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Hiking for Beginners - Part 1 - Clothing and Boots

Updated: Apr 1



Since lockdown there has been a surge in the number of hillwalkers – this is excellent as everyone

should get outdoors more. The benefits both for physical and mental health is phenomenal,

however, with this comes also a surge in Mountain Rescue call outs, as well as a huge environmental impact.


We all have to start somewhere so I thought I’d write up some of my top tips when starting out –

from gear and where to get it, how to fit boots properly, what to carry, where to find your

information and much more!


This information comes from my personal and professional experience through the years I have

been hiking and climbing. Everyone will find what works for them, but this is a good way to start and there will be lots of important information in here to help you on your way.


Mountain Rescue Teams (MRT) are having record high callouts – many of these are due to lost and ill-prepared and inexperienced hill walkers. Remember, Mountain Rescue are all volunteers and that it is a charity organisation -

“Scottish Mountain Rescue and our 25 Member Teams spend around 1.5 million annually combined running our life saving service, however in reality the cost is actually higher, because many team members also donate items of their own equipment, or their petrol costs in addition to their time in order to keep the service running.”


In 2021 there were 893 callouts (345 of these where in a Mountainous environment); 98 of

these where due to lost hikers or navigational errors. The other largest call out (119) were due to slips/trips (mostly lower leg injuries) - this increase due to newer hikers who are still learning how to move in a Mountainous environment... good boots, moving steady, but learning how to walk

from an experience hiker helps prevent injuries. (yes, I know – it sounds silly - but trust me

it’s a whole new kettle of fish!)



 

What to Wear


Clothing

No matter the weather always take extra layers – the rule of thumb is to have enough layers to stay warm for a minimum of three hours whilst you wait for Mountain Rescue (in the unfortunate

circumstances of something untoward happening).


A few facts to remember – Scottish/British weather is very, very unpredictable and although

weather reports help us understand what weather to expect things can change rapidly.


The temperature also drops approximately 1 degrees C per 150m – bear in mind this varies due

to air moisture and geological factors and doesn’t take wind into consideration. This means if

it is 20 degrees in Fort William it will be at around 11 degrees on the summit of Ben Nevis. If there is any amount of wind this would bring the temperature down further.


And then there is rain – rain and wind are the worst combination and can get dangerous very

quickly.


I have been on a large group walking event where in the same day a person has had symptoms of

heat stroke, and another person having symptoms of hypothermia (and this wasn’t particularly high

up). The reason for this – the day was warm, causing people to sweat, not drinking enough water

and pushing themselves too hard caused the heat stroke.


Because it was warm (sweaty) and then rained, people got wet (they were warm so didn't want to

put waterproofs on) – and then when walking across an exposed area which was windy, they cooled quickly, causing them to start becoming hypothermic.


The problem is – without knowing the first symptoms you won’t see this until you start feeling

unwell. Ensuring you have windbreakers, and dry/extra layers can prevent this.


A good start for outdoor clothing when on a budget - eBay and outdoor gear exchange (or other

second-hand clothing outlets). When I first started out pretty much all my gear was from eBay, even now I still get myself some pretty awesome deals on good second-hand deals! I can't help myself!


If budget isn't an issue - Tiso is a good place to go. The staff there are pretty good at knowing their stuff and can talk you through the best products for your needs. Other shops like Go Outdoors often have good deals on also.


Another excellent source of gear for those on a budget (and those who aren't) is Sportspursit. They have amazing deals on some great gear! It's very seasonal and you don't get choices on colours etc but you can pick up some incredible bargains... Just be warned! You'll need to ban yourself from time to time because the deals are very tempting!


The Layering System

There are loads of information out there on the layering system so I'll keep this fairly short and

sweet.

⦁ Base layer - This can either be a vest, t-shirt or long sleeve. cotton cools but doesn't dry fast

so it's recommended to stay away from cotton. Especially in colder conditions. Go for wicking sports tops or, merino. Merino is definitely the best - and once you've tried it you won't go back! It is on the expensive side but well worth it. It's also antimicrobial (I can never say this correctly) which means no matter how sweaty you get, it genuinely doesn't smell! This makes merino the perfect choice for multiday trips (less clothing to take means less weight)


⦁ Mid-layers - Mid layers are anything from thin zippies, to fleeces and even a thin insulator. I

tend to have multiple lighter mid-layers so I can add or take away as I need.


⦁ Insulator - Always carry an insulator. My top tip are gilets (body warmers). I love them!

Keeps the heat where you need it (core) but keeps your arms freer/cooler.


⦁ Outer Layers - This is basically your waterproofs - it's advisable to always carry them in the

UK. Make sure it is waterproof not water resistance - waterproof clothing will always have taped

seams! If you are unsure - this is when it's a good idea to go into a store with knowledgeable staff.



The layering system - spare hats/gloves, fleece, gilet, windbreaker, insulator and waterproofs - I put them in dry bags in my rucksack



 

Boots

First things first - Don’t necessarily go for a boot brand that is recommended by a friend – everyone’s feet are different shape so a boot that suits them does not mean it’ll suit you.


There is a lot of talk on a more traditional boot vs something light and fast like trail running shoes.

Lighter footwear works – however it is important to note they only work for those who are

experienced in moving well in the mountainous environment. It is completely different from walking on flat tarmac pavements or even woodland trails. I would advise to avoid hiking trainers or trail runners until you are experienced in the hills (this will reduce your chance of ankle injuries) - also it’s not such a great choice for those who like to keep their feet dry – for this definitely get something that is waterproof and mid to full boot length.

Various Summer boots for various conditions and terrain (Left to right - Leather boots, synthetic boots, approach shoes, trail trainers and a soggy puppy - they all have there uses depending on route choice). To start of I'd recommend a good pair of leather boots, especially when you are not used to walking on rough terrain.


There are a few boot options here – synthetic and full leather, both have their pros and cons.

Synthetics tend to be lighter (although modern leather boots are much lighter than they used to be), they often can be slightly cheaper also. However – they never last quite as long (or stay as

waterproof) as a full leather boot. They also don’t tend to be as warm – so they are a good choice for summer routes that are perhaps slightly drier (if we have a good summer!!!)


Leather boots are heavier, and can be more expensive, but a well looked after leather boot will last much longer and stay waterproof much longer than a synthetic. They are often much warmer too (sometimes not so great on a hot day). And can offer a better ankle support.



No ankle support, full support or a mid-boot?

This can be down to personal preference but as I mentioned above if you are just starting out on

your hiking journey, I would recommend some ankle support. If you don’t like a full, high-ankle

boot a mid-boot is a good choice.


Fit

I highly recommend that you go to a hiking shop with well trained staff to get boots fitted for you.

Majority of people (including me when I started out) wear boots that are far too small for them. In

fact, most of us tend to be wearing shoes that are too small for us!

We can get away with it on a day-to-day bases but when hiking your feet swell and you will soon

start getting very painful toes.



TOP TIP – Take out an insole from your boot and stand on it... with the socks on that you would hike in, ideally you need about a thumb's width of space in front of your toes to allow for your feet to swell.






Stay tuned for the next blog on Hiking for Beginners - Food and Hydration












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