Archive for Advice from the Experts

Meet Ash Dykes

We’re thrilled to be working with adventurer Ash Dykes on an exclusive challenge in Madagascar this September. Ash was the first person to traverse the length of Madagascar, covering 1,600 miles in 155 days. Now he’s heading back, but this time with Charity Challenge, giving you the opportunity to join him on this incredible adventure challenge.

Ash Dykes

What inspired you to first visit Madagascar?
At first, it was the fact that I hardly knew a thing about the island, I was curious. I then started to do my research and I was hooked by not only the beauty and diversity, but equally by the fact that over 80% of all wildlife and plant life is found nowhere else in the world. I knew that this would provide such a unique and exciting experience.

What was the toughest part of your journey through Madagascar?
Hmm there were many tough sections, but maybe in the Northern section where I faced at times impenetrable jungle, as I used my machete to try hack my way through. I’d cover only 1.5 miles in a 12 hour day at times!

You’ll be returning this September with Charity Challenge, what are you most looking forward to?
I’m excited to be leading an expedition in one of the most beautiful valleys in Madagascar, to showing people the big landscape and different species of Andringitra National Park, some species that are found nowhere else in Madagascar. Pic Boby is beautiful and I truly look forward to returning.

What kind of training would you recommend for people preparing to join this challenge?
I’d recommend they work on their cardio, do a few treks with a backpack to help your muscles adapt to the endurance. I do a lot of calisthenics, where I use my own body weight to train, from push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, it’s not for everyone, but you become more in control of your own body and feel not only physically stronger, but mentally stronger too, which is equally important.

Madagascar has a unique and diverse ecosystem, what can participants expect to encounter on the challenge?
They could expect to see wild lemurs, chameleons, different species of birds, bats, snakes and spiders (not venomous). Andringitra is known for its biodiversity, including 78 species of amphibians, 50 species of reptiles, 54 species of mammals, 108 species of birds, and more than 1,000 species of plants.

What kind of weather can people expect in Madagascar?
Overall, September is a great time to travel to Madagascar. The wildlife is rich and active, it’s warm and sunny – perfect temperature for walking, most probably with a cool breeze the higher up we climb. Night time can be cool and towards the peak, it will be quite possibly fleece and woolly hat weather.

Any key items you’d recommend people bring with them?
I’d recommend a (Water-to-go) filter bottle, which can be used on the go but also even used to collect tap water during travel days. Comfortable footwear, I personally just wear trainers, as they’re lightweight, breathable and quick drying. Sunscreen, mosquito repellent, blister plasters, a hat and shades.

Lastly, what’s your message to anyone thinking about joining this challenge?
This trek will be unforgettable and I mean that from the heart, you’ll love the country, the people, the wildlife and it’s beauty. It’s a country that features in many peoples mind, but very few actually go there. Be the few people that are fortunate enough to say “I’ve been to Madagascar”!

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Secure your place on the Madagascar Trek with Ash Dykes this September.

Learn about our challenge expeditions from a leader’s perspective

Challenging yourself to do something tough and out of the ordinary can change your life in many different ways.

Nothing is more true for Penny Knight, one of Charity Challenge’s long-standing expedition leaders. Giving up her settled and comfortable life in Devon, Penny decided to pursue her dream job in the Read more

Top Tips for Looking after your Tootsies

Some helpful advice from our friends at Outdoor Hire


Make sure the boots you have fit well and are comfortable.

Celebrities Leave for Denise and Fearne's Charity Trek for Breast CancerTry them out on a slope with the socks you intend to wear (good quality trekking socks), you should make sure that your toe doesn’t touch the front of the boot on decent, your heel doesn’t rise from the footbed and you get good ankle support.

Once you’ve got your boots, get out there and wear them in well.


Use moisture wicking socks designed for the purpose, with built in cushioning and support.

You will need to keep your feet warm and dry, so take several pairs.



Get out on some training walks, this will wear in your boots but it is just as important to condition your feet.

It’s important that the muscles, tendons and ligaments in your feet are strong enough to support you properly for long stretches of time without becoming painful.

General Footcare

Clip you toenails and once you’ve clipped them smooth the nail down with a file to remove rough edges.

Use talc on your feet in the morning before you put your socks on and also in the evening when you’ve stopped walking, this helps to keep your feet dry and comfortable.

Damp feet increase the risk of blisters and even trench foot.

Resting your Feet

When you stop for a break and when you’ve finished walking for the day, take your socks & boots off and give your feet time to rest and breathe.

Wear a pair of flip-flops or sandals in camp, take time to chill out and elevate your feet for a while, which will help to reduce swelling.

Blister Prevention

In addition to making sure your boots and socks are right for you, prepare for the worst by making sure your personal first aid kit is stocked with blister plasters such as Compeed and carry a roll of Zinc tape.

Be aware of any discomfort and sort it out as soon as you feel it.  If you feel a blister coming on stop and treat it as soon as possible, otherwise walking on with blisters can be extremely painful and can even reach the stage where you feel as if you can walk no further.

When Walking

Try to focus on your foot placement especially over rocky ground to prevent twisting your foot and placing unnecessary stress on your ankle.

By Steve Wilson



Sleeping Mats

Your sleeping mat goes by a number of names – mat, mattress, pad or the eponymous thermarest-neo-air-02thermarest but it’s probably the single most important factor in getting a good night’s sleep, giving insulation and cushioning from the cold hard ground. If you sleep cold then you’re better off upgrading your camping mat than your sleeping bag. Even the best sleeping bag insulation compresses beneath your weight and loses its insulation properties and if your mat isn’t highly insulated then you lose that heat to the ground.

There are three basic options for your mat:

AIR MATS are inflatable mats and pack down incredibly small and light. If of high quality they will have built in insulation and will inflate to a thickness of 7 to 10 cm providing fantastic cushioning.  They are inflated either by mouth or external or in-built air pump.

Pros:                                 Cons:
Very Light Weight               Expensive to buy
Small Pack Size                  Can be punctured
Excellent Insulation             May Be Difficult to inflate at high altitude
Excellent Cushioning
Easy to Deflate and Pack

SELF-INFLATING MATS comprise a foam core enclosed in an airtight shell. When the valve is opened the compressed internal foam expands sucking in air and inflating the mat. They seldom exceed 3 cm in thickness and so provide less cushioning than air mats but are usually significantly bulkier.

Pros:                                 Cons:
Easy to Inflate                    Bulky and Heavy
Good Insulation                  Expensive to buy
Good Cushioning               Can be punctured
Slow to Deflate

CLOSED CELL FOAM MATS are the simplest and cheapest mats available. They are made from solid closed cell foam and are light weight but very bulky to pack. They provide the least cushioning and insulation of the three types of mat and are really only suitable for short camping trips in warm conditions.

Pros:                                  Cons:
Light Weight                        Bulky
Very Inexpensive to Buy       Poor Insulation
Can’t be punctured              Poor Cushioning

exped-syn7-mattressGetting a good night’s sleep!

When it comes down to it this is what it’s all about, if you aren’t sleeping well it can have a massive impact on the enjoyment of your challenge. At Outdoorhire we recommend hiring an air mat with internal insulation such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir or Exped Synmat (see: The Synmat has a built in hand pump to aid inflation at altitude but is slightly bulkier than the NeoAir which has no pump and packs down very small. By hiring your mat you have access to the best products on the market for the cost of a cheap foam mat and we can supply extra-large NeoAir mats for the larger man.

For the ultimate in camping luxury make sure that you have a silk sleeping bag liner and an Exped inflatable pillow (
You can find all Charity Challenge’s Kit lists from Outdoorhire online at




Special thanks to for writing this blog for Charity Challenge.

What to look for when buying a sleeping bag

What does it all mean?

In Europe, the EN 13537 standard normalizes the temperatures at which a sleeping bag can be used. Tests provide four temperatures:

Upper limit is the highest temperature at which a ‘standard’ adult man is able to have a comfortable night’s sleep without excess sweating.  This rating is not normally used by sleeping bag manufacturers.

The three key rating to look at are:

Comfort rating is based on a ‘standard’ adult woman having a comfortable night’s sleep.

Lower limit is based on the lowest temperature at which a ‘standard’ adult man is deemed to be able to have a comfortable night’s sleep.

Extreme rating is a survival only rating for a ‘standard’ adult man. This is an extreme survival rating only and it is not advisable to rely on this rating for general use.

So when you’re selecting a sleeping bag for your trip look at the temperatures you are likely to experience and pick a sleeping bag with a COMFORT RATING which matches the lower temperature you will find.

Getting a good night’s sleep!

When in your sleeping bag you lose more heat through the ground than the air, so it’s important to insulate yourself by using a good sleeping mat, we recommend an inflatable mat with built in insulation such as the Thermarest NeoAir or Exped Synmat (see: ), which both have built in insulation. While in your bag it’s also a good idea to tighten the shoulder collar and hood drawstrings in order to trap your body warmth inside the bag.

If you feel the cold, it may be a good idea to add a fleece liner to your kit list which will add extra warmth to your sleeping bag.  Also getting up in the middle of the night for a pee is an easy way to get cold, so consider taking a pee bottle, to save getting up. For Outdoorhire’s selection of sleeping bags and liners which have been tested for their selected environment see:


Special thanks to for writing this blog for Charity Challenge.


Changes to liquids in hand baggage (UK/EU)

Due to the development of Liquid Explosive Detection Systems (LEDs), the European Commission has revised the requirements for the screening of liquids, aerosols & gels.

The restrictions to liquids, aerosols & gels carried in hand baggage continue, i.e. containers will still need to include less than 100ml and be contained within the one litre plastic bag.

The new rules broadly sees changes to the treatment of additional liquids not carried in the one litre bag. Starting 31 January 2014, the following liquids presented for screening at UK & EU airports, must be subjected to LEDs if carried outside of the one litre plastic bag:

• Duty free items in ICAO standard Security Tamper Evident Bags

• Medicine

• Baby food/other dietary requirements

This applies to both transferring and direct customers.

Key benefits:

Customers can now take Duty Free liquids purchased from any airport (including non-EU airports) or onboard through UK security screening points, even if taken landside, provided items are in a Security Tamper Evident Bag, with the receipt sealed inside the bag at the time of purchase.

If transferring customers buy any Duty Free liquids onboard, cabin crew will ensure that items are sealed in a Security Tamper Evident Bag. Security Search points will reseal these items in a new Security Tamper Evident Bag, where necessary.

Please note:

• All liquids, aerosols & gels must be presented separately from other hand baggage items at security screening points.

• The tasting/testing of liquids, aerosols & gels on the skin will no longer be recognised as a method of screening. Liquid medicines carried outside of the one litre bag still require a doctor’s note or prescription.

• The use of LEDs, especially alarm resolution, may require the breaking of cellophane wrapping and de-packing of the item. Some airports may use equipment that requires the bottle to be opened, however London Heathrow will not test in this manner.

• Within the UK, liquids in the one litre bag may also be subjected to LEDS.

• For airports outside of the EU and UK, existing policies continue.

Source: British Airways

Top trekking advice from trekkers past to trekkers future!

Once our Charity Challengers are safely back home and resting their feet, we send them our charity challenge survey, and one question we are always sure to ask is;

“If you could give any advice to future participants taking part in this challenge, what would it be?”

We ask this as it’s really important for us to know -particularly from a participants eyes view! –  What people could have done with knowing more about, or what they could have been better prepared for, so that our next group of trekkers can boldly head out onto their challenge being that much more confident and better prepared.

So check out the below to see some of the messages that our previous trekkers want to pass on to the next generation of charity challengers!

Good idea to set up a forum with the others going on your challenge…great to be able to encourage each other and get tips on training and fundraising!Hilary Banks, Sumatra Jungle Trekker

Definitely train and if you think you’ve forgotten something don’t panic someone else is sure to have remembered and you will have stuff others have forgotten so be prepared to share your kit as well as your experiences and most of all enjoy.” Sarah Hollies, Sahara Desert Trek challenger

“Look after your feet, make sure you’ve got good socks/liner socks, break in boots.  Boots need good soles to protect from the very rocky day.  Tuck your laces in so you don’t trip up (like I did!).  Take a very warm sleeping bag.  There aren’t many bugs – so don’t be put off.  There are some bushes – so don’t worry too much about no loo in the day!” Sahara Desert Trek challenger

“Make sure you take lots of photos, I wish I had stopped sometimes to take more.Hellen Vaughan-Williams, Cuban Revolution Cyclist

Enjoy!”. Kevin Moore, Cuban Revolution Cyclist

My advise would be to embrace every aspect of the challenge, the organisers and in my case the other challengers were the best people I could have ever met, dont let that pass you by.” Amy Harbone, Trek to Machu Picchu

“Just to go for it, push your boundaries and enjoy the challenge. Take the time to read all the info sent out by Charity Challenge and in particular the kit list. Do the training and it will be a breeze” Adrienne Booth, Great Wall Discovery Trekker

“Don’t underestimate the challenge, altitude and sustained camping are tough. You have to have a strong will, maybe be a bit stubborn to succeed! Take your training seriously but it’s as much a mental challenge as a physical one…Most of all, enjoy (and respect) the mountain, the whole experience even the difficult bits, and stay positive. It will be over too soon! Grace Breathe, Kilimanjaro Trekker

Do the training!!  I was gald of the different terrain that we had trained in and the numerouse climbs that we had undertaken – it made our trek very manageable. It is also key to train with the equipment that you are going to be using as you are then comfortable with it all and have sorted out any ‘niggles’.” Joy Mitchell, African Bush Trek

“Make sure you have all of the correct kit and are prepared for every season of weather! Poles are essential!!” Brooke Kinsella, Trek to Machu Picchu

For more top tips, and to learn more about all our charity challenges, please visit our website at, and, to keep up to date on all our challenge news, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list!

High Altitude Advice from the experts


You’d think that spending a day mountain trekking would be an ideal way to work up an appetite! But for a lot of people, it can be very difficult to maintain a healthy appetite at high altitude. The senses of smell and taste can be greatly inhibited by the general feeling of lethargy and nausea that often accompany mild altitude sickness, and hence put you off your food.

This can be a dangerous side effect of altitude sickness, as you will be physically exerting yourself and burning through hundreds of calories every day, so it’s very important to keep up your strength and energy levels.

Our Altitude expert partners at the “Altitude Centre” are on hand with advice.

“Fatty foods and high tech sports nutrition bars are difficult to digest and should be avoided. There are some advantages in taking vitamin and mineral supplements at altitude. ALTI-VIT is a unique vitamin formula developed by leading experts in conjunction with The Altitude Centre to support key body requirements at Altitude. With ingredients including Siberian Ginseng, Vitamin C, Reishi Mushroom Extract and Ginkgo Biloba,  is a nutritional altitude supplement supporting:

  • Oxygen uptake
  • Energy production
  • Immune function
  • Sleep quality

Visit to find out more.”

Two further symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) are constipation and diarrhoea which tend to alternate and this can be dangerous as well as distressing. You can take medication to help with these symptoms but it is very important that you keep well hydrated and keep up your food intake – even if you aren’t hungry. On all our treks the water is boiled and cooled to sterilise it. Those with particularly sensitive stomachs may consider iodine tablets to further treat the water. A top tip to neutralise the taste of iodine, is to dissolve an effervescent Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) tablet into the water.

Indeed drinking is just as important as eating! Adequate hydration is essential to allow the body to regulate its chemical balance in response to the change in altitude. Aim to drink 3-4 litres each day and if possible try to add electrolytes to your water. Two brand names to consider are Nuun and Dioralyte. These will help to replace the body’s salts that are lost whilst walking.

The air at high altitude is always very dry. With each breath water will be stripped from your lungs. If you use your mouth to breathe a dry cough is likely to develop. TOP TIP: Try to use your nose to breathe through to prevent a dry throat. If this is not possible, suck a honey cough sweet to help lubricated the throat.

If you want to learn more about our mountain challenges, you can visit our website here. Also, to find out more about the good work and advice the Altitude Centre dishes out, please visit their website at To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both altitude related and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

“Enjoy or Endure” – Convenient Kit lists from our friends at Outdoor Hire!

Warm, dry and comfortable will get you a long way on any trip. Avoid the misery of the wet, the cold and the downright uncomfortable by hiring kit fit for the job in hand. Get this right and enjoyment will surely follow.

We find that a lot of our challengers don’t want to spend a ton of money on kit which they may hardly ever use again. So we teamed up with our friends at Outdoor Hire to solve the conundrum by providing top notch kit for hire.

Layer, layer, layer, topped with a well fitted backpack, sleeping bag and mat – no skimping on quality when you hire at a fraction of the cost of buying.

When embarking on an adventurous challenge having the right kit makes a world of difference.

A Fantastic and efficient service, supplies top quality equipment /clothing , and makes once in a life time challenges affordable. I Will be using outdoor hire again!! Jambo Jambo

Dave Fowler, Kilimanjaro Challenger 

Outdoor Hire have also made the whole process easier still by providing up-to-date and challenge specific Kit Lists for every one of our challenges. So whether you’re climbing Kilimanjaro or cycling across Cuba, these Kit lists show you want you need and how much it costs. – check out your Unique Challenge kit list here!!!

How to get the most out of your Kit with Cotswold Outdoors

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you can’t summit mount Mt Kilimanjaro without the right footwear, and that you would have a very unpleasant time of it if you tried to cross the Sahara desert in jeans and a t-shirt.  In these extraordinary climates of mountain winds, desert heat, jungle humidity and icecap colds, you need clothing and equipment that is a little bit extraordinary itself.

Here at Charity Challenge, we work with outdoor experts Cotswold Outdoors to create the most up-to-date and relevant kit lists and provide you with expert advice on what kit you need and how to use it.

Take a look at these two videos from Cotswolds Outdoors to see how you should be adjusting and fitting your boots and rucksacks before you set out on your challenge! – how to correctly fit and adjust your boots – how to correctly fit ad adjust your Rucksack