What to Wear in the Mountains?

WhatNotToWear

The picture to the right is a poster displayed in a carpark at the bottom of one of the many paths up Snowdon. The message and picture being simple but powerful.

The title of the Poster is “Plan Ahead” with the following text at the bottom “Half Wit – Around 20% of Mountain Rescue incidents on Snowdon are related to lower leg injuries – most of which could have been prevented by wearing walking boots.”

Hopefully you may have guessed the “Half Wit” is the character on the left, unfortunately a sight that is quite often witnessed on UK Mountains!

The questions I often get when planning to take a group into the mountains include:

  • “Can I wear my trainers they are really comfortable?”
  • “The forecast looks good can I leave behind my waterproofs?”
  • “Do I really need waterproof trousers?”
  • “The forecast for Llanberis says it’s going to be 20°C, do I need gloves, beanie and fleece top?”

To answer each question in turn…..

Boots vs trainers – As the poster says 20% of mountain rescue incidents are related to lower leg injuries, this would be significantly reduced if suitable walking boots were worn. The boot will provide ankle support, increased grip and stability greatly reducing slip, trip and fall injuries.

Waterproofs

Packing waterproofs – Forecasts provide a good indication on what you may expect whilst in the mountains but as we all know they are fallible, in addition mountain forecasts cover a vast area and does not allow for micro climates which are formed in the mountains. I have lost count of the great days I have had in the mountains in glorious sunshine whilst people not even 10 miles away from me have been rained on all day, the forecast was the same for both areas…..So yes you must always take waterproofs and both coats and trousers!

InsulationPacking insulation layers – When looking at the forecast temperature for Llanberis the temperature at the top of Snowdon will be approximately 10°C lower, if we add wind chill factor the “feels like” temperature may be further decreased. To remain comfortable especially during meal breaks and rest stops insulation layer(s) becomes essential to stop your body cooling down too quickly and keep you comfortable.

Boots advice

BootsI always recommend dedicated walking boots fitted by a reputable outdoor retailer, either leather or fabric with or without waterproof lining. The retailer should ask you a number of questions including what are the intended use of the boots, take several measurements of your feet, provide a number of makes of boots to try and get you to test them on an incline in the shop. The boot should provide good ankle support and have a good sole unit to provide adequate grip (Vibrum). The boots should be broken in and comfortable to the wearer. Lastly, boots considered not to be appropriate include Caterpillar, Timberland, Dr Martens or similar fashion boots.

Socks advice

Bridgedale, Therlos and Smart wool are the most common makes available; select the thickness/type most appropriate for you boots. Some people use a thin liner sock as well as a walking sock in order to avoid blisters, this is personal preference. Expect to pay approx £10 for a pair of socks!.  Socks are as important as the boot, a good walking sock can help to prevent blisters.

Wicking base layers

Cotton is the worst material to wear when walking; sweat will soak up in the cotton and will soon leave you wet, cold and uncomfortable. A wicking base layer tee-shirt is essential as this will move your sweat away from your body and dry quickly. (nb: cycling and running base layers are suitable)

Legwear

Jeans no! Dedicated walking trousers, tracksuit bottoms, Ron Hills etc are preferred. Jeans have no give or stretch and if they get wet will become heavy, cold and take a long time to dry. If the weather is fine shorts will suffice but be warned that temperatures can drop 1 degrees for every 100m this means that the temperature could be 10 degrees lower at the summit when compared to the base.

Waterproof Jackets and Trousers

Preferred option is a decent breathable jacket and trousers using Gortex, NikWax Analogy (Paramo) or manufacturers own breathable membrane etc. Avoid non-breathable waterproofs these will leave you sweaty inside and uncomfortable.

Budget vs Premium Makes

A day out in the mountain shouldn’t break the bank, there are multiple options out there to suit all budgets. As a guide expect to pay the same for a pair of boots and a waterproof coat, these are the two main items that will take up your budget, the next most expensive item will be waterproof trousers, as a guide aim for 50% cheaper than the jacket.  Other items like base layers trousers, fleece tops etc can be picked up at a relatively low price. As you become more experienced and items wear out you can look to refine your kit as and when required. My top tips to kit yourself for the mountains on a budget are:

  • Budget shops and kit can provide quality kit at a fraction of the cost
  • The sale rail can be your friend
  • Become a BMC member many shops offer discounts which will soon cover the membership fee
  • Wear what works for you and not what is recommended by magazines or others we are all different and what may suit one person may not suit you
  • Get to love bright colours and wearing clothes that clash, these are the garments that usually end up on the sale rail at an excellent discounted rate as the fashion victims don’t go for them – the colour does not usually affect performance so their loss is our gain!
  • Similar to the above learn to love last years colours and don’t be a fashion victim!
  • Cheap gaiters can protect your trousers and boots
  • If you find kit that suits you try to buy them when they are on sale, if your old ones are still good and you have the cash buy them and store them until they are needed

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