01 March 2018 by Matthew Jones
Heading out on a day hike in the hills? Here are some useful tips on what to wear, what to carry and how to pack your rucksack
First, a little admission: you don’t actually need a lot of kit to go walking, which makes it one of the cheapest and most accessible leisure activities. However, there are various items that make a day walk considerably easier, more comfortable and more enjoyable. If you’re walking in upland or remote areas, it’s also sensible to carry a few bits of additional kit to help you stay safe.
What to wear
All seasoned walkers will tell you that having the correct clothing can be the difference between a happy hike and a sorrowful slog. But this doesn’t mean simply buying lots of ‘technical’ outdoor kit. The key to comfort is the principle of layering. Basically, this means adding or removing layers of clothing in response to changes in weather conditions, as well as your own body temperature.
This next-to-skin layer wicks away sweat to help keep you warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot, and as dry as possible at all times. Long-sleeve or short-sleeve is down to personal preference, as is synthetic or merino wool. The latter is warmer and tends to smell less, though synthetic layers are improving in performance all the time. Synthetic layers also tend to slide more easily under other layers, which can aid comfort and make it easier to remove or add clothing. Layers with a higher collar can help to protect the back of the neck from sun or windchill, and a zip can also aid cooling. Thumb loops are useful in eliminating gaps between sleeves and gloves.
The traditional midlayer is a polyester fleece, which is light, warm, soft and quick-drying. Other midlayers include ‘hard face’ fleeces and softshell jackets (which have a durable, windproof outer), hybrid garments (to warm your core and wick sweat in areas like the underarms) and ‘active insulation’ midlayers (loosely-woven insulation that offers lightweight warmth but excellent breathability).
In cold conditions, you can wear an insulated down or synthetic jacket instead of or in addition to a midlayer. This can be a useful spare layer to carry in your pack too, to put on during rest stops.
In Britain, it’s always advisable to carry a hooded, waterproof jacket, sometimes called a ‘hard shell’. This provides windproof weather protection.
Watch or any reliable means of telling the time.
Lightweight yet rugged trousers, made from a quick-drying fabric.
Waterproof trousers, ideally with at least a quarter-length leg zip to easily fit over walking boots if the heavens open.
Wear cushioned, wicking walking socks. These come in various different weights (thicknesses) for different conditions and seasons. Many walkers opt to wear a pair of thin liner socks and a thicker outer pair.
Boots or trail shoes
If you walk mainly on good-quality paths, trail shoes can be a good lightweight option, but on rougher ground, wear comfortable and supportive boots. In winter, you’ll need stiffer boots, especially if using them with crampons.
What to carry
The following kit list is intended for a day walk, and as such it should fit in a typical ‘daypack’ (a rucksack with a capacity of 20 to 35 litres). For winter hillwalking, you’ll generally need a pack of around 45 litres to accommodate extra kit (see ‘Seasonal extras’). Of course, every walker is different, and you know your individual needs better than anybody, so use the following list as general guidance and tailor it accordingly.
Use a rucksack liner or dry bags to keep your kit dry. You can buy roll-top dry bags in many different sizes from any good outdoor shop. For those on a budget, rubble sacks are a good substitute. These are basically heavy-duty polythene bags, and can be purchased from most DIY stores.
Folding foam sit mats are available from all good outdoor shops for a couple of pounds, and can prevent a wet, muddy bum. If you want a really packable option that also keeps off ground chill, then the Pacmat Patch (£19) is a waterproof, insulated sit mat that comes with its own tiny stuff sack.
Most British walkers use the Ordnance Survey (OS) 1:25,000 Explorer series, although Harvey maps are also a practical alternative, particularly if walking in upland areas. Scottish walkers often seem to use OS Landranger 1:50,000 maps, which give broader coverage per sheet. If your map is not weatherproof, carry it in a map case.
Essential if walking in remote areas. Silva and Suunto are the best-known manufacturers.
Emergency contact details
Vital to ensure a relative or friend can be contacted in the event of an accident. When hillwalking, you should also leave these details, along with a copy of your route card, with an emergency point of contact before you set out.
First aid kit
A wide range of outdoor first aid kits are available – the best ones come in a waterproof pouch and include a range of sterile dressings and bandages. If you make up your own first aid kit, place it in a zip-lock bag to ensure that the contents don’t get wet. Take any regular medication that you may need.
A head torch is more practical than a hand-held torch, and is useful if a walk finishes in the dark. It can also be a useful flashing signal in emergencies. Always carry spare batteries.
The easiest way of attracting attention in an emergency. Many rucksacks now incorporate a safety whistle as part of the chest strap buckle.
Survival bag or storm shelter
A useful emergency hillwalking item. If walking with a group, a storm shelter (also known as a ‘bothy bag’) is another good addition to your pack, and not just for emergencies – they can also be used for lunch stops in poor weather.
Water bottle or hydration bladder
Take a water bottle of at least 1 litre in capacity, or a hydration bladder. These have integrated drinking tubes that work with most modern rucksack designs, and make it easier to stay hydrated during active walks.
Take a mix of slow-release carbs for day-long energy, and fast-release food for a quick energy boost. Pack a little more food than you need in case of emergency. Don’t underestimate the restorative power of Haribo or Jelly Babies!
Small repair kit
Items such as safety pins, duct tape and a spare boot lace or length of paracord can be useful for making emergency repairs to clothing and rucksacks.
Although signal in remote areas can be patchy, it’s still wise to carry a fully charged mobile phone, particularly if you have previously registered it with the emergency SMS service.
Optional, and never rely solely on GPS - take a map and compass too. Consider taking spare batteries or a portable charger, as below.
A portable battery charger or ‘power pack’ can recharge a dead phone or GPS device. Battery capacity is measured in milliampere hours (mAh). A charger rated at 2,500mAh will typically provide about one full smartphone charge. Make sure it is fully charged before you set out, and don’t forget to bring the right cable to plug in your device.
It’s a good idea to keep your phone and valuables in a waterproof pouch, particularly if carrying them in a jacket pocket. Aquapac is the best known manufacturer of waterproof cases for electronic devices.
Poles reduce the impact of walking on joints. They are of either telescoping or folding design, and most rucksacks have external attachment points for carrying poles when not in use.
Nothing ruins a walk like wet feet, and changing your socks can also help to prevent blisters.
Hat and gloves
A warm woolly hat or beanie, just in case temperature drops (which it will as you gain altitude). A thin pair of gloves will suffice in summer, but for the colder months pack a warmer, waterproof pair.
The walker’s alternative to a scarf, a neck gaiter (often called a ‘Buff’, which is the best-known brand) offers protection from cold, wind and sun and can be worn in multiple ways.
Although optional, gaiters keep your feet and lower legs dry, while also protecting your walking trousers from tears and snags. They’re especially useful for boggy terrain and long grass, or in snow and ice in winter.
Also optional, but a good guidebook can really enhance a walk.
Factor 25 or higher offers the best protection from UV rays.
Protection from the midges, mosquitoes and other biting insects that can make walking a misery, especially in the Scottish Highlands.
Sun hat or baseball cap
A good-quality brimmed hat can help to prevent sunstroke.
Sunglasses protect your vision by blocking UVA and UVB light. Look for sunglasses labelled as ‘UV400’ for maximum protection.
A double-walled metal vacuum flask is the best way to keep tea, coffee or hot chocolate warm on a long walk, while being robust enough to carry in your pack.
A winter hillwalking essential. If not needed initially, stow it on the outside of your pack. Drop the shaft through the axe loop, adze facing away from the pack, and then secure the shaft to the pack using the top bungee cord or webbing, so that the lower loop wraps securely around the head of the axe, and the pick cannot catch on anything.
Use crampon crowns or, better still, a crampon bag/safe to enable you to store your crampons inside your pack, which is more practical than strapping them to the outside.
In winter conditions, you may need to wear tights or long johns under walking trousers in addition to a thermal base layer.
Warm, waterproof gloves are a winter essential. Many winter hillwalkers wear thin liner gloves and carry a thicker waterproof pair that fit over them if the weather turns nasty. Mitts are the warmest option of all, but bear in mind that they are not very dextrous.
Ski or mountaineering goggles are a useful item to have in your winter pack to protect your eyes from spindrift and the harsh glare of snow and ice.
Packing your kit
If you’ve ever found that the thing you need always seems to be buried at the bottom of your pack, the following principles should prove useful. Of course, all walkers have their own preferences, so feel free to develop your own packing system – but try not to just stuff everything in! A badly-packed rucksack is uncomfortable to carry, and can even cause shoulder and neck injuries, as well as leading to back pain and bad posture. The old saying, ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’, is a useful adage. Think about when, how often and how quickly you’re likely to need a particular item before it goes in your pack.
If your rucksack is ‘hydration-compatible’, it will have an internal pocket or sleeve to accommodate a water bladder or reservoir, as well as a port to thread the drinking tube through. It’s usually easiest to place your full reservoir in your pack before you put anything else in it! Clip your drinking tube to a shoulder strap. You can also thread the tube under the load-lifter strap at the top of the harness, which will help stop it getting caught or snagged when you take off your pack.
If you use a water bottle or canteen rather than a hydration system, place it in a side pocket for easy access. Make sure it is secure and won’t fall out, using the compression straps if necessary. Alternatively, slip your bottle into the main compartment of your pack, but outside the drybag containing the rest of your kit. This is also the best place to store a flask in winter.
Keep this in a side pocket, or slide it into the main compartment next to the back panel. This will ensure it is readily accessible whenever you stop.
Keep these in a side pocket, or even better, in a zipped pocket on your waist belt, if your rucksack has them.
Repair kit, head torch and spare batteries, survival bag or storm shelter
Since these are items you shouldn’t need regularly (or hopefully, at all!), they’re usually best placed at the bottom of your pack, inside your drybag or rucksack liner.
Spare socks and layer(s)
Place these in your dry bag next.
Overtrousers and waterproof jacket
Place these in the very top of your pack, so if it starts raining they’re close at hand. The best way to stow a jacket is to fold in the sleeves and the body of the jacket to roughly the same width as the hood. Then roll it up from the hem to the neck and tuck it inside its own hood so it forms a neat little ‘rugby ball’.
Hat, gloves and neck gaiter
Place these either near the top of your pack or in the top lid pocket for easy access.
Keys and wallet/purse
If you don’t like to carry these items on your person, keep them in the inside lid pocket of your rucksack for security. If your rucksack has a key clip, then use it!
First aid kit
Place this in the inner lid pocket of your rucksack, so it remains close to hand.
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