Hostel walking: what it is, organising a trip and kit list

Walking from one hostel to the next is a great way to make your long-distance hikes more comfortable. We take a look at what it involves, how to organise a trip and the best UK itineraries

Meadows near Ennerdale Water

Guide to hostel walking, including what it is, why you should do it, kit list and the best places to take on the challenge.

With a bit of careful planning, multi-day walking can be enjoyed by almost everyone – and the key is walkers’ hostels.

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YHA Black Sail, Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
Walkers leaving YHA Black Sail at the eastern end of Ennerdale Valley in Cumbria

What is hostel walking and why should you do it?

Multi-day walking is often associated with long, hard days in the hills, broken with wet and windy nights in the tent. But long-distance hikes don’t need to be as arduous as this – one trick is to incorporate walkers’ hostels into your journey.

Hostel walking is the practice of hiking from one hostel to the next, usually through rural areas. Affordable and comfortable, hostels soften the hardships of the path – the heavy camping gear, the uncomfortable packs and the need to cook your own food.

Pillar Rock waterfall, Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
Short days on the trail allow you to appreciate the small things, such as waterfalls (here, pillar Rock, Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria) ©Jake Graham

Instead, your steps can be slow and unencumbered, allowing you to focus solely on the joys of the trail – those gurgling streams, those deep green vales and those labyrinthine crags beneath the heights.

Walkers in woodland

What are youth hostels?

Way back in the early 20th century, a German teacher called Richard Schirrmann, disgruntled at the lack of cheap places to stay on a school trip, introduced the idea of the youth hostel: inexpensive accommodation for young people. It took more than 20 years for the notion to reach the UK, at which point the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) was formed. Since its inception, the number of hostels has risen and fallen, and its standards shifted from the very basic to today’s modern and well-equipped inn. All the while, the YHA’s core values have remained “to inspire all, especially young people, to broaden their horizons, gaining knowledge and independence through new experiences of adventure and discovery”.

YHA Black Sail, Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
The cosy interior of YHA Black Sail, Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria ©Jake Graham

Today, these rural (and urban) refuges offer everything from food and bedding to toiletries, towels and private lodgings. Their rooms are often clad with old maps, sun-bleached paintings and shelves of muddled books, but they also possess something more ethereal, a sense of journeys passed and those to come.

Make the most of the YHA

 

There are more than 150 YHA hostels and 45 campsites in England and Wales, all affordable, comfortable and set within some of our most beautiful landscapes. A night in a single-gender dorm room starts at about £15 per adult per night, a four-bed private room is about £49 and camping from £5, though discounts for children, young adults, groups and winter stays apply. Regular hostel goers might consider becoming a YHA member (£15 per year), receiving 10% off every stay.

 

https://www.yha.org.uk

YHA Buttermere, Cumbria ©Jake Graham

Hostel-walking kit list

Most hostels provide bedding, food, water, towels and toiletries, meaning you can reduce your pack weight to a comfortable level – aim for 10kg of less, including food and water.

Meadows near Ennerdale Water
Unpacking rucksacks near Ennerdale Water ©Jake Graham

Kit list

  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Fleece
  • Sun hat
  • Sun cream
  • Woolly hat
  • Gloves
  • Map, compass and waterproof map case
  • First aid kit, including blister plasters
  • Torch and spare batteries
  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Dry bag and warm change of clothes for the evening (including change of footwear)
  • Water bladder/refillable Water bottle(s) – two litres
  • Pack lunch box (and lunch)
  • Snacks – trail mix, cereal bars, fruit
  • Small wash kit
  • Money
  • Whistle
  • Survival bag
  • Antibacterial handwash

Extras

  • Rubbish bag for collecting litter
  • Trowel
  • Loo roll in a waterproof bag
  • Notebook and pencil
  • Camera
  • Gaiters
  • Book
  • Penknife
  • Water purification tablets
  • Walking poles
  • Sunglasses
  • GPS device
  • Binoculars
  • Glasses and case
  • Travel towel
  • Travel wash – for walks more than three or four days

Hostel-walking itineraries

Lake District loop

Three days / 38.7km (24 miles) / 1,597m ascent / moderate

Pillar Rock, Ennerdale, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
Pillar Rock, Ennerdale, Cumbria ©Jake Graham

A 40km hostel-to-hostel walk, first rising through Buttermere Valley and Honster Pass. The next day, head south-west across moors, tors and beside lonely tarns to one of the most remote hostels in the UK, Black Sail, before returning through the wild forests of Ennerdale Valley, up and over Whiteoak Moss and back to Buttermere. Route and map.

Itinerary

  • Buttermere to Honister Hause – 11.9km/7.4 miles – 760m ascent
  • Honister Hause to Black Sail – 5.3km/3.3 miles – 388.8m ascent
  • Black Sail to Buttermere – 21.9km/13.6 miles – 418m ascent
  • Ravenstor – Castleton Losehill Hall – 15.4km/9.5 miles – 429m ascent

Loch Lomond linear

Three days / 35.8km (22.2 miles) / 1,338m ascent / easy-moderate

Loch Lomond, Scotland ©Jake Graham
The West Highland Way runs along the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland ©Jake Graham

This middle portion of the West Highland Way runs from Balmaha in the south to Inveranan in the north. The route is extremely well waymarked and includes a variety of places to stay, including glamping pods, a hostel, a bunkhouse and a hotel. Map

Itinerary

  • Balmaha bunkhouse to Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel – 13.2km (8.2 miles) – 426m ascent
  • Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel to Inversnaid Hotel – 11.3km (7 miles) – 523m ascent
  • Inversanid Hotel to Beinglas Farm – 10.3 miles (6.4 miles) – 389m ascent

Peak District YHA loop

Four days / 49.3km (30.6 miles) / 1,261m ascent / moderate

Three Roofs Cafe, Cafe Castleton, Peak District Derbyshire
Castleton in the Peak District National Park ©Getty

Deep dales, rambling rivers and quaint villages define this moderate-level trek through north-west Derbyshire. The first two days are short and gentle, allowing you time to hone your fitness for the tougher second-half of the trip. Map

Itinerary

  • Castleton Losehill Hall to Hathersage – 9.6km/6 miles – 160m ascent
  • Hathersage to Eyam – 10.4km/6.5 miles – 258m ascent
  • Eyam to Ravenstor – 13.85/8.6 miles – 418m ascent
  • Ravenstor – Castleton Losehill Hall – 15.4km/9.5 miles – 429m ascent

Snowdonia YHA loop

Four days / 35km (22 miles) / 2,542m ascent / moderate-difficult

Walkers make their way up to the summit of Snowdon, Gwynedd
Walkers make their way up to the summit of Snowdon, Gwynedd ©Alamy

This Welsh ramble explores the Snowdon massif, from its lowland rivers and waterfalls to its highland peaks. The days vary in length, from 6–15km, and include some sections of tough mountain terrain. Map

Itinerary

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  • Llanberis to Snowdon Ranger – 6km/3.7 miles – 315m ascent
  • Snowdon Ranger to Snowdon Bryn Gwynant – 14.7km/9.1 miles – 774m ascent
  • Snowdon Bryn Gwynant to Pen y Pass – 6.2km/3.8 miles – 460m ascent
  • Pen y Pass to Llanberis – 16km/9.9 miles – 993m ascent

Using OS

Whether you’re hiking or enjoying a leisurely family walk, OS Maps puts Great Britain’s most detailed leisure mapping at your fingertips. 

osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk

Middleton map