Kitting yourself out

Gap o' the North Walking Club

 Cumann Síulóid Sléibhe Bhearna Uladh 


Clothing and gear

·         It is possible to spend a small fortune on hill-walking clothing but it’s not necessary. Lidl, Aldi and TK Maxx all have good,cheap gear including boots from time to time (but don’t be tempted by ski clothing which is far too warm and generally not very breathable) . And don’t forget the charity shops which have suitable shirts, trousers and fleeces and even jackets if you are lucky.

·         The first rule is that cotton is BANNED. The hollow fibres in cotton soak in moisture (rain or sweat) and don’t allow it to evaporate. On a typical 3-4 hour walk to 600m height in full gear a person of average weight can perspire more than a pint. A soaked cotton T-shirt provides zero insulation and cold walkers are in danger.

·         It is cheap to keep warm, dearer to keep dry. Put your money into good boots and a  breathable, hooded rainjacket, but don’t get a heavy jacket. The jacket should cover your hips and a peaked hood which can be tightened in on your face is a good idea.

·         You need breathable clothing in layers which allows moisture to ‘wick’ out from your inner to the outer layer where it can evaporate (provided it’s not raining). That means man-made fibres  such as lycra (or thin wool), particularly for the inner layer. Breathability is important – the alternative is known as ‘boil in the bag’. Most fleeces are breathable. The best known waterproof but breathable membrane used in jackets and boots is called Gore-Tex

·         There are two-layer hillwaking socks (thousand-mile socks) that prevent blisters, but they are very expensive. The principle is that friction occurs between fabric layers and not between fabric and skin. Just wear very thin socks or socklets inside thick socks. Gloves should be warm and water-proof – ordinary woollen gloves are useless when wet.

·         Jeans (cotton) are out. Cheap tracksuit bottoms are fine and can be quite thin most of the year. It is important to have bottoms that dry out (by evaporation) quickly after a shower. Gaiters are cheap and very useful, otherwise you are washing after every walk. The other benefit of gaiters is that you can go into a boghole to the knee and if you get your foot out fairly quickly there will be no water inside your boot.

·         Experienced walkers tend to prefer all-leather boots, but they can be relatively dear, they are heavier (not good for roadwalking)  and they need regular waxing. Ensure that boots are actually waterproof, not just water-resistant.

·         You need outer water-proof leggings which run from £30 to £100, but remember the dear ones rip just as easily on barbed wire. The best are the ones that zip the whole way up the outside of the leg – they are much easier to get on quickly, instead of doing the one-legged bog dance in heavy rain. The leggings get filthy but try not to wash them too much as they all lose waterproofing eventually. Brush the mud off with a stiff brush and sponge them down.

·         There are four things to look for if buying a rucksack (1) Attached raincover, usually in a zipped compartment at the bottom (2) a frame which holds the bag away from the small of the back, providing circulation so sweat can evaporate out through the jacket (3) little side straps to hold walking poles when not in use – many people only use them on the way down (4) a belly-band strap, to stop the rucksack unbalancing you or hitting you on the back of the head if you stumble.

·         The typical walk starts off on a steep, sheltered forestry road where you warm up very quickly, then you get up to the tree line where you are out in the open and the wind is stronger. The temperature drops by roughly one degree for every 100 meters height you climb and wind chill normally at least doubles the drop. So in the course of a walk you might experience a 10-degree range including wind chill. The trick is to be able to adjust quickly so fleeces should have full zips (not pullover type) for quick temperature adjustment. Many people prefer sleeveless fleeces since heat loss from the arms is quite small.

·         Be careful to follow washing instructions on expensive jackets. Experience with waterproofing treatments is decidedly mixed as different jackets/leggings/gaiters need different treatments. If you come up with something that really works, let us all know.

·         Always have an extra fleece or other layer in the rucksack, because hill-walkers have a habit of taking a lunch break on the summit where it is coldest and the body cools very quickly.
Most of us build up more kit over time:
- Bivvy (bivouac) bag, a man-sized plastic bag which could keep an injured or exhausted person dry and a little warmer on the ground. Even if you never have such an unfortunate occurrence, they are also really useful for sitting on wet ground.
-Whistle, a very basic piece of equipment
-Small first aid kit including blister plasters
- Small umbrella for downpours
- Freezer bag to protect your mobile from rain
- Secure belly bag for valuables - some of us have terrible memories of car keys in bogholes
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  15k v. 1 Jan 9, 2012, 2:28 PM Seamus Murphy
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  17k v. 1 Jan 9, 2012, 2:26 PM Seamus Murphy