Walking can be enjoyed all year round, with each walk undertaken seemingly different in each season. One of the great delights of the English weather is how variable it can be from summer heat-waves to winter storms, and from sun to mist, fog, ice, gales and rain. I have set out from the Hill Inn in the middle of June in temperatures in excess of 70ºF to walk up Ingleborough, only to be met on top by a twenty minute hailstone shower, turning the hilltop into a very cold, slippery and unwelcoming place to be. Further on at the trig point, there was a group of around twenty young people wearing nothing more than jeans and T-shirts, all huddled together behind a wall trying to escape the hailstones. This variability in the weather, and it’s ability to suddenly change, means that whilst out walking we need to protect ourselves from the elements, not only for our own comfort, but sometimes simply to survive.
It is essential to try to keep dry and warm at all times. This is best achieved by wearing several thin layers of clothing under a wind/waterproof outer shell. Being able to add or remove a layer as your body temperature changes, is much more versatile than one thick heavy sweater or jacket. For me, the base layer is one of the most important pieces of walking equipment. This is a universal term for a synthetic top that you wear next to your skin. They are designed to keep you principally dry (wicking tops) or warm (thermal tops). Wicking tops work by moving sweat away from your skin to an outer layer where it can evaporate, whilst thermal tops are designed to trap body heat in their fibres. Both these types are far removed from cotton tops, which simply retain moisture and leave you feeling cold. In fact, cotton is such a potential contributor to hypothermia in severe conditions that it is banned from certain mountain races such as the two-day Karrimor International Mountain Marathon. The base layers are very versatile in that they are good by themselves, under jackets or in conjunction with warmer mid and outer-layers. Mid layers tend to be either fleece based or made from denser lycra-type materials, with the outer layers mainly being fleece based. There are numerous manufacturers make these garments with some of the more well known ones being Karrimor (info 01254 893133), Sprayway (info 0800 605050), Berghaus (info 0191 516 5600), Craghoppers (info 0161 749 1364), Helly Hansen (info 0115 960 8797) and Jack Wolfskin (info 0161 881 1154).
For low level or short walks ordinary trousers/slacks are adequate to walk in. In winter though a warm, well fitting pair of tights can make all the difference to a day out in the hills, but we are not talking the Nora Batty style ones! They come in thin wicking versions and thicker warmer styles. Looser trackster style pants are good for summer use, but in cooler weather they do not keep warm air next to your skin too well. The tights when wet also do not flap against your legs which most trousers and tracksters tend to do. There are also now available a few extreme weather tights that have wind and water resistant outer layers. Shorts are also comfortable to wear once your legs are acclimatised, but except maybe in warm summer conditions, some additional leg coverings should be carried in your rucksack. Again there are numerous manufacturers make these garments with some of the more well known ones being Karrimor (info 01254 893133), Ronhill (info 0161 366 5020), Adidas (info 0161 419 2500) and Nike (info 0800 056 1640).
Finally comes the outside layer. My own advice on a jacket is not to scrimp and go for one that affords lots of protection. It is your first layer of protection against the elements. As with all the clothing items mentioned above, if the only walks that you venture out on are short lowland walks, perfectly adequate protection will be afforded by your everyday clothes and wind/waterproof jacket such as a cagoule. But if you are venturing off up into the hills, or go out walking outside of summer I would recommend wind/waterproof jackets and trousers. Again technology in these areas has advanced greatly over the last few years. Try to go for a breathable fabric that will keep the rain out, yet allow moisture to escape. Variations of fabrics, which are used for this purpose, are Gore-Tex, Permatex, Aquatex, Sympatex, Cyclone, Entrant and Triplepoint Ceramic. Trousers are also available is these same materials. Unless you see Noah starting collecting wood for his next ark, jackets and trousers made of these materials should provide adequate protection from rain and wind on a day out in the hills. Jackets with two way zips allow ventilation in just the right place, as do ‘pit zips’ (underarm zips) which can let air in when it is too cold to open the front. Adjustable cuffs also allow for easier ventilation rather than the elasticated varieties. Many jackets also come with stiff peaks on the hoods that are very useful in driving rain, snow or hail. Another useful feature in a jacket is the pocket. A deep inside pocket is a great place to keep your map, whilst a whole array of pockets can carry drinks, compasses, cameras etc without having to take off and venture into your rucksack. Again there are numerous manufacturers make these garments with some of the more well known ones being: Karrimor (info 01254 893133/285911), Sprayway (info 0800 605050 / 0161 236 4239), Berghaus (info 0191 516 5600 / 0191 415 0200), Lowe Alpine (info 01539 740840), North Face (0800 1460340) and Mountain Equipment (info 0161 366 5020).
And now on down to the feet. In dry weather for walks over easy terrain training shoes / ordinary shoes are adequate, but they neither afford protection to your ankles or from standing on sharp stones. Most walkers favour a lightweight boot (every 1lb on your feet equates to roughly 5lbs on your back) which provides support for the ankles, cushions feet on stony ground and gives a good degree of protection from the elements. Remember feet swell during the day (as they do whilst out walking), so buy your boots in the afternoon and wear walking socks whilst trying them on. Try to go for boots with a ‘bellows tongue’ that is attached to the upper, as this stops water seeping in behind the laces. Boots again come in a variety of materials with leather and Gore-Tex type fabrics being the choices of many, usually dualed with a vibram sole which acts as a shock absorber and is very hard wearing. Gaiters which come in a variety of materials will greatly add to a boot’s effectiveness especially in heavy rain or when walking over boggy ground. They fit over the cuff and laces and are usually tied or zipped just under the knee, and stop water from coming over the top of the boot. Once again there are numerous manufacturers make these garments with some of the more well known ones being Karrimor (info 01254 893133 / 285911), Berghaus (info 0191 516 5600 / 0191 415 0200), Timberland (info 0345 669988), Reebok (info 01524 580100) and Line 7 (01458 442 255).
Before you consider putting your boots on firstly comes your socks. I always wear two pairs, but that is simply personal preference. I find that unless the socks get wet, the friction caused by walking takes place between the socks and not between my feet and socks, thus rarely causing blisters. Certain socks though already come with this two-layer principle built in, where a thin inner layer stays with your foot whilst the outer layer moves with your boot. Socks can also come with many added features (hard to believe I know!): wicking fibre constructions to remove moisture from the skin, cushioning in areas like the heel and toes, built in fibres to stop the build up of bacteria (an end to sweaty, smelly feet?) and ribbed tops and lycra sections to prevent excessive movement (and yes we still are talking about socks!). Numerous manufacturers make these wonderful little garments with some of the better known ones being Bridgedale (info 01162 340800), Thorlos (info 0800 3897774), Extremities (info 01773 833300) and 1000 Mile (info 01923 242233).
One of the major areas a body loses heat is through the head, and so a hat or a balaclava are a must for any winter’s walk. I do not propose to go into any detail on hats and gloves as the selections available are wide and varied (good news for the fashion conscious) - but ensure you take them both with you.
The final section here is on the rucksack and the contents thereof. On short walks in good weather a daysack of around 15-litres should suffice, but on longer day walks in winter a 50-litre or 60-litre rucksack would be more appropriate. The packs should contain warm spare clothing, adequate food and drink for the day ahead (a hot flask is a favourite of mine in winter), spare food / emergency rations, a first aid kit, coins, emergency whistle, a torch and survival bag / blanket, and a map and a compass, plus the ability to be able to use them - see the page on basic map reading. It is essential that certain elements of mountain safety are also known to be able to use the above items.
With the advent of new technology, certain other items seem to be more and more frequently appearing on hillsides, namely mobile telephones and GPS handsets. Whilst mobile telephones may be a godsend in a life and death situation, please do not abuse them. Sensible preparation and knowledge of your own capabilities will ensure that even in difficult conditions a walk is enjoyed and successfully completed. Do not set off in unfamiliar territory without a map or the ability to use it, thinking that if you get lost you have your mobile, and you can simply telephone for help. This is being very irresponsible. Mountain Rescue should not be used as a ‘back on track’ service. The Mountain Rescue Service is funded by donations, so please donate if you can. Support is given to them through the generosity of the public, gratuities from people who they have helped, climbing and rambling groups and from people who enjoy the freedom of the fells and value the added security of having somebody to call on if the need arises. Finally, we come to GPS systems. These can provide your position to within say 15 metres. They give you the co-ordinates of where you are. Most models can be programmed with a list of checkpoints (your route) and the device will point in the direction you need to walk in. The more expensive the model the more added features you receive. These are useful pieces of equipment especially in emergencies for giving a reference of where somebody is - but one word of caution. When visibility is bad or when travelling in the dark, ensure that the unit is used in conjunction with a map and that you have the ability to read the map and know which direction you are travelling in. Whilst the GPS may direct you and take you on the most direct route between two points, it will not point out to you that you are just about to walk off the edge of a cliff! With both these pieces of equipment, please just use common sense.