The British hills offer beauty, challenge and adventure, as well as the opportunity to keep fit and healthy. So it is no wonder that hill walking is such a popular activity, attracting people of all ages. Walking in the uplands requires a collection of skills, including navigation and hazard avoidance. It is important that participants are prepared with some basic equipment and knowledge in order to enjoy hill walking safely.
There is not much gear that is vital, but it’s important to have appropriate equipment for the activity and prevailing weather.
When out in the hills you will need, as a minimum:
• Shoes or boots to keep you upright
• Insulating layers to keep you warm
• Waterproofs to keep you dry
It is important to choose shoes or boots that are both comfortable and provide adequate support. No footwear is perfectly suited for all seasons and terrain. A lightweight summer shoe would be completely inappropriate in winter, for example, just as wearing winter mountaineering boots on a hot sunny day could result in overheated and blistered feet
Some boots can be used for summer and winter walking. But whatever you choose, make sure the boot is appropriate for the most demanding conditions you plan to walk in. if you are very heavy with large feet, or very light with small feet you could also consider choosing a more or less substantial boot as appropriate.
Good socks regulate your foot temperature and help to prevent blisters by providing a snug fit. as with your clothing, socks need to wick moisture away from your skin, as overheated feet will be uncomfortable and prone to developing blisters.
Choose socks that are padded in the heel, ball and toes where the most pressure is applied. some people like to wear two pairs of socks consisting of a snug thin inner one and a thicker outer one. this system can reduce friction on your feet, as the sock layers will move against each other instead of your feet moving against the sock.
Just as we use layers of clothing in our everyday lives to regulate body temperature, the same is true when exploring the hills. the range of temperatures experienced in one day will often be greater in the hills than in cities. Clothing to deal with such variation is therefore required. With the weight of your rucksack contents an important consideration, choosing items that fulfil a range of functions is a good idea. Waterproofs double up as windproofs for example.
You may already own clothing that fits the bill very well. You’ll need light comfortable clothing while you walk, something warm for when it gets colder and something waterproof in case the heavens open. it is better to wear several relatively thin layers than a single thick one, because the layers trap air which is a good insulator, and you can regulate your temperature more effectively by adding or removing layers.
Materials which do not absorb moisture are better because wet clothes will make you feel cold. Wool has always been recognised as a good material for hill walkers. synthetic materials such as fleece are also used for outdoor clothing. Cotton is not good and jeans are particularly cold when wet.
A waterproof outer layer of jacket and trousers will keep you dry, and in combination with your insulating layers will prevent a reduction in body temperature which can in extreme circumstances lead to the development of hypothermia. Nowadays, just about all waterproofs are made from breathable fabrics, allowing body moisture to escape, whilst keeping the rain out. Non breathable fabrics do not let perspiration escape, so you can get increasingly damp as the day wears on.
A hill walking jacket should be big enough to get warm layers underneath, but not so big that it flaps around. It should have an easily accessible pocket that can accommodate a map, and large pockets for carrying hats, gloves and so on. Waist and hood drawcords and adjustable wrist closures help to seal out the weather and retain warmth. A stiffened hood will provide good visibility; the alternative is one that slaps you in the face with every gust of wind! You’ll need to be able to put your overtrousers on and remove them whilst wearing your boots, so make sure there are zips down the side.
Gaiters can be invaluable on boggy ground and rainy days. They also prevent vegetation from entering your boots. In winter, gaiters are indispensible for keeping snow out of your boots and preventing your feet from becoming wet and cold. If worn with waterproof trousers, wear the gaiters underneath, not with the trousers tucked in, or water will be ‘conveniently’ channelled into your boots!
A suggested kit list at the end of this section provides guidance on what to take on your hill walks. Consider
your day ahead, and pack accordingly.
A rucksack is the most convenient way to carry your equipment, and should be neither too big nor too small. There are many different sizes to choose from. When moorland walking, a 30 litre rucksack is probably adequate; if heading into the mountains, a 45 litre rucksack would be better.
When full, the rucksack should distribute the load evenly and be comfortable to wear. It should sit close to the wearer’s back, allowing an upright posture to be maintained, and not restrict the movement of the head. all walkers should consider their own back anatomy in relation to the rucksack they choose. The shoulder-waist-hip ratios are different between men and women, and so some rucksacks are specially designed for women.
A slim rucksack with no side pockets is less likely to get caught on obstructions. Compression straps along the side of the rucksack allow a slim profile to be maintained, and can be used to secure walking poles when not in use. Lid pockets are very useful for gloves, hats and snacks, etc.
As crucial as taking suitable equipment is having sufficient food and drink. The amount required will vary depending on weather conditions, distance and terrain walked.
A good breakfast will set you up for a day’s walk, and whilst out, consuming little and often is the best way to keep hydrated and maintain your energy. It is sensible to have some emergency food, like high energy bars, tucked out of the way ‘just in case’. You do not need to take any ‘specialist’ food; sandwiches, snacks and some fruit will work fine.
When it comes to drinks, water will do the job perfectly well. in cold weather a hot drink is likely to be very welcome, with a metal thermos flask being more robust than a glass one.
Trekking poles are increasingly popular, and are best used as a pair. Poor technique can negate any positive benefits, and there are pros and cons to using them. After a long day out in the hills, aching knees on the
descent is very common. Poles can transfer some of the impact of walking from the lower legs and knees to the arms and shoulders. poles also help with stability, particularly useful when carrying a heavy sack, walking on uneven ground or in winter when patches of ice can occur unexpectedly.
However, the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints are not designed to prop up your body – we’re bipedal after all! if you’re not careful, protecting your knees can simply mean aggravating other joints. If you are very tired and do not need the poles for stability, it may be best to pack them away if there is the chance of tripping yourself up on one! using poles prevents your hands from being free for other things. don’t fall into the trap of not eating, drinking or checking your map simply because you cannot be bothered to take your poles off.
Whilst emergencies are a rare occurrence in the hills, the equipment to help you deal with them is relatively modest. Here are some suggestions:
When dealing with an injured hill walker, help may not be close at hand. Therefore, taking a first aid kit and seeking out some basic first aid training is a very good idea.
Getting lost in poor visibility or dealing with even a minor injury can escalate into something more serious for the whole party if people get cold. Spare clothing should be carried for this reason, but a group shelter is the most effective way to keep warm. Made from light ripstop nylon, a group shelter is shaped like a very large upside down bowl. The warmer temperature inside the shelter is created by retained body heat and protection from wind.
Made from tough polythene, a bivi bag provides individual shelter in case of emergency. Effective and inexpensive, they can also be used in conjunction with a group shelter. more expensive survival bag designs can provide greater insulating properties than a standard polythene bivi bag.
It is not uncommon for mountain rescue teams to assist able bodied walkers off the hills who have simply got caught out after dark. Whether underestimating how long a walk will take, or getting lost and staying out for longer than planned, heading back home in the dark need not be a reason to panic if everyone has a torch. A headtorch is best, and many inexpensive models are widely available. Always take a torch and make sure you also have some spare batteries.
Mobile phones can be a godsend when needing to contact the emergency services, but should not be thought of as a ‘safety net’, tempting walkers to objectives outside of their experience and ability.
A whistle is a great way to attract attention – the international distress signal is six blasts in quick succession, repeated after a one-minute interval. Flashing your torch in a similar manner will also be recognised as a distress signal.
Time flies when you’re having fun, so keep track of it. You’ll also need it to time navigation legs.