05 June 2020 by Ramblers Scotland president Lucy Wallace
As part of our #RoamSweetHome campaign, Ramblers Scotland president Lucy Wallace is sharing her Lockdown Diaries. In her latest blog, outdoor instructor Lucy helps ensure that we're ready for a phased return to walking, by guiding us through her all-important kit DIY routine.
Treating walking boots during lockdown
On my mind this week is a phased return to the hills, and with that thought I’m getting my outdoor gear ready for action.
Because I spend so much of my normal life outside, I’ve learned that I have to take care of, maintain and repair my equipment.
The alternative is spending a lot more money on new things, which also has an environmental cost.
Some of my favourite items of outdoor gear have been keeping me warm and dry for many years, and I’d hate to retire them just yet.
Why do waterproofs stop working as well over time?
Most “waterproof” garments contain a membrane of some sort, such as Gore-Tex and H2No.
The membranes are designed to keep water out, while also letting some moisture escape in the form of water vapour, as our bodies sweat and breathe.
Durable Water Repellency treatments (often called DWR) on the outer surface stop the face fabric from wetting out, helping the membrane to breathe.
Unfortunately dirt and body oils clog up membranes, reducing their breathability. What’s more, DWR finishes can wear off over time.
All of a sudden, that trusty, expensive waterproof jacket stops working and you are wet through.
Lucy, happy in the rain in Balloch.
Washing and reproofing waterproofs
Happily, it’s really easy to rejuvenate waterproofs, as long as the membrane isn’t damaged.
A simple wash may be all that is needed, but always read the manufacturers' washing instructions and avoid mainstream detergents and fabric softeners.
Look for specialist soaps in outdoor shops (such as Nikwax, Fibertec or Grangers) that will not damage your jacket.
If you want to bring back the DWR, you can use re-proofing treatments.
Some are spray-on products, while others can be added in a washing machine.
Because I do this regularly and I’m often in a hurry, I like the two-in-one wash and reproof treatments.
All they require is a blast through the washing machine and a little time in the tumble dryer on a low setting to activate the DWR.
Washing jackets with a specialist product.
Even snags and tears can be repaired. Sometimes all that’s required is a slick of polyurethane glue, and Seamgrip is a brand that is available from most outdoor shops.
If it’s a big hole, then a patch might be needed.
You can buy special tape, but gaffer or duct tape works too, and added Seamgrip gives longevity to the repair.
I keep strips of gaffer tape around my trekking poles to do temporary field repairs.
Once opened, my Seamgrip tube lives in the freezer to stop it going off between repairs.
Rubbing wax into leather boots by hand
Beautiful leather boots
Cleaning and re-proofing boots noticeably extends their working life.
Not only that, but cleaning them between days on the hill helps prevent the spread of plant diseases such as Phytophthora and ash dieback, which are ravaging some of our precious woodlands.
In the past, traditional leather boots relied purely on the natural water-repellant qualities of animal hide.
These days, a waterproof membrane usually backs up the leather, but it remains the primary barrier.
Cleaning them with a stiff brush and some gentle soap helps prevent bacteria build up in the creases that form: bacteria eat away at the leather and cause cracking.
After washing, or any length of time in storage, I like to use a traditional tinned wax to reproof the leather.
Using my fingers to rub wax in to my favourite boots is never a chore. I find it very satisfying, calming even.
I try to find somewhere warm to work on them, as the warmer my hands the more easily the wax is absorbed. I recently learned that some people use a warmed spoon to apply the wax and will try this next time; its an army trick apparently.
This week I have been lounging in my hot and sunny garden while I wax my boots. It’s a hard life!
Water 'beading' well on cared-for boots
Boots with other fabrics
Fabric and suede/nubuck boots tend to have more stitching (holes to let water in), and are completely reliant on a membrane for waterproofing.
I scrub them clean and then spray a footwear specific treatment that soaks in while they are wet. Both Grangers and Nikwax have good products that do this.
I never dry boots on radiators or other direct heat. Stuffing with newspaper and placing them somewhere warm is best.
Happily, by keeping on top of these little jobs, it’s usually the soles of my boots that wear out before the uppers.
Lighter boots unfortunately get retired at this point, but my heavy winter boots are resoled at a specialist workshop that keeps a stock of brand-specific Vibram soles.
Sorting out the sundries
Now is also the time that I’m sorting through the other sundry items that I carry on the hills.
I’ve been checking that my trekking pole sections still move and that they’ve not seized up with corrosion. I have a set of stiff brushes (like a bottle brush) that I can clean the insides out with if needed.
It may be a while before I’m out camping again, but just in case I’ve had a look through my camping gear and given it an air.
My washing machine is big enough to take synthetic sleeping bags, but I send my down ones away to be cleaned professionally. This will need to wait until these services are up and running again.
Outdoor gear and Covid-19
Most of the time it is easy to be socially distant outdoors, but what if something goes wrong?
Mountain rescue teams have warned that rescues may take longer than normal, and that they may ask casualties to self-rescue, or even spend a night out, if necessary.
For this reason, I have been checking that my hill kit is covid-ready.
I’ve had a good look through my first aid kit to make sure it is well stocked and that everything is in date. I’m the first to admit, mine is quite hefty as I’m normally looking after groups and I’ve added a few extra pairs of latex-free gloves, some hand sanitiser, wipes for disinfecting surfaces and some disposable masks, should I find myself having to deal with a situation where social distancing is not possible.
Masks may not be easy to come by (and rescuers don’t want to take PPE needed by key workers), but a buff or any other simple mouth covering is better than nothing, and has the advantage that it can be washed and reused.
I’ve been asking myself if there is any extra equipment I should carry to increase my resilience.
I wouldn’t necessarily carry a head torch at this time of year, but with the prospect of spending an emergency night out it’s a good idea.
Survival bags don’t cost much, and I’m a big fan of portable emergency shelters or “bothy bags”, which are literally lifesavers in bad weather. They can be handy for eating lunch in too!
Lucy's bumper first aid kit
Stay safe, stay local
Finally, a note on Covid-19 and risk.
As walkers, we are used to assessing danger whilst on the hoof.
We know to ask ourselves questions such as “Is this route within my capabilities? What’s the weather doing? How am I feeling?”
With Covid-19, outdoor hazards have become more complicated as we factor in the risk of infecting ourselves, or others, especially if things don’t go to plan.
For this reason, although I am lucky to have some hills close to home, I’m taking it easy and not pushing myself.
By staying well within my capabilities, and in my local area, I’m reducing the chance of needing assistance from other people and putting them at risk.
For now, it is just lovely to be outside.
Our #RoamSweetHome campaign aims to inspire everyone to keep active safely during the coronavirus pandemic. We’re also urging walkers to keep connected – both with landscapes and each other - during lockdown for everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing. Get involved at ramblers.org.uk/roamsweethome
All photos by Lucy Wallace.
Full disclosure: While this article and its contents have no association with Grangers, Lucy Wallace is a brand ambassador for them.