Anyone that enjoys the outdoors soon learns that bad weather rarely stops play, (especially here in the UK!) Choosing what to buy and what to take when you head off on your adventures can be a complex and confusing time. Here we provide a few notes and thoughts that may help you in this process of working out what walking gear you need for getting the most of your adventures outdoors.

expect rain, expect rain, expect rain

Picture of walkers smiling on a wet day walking in the Lake District

Guiding principles

When buying walking gear fir the first time these are some key considerations that will help you with this process …

  1. Think about where you are going and how the climate might be. This should be the best guide on what you need to pack.
  2. Synthetic materials such as polyester based are better than cotton (which absorbs and holds onto water). Always try to buy clothes that wick sweat away from the body.
  3. Lighter colours reflect sunlight better than darker shades, and are therefore cooler.
  4. Layers are good for controlling temperature.
  5. Comfort – if it isn’t comfortable, be it boots or rucksacks, don’t buy it. You won’t use what you don’t like. Try everything on in the shop before parting with cash.
  6. Nothing is waterproof: if it is, it won’t breathe. Either way – don’t expect to stay dry – and especially not in Britain’s warm and wet climate.

Waterproofs: Hardshell versus Softshell

In essence there are two systems we can turn to when looking for protective outer shells: Hard Shell and Soft Shell systems.

Hardshells, eg Gore-Tex, uses membrane technology to keep you dry. It is good but only so long as there is a heat differential between you and the outside – otherwise it is not as breathable as you may think. If your body is a fast breather (i.e. you sweat lots and easily) maybe you should sacrifice your pursuit of waterproofness for breathability. In their favour hardshells always look ace, they feel tough, and if you’re going to be standing around in a downpour they’re the best. The downside of hardshells is that they tend to fail within three years of their life, they’re never as breathable as you need them to be, and if they rip you need to patch them up like you would a bike inner-tube.

A very good alternative to using membranes is to look at using softshell systems. A great example is Paramo gear. The biggest advantage a softshell has over a hardshell is its superior ability to regulate body heat during high-output activities. It effectively blocks wind and cold air whilst simultaneously transporting moisture from the inside to the outside. Then once the vapour is on the outside it evaporates away. Softshells are excellent for people who sweat easily and really need breathable kit. Also they last for ever – well almost! (The jackets will literally wear out, the zips break etc before you need to retire them). And while they do need regular care and maintenance to keep, they are also easy to mend with just a needle and cotton! The downside to softshells is that if you’re not going to be active, then in a downpour they will wet out.

When buying your walking gear seek advice based upon who you are, where you’re going and what you’re doing.

Walking Boots:

Look after them. Membrane lined boots are lightweight and effective but beware – when a hole wears through the membrane at a pressure point they become an expensive pair of canvas boots. Keep leather boots clean and waxed. Alternatively, don’t buy boots, get approach shoes instead

Rucksacks & backpacks:

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS line with a strong plastic / waterproof sack.

  • Outside – (store found in Hathersage, Hope Valley, Derbyshire) top end kit and advice for all adventures from short walks to big mountaineering expeditions (at prices to suit)
  • Alpkit.com – (store found in Hathersage, Hope Valley, Derbyshire) a lovely brand with a personal touch. In particular I’d look to them for their  sleeping bags, down jackets and waterproof bag liners.
  • Cotswold Outdoors – they have quite a varied and wide discount system. They offer many interest groups, clubs and companies a discount ranging from 15% to 25%. Google it.
  • Go Outdoors seem to be dominating the retail quarter of every town. Again, buy nothing at face value, the combination of their discount card and a price guarantee mean that a well researched trip to this store can bag you a bargain.

Walking on a summer’s day in Snowdonia

Image showing two walkers descending down a hill side in Snowdonia
Hill Walking in the UK (Summer)

a. Main rules of thumb for the UK:

  • Expect rain, expect rain, expect rain
  • Expect it to be cold at night time
  • Steer clear of all things cotton (no jeans on the hill!)
  • Whatever you use, make sure it’s comfortable

b. Walking gear you will need for UK hillwalking:

  • Daysack (lined with a plastic bag)
  • Map and compass
  • Water bottle/bladder with about 1.5 litre of water
  • Water purification tablets (really useful on hot days)
  • Food for the hill and a bit spare for emergencies
  • Hat and gloves
  • Sun hat and sunscreen
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Comfortable footwear to walk in
  • Torch (without exception)
  • Personal 1st Aid kit including blister kit
  • Survival bag / group shelter
  • Half a roll mat
  • Mobile phone (in a plastic wallet)

Hill Walking in the UK (Winter)

You’ll need everything listed above (for Summer) plus the following:

  • Spare hat, 2 pairs of spare gloves and an insulated jacket
  • Walking axe and crampons
  • Goggles
  • Flask of hot squash

wild-camping in the Lake District on a guided walking weekend

camping and walking gear for a UK camping expedition

Camping Trek (UK)

a. Main Rules of Thumb and Wet Weather Preparation:

Keep a close eye on the weather forecast in the days before your trek: and hopefully you’ll only pack what you’ll need.

Believe this: NOTHING IS WATERPROOF – and this begins with your expensive coat and extends to the boots you’ll be standing in and to the sack you’ll be carrying. It’s worth at this stage being paranoid about this.

b. Kit list:

Per Tent Group

  • tent
  • matches and lighter
  • map and compass
  • stove and fuel
  • food

Individual Camping

In addition to hill walking kit list above you should pack the following:

  • rucksack with 2 waterproof liners – one for the whole sack plus one for your sleeping bag/dry kit – also make sure that your hat and gloves live in their own water proof bag – and the same for your wallet/mobile phone.
  • sleeping mat
  • sleeping bag
  • spare thermal top and bottoms
  • spare socks
  • spoon, mug & plastic tupperware box – good for holding your sandwiches and to eat dinner out of
  • wash kit should only incorporate toothpaste, brush and talc/foot powder (do not underestimate the importance of talc)
  • 2 x flannels – one is for yourself and one is for drying the inside of your tent
  • personal 1st Aid kit
  • toilet paper with plastic bags to carry waste paper off the hill
  • 1 pair of walking poles – highly recommended!

If I’m headed out for just one night I can easily manage with just a 45 litre backpack.

On the Langtang Trek in Nepal

image showing a trekker enjoying the view whilst on the Langtang Trek

Individual kit list for trekking in Nepal

Trekking in Nepal is generally hot by day (it is in the Indian sub-continent after all) and cold at night – especially when at altitude. We’ve included this kit list of walking gear since this as a good generic example of trekking in many parts of the world – from South America to Mongolia.

Base layers

1 x long sleeve shirt with collar
2 x wicking shirts
3 pairs walking socks
3 pairs underwear (sports bras for women)
1 x thermal leggings

Warmth layer / Trek-wear

1 x down / insulated jacket
1 x gloves or mitts
1 x thin inner gloves
1 x fleece or wool hat
1 x comfortable, strong, quick drying trousers
1 pair comfortable shorts or equivalent

Protective layer
1 x wide brimmed hat
1 x waterproof jacket
1 x waterproof trousers (light-weight)

Equipment
1 pair walking boots
1 pair sandals
1 x large rucksack or expedition sack with water proof liner
1 x day-sack
1 x 3 / 4 season sleeping bag
1 x sleeping bag liner
1 x torch with new batteries
2 x 1 litre water bottle
1 pair sun glasses (good quality – UV a and b reflective)

Health and Hygiene
1 x small bottle of shampoo (for body, hair and clothes)
1 roll toilet paper
1 x antibacterial hand wash
1 x insect repellent
1 x sun block / high factor sun cream
1 x tube lip sun block, (no sharing!)
1 x towel
1 x bottle of foot powder
1 x personal first aid kit
Sufficient sanitary products (females)

Ancillaries
1 x small penknife
1 x money belt
1 x set of waterproof bags for waterproofing
1 x spare laces for boots
1 x book

Documentation

1 x passport
4 x spare passport pictures
1 x flight tickets

Optional Items
1 x neckerchief / bandana
1 x playing cards
1 pair walking poles

B1 crampon compatible boots for trekking in Morocco

A note on B1 crampon compatible boots

If you are joining us for our Morocco treks or a winter skills course or any event that requires use of crampons you will need crampon compatible boots.

How are boots graded?
Walking / mountaineering boots are graded from B0 to B3. B0 boots are flexible and are what most people own. (They’re still far stiffer than a pair of trainers – but this does not mean that they will do the job of crampon compatible boots). B1 boots are stiffer and are able to take a crampon. B2 boots will allow clip-on crampons and can be used to climb low grade winter routes, whilst B3 boots are totally inflexible – almost like ski boots – and are excellent for winter use in all conditions – though they can be heavy and uncomfortable!

Why do I need B1 boots?
There are so many reasons why you need the right boots for the winter environment … Winter-rated boots offer a more solid and stable platform on which to stand. They are designed to help you kick steps. Their soles have a more aggressive lug to grip the snow. They won’t flex out of a pair of properly fitted crampons and on a hard neve of snow angled at 20 degrees or more they will offer your ankles the support that they will crucially need to give you stability and a decent footing. Further they will be made from thicker leather providing greater warmth and protection from the elements.

These notes haven’t even begun on aspects such as the soles of boots or cuff height or how you may need to kick steps. There is a wealth of information out there.

Further Reading