It’s that time of year again! When many young people all over the country set out with backpacks almost as big as them to hike in small groups and just a map to guide them. Whether that be at Bronze, Silver or Gold level, the DofE expedition is a notorious achievement, filled with ups and downs, but so many memories. As someone who has completed both the bronze and silver levels of this award, and is about to undertake the Gold level, I wanted to offer my top three useful tips I have discovered when completing both the practice and assessed hikes to those who are starting for the first time, or are about to take on the next level of their award!

1.  Starting off strong, get yourself a set of watertight bags. When it is chucking it down with rain and your supposedly waterproof bag suddenly decides to give up on you, with no waterproof protection over clothes, sleeping bags, or food, everything gets soaking wet. For the short time you are at camps, if you are lucky enough to find a drying room, even that will not full dry everything in time for the next day. Getting some of these fully waterproof bags will be a total saviour, protecting everything you are carrying from the rain, ensuring a good night’s sleep in dry clothes and cozy sleeping bag, and warm food to get you through to the next day.

2. Another tip I would suggest to anyone on the hike would be to set definite time for breaks on your hike. I know every single DofE leader will tell you this, but you must remember it is not a race. It’s fine to be competitive with the other groups, its something you will find motivates you to push through to the next checkpoint, but you should never make it a problem when you are overtaken. Being in teams of many different people with many different walking paces is a hurdle often overlooked by participants, and when people start getting tired, they get irritable, and emotions start running high. Arguments are so likely at this point, when what everyone really needs is a break. Whether it be for 5 minutes or 30 minutes, breaking in set times of the day is so helpful for conserving energy, keeping spirits high, and preventing a frosty atmosphere within the team. Patience is vital in these moments for everyone, and a healthy atmosphere is so necessary for a good experience on the hike.

3. Finally, my last tip, although small, makes a surprisingly large difference at the end of the day. Bring small sweet-treats or hot chocolate to share. I know it might seem silly and unnecessary now, but when you are on the hike, I know from my experience that a huge factor in keeping your motivation is the community and sweetness at the end of the day. Something about being huddled around the campfire (or Trangia) with all your teammates and other groups, sharing stories from the expedition so far with old and new friends is magical. The community spirit found within these moments is definitely one of the main highlights of the trip. You can set aside struggles from the day and just have fun with those you are sharing the experience with. A warm hot chocolate or toasted marshmallow is small but adds so much to the morale of the group, and sends everyone off to bed with a smile and lifted spirits, ready for the next day.

That was my top three tips for improving the DofE expedition experience. I hope that you have found this advice helpful and will possibly even use some of it in your own expedition, whether that be practice or assessed, bronze, silver or gold. Good luck to everyone off soon, and I am sure that you will have as much fun as you are hoping for!