pairs of socks to bring.

Emily’s most valuable clothing item: Berghaus Deluge Rain Trousers 

English weather is temperamental. You’ll get to experience a wide range of elements (rain, sun, wind, etc), often all in one day! For the times when the weather turns, you’ll want to be able to quickly and effortlessly adapt your clothing to stay dry and comfortable. These Berghaus rain pants are simple, effective, comfortable, and easy to get on and off over boots. Check them out here:

ItemOur RecommendationWhy We Love It
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Give-N-Go SportThese are worth every penny when it comes to staying comfortable on the trail. They are quick-drying and antimicrobial meaning you can just bring a few pairs and wash them in the sink as you go.
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Micro Crew SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Sports Bra (1)Under Armour Mid Crossback This is a good example of something breathable and comfortable that you can wear all day.
Long Sleeve Base Layer (1)Smartwool NTS 250 Base LayerA great merino wool base layer for chilly mornings.

Short Sleeve Hiking Shirts (1-2)Icebreaker Tech Lite T-ShirtMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick-drying, and odor resistant.
Leggings or hiking pants (1)Berghaus Amlia Walking TrousersStylish, lightweight, and great to hike in.
Shorts (1)The North Face Aphrodite 2.0These shorts are super versatile and durable! The soft, wide waistband works great underneath a rucksack’s hip belt.
Down JacketRab Microlight AlpineLightweight, super warm, and packs down small. This jacket was perfect for this kind of trip!
Rain JacketMarmot PreCip Eco JacketA high-quality all-weather jacket that packs up small.
Rain PantsBerghaus DelugeFor those heavy English downpours!
Hiking BootsKeen Targhee Mid Height Hiking BootEmily has had these boots for five years and hundreds of muddy, snowy hikes, and they are still going strong!
SunglassesSinner Polarised SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you’re outside all day. And these are stylish too!
Underwire/Standard BraAfter a long day of hiking in a sweaty sports bra this can be a welcome relief to change into.
GlovesSmartwool liner glovesOptional in the summertime, but can be nice to have in tempermental weather.
HatColumbia Bora Bora Booney HatHelps keep both the sun and rain off your face.

Sandals/Camp ShoesCrocs Classic ClogGreat to change into after a long day of walking!
BandanaRobelli BandanaI used this for everything from a towel to extra sun protection.
Coast to Coast Walk Men's Clothing
Another perk of hiking socks-really cool tan lines!

Men’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for eight days in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials.

Ian’s most valuable clothing item: Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks

The conditions on the South Downs Way are such that hikers are at a particularly high risk of getting blisters at some point on their walk. The wet environments, long mileage, and stony paths conspire to create the perfect environment for blisters to sabotage your walk. Fortunately, a good pair of socks can greatly reduce your chance of foot issues. This is one of those times where you really do get what you pay for. We love Darn Tough socks because they keep our feet dry and comfortable in a variety of conditions. They have just the right amount of cushion without being too bulky in boots. Plus, the Merino wool keeps them smelling fresh for days. Check them out here:


ItemOur ReccommendationWhy We Love It
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Boxer BriefHighly recommended! You can bring just 2-3 pairs and wash them easily in sinks or showers. A must!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Boot Socks In our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Long Sleeve Base Layer (1)Icebreaker 200 OasisThis is a very versatile baselayer that works great under an outer layer or on its own.

Short Sleeve Hiking Shirts (1-2)Icebreaker Tech Lite T-ShirtMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick-drying, and odor resistant.
Hiking Pants (1 pair)The North Face Exploration Convertible TrousersThese are great for hiking and also look great walking around town!
Hiking Shorts (1 pair)Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo ShortsYou can skip these if you’re using our recommended convertible trousers, but it can be nice to have an extra set of bottoms and these are so packable that you really can’t go wrong!
Down JacketRab Cirrus Flex HoodyLightweight, super warm, and packs down small. This jacket was perfect for this kind of trip!
Rain JacketMarmot Precip Eco JacketUnlike many lightweight rain jackets. this one will actually keep you dry during long days on the trail.
Rain PantsThe North Face Venture 2 Waterproof Overtrousers Essential for those heavy English downpours!
HatColumbia Bora Bora Booney HatHelps keep both the sun and rain off your face.
Sandals/Camp ShoesCrocs Classic ClogSuper comfortable to change into after walking in boots all day!
Hiking BootsSalomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTXVery comfortable and super waterproof!
SunglassesSinner Thunder Crystal Revo SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you’re in outdoors all day. And these are stylish too!
BandanaRobelli BandanaThis can be used for everything from a towel to extra sun protection.
Tent in the dark while camping on the South Downs Way

Camping Gear

Camping on the South Downs Way is definitely worth carrying the bigger backpack. Campgrounds along the trail are plentiful, convenient, and generally quite comfortable. In fact, camping is the only way to avoid walking several extra miles in detours over the course of your trek! With the right gear and manageable pack size, you are guaranteed to have an amazing experience conquering the South Downs Way with your own tent.

Most valuable camping gear: MSR 2-Person Mess Kit

Many people choose to camp along the South Downs Way because of the tremendous money they can save on their accommodation. The budgetary benefits go beyond your sleeping arrangements, though. Camping allows you to self-cater your meals, saving you from spending tons on overpriced pub food every day. This MSR Kit is super lightweight, easy to pack, and convenient for all of those al fresco dinners and trailside coffee breaks.

ItemOur RecommendationWhy We Love It
TentMSR Hubba Hubba NX Backpacking TentThis is the best designed tent on the market. The genius freestanding rain cover allows you to pack up all of your gear and tent while still being sheltered- perfect for rainy mornings!
Sleeping BagVango Treklite Lightweight Sleeping BagSuper compact, light, and cozy, this bag is a great value. If you’re walking in the summer months, you should only need the Ultra 600 version.
Sleeping PadTherm-a-Rest Ultralight Camping Padf you are a side sleeper this is a must! Even if you’re not, this is one of the most lightweight and comfortable sleeping pads out there. The pump sack makes inflating it a breeze, too!
PillowTherm-a-Rest Compressible PillowIf you’re camping more than a few nights you will be glad you packed this!
Stove+FuelMSR Pocket Rocket 2Ian has used this stove for nearly a decade and highly recommends it!
Backpacking PotGSI Outdoors Halulite BoilerThis versatile and high-quality pot is the perfect size for anything from boiling water to making porridge.
Plate/Bowl/MugMSR 2-Person Mess KitWe find this bowl and mug combo to be light, durable, and perfect for camp dinners.
UtensilHumangear SporkThe only utensil you’ll need!
Person outside a stone cottage

Hostel/Bunkhouse Gear

If you are sticking strictly to hotels, B&B’s, and guesthouses, you shouldn’t need to worry about the items on this list. However, for those staying in communal/dorm-style accommodations, there are some essential items you need to pack. Keep in mind that most hostels provide bedding, but you should check with individual places in advance to be sure. On the other hand, you will be responsible for providing your own towel (although some places will rent you one for an additional fee).

Most valuable item for bunkhouses & hostels: Mac’s Earplugs

Hiking is infinitely less fun when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep. There are many wonderful hostels along the South Downs Way, but Olympic-level snorers and other noisy neighbors seem to hang out in all of them. These earplugs do an excellent job of blocking out sleep-sabotaging sounds. We find that they work better, stay in longer, and are more comfortable than those cheap foam earplugs.

ItemOur RecommendationWhy We Love It
EarplusMack’s Silicone EarplugsThe best defense for that snorer next door!
Eye MaskAlaska Bear Silk Sleep MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in dormitories.
Sleep SheetScottish Silkworm Sleeping Bag LinerA nice item to have for nights in bunkhouses and hostels.
Travel TowelSea to Summit Drylite TowelNot all of the bunkhouses along the South Downs Way provide towels, so it’s nice to have a backup.
Sandals/SlippersCrocs Classic ClogLightweight and super comfortable!
Trail sign on the South Downs Way

Conclusion

The South Downs Way is a challenging, yet approachable walk for hikers of all ability levels. The dramatic natural beauty and many places of historical interest will *almost* completely take your mind off your tired feet. The gear choose to pack (and leave behind) will be essential in ensuring that you have everything you need to stay comfortable, prepared, and injury-free without carrying a bigger rucksack than needed. Happy trails!

Also be sure to check out our South Downs Way Maps & Routes post!

For those interested in camping, be sure to read our Guide to Camping on the South Downs Way!

Finally, our South Downs Way Accommodation Guide will help you find the perfect place to stay on the SDW.