Polaroid series: Author and travel blogger Sian Lewis talks us through her outdoors essentials and the stories they hold
By Sian Lewis
I’m always happiest outdoors – most of my time is spent out and about, camping, hiking and wild swimming, or back at home writing about my adventures. As a travel and outdoor writer, I end up taking so many quick photos on my phone or camera that each individual picture can end up having less value, snapped without much thought. That’s why I also love packing my Polaroid camera in my backpack – I love the feeling of anticipation while a polaroid develops, waiting to see what I’ve captured. These little squares make wonderful keepsakes – my house is filled with framed Polaroids from around the world, and when I restored my campervan I lined some of the walls with cork, so that I can pin up instant prints of road trips to come.
When I’m hiking or camping I really rely on outdoor kit that won’t let me down if a storm suddenly rolls in. Part of my work as a journalist involves testing out kit, which is handy – I’ve put hundreds of pieces of gear through their paces before settling on my tried-and-tested favourites.
Why stay in a 5-star hotel when you could sleep out under five billion of them? Camping really feeds my soul, especially if I’m setting up camp somewhere wild and remote – Scottish sand dunes, hidden Cornish woodlands or wild Cumbrian mountainsides are pretty incredible places to call home for a night. A good tent makes all the difference, and my Sierra Designs Meteor Lite 2 backpacking tent has never let me down. It’s lightweight and I can strap it to my rucksack on my solo adventures, but it still sleeps two in comfort and has roomy porches for stashing hiking boots and cooking kit. It’s really well-made and is a joy to use and sleep in. When I go wild camping solo I often get asked if I get scared – I honestly find that once I’m tucked up in my sleeping bag inside my Meteor Lite, ideally with a good book, I feel pretty snug, and tend to sleep well.
I love the protection and space my tent gives me in the wild, but if it’s a balmy starlit evening, I might swap it for my hammock. It’s a Thermarest ‘Slacker’ hammock and is easy to hang up from two trees – wrapping up in my sleeping bag and nodding off under the stars after a nip of whisky is my idea of a wild night out.
Most of my work as a writer is digital so I often hanker for the feeling of putting pen to paper. I have a stack of old Moleskine notebooks from a decade of travel writing, and they are some of my most prized possessions. They say journaling improves your memory, and for me it’s also nostalgic – I love looking back through my notebooks to remember secret spots and forgotten feelings from past adventures. Moleskines feel like great quality to write on, and they take a lot of bashing about in my rucksack without complaint – I wouldn’t use anything else now.
When I want to feel connected to nature and reset my mind, I go swimming. Taking a dip in a cold lake, a clear river or the open sea is a wonderful way to wash away stress and find a little peace, and outdoor swimming is just as good for your physical health as your mood. I wear a swimsuit for a quick dip, but if I’m getting in the water to exercise, or going in icy winter conditions, I pull on my Zone3 Aspire wetsuit. A wetsuit should fit like a second skin, and this one definitely does – it’s designed for triathletes and I love it for open water swimming, as it protects me and gives me a boost of warmth and confidence, but isn’t too buoyant.
I’m pretty lazy when it comes to skincare and makeup, but I’ve been trying hard to be good about wearing sunscreen daily. My favourites are P20, which goes on as a transparent liquid and stays put if you sweat or swim, and Sun Bum, which smells like coconut and gorse flowers – slather it on and your senses will think you’re on a tropical holiday.
My Scarpa hiking boots get literally worn to death. You’re likely to find that one particular brand of walking boots fits your feet properly – and for me and my high arches, it’s Scarpa. I wear Scarpa hiking boots, mountaineering boots and climbing shoes, and they do me proud. This is my second pair of the Scarpa Peak boots, which the brand no longer makes – I wish I’d bought ten pairs, as they’re comfortable, waterproof and have seen me through many miles of trails all over the world, from Greenland to Japan. It’s been strange adapting to staying close to home this past year, but it’s been a wonderful excuse to explore more of Britain. I’m an ambassador for Komoot, and logging my hikes on the app has encouraged me to go further and farther – and my boots have kept right up. On hot days or when backpacking abroad, I swap my boots for lightweight Teva Terra F1 Lite sandals, which have grippy soles you can hike in and are quick-drying if I stop for a swim. They’re a great quiver-of-one travel sandal if I’m packing light.
They say that there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing. I fell in love with my Jottnar down jacket as soon as it landed on my desk – it’s very lightweight and packs down into a small stuff sack that I can pop in my rucksack, but when I put it on I’m immediately cocooned in warmth. I wear mine over sweaters, under my waterproof jacket, even in my sleeping bag on cold nights.
Everything on my list of outdoor essentials ends up squeezing into one place – my trusty Tatonka backpack. A few years ago, I came back from the Indian Himalayas, extremely jetlagged, and managed to lose my passport full of travel stamps somewhere in Heathrow Airport. I decided to start sewing travel patches to my backpack instead, as a bit of a visual diary of the places I’ve been. It’s now covered in flags and embroidered mountains – I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I finally run out of space for more!
My favourite thing I own of all is my vintage campervan, Evie. She’s a Bedford CF van from 1982 and I co-own her with my partner and my best mate – we found her in a field in Somerset in the summer of 2020 and we got her at a bargain price because she didn’t start! She turned out to be a lifeline project in lockdown, as it gave me something to work on and get excited about when I couldn’t go far from my front door. I also loved learning some DIY skills – I’m pretty handy with a drill now. One year later, Evie’s had a new paint job and a new interior made with recycled materials, reclaimed wood and fabric offcuts that I hand-dyed – she’s a serious labour of love.