Looking for a challenge and an opportunity to learn and have fun? There’s no denying that the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme is a great opportunity to do this and get recognised for your achievements.
In the organisation’s own words it gives young people, aged from 14 to 24 “the chance to develop skills for life and work, fulfil their potential and have a brighter future”.
The programme includes volunteering, physical activity, skills and expeditions.
For many youngsters the expeditions – and all that entails – are a totally new experience. Even the kit list can strike fear into the hearts of participants, and their parents.
Here are some important things to know when preparing for your Duke of Edinburgh’s expeditions:
If you don’t have the right kit, you might not get to take part. The right equipment isn’t just there to make you look the part, it’s crucial for safety. Therefore, turning up with the wrong stuff might mean you get sent back home again before you’ve even begun.
Don’t wear jeans. Actually, don’t wear anything made out of cotton. The reason for this is that the minute your beautifully comfortable jeans (or t-shirt) gets wet, it becomes horrible. It will soak up the moisture and turn into a heavy, scratchy garment of torture.
Waterproofs are essential. They may not look great and they are certainly very rustly, but they are critical. Being wet isn’t just uncomfortable, it can – in the most extreme cases – put your life at risk. The other important function of waterproofs is to keep the breezes off, so even if they leak a bit, they’ll still do a good job because they protect you from wind chill. And we’re talking proper waterproofs here, not just a coat that you think is OK in the rain.
The right kit needn’t be costly. Duke of Edinburgh Award candidates are all told that they are entitled to a discount at outdoor suppliers Cotswolds. This is great news, but there are lots of other places you can get reasonably priced equipment. For a start it’s worth looking at Decathlon, Trespass, Go Outdoors and even your local Aldi or Lidl. This is particularly important as many candidates will grow a lot during their time on the scheme.
Dress from the feet up. If you are going to spend any money, then choose to do so on your feet. Comfortable and suitable boots are essential. Once again, they don’t need to cost hundreds – and certainly don’t need to be this year’s model, but the do need to fit. You will need boots that have a decent ankle support and chunky enough grip on the sole to stop you slipping. Try them on properly and keep in mind that your feet will swell during a long expedition and you might want to wear two pairs of socks.
Expect the worst weather. You might be lucky and the sun will shine on you, however, it’s foolish to rely on that. When you’re making your preparations, it pays to be very pessimistic. Imagine it will be cold, wet and windy. Think of how you’ll keep your body warm and dry. It’s always better to take stuff in the hope you won’t need it, than the other way round.
It’s not just your body you’re looking after. You want to work just as hard at keeping your things dry. Soggy sandwiches are nasty but a waterlogged mobile phone is worse. Put things that need to stay dry into plastic bags, then put them into a backpack that has a waterproof cover, or is lined with a big sturdy plastic bag. If you bring spare clothes, put them in a plastic bag too.
Hand-me-downs are fine. You don’t need new stuff. Ask around, you might be surprised how much suitable clothing and gear people have in their cupboards.
You may already have plenty of stuff. Just because you’ve never used it for an expedition, it doesn’t mean that some of the things you already own won’t do. Do you have fleeces, thermals or boots already? Gear from other sports might do perfectly well.
Any fool can be uncomfortable. There’s nothing clever about letting yourself be cold or miserable if there’s an alternative. The Duke of Edinburgh scheme isn’t about proving what you can endure, it’s about being organised enough to make sure that doesn’t happen. It is always worth making the effort to stay dry and comfortable.
Layer it on. The secret to dealing with the cold is to wear lots of thin layers instead of one really thick one. Not only does this mean you won’t overheat when you get moving, it will probably keep you toastier. Air gets trapped between each layer of fabric, creating an efficient insulation system that still works if you get wet.
Practice makes perfect. You might have assembled what you think is the perfect selection of adventurous expedition-wear, however, you need to put it to the test. Obviously you need to make sure it fits, worn as you would on the day. But it’s also worth wearing things together for a reasonable amount of time so you know what’s comfortable and what’s really irritating. And this includes your rucksack. You are far better finding that you hate something when you can do something about it and not when you’re miles from home.