What to wear and equipment for walking in Scotland’s Borders and Northumberland
Building on previous features in this series, it is now worth considering what I feel is useful clothing and equipment to wear and to have with you on a walk. This is based largely on personal knowledge and experience and I acknowledge that this is a vast area to cover in terms of what people feel is appropriate for themselves. However, there are some basics that may help to inform and allow you to enjoy your outdoor adventures in comfort and safety. Read on then to learn a bit more about footwear, socks, waterproof coats and trousers, hats, gloves, gaiters and anything else I can think of along the way.
Walking boots and shoes
In any outdoor clothing shop, there will be an entire wall given over to footwear. There will besandals, walking shoes and boots and mountaineering boots. Some are made of leather, others from a combination of materials, some with waterproof liners, different types of soles and a choice of colours. Boots are an expensive item, so I recommend that you buy the best you can afford, a good pair of boots will take you to some amazing places. So, go to the store with some understanding of what you want and that really is about where your walking will take you; discuss those thoughts with the sales staff.
Do get your feet measured in the shop before you buy and make sure this is done standing and sitting down, there is a difference. Take your walking socks with you, although most outdoor shops will have a supply of socks for you to borrow. Then, try on at least five pairs of boots before you make your decision; they’re going to have to work for you, so you have to get it right. I do recommend this approach, it’s easy to buy on-line, but there’s no real alternative to measuring your feet, trying on lots of different boots and using that artificial rocky ramp in the shop to see how those new boots feel.
It is best to buy boots with a waterproof lining, GoretexTM is ideal – it just works. Boots that claim to be waterproof but don’t have a GoretexTM or a similar lining rarely are waterproof and only buy those if you don’t go out walking on rainy days.
As well as boots, there are good quality walking shoes on the market. These are fine if you do short walks on flat and even ground. But if you intend to go onto even the gentlest incline or on an uneven surface or into the hills where the paths can be rough, boots are essential. They support your ankles against twists, sprains and knocks, add warmth, and fit properly with gaiters (see below).
The final word on the subject of boots is look after them, clean them, waterproof them and always put them away dry; they should then last you for years.
A useful addition to boots is a pair of gaiters; they add a layer of warmth, waterproofing and protection to your feet. As a Northumberland walking guide, I often get asked about gaiters and my reply is that I rarely go out in the hills without them. There is plenty of choice in material, style and colours and make sure you get a pair that fit. When wearing gaiters with waterproof trousers, they go under the trousers, not on top of them.
One of the most important but often neglected items of kit is the humble sock. They are incredibly important and it’s well worth investing carefully in what you buy. They come in man-made and natural materials or a combination of both. I wear two pairs of socks, a merino wool brand next to my skin and a man-made fibre pair on top of those. You’ll need to test what works best for you, but treat walking socks seriously; the right ones make a huge difference. Also, think about how much use they’ll get and how much walking you will be doing; it all helps. Read the labels, they usually have the relevant information about what the sock is designed to do. Final points, you must always wash new walking socks before you wear them and get the right size too.
When it comes to walking trousers, there is only one general rule, don’t wear denim jeans. Why not? Because they just aren’t comfortable over any distance. When wet they never really dry properly and if they’re uncomfortable when dry, they’re just dire when they’re wet.
I wear Craghopper Kiwi walking trousers, probably the most comfortable walking trousers I’ve ever worn. They’re made from a tough material and there are plenty of pockets, including one large enough to get a folded OS map into. They are quick drying and they never seem to wear out. I recently took two pairs to the menders and I reckon they’ll last a few more years before I have to think about replacing them.
I’ll briefly mention shorts versus trousers; I always wear trousers rather than shorts, mainly because I worry about ticks (a biting and bloodsucking insect) that have links to a nasty illness called Lymes Disease. Wearing trousers doesn’t mean that you won’t get bitten by ticks, but skin is covered up and the risk is reduced. For information about ticks see http://www.tickbitepreventionweek.org/.
I recommend strongly that you carry a pair of waterproof trousers with you if you are up in the hills, less so if you’re walking in your local countryside or down on the coast. If you get caught out in heavy rain, or get delayed or lost then you need every bit of protection you’ve got and I can’t stress that enough.
Modern waterproof trousers don’t weigh much nor do they take up much space in your rucksack and they could just provide that little bit of extra warmth you need on the occasion you really need it. Buy a pair that have a full length zip on the leg and before you pack them in your bag, undo the zips; it saves time putting them on when the rain is lashing down. If they get wet, always dry them out properly before you put them away and re-proof them every now and again, so that they keep you dry when you need them.
Base layers, mid layers and waterproof jackets
A base layer is worn next to the skin. I was always told not to wear cotton because it holds on to moisture, which is mostly sweat. Walking tops are made from modern fabrics, which have ‘wicking’ properties; this means the moisture is moved away from the skin and allowed to evaporate, making them more comfortable to wear. However, carrying a rucksack normally means that the moisture gets trapped and you’ll have a sweaty back for most of your walk, that’s life. Modern rucksacks do have an air gap, which does help to reduce this eternal problem and worth thinking about when buying one. The choice of base layers in most shops is huge and I suggest reading the labels and asking the staff for advice; it can help.
A mid-layer is worn over the base layer and generally speaking in this day and age, this is a fleece top, either a jumper or a jacket. A fleece made from PolartecTM is popular, or it was, it seems to have been superseded by modern windstopper jackets and other modern materials, but it remains a good option as a warm layer on a cool and windy day in the hills. An old fashioned woolly jumper can be ideal and I often wear one on my walks; the downside is they’re bulky and heavy taking up space in a rucksack, but I’m rarely cold when wearing one.
Finally the top layer, your waterproof jacket, which has to do a lot and they are designed to do just that. A jacket must keep you dry in the rain, warm in the cold and keep out the wind and sometimes all three at once. Again there is a wide choice, GoretexTM jackets are very good, but expensive, however they have few equals in terms of their qualities to keep out water and at the same time provide breathability and comfort. In other words, they allow moisture from the inside to escape, but stop the rain from getting in. To continue to be effective, wash and then reproof them at least once a year with stuff you can buy in most outdoor shops. Do read the washing instructions carefully and follow them to the letter, or they won’t work. I always iron my GoretexTM after washing, which helps to keep the fabric in good condition and waterproof.
When trying on a jacket, pay special attention to how the fastenings work, where the pockets are and, not least, how the hood fits. Ensure you select a jacket that gives you an unobstructed view when the hood is up and the jacket is fastened securely at the top. You’d be surprised at how many people buy walking jackets without trying the hood, and discover that the first time they put up the hood, it is poorly designed and ill-fitting, sometimes flopping over the eyes. Being caught out on the hills in a heavy shower and not being able to see where you are going isn’t much fun and could be dangerous.
Other types of top layer include down jackets. On a cold day and as long as it’s dry, there’s nothing quite like getting wrapped up in feathers for warmth and comfort.
I am a great believer in the layer system, so I recommend that you don’t get a jacket that has a fleece or other kind of lining, unless that lining is removable; you’ll get too hot and uncomfortable. Use the layering system effectively, putting on and taking off layers as needed over the course of the day. That can be troublesome, but it does work and allows you to stay warm or cool as demanded by the conditions.
A hat should be warm, reasonably waterproof and cover your ears on cold and windy days. Always take a hat in your rucksack, again it gives you an edge if you get caught in changeable weather and you find yourself getting cold. Much the same can be said for gloves, always have a pair in your rucksack, but try and get them on before your hands get cold and wet; trying to force wet hands into gloves is I find an almost impossible task, try it at home, you’ll see what I mean.
Finally, a great tip is to have some warm dry clothes in the car that you can put on at the end of the walk. Apart from taking off your boots, which is a great feeling, there’s nothing quite like putting on dry clothes at the end of a walk and heading for the pub.
In the next feature, I’ll be looking at what needs to be in a rucksack when you’re walking out on the hills or in the countryside.
Find out more about me, Patrick Norris, and my guided walks business: Footsteps – walking the beauty of Northumberland. www.footsteps-in-northumberland.co.uk.
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Tel.: 07847 506399
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Category: Northumberland Walker's Guide