Kit to carry for hill walking

Kit to carry for hill walking

This article looks at the essential items needed for hill walking and backpacking. It covers clothing, rucksacks, tents, sleeping bags and stoves.

Dressing up to go out

Hiking kit © blas
Walking kit
Hill walking means dealing with steep, often rugged terrain and windy, often wet weather. So you should always carry warm and waterproof clothing. Dress in 'layers'. From the skin out you need:
  • A base layer - made of wool, silk or a wicking synthetic.
  • Mid layer consisting of one or two layers of light fleece or wool and a windproof top.
  • Waterproof top as an outer layer for when it's raining hard.
  • Depending on the weather you might wear different combinations of these layers.
Various features can make garments more efficient and comfortable:
  • Heat can be quickly lost at the neck so a base or mid layer with a high zipped collar is useful.
  • Waterproof jackets should have adjustable hoods with stiffened brims that don't flap in the wind and which give some protection to your face from lashing rain.
  • A chest pocket big enough for your map is very useful too.
  • Except in the hottest summer weather you should always carry a hat and gloves.
  • Waterproof hats with peaks and fleece linings are excellent in cold weather.
  • Wear thin 'inner' gloves and have a pair of thicker mitts or gloves to wear over the top of them. Then, when you need to remove the mitts in order to use your hands, your fingers will still have some protection. Mitts or gloves need to be quick drying and fairly water resistant - they're bound to get wet in heavy rain. Those with fleece or pile linings and proofed synthetic outers work well.
  • Rucksacks need to be big enough to hold all your gear and stable enough not to swing wildly and unbalance you when you're crossing rough terrain. A 25-35 litre sack should be fine unless your gear is very bulky. Few sacks are waterproof so line the sack with a waterproof bag to keep your gear dry when it rains.
Other required items are a torch or headlamp - LED ones are excellent - a plastic survival bag, small first aid kit, compass and relevant map. Trekking poles can be useful on steep descents or when crossing rough terrain but aren't essential.

Long distance walking

Many backpackers are obsessive 'weight watchers' and even cut out clothing labels and trim off any excess material from every item they possess

If you're planning to camp out in the wilds overnight you'll need more gear and when you have to carry it all day the weight of all your gear becomes significant.

Day walkers rarely know the weight of each item they wear or carry, but backpackers should be very conscious of this and strive to reduce weight from every possible area, otherwise your load can quickly become backbreaking. Indeed, many are obsessive 'weight watchers' and even cut out clothing labels and trim off any excess material from every item they possess. By the way, don't expect the weights claimed by manufacturers in their brochures to be totally accurate to the gram!

The clothing and footwear you need are the same as for hill walkers but check the weights of items before you buy. There are huge variations. When there's a choice always go for the lighter item. A hundred or so grams here and there may not seem much, but it quickly adds up. However, you must be sure that what you buy is appropriate for the conditions you'll encounter. There's no point in having a pair of super lightweight thin trousers or a ventilated mesh shirt designed for tropical conditions if you're walking up in the high mountains or out of summer where the wind chill might take the temperature close to zero.

You'll also need a large rucksack, tent, sleeping bag, insulating mat, stove and pans

You'll also need a large rucksack, tent, sleeping bag, insulating mat, stove and pans. When choosing your rucksack remember that it will have to hold your food as well as the other items. But also don't buy one that is bigger and heavier than you need. A good rule of thumb is that a rucksack shouldn't weigh more than 10% of the total load. For most trips a pack in the 60-75 litre range should be fine. If you'll be going out for many days in winter, or on long ventures in remote areas overseas, a larger pack might be needed. It is vital that with packs this size you choose one that fits well, feels comfortable and allows you to carry most of the weight on your hips. Hipbelts and some form of back padding or frame are essential for comfort with big loads.

Tents

Tents are always a compromise between weight and space. Before buying any tent crawl inside it - a good dealer will have an area for pitching tents in the store - and think about spending a day in a storm there. Would you be comfortable? Is there room to sit up? Is there space for you and your gear? Is there room to cook safely in the vestibule? Will you be travelling alone or do you need a bigger tent? Don't though choose a heavy tent because it is roomy. Solo tents needn't weigh more than 1.8kg, tents for two shouldn't be much more than 2.5kg. Of the different designs single hoop tents are small and best suited to solo use, tunnel tents have the best space to weight ratio and are stable as long as the end is pitched into the wind. Dome tents have plenty of headroom but aren't that stable whereas geodesic domes are very stable but also relatively heavy.

Sleeping bags  

Camping cookingSleeping bags may have either down or synthetic fillings. Down bags are very warm (especially for their weight), they pack small and last a long time. However they are also expensive, slow to dry, and lose their insulation properties when wet. Synthetic bags are heavier and bulkier and not so durable but they are less expensive, retain much of their insulation properties when wet and dry much more quickly. Whatever bag you choose keeping it dry is important. You will feel cold in any sleeping bag if it's wet. All bags have temperature ratings but these are only a guide. If you think you feel the cold when asleep, choose a bag rated for temperatures lower than those you expect to encounter.

The kitchen

Camp stoves run on bottled gas, petrol, paraffin or methylated spirits. Gas is the simplest and easiest to use and the stoves are very lightweight, though petrol and paraffin work better in really cold weather. Meths doesn't give out so much heat as the other fuels so cooking can be slow, but is safe and quiet to use and the popular Trangia cookset is incredibly light and simple. Whatever stove you use, practise with it at home before your first trip (it helps to know burn times and speed of cooking for your meals) and always take great care when it's lit.

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