What we wear when we are out in the hills is incredibly important. It is our first barrier against the weather as well as protecting us against other factors in the environment through which we are travelling. What you wear will vary with the season, the time of day and general conditions, and the activities that you are planning to undertake. There is such a variance, that to cover every clothing choice for every eventuality would take a post longer than I care to write.
In this post, we will look at what I pack and wear for a single day walk during the British summer time. Clearly, the worse the weather gets, the more gear you will need. In some instances it can also get rather technical and provide rather more than just protection on the hills, but can for part of your safety equipment too.
Layering is the key word for outdoor clothing, and it essentially means combining different pieces of clothing to combat the conditions and keep you comfortable during your walk. Layers can be added or removed as the conditions change throughout the day, giving you flexibility to deal with a wide range of weather, temperature and terrain.
Closest to the body, I always wear a long sleeve technical t-shirt. This is similar to what runners wear and is designed to remove (or wick, the technical term) sweat away from the skin, to help regulate my body temperature. On hot days, this is all I will wear as it helps keep me cool. I can also roll the sleeves up if I need or want to. The t-shirts are quick drying too, so if it gets wet, it is usually dry in about half an hour. I usually go for a lighter or brighter colour here as black clothing attracts the suns heat, which is not really the point of this article of clothing. I would avoid woollen or cotton clothing for this layer as they will get wet with sweat and stay wet, cooling your body and making you feel the cold.
On top of that I will wear a fleece. My current favourite fleece is the Karrimor KS-300, which I have reviewed in a previous post, and is great for walking on cooler days. A good snug fit with a fleece is important as it helps retain body heat. Layered with the long sleeve top, this is the basis of my walking clothes for almost all my walks. By combining these two layers I can be prepared for any weather or temperature that is dry and above about 12 degrees centigrade.
The last layer that I will usually pack in my rucksack, and use on top of the fleece, is a softshell or rain jacket. You can pick up a decent waterproof jacket for a reasonable price on Amazon. This is my waterproof layer for when the skies open and will always have a hood to keep the rain off my head and the back of my neck, which I hate. I always pack my waterproof jacket near the top of my bag so that I can grab it if the weather changes unexpectedly. Sometimes I will leave the fleece later out, climbing in a base later and waterproof jacket if it is wet and warm out, or if we are climbing a particularly steep section of hill and I am already warm. I generally only use this combination in late spring or summer rain storms.
The big question with your choice of clothing for your lower body is shorts vs trousers? I am firmly in the trousers camp – but if you prefer shorts, you’ll get no judgement from me. Trousers offer better protection from scratchy grasses and heather, as well as discouraging ticks, midges and other beasties that want to get at my skin.
Shorts offer a greater cooling effect as they expose more of your skin to the air, aiding in cooling, but the more you expose, the higher the risk of those midge bites! My lightweight summer trousers are a bit of a compromise in that they actually have vents in that run on the outside of each leg from knee height to mid thigh, aiding cooling. I also have a pair of heavier weight soft shell trousers that I use in winter that are much warmer and don’t have vents to conserve heat in that case. I will select which weight of trousers I wear based on the expected temperature for the day on the weather forecast. It’s really important to base many of your clothing choices on the forecast weather, I covered this in a previous post about weather forecasting.
I will also carry a set of waterproof trousers in my rucksack to layer over the top of the chosen days trousers. I try not to use these unless absolutely necessary, because I don’t really like wearing them. Both my summer Abby winter trousers are water resistant anyway so will cope with quite a bit of rain. However if the forecast is for heavy rain all day, I will add this layer on to minimise the risk of getting too wet.
When looking for waterproof trousers I’m looking for ones that I can easily get on and off with my boots on and are quite slim legged so that they will fit under my gaiters. That’s another item of lower body clothing that you can choose to wear should the ground look particularly boggy or wet. The ones I currently have have full length taped zips down both legs so I can open them right up to get them on in a hurry if I need to.
Looking after your feet is really important for hill walking. They are your mode of transport and emergency escape route if things go wrong. You can choose between boots and shoes, coupled with a good pair of socks. Here is a link to the boots that I currently wear on most of my hikes – I think they are great. Personally, I prefer the ankle support of a full or high boot, rather than shoes, but many people swear by them for long approaches. They are certainly lighter on your feet and potentially more comfortable too.
Always try and get boots/shoes that fit well. If you are going to spend big money on your hiking gear, then a good pair of boots is the place to splash the cash. Boots that rub can lead to blisters and hot spots which are uncomfortable at best and can be quite serious if they become infected. I plan to do more posts on foot care in future as it is so important.
It is essential that whatever combination you choose, provides you with the right support, confidence as well as protection from sharp rocks and good grip on slippery surfaces. Most boot manufacturers go overboard on the amount of grip that is offered by their product, but do ensure that there is good deep tread for muddy sections as well as the ability to combine with gaiters or crampons if you walk in winter. I’ve reviewed a couple of the cheaper options on the boot front should you be looking for that sort of thing.
On top of the items of clothing described above, I always also carry a set of spare socks, which I will keep in a waterproof bag. So that I can always either change my socks on the hill should mine become soaked (on a river crossing for example) or at the end of the walk. There is no finer feeling than changing into cool dry socks at the end of a walk in my opinion.
I will also always carry a sun cap and a woolly hat as well as a pair of gloves. The hats are because, unfortunately, I am starting to loose my hair (which sucks) and a cool breeze is enough to make me feel the chill. You also lose a larger percentage of your body heat through your head, so if I need to stop for any length of time, I will pop that on. Equally, I am not great with sunglasses, I lose them all the time, so a cap is better to keep any sun out of my eyes – should I be so lucky to actually walk on a sunny day.
Lastly, a thin pair of gloves is a constant in my bag, as with the woolly hat, if I need to stop for any length of time, I tend to get cold hands and fingers, so its useful for me to have a way to combat that, especially if I am map reading and need to use my compass. I have reviewed the current pair of gloves that I use in all but the worst weathers in a previous post, in case you are interested.
I hope you can see that your clothing choice is a very personal one, but an important one to get right. The layering flexibility offers is definitely the way to go and allows you to deal with and be properly equipped for many of the types of weather and terrain that you will face during a typical hill day. As always, these are my opinions, please feel free to let me know what I missed or whether you agree with my assessment.
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