What kit to take for a walk in the mountains
The first thing I send to somebody who books onto a course with me is a kit list. It seems like basic stuff but if you don't know something - you don't know it. I carry absolutely everything on this list apart from a GPS unit, though I do use Viewranger on my phone. Not everything is essential to get before you go for a walk, though some things probably are, such as:
Walking boots or trail shoes
Waterproof coat and trousers
Spare warm layers
Hat & gloves
Food & water
Everything else is reccomended kit that I have learned to find valuable over the last few years of walking in the mountains.
Part of the enjoyment of hill walking as a lifestyle is the freedom that it gives you and choosing your own kit is part of that freedom. We are all responsible for ourselves and we learn what works for us personally and what doesn't. That being said, when you are new to this lifestyle, it can feel a little overwhelming and sometimes even scary, especially if you follow the mountain rescue pages and see some of the horrible things people write when somebody goes out 'ill prepared' and gets into trouble. If you don't know something, you don't know it! The people writing the worst things on those posts are usually the people who have barely set foot on a mountain, let alone made a mistake on one. Ignore them. I have written this little blog piece about kit - what to take and why - and I would definitely recommend anybody who is keen to get out into the mountains has a good read and takes on board some of the advice. I really hope it will contain some useful advice for the novice walker.
When I fist started walking, I used to take a picture of my daughter because if I got into trouble, I would be able wait out and look at it to get me through the night. Seems a bit daft now, but the logic was that I knew I could sit down and not panic because I carried enough kit to get me through a night (in theory). I've refined my kit a little now, and also my skill set so hopefully, I should never have to sit out a cold night on a mountain unless it's by choice! I have also included some useful links, highlighted in blue.
A pair of well fitted walking boots is a really good start. You don't have to have boots. In the summer I will get away with approach shoes but if there's even a chance of rain, I'll wear my boots. Nobody enjoys ending a long day with cold, blistered and painful feet. One common problem with people's boots is that they just don't fit. I always advise people to pop into a local outdoor shop and ask for a fitting before splashing out on some shiny new boots. I was wearing the wrong sized boots for years. Also, don't Cheap out. Spend what you can on a decent pair and look after them. Your feet will thank you for it. I only wear B2 goretex boots because they are good all round boots with semi stiff soles that are good for walking/scrambling and can take crampons for winter walking. I was told that different brands are suited to different feet, so I tend to only wear La Sportiva. Take your time in the shop and have a good chat before committing.
A waterproof coat and trousers. Again, this is kit you just don't cheap out on. Britain is wet and windy. Wet clothes in windy conditions is a recipe for disaster. Hypothermia is a real risk at any time of the year in our mountains and one of the most effective ways we can protect ourselves is by keeping as dry as possible. Checking websites like www.sportpursuit.com can net you some impressive bargains. Cotswold outdoor is a great shop and you can get three year warranties on purchases. Very useful. Two important things to look for in a coat are large map pockets and a wired peak. Goretex fabric is among the most effective waterproofing. You want full length zips on your trousers, too. This makes it easy to put them on and remove them without taking your boots off.
A decent bag, around 30-40L. You could get away with 20-30L in warm summer months due to carrying less kit but most of the year, it's good to ensure you have enough space for all your kit. Find out what is the correct fitting for you. Don't just blunder into it. Make sure it has a chest strap. I also carry a 40L drysack inside mine, so that I don't need a rain cover. These are prone to blowing away and make you look like you're on a DofE expedition. If I am out in the rain and need my bag the next day, I just remove the whole dry bag and hand up my main bag and it dries quickly enough to use again
Spare warm layers for when you stop. I carry a medium thickness insulated jacket that is light enough to walk in but effective enough to keep me warm when I need it. Synthetic works better then standard down insulation (feathers) when wet. Plus you don't have to worry about the birds that are farmed for their feathers. If you're going to spend prolonged periods not moving (taking photos etc) It will be worth investing in a thicker belay jacket. In winter conditions, I will carry another layer still. These type of warm layers offer excellent warmth to weight ratio and pack down in your bag really small. You can even stuff them into a small dry bag for easy storage and access.
Hat & gloves. I keep mine in a separate 5L dry bag so they are easy to access. I carry both a baseball cap with a folding peak and a beanie hat plus a spare beanie year round apart. I always carry a thin pair of wind proof gloves and also two pairs of thick winter gloves for when it's cold and wet. Lots of people choose to carry a buff, which can be used as a hat and as a neck warmer on cold days. Even in winter snow it can be sunny, and keeping the sun off your face keeps you cooler, and reduces fatigue on long days. I prefer a cap over sunglasses most of the time, but will also carry a pair of them.
Food and Water. Carry enough water to get you through a physical day. I carry a minimum of 1L or 2L on a hot day. What is equally as important as carrying water in your bag is drinking water the night before your walk, in the morning and after your walk. Only drinking during your walk is not healthy, especially if you are out over multiple days. Take the right food. A few packets of quavers, half a twix and a bottle of lucozade just won't do the job well. Take carbohydrate rich food. You need slow burning calories during a walk as well as a treat or two. Flapjacks are always a winner for me. They have sugar, fat and carbohydrate - everything you need. Do not take wine gums. (Well you can if you want, but they're not as good as jelly babies!) It's worth thinking about what you carry food and drink in. Can you unwrap your food and store it in a tupperware box to stop wrappers getting blown away and becoming litter? Same mindset with your water. A good, refillable water bottle stored inside your bag will cut the risk of adding the huge number of plastic drinks bottles already littering our busiest mountains. Empty bottles fall out of those side pouches on bags. I've seen it happen over and over. I wrap duct tape around my drink bottle for emergency kit repairs. As with the water, eat well either side of your walk. A decent breakfast will benefit you far more than a bag full of food that you'll have to keep stopping to eat
Map, Compass and pencil. and at least a basic understanding of what to do with them. I can help with this. Don't carry your map in a plastic case. In anything more than a stiff breeze, it will just blow around and slap you in the face and also look daft hanging off your neck. Far better to get a waterproof map and keep it in your packet. Harvey maps are far more manageable than bulky OS maps as they are single sheets of pvc. You can even print off your own maps from various mapping software onto sheets of durable waterproof A4 or A3 paper. Your compass should be a Silva Expedition type 4 (not the military one) attached to your pocket with a mini Karabina, same with your pencil. You should carry a chinagraph pencil. They are waterproof and will write on any surface in any weather and then rub off when you need. I use a Steadler glasochrom to write with.
Head-torch with spare batteries. Better than spare batteries is a spare torch, simply because it's bloody hard to find and change the batteries in the dark, cold and wet on a mountain. Effective planning can help prevent the need to use it. Most weather services will tell you sunrise/sunset times - but when you need a torch, you need a fully charged and checked one! I use a Petzl Tikka Reactik because it has a changeable USB powered battery and you can lock it off, to stop it being activated in your bag.
Whistle. Keep it somewhere secure and accessible. Most decent bags have one built into the chest strap.
Group Shelter. These things can be life savers in the mountains. £20-£30 and it might sit right in the bottom of your bag for years but it only takes one occasion for it to be worth it's weight in gold. Plus they come in handy on rainy days to eat your flapjacks and jelly babies in. They come in different sizes, but 2 to 4 person is good enough for most people. You might also hear af these called 'bothy bags'
Personal First Aid Kit. Speaks for itself really. I would definitely recommend doing an outdoor related first aid course if you end up spending a lot of time outside. It's probaly only a matter of time before you find someone who needs help! I go to Steve & Helen at Snowdonia First Aid for mine.
Phone. Fully charged. Keep it on airplane mode. Do not take a selfie stick, if you own one. Bin it. Look at apps like Viewranger which, as discussed in another blog, are best kept as supplements to learning to a map and compass. The same goes for carrying a GPS unit. If you have one, keep it safe as a back up for when you really need it. And know how to use it.
Blizzard jacket. People can and do get hypothermia in the mountains - even in Summer. A foil blanket can be invaluable for warming someone or preventing them from further cooling following an accident. Check out blizzardsurvival.com. They are small enough to be chucked at the bottom of your bag and forgotten about until you need it. They can be repacked and reused until they fall apart, though I hope you wouldn't need one very often!
Walking Poles. After a couple of years in the hills, your knees and back will be feeling the strain. They will thank you for using poles. It helps if you use them properly. They are invaluable for crossing difficult and steep terrain, as well as for rivers. You can also use them to swing at annoying drones. I literally do not walk without them. They are one of my most useful bits of personal kit.
I think that's enough to get you started at least and lets be honest, there is a fair amount of kit here. This is an ideal standard and might take you a bit of time to acquire. You don't have to get the top range kit straight away. Some people think that going out and buying the best of everything somehow skips the mountain apprenticeship of getting out there and learning. It doesn't. But it's also worth asking how waterproof a £12.99 coat is going to be? Same goes for boots. Don't pay £15 for a pair and then scratch your head when the soles fall off half way up the mountain. Three things never to buy on the cheap:
Start with the basics and find the best balance between cost and quality that you can afford.
If you do have any questions about anything, feel free to send me an email