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The Gear Guide


written by Sam Harrison in September 2012



Buying new gear can be daunting even for experienced mountaineers, and with so many brands, fabrics and shops on the market it can be impossible to even know where to start. Hopefully this little guide will give you a bit of useful information to get you on your way.

If you're looking for a list of gear you need to take on hikes, see our required gear page.

Base layers


This is the layer worn closest to your skin and it is important that it is good at wicking sweat away to keep you dry as possible (dry = warm, wet = cold!). Cotton t-shirts should definitely be avoided as they hold moisture. Synthetic t-shirts can be cheap, lightweight and great at wicking away moisture and so are the preferred choice for a lot of people. However, they do tend to stink after wearing them a few times and so Merino wool base layers are becoming ever-more popular with their anti-bacterial properties and ability to regulate your body's temperature surprisingly well. They are, however, rather expensive and you'll be lucky to get one for under £40.

You can pick up a synthetic top from any sports shop and you really don't have to spend much money for it to do the job. Merino wool can be found in most good outdoors shops and the two popular brands are Ice Breaker and Smartwool. If you're patient, Sport Pursuit often has very good deals on Merino wool and other base layers. A good local brand, EDZdirect, often has merino base layers starting at £30.

In recent years, a number of "non-smelling" synthetic tops have come on the market, having the advantage of being better than Merino wool at wicking away moisture, whilst not as smelly as other synthetic tops after a few wears. One of the most popular choices is the Berghaus' Argentium range, which tend to get good reviews.

Mid layers


The key to a comfortable day in the hills in layering. Plenty of lighter weight layers will make it much easier for you to stay comfortable rather than one big thick layer in which you'll be far too warm most of the time. A mid layer is usually a fleece, and you don't have to spend too much money for it to do the job. Try TK Maxx as they often have cheap Craghoppers or Regatta fleeces for less than £20.

If you want to spend a bit more money then the fabric Polartech Power Stretch is a great fabric to look out for as it is lightweight, very breathable and very warm for its weight. The Rab PS Zip Top is probably the most popular (and one of the cheapest) option, and can usually be found for around £50.

We recommend having a spare warm layer in your bag, preferably in a drybag. That way, if your other layers get wet or cold, you can swap out for a fresh dry layer, or put it on top if you're standing around getting cold for too long.

Waterproofs


This is the first item of kit where you don't really want to skimp and save, as having a jacket that is actually waterproof is very important to keep you warm. A cheap Mac-in-a-Sac won't do the job and in bad weather you could risk getting hypothermia.

Gore-TEX and eVent are two of the most popular of the seemingly limitless number of waterproof fabrics available, and arguably the best. They offer good waterproofness but are also breathable, letting the sweat out so you don't get soaking wet on the inside.

You could easily spend over £500 on a new waterproof, but a rough guide is that anything around the £100-200 mark will be good enough. Look out in the sales as there are often very good offers on last season's models. People have been known to get 40+% off.

The Rab Latok jacket is a very popular choice, being versatile and costing around £200. A slightly cheaper alternative would be something like one of Berghaus' Gore-TEX Paclite jackets, which you can pick up for less than £150 if you shop around - they're fantastically lightweight and surprisingly durable. If you're looking for a bombproof completely waterproof (but still breathable) option then Mountain Equipment do a number of fantastic jackets, which will keep you dry and comfy in the worst Scottish winter has to throw at you.

There are, of course, almost limitless choices and so your best bet is to go and ask for advice in a few shops. Ultimate Outdoors is the best place to go in Lancaster for such advice.

Waterproof trousers


You will also want a pair of waterproof trousers if you're going to be comfortable out in the hills. There are, again, some very expensive options on the market, but you can get away with a cheaper pair as you'll probably only wear these in very rainy weather.

My personal recommendation would be something like the Berghaus Gore-TEX Paclite overtrousers, which are lightweight enough to throw in the bottom of your bag and forget about, but strong enough to put up with a bit of abuse when out scrambling (they don't take too kindly to crampons though...).

Trousers


A comfortable pair of trousers should be made of a lightweight breathable material that, importantly, dries out quick should it get wet. They shouldn't be too tight so that they restrict movement. For this reason, if you wear jeans or corduroys, you will absolutely not be allowed on hikes with us.

You can spend literally hundreds on a pair of trousers, but you really don't need to, unless you're going full on winter mountaineering. I personally, along with a lot of other people, recommend Craghoppers Kiwi trousers - a longstanding product that is cheap, durable and comfortable, and proven to work. You can normally pick up a pair for not much over £20 in the sales if you shop around.

If you're after a bit more warmth and comfort during the winter, then Decathlon do a very cheap pair of soft shell trousers for only £40. They're water resistant, have crampon reinforcement and inner gaiters to keep your feet dry. They really are a bargain!

Insulated jackets


During the winter months you might find you want something warmer to stave off the cold when you're not moving - for example if you stop for lunch, if something goes wrong or if you're sat around on a freezing cold campsite when it's -10 degrees. A great search term for this is a Belay Jacket, as described by Andy Kirkpatrick Insulated jackets normally come in two forms:

Down insulation


Down has the best warmth-to-weight ratio of anything out there, meaning for the same weight of insulation it will keep you warmer than anything else. And it really does work! However, it loses almost all of it's insulating properties when it's wet and for that reason you must keep it dry at all times. This will be almost entirely impossible in Scotland, and for that reason almost all scottish mountaineers avoid it. That said, there have been recent innovations in hydrophobic down that make it better when wet, but it still won't be as good as synthetic insulation in the wet.

Synthetic insulation


Synthetic insulation retains it's insulating properties when it's wet, and also dries out much quicker. The most common form of synthetic insulation is the material Primaloft, which is said to give the best warmth for its weight. Rab do a Generator jacket that is a very popular choice, and Montane have an almost-equivalent item called the Flux. You can get either for just over £100, though again this is something to look out in the sales for.

Boots


Boots offer grip and ankle support when out in the hills, helping prevent injuries as well as keeping your feet comfortable. Stiff-soled boots make scrambling easier and enable you to fit crampons to go walking in winter. We will not let anyone on a hike if they are not wearing boots with ankle support - trainers or walking shoes will not do. In addition to this, during the winter months your boots must be stiff enough to take crampons without the risk of them falling out (see this guide for more info).

It is well worth while getting a decent pair of boots, as a cheap pair simply won't last long. A good pair of summer boots will set you back anything from £100-150, whilst a pair of winter mountaineering boots will cost anything from £150-300. Scarpa, Asolo and La Sportiva are all reputable brands, but the best option is to go and try a fair pairs on and asking advice. The most important thing is getting a pair that fits! We've all made the mistake of buying a pair because they were on offer and have suffered for the next few months in uncomfortable boots.

A NOTE ON BOOTS: We know there is a big debate as to whether boots are necessary or not, or whether walking shoes or fell running trainers offer sufficient grip whilst enabling you to build up ankle strength. I must admit that I often prefer a pair of trainers to a pair of boots. However, if you're new to hiking then we believe that boots offer essential support and indeed cushioning to your feet that trainers will not give, and for this reason we insist you wear boots. It's in our Code of Practice and if we went against it we would be leaving ourselves liable to be sued if something were to go wrong.



Hats and gloves


The item of gear that I have to lend out to members most is undoubtedly gloves - until you've experienced cold hands it's quite hard to imagine just how much insulation your hands need! You'll need more than one pair of gloves, and especially during winter, your second pair should be a pair of insulated mitts. Dachsteins are a popular choice, as they freeze up in cold conditions and form a nice warm protective layer. They're also pretty cheap and can be combined with a thinner layer glove to provide all the warmth you'll ever need during winter.

Hats and buffs


A hat of some sort is also essential. I personally recommend Buffs as a versatile way of keeping your head and neck warm, but they are plenty of other options out there and there's no need to spend lots of money!

Head torches


If you're coming out with us during the winter months, you will need a head torch, or at least a hand-held torch. Unless you plan on lots of night-time walking, there's no need to buy anything too snazzy, and often bargains can be found in TK Maxx or Wilkinsons for less than £10. You will definitely appreciate attaching the torch to your head rather than holding it in your hands, so it is worth buying a head torch especially!