As the cost-of-living crisis bites, how can we cut costs this winter, while also supporting others who are struggling?
At tough times like these, walking is a wonderful way to maintain physical and mental wellbeing. Ramblers have a symbiotic relationship with sectors under similar pressures: rural pubs, B&Bs and tearooms, as well as outdoor brands, gear shops and travel companies. But just as walkers are feeling the pinch, so are the shops and services that support us. So how can we cap our own costs while continuing to support these vital businesses?
Good-quality walking gear rarely comes cheap. But the good news is that Ramblers membership gives you hefty discounts at certain retailers, including 15% off at Cotswold Outdoor and Snow+Rock, and 25% off Cicerone walking guides. And there are plenty more savings to be had.
When buying new gear, outdoors writer and former walk editor Matt Jones advises us to be very un-British and haggle. 'Always ask at the till and show your Ramblers membership card - you'll normally get 10% off at least,' he says. 'If you buy online, look out for promo codes and cashback offers.' The outdoor industry works on a seasonal basis, so Matt suggests looking out for sales in January and March, when retailers discount autumn/winter wear to make way for spring/summer collections.
Pass on unwanted clothing
If you can afford new kit, consider passing on your old clothing to Rohan, whose biannual Gift Your Gear scheme gets your clobber to charities that support people to get outdoors. Or Ellis Brigham, whose 2nd Life project donates to homeless people. Shropshire-based Kitsquad gifts second-hand gear to low-income people so they can enjoy the great outdoors, while the reGAIN app lets you donate used clothing to charity and receive discount vouchers in return.
Buying second-hand not only saves money, but is also more sustainable. Try hunting around on eBay, Facebook Marketplace and the two big gear sales groups on Facebook: Outdoor Gear Exchange and Outdoor Kit Exchange. You'll also find quality performance-wear, sometimes with tags still attached, on second-hand sites such as Vinted and Depop for a fraction of the price of buying new. When shopping for second-hand gear online, look for sellers with genuine profiles and positive feedback Check the condition of goods carefully, and request more information and photos if you're unsure.
Charity shops are another good source of preloved walking gear, particularly in hiking hot spots such as Aviemore and the Lake District. Second-hand kids' kit is always worth looking out for, as it's often barely worn before being outgrown.
Repair, renew, recycle
Walk magazine's gear testers, Jen and Sim Benson, advocate a 'make do and mend' approach to money-saving. 'Repairing your outdoor kit is often easier than you might think'. 'Keep a simple sewing kit and some Tenacious Tape or patches for fixing holes and rips. Holes in the fabric of walking shoes can be darned, while Aquasure adhesive mends soles that are coming away. Look for tutorials and products on Gear Aid. We're also fans of Nikwax and Grangers products, for re-waterproofing and caring for your walking gear in an affordable, eco-friendly way.'
Partly driven by customer demand, the outdoor clothing industry has been a trailblazer in upcycling, recycling and closed-loop production, where every element of a garment is repeatedly reused or repurposed. Stores such as Cotswold Outdoor and Snow+ Rock offer repair and care services, as do Berghaus, Rab, Montane, Patagonia and Alpkit. Check prices before you commit though, as the cost of materials has increased recently.
'The most sustainable product is the one you already own,' says Anna Jones of Cotswold Outdoor. 'By showing your kit a bit of love and having it professionally mended and washed, you can help keep it performing at its best for many more adventures.' Several premium brands including Osprey, Patagonia, Craghoppers, Tilley and Berghaus offer a lifetime guarantee on some or all of their products. Your initial outlay might be a bit more, but the gear can work out better value in the long term.
For specialist outdoor activities, such as rock or ice-climbing, consider hiring rather than buying items such as ice axes and crampons. This service is offered by outdoorhire.co.uk and expeditionkithire.co.uk, as well as Rab. If your walking group owns specialist gear, why not set up your own kit-hire scheme?
You may like to opt for greener travel options, but train fares can be eye-watering. Fortunately, saver fares and advance bookings, combined with railcards (Family & Friends, Two Together, 16-25, 26-30, Network, Disabled Persons or Senior) can cut costs by a third or more. The Ramblers Routes database has hundreds of free routes that start and end at train stations.
'You can also save on entry to attractions on the route of your walk by arriving on foot or by public transport; advises car-free travel expert and walk contributor Phoebe Taplin. 'Good Journey has lots of ideas for this.' Phoebe also recommends using fare-splitting sites, such as splitmyfare.co.uk to save money on train travel and buying 'PlusBus' tickets to access walkable landscapes around towns and cities.
Check National Park websites for details of bus, train and seasonal minibus routes, and county council websites for bus fare offers. Traveline is a reliable route-planner for local transport.
Walkers are often the mainstay of a rural pub, and income taken during hiking season can mean being able to stay open for the community in low season. So support a local pub by holding Ramblers' meetings there and planning events for January and February, when trade generally dips.
Taking a packed lunch on your walk is an obvious money-saving tip, but even the most spartan walker will sometimes hanker for hot soup or a freshly made sandwich.
Staying and eating at a pub or B&B can quickly rack up costs. So try the Youth Hostels Association, independent hostels and bothies. Or the cost-free option of wild camping - legal throughout Scotland and on parts of Dartmoor.
If you like a little more luxury, loyalty cards are your friend. For example, Tesco Clubcard points can be used to pay for hotels
(through hotels.com) and meals, as well as attractions, railcards and ferries.
The gift of walking
Finally, consider treating your loved ones to Ramblers membership. The annual fee of £38.50 is less than a month's membership at most gyms - incredible value for the potential benefits it can have on someone's physical and mental health and social life, while protecting Britain's landscapes into the bargain. The cost of living might be high right now, but a good walk is priceless.
Gordon moved to the Dorset coast and discovered that walking is a great way to meet new friends and connect.
Ramblers member Alan shares with us his experiences of walking with his son Eddie who has Downs Syndrome.