A Younger Challenge: Not Only a More Vibrant Event But One With a Bright Future

The Challenge — or rather ‘Challengers’ — are an interesting mix of the old and the new. Roger Smith has a policy of ensuring that about a third of all participants each year are first timers, and this does keep the event fresh. Of course, there are tensions between the experienced and the newcomers and I’ve mentioned these before. But by in large things work pretty well.

This year’s event felt much different though and much of this was about age. You can be a first time Challenger and still be — let’s be honest — getting on a bit! I include myself in this category. But this year we seemed to see a lot more younger people on the event. They bring something positive to the party, are energetic, keen to explore new ideas and new technology and really do show that this event has a long and prosperous future ahead of it. It wasn’t just me who felt like this. In a long podcast interview Cameron Mcneish described how there really had been a change in the look and feel of the event over the last couple of years. Moreover, he felt that these changes were now feeding through the TGO magazine which he describes “as being on a bit of a high at present”.

These young folks have come to the event through new routes. Most likely they have heard about the Challenge through the blogs and podcasts. The internet is their world and they use it well. They are also more likely to be using lightweight gear.On this year’s event I counted five of Mountain Laurel Design’s Duomid tarp shelters, four made from cuben fibre and one from sinylon. There were also two MLD Trailstar shelters and a number of tarps. The Terra Nova Competition continues to edge out the Akto when it comes to newer purchases although it too now has competition in the double skin world. There were more than a few Vaude Power Lizards on display this year (including one being used by Cameron and his wife Gina). The Power Lizard is about 1 kilogram and is described as a two person shelter, although most users felt it was really a comfortable one person tent.

Lightweight packs were in evidence everywhere. There were a lot of ULA packs the most popular of which seemed to have been Brian Frankle’s last design the Ohm, a reasonably sized pack with a carbon support. Golite packs are now very common with the Pinnacle being the most prominent although the Jam was coming up fast. Personally, the Pinnacle always seems a little too big to me.

Trail shoes were very evident this year, with even Alan Sloman walking in what he described as ‘plimpsoles’. Inov-8 once again seemed the most popular brand.

Stoves now seem to be (amongst younger entrants) more likely to be alcohol based with esbit tablets cropping up more often. The Caldera Cone system seems to have won this particular race hands down although there was a lot of interest in Rob Slade’s Evernew System. Myself, I carried a canister stove this year as I found I had a couple of canisters at home. For almost every other camp I use meths and since returning home I have succumbed to the Caldera and ordered one!

Phile Turner — Tweeting Across Scotland

Phil Turner, Tweeting Across Scotland

And even new technologies are being challenged by new entrants. These younger, lightweight, hikers are now more likely to use a mobile phone with mapping rather than a dedicated GPS. The iPhone was very prominent working on Memory Map or Routebuddy maps – and Anquet is just around the corner. The latest Nokias were also to be seen regularly. Phones come with a problem of charging, but even there there are simple solutions around. Phil Turner and his mate Steve Horner both used cheap little appliances that took four AA batteries and used this to charge their phones overnight. Phil was using a Nokia and Steve an iPhone. Both seemed to be using their phones to navigate more than maps.

Of course, there is some resistance to this new technology — but nowhere near as much as there was in the past. This year there was a lot of healthy interest in the lighter gear from established challengers. This was expressed well by Jim Anderson who, while he wouldn’t use the stuff himself, was interested because he knew that these ideas would eventually work their way into mainstream gear.

It was a pleasure to get to know these younger Challengers and to walk with them from time to time, even though walking with Phil Turner (more than 20 years younger than me) for the first week was something of a Challenge.

Cameron put it to me well. Six years ago when I first walked this event it was still very much in traditional role. This year was, perhaps, the first of a new phase in the event. This is certainly an event that seems certain to have a bright future.


  1. Andy
    “cheap little appliances that took four AA batteries”
    Any idea of the make/model?

  2. this is the one steven horner was using for his iphone


  3. Cheers both

  4. Interesting piece Andy. I’ll have to return next year and raise the age range again!

  5. Chris — you know age is all in the mind 🙂

    Still, we’ve got the new trail to hear about first!

  6. Thanks Andy!

    The new trail is rather occupying my mind at present. Much planning still to do.

Write in the box and the login details will suddenly appear!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.