Walking in the Mountains has become one of today’s most popular outdoor pursuits. Gone is the earlier image of a pastime for strangely dressed eccentric old people dressed in woolly hats, hobnail boots, corduroy trousers and tweed jackets. Modern outdoor clothing is actually a multi million pound business that often has more to do with a fashion statement then practical use.
Cutting through the preverbal crap and pushing fashion statements to one side, lets take an actual look at what is needed for an enjoyable day on the hills. The following Ten Items are essential, not just for comfort but for actual survival and safety.
(1) Warm clothing consisting of:- Base layer:- Under shirt or T-shirt, under clothes and Socks. (Thin liner socks and thicker walking socks) Mid layer:- Fleece or woollen top. Trousers or shorts in the summer (Do not wear jeans, they hold water and will freeze on you in Winter. Cotton also holds moisture so avoid. Man made fabrics such as polyester do not hold moisture and dry much quicker.) Outer Layer:- Waterproof Jacket (Breathable is best for comfort.) Waterproof trousers, Hat, Gloves. Sun hat in the summer.
(2) Footwear:- 2 Season boots for Summer, they are light weight, waterproof, slightly flexible and have good ankle support. 3 to 4 Season boots for Winter, they are tough, rigid soles that can take crampons, waterproof with strong ankle support. Avoid footwear without ankle support. Trainers in winter or on wet grass can be lethal.
(3) Rucksack:- 25 to 35 litre rucksack is ideal as a day sack. Choose one that has a breathable back support, hip band and adjustable shoulder straps. The more money you pay the more features the pack will have. For example, wand pockets, camel pack compartment for water container and external waterproof cover. Dont carry unnecessary stuff in the bag, otherwise you may start to regret bringing along the unwanted weight in your bag
(4) Map and Compass:- In the UK, Explorer maps are ideal, they give excellent detail and are clear to follow. Try to pick a detailed map of about two and a half inches to the mile, these show fences and walls that can help as guide lines to follow. Unless the map is laminated, keep it in a waterproof case. Maps will fall apart when wet. There are various compasses on the market, however try to get one that has the needle suspended in fluid, such as a Silva Compass. The essential factor is learn how to use a Compass and read a map before venturing onto the hills. Dont rely on just a GPS device. Always take a map and compass.
(5) Safety equipment:- Whistle, Torch with spare battery, (LED last longer) First aid kit, Bivvy bag and a spare set of laces. (These can be used either for your boots or to tie a broken strap) Rope if you are tackling any rock climbs or crossing streams and rivers. Ice axe in Winter.
(6) Enough food and drink for the day:- Water or fruit drinks(hot or cold) Avoid Tea or Coffee they help to dehydrate you. DO NOT TAKE ALCOHOL. Alcohol not only dehydrates you it will help to bring on the effects of hypothermia very quickly. Easily digestible foods will get energy into your system much quicker. Bananas and dried fruit are a better source of blood sugar then chocolate.
(7) Plan your Route:- Plan your walk and have an alternative route to use if the weather is poor. Don’t take on more then you can cope with. Start with simple walks and build up your skills over a period of time. Build in escape routes into your walk should conditions deteriorate. Tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to return. Leave a note in the glove compartment of your car. (If the car is still in the car park after several days and comes to the attention of the emergency services then at least a route note in the car will give them something to work with.)
(8) Check the weather:- Don’t leave it to chance. Always check the weather outlook a few days before you go. Avoid extreme weather conditions such as high winds and lightning. At the first sound of thunder, GET DOWN. You can survive getting wet, but it is unlikely that you will survive a lightning strike. If you are caught out crouch down on your mat or rucksack at the lowest point you can find, do not hold on to anything metal and wait for the storm to pass.
(9) Comfort:- Use a liner sock under your thick sock. This helps to cut down blisters which if left can make your day miserable. Don’t try going out in new boots, break them in first. Take a pack of tissues for those essential, personal moments.
(10) Be Prepared:- Have a good nights sleep the night before. Avoid going on the beer the night before. You will be very dehydrated and will tire very quickly. Have a good breakfast before starting. If you are not to worried about having the latest outdoor designs or syles in clothing.
Take a look in the discount stores or the various factory outlet stores who can often provide you with first class equipment at rock bottom prices. Don’t skimp on the essential equipment,:- ie. Boots, safety equipment, maps, compasses, waterproofs. They may just save your life. Most of all enjoy the experience. Its not about endurance or taking your body to the limit. Its about finding petranquillity, becoming one with nature, enjoying the company of your companions and perhaps having a good night in the pub afterward to boast about your days activity, or sitting around the camp fire to the early hours reliving those great moments on the hills.