Walking Buying Guide
This walking buying guide also includes advice for Duke of Edinburgh and World Challenge participants
There is so much walking and climbing clothing on the market now it is difficult to know what to chose. The good news is that most of it is very high quality and performance with even budget waterproofs offering a small amount of breathability. But making an informed choice will help you get the best out of your purchase and maximise your enjoyment on the hills and dales.
Please note this guide is very general and you will need to make informed choices based on your personal requirements, destination and the likely weather conditions. If you have any specific questions, please give us a ring for advice 7 days a week on 0191 2323561.
The basic principle of walking and climbing clothing is to use layering. Rather than wearing one big jacket, use two or three layers of fleece and waterproof jacket so that you can adjust your temperature to the weather and temperature conditions.
The basics of a layering system are:
- Baselayer – used to be called thermals. Worn next to the skin the primary purpose of a base layer is to draw sweat away from your skin keeping you dry and warm or cool. Thinner short sleeved tops are good for summer, long sleeve zip necks are good for winter as they keep you a little cosier and you can use the zip to adjust your temperature. In winter, a thicker base layer can be chosen to keep you a little warmer, and it is also worth considering baselayer bottoms to provide extra insulation for your legs. The ideal fit is close, but not tight. Features to look out for include thumbloops for extra warmth and flatlock seams in pressure areas such as under the rucsac straps. There are two main type of base layer material, that make a big difference to their performance:
Midlayer – this is the layer or layers that actually keep you warm. Features to look out for dependent on your requirements include; hoods, ability to zip into a waterproof jacket, larger pockets, inner pockets or no pockets, hem or waist drawcords. There are a lot of options here:
- Synthetic materials e.g. nylon, polypropylene etc have the advantage that they are hard wearing and if you sweat a lot or are doing a high energy sport where you will sweat a lot e.g. running, cycling, then they will wick the sweat away very effectively. The disadvantage is they are not as comfortable to wear and they get very smelly, very quickly.
- Merino wool is the new kid on the base layer block. More expensive than synthetics at first glance, it also doesn’t wick quite as well as synthetics for high energy sports, but is absolutely great wicking for walking and climbing. The advantage of merino wool is the comfort and the lack of smell, you can wear this stuff for two or three weeks in a row without washing and there will still be no smell! So when you consider that you will need to buy two or three synthetic tops for a longer trip unless you want to be stood at the sink washing every night, merino is actually good value too.
- Cotton should be avoided in all cool damp climates like the UK as it does not breath very well and keeps the sweat next to your skin which will make you wet and cold. Conversely, in hot climates cotton is ideal and can be more comfortable to wear than synthetics.
Waterproof outer layer – this is the outerlayer (sometimes called a hardshell) which works to keep the elements off and you dry inside. Most modern waterproof fabrics are highly windproof and extremely breathable. Feature to look out for in a jacket, dependent on your requirements, include: a larger hood that will fit a helmet; the fit of the hood; a hood that will store in the collar or just roll up; no hood at all for cycling; hem and waist drawcords; large pockets for a map or no pockets at all to keep the weight down; interactive zips to allow a fleece to be zipped in. Features to look out for in overtrousers include: full length zips to make them easy to get on and off and to allow good temperature regulation; or short zips to reduce pack size and weight; pockets; braces to keep them up in winter; internal snow gaiters to keep the snow out. There are a large number of waterproof fabrics available, with the choice normally being down to: lightweight versus robustness; and cost versus breathability. Choices include
- Microfleece tops (and bottoms for winter) – thin fleece that is ideal for a bit of extra warmth on chilly days, or as a spare top to carry in your rucsac for colder winter days. Extra features to look out for are a full length zip for better temperature control, a hood and/or thumbloops for extra cosiness.
- Standard weight fleece gives a bit more warmth and year round versatility, a full length zip is best. Thermal Pro (in either standard knit or high loft knit – the fluffy looking one) is a bit more expensive but is really cosy and more durable than standard weight
- Windstopper fleece – don’t be put off by the price, the addition of a windproof membrane stops the wind whistling through the fleece, so you are much warmer. This also means that the fleeces can be much thinner than standard fleece for the same warmth, so they will be lighter and will pack up smaller in your rucsac
- Softshell jackets are a windproof jacket that range from being showerproof to fully waterproof dependent on the model. The main advantage is the comfortable feel of the fabric and the breathability that is typically greater than a waterproof hard shell. They are ideal for fast paced sports where you sweat a lot, for winter snowsports and for walking and climbing. Regarding the waterproofness, in our experience, we have found them to be waterproof enough for a typical British showery day, but if the forecast is for all day rain then a fully waterproof hard shell is recommended
- Paramo Parameta fleeces are a unique style of midlayer using a furry material that keeps you dry in the same way as an animal’s fur. Very breathable, they are surprisingly waterproof unless you apply pressure to the wet area e.g. kneeling in a puddle. Very comfortable to wear, the soft fabric is also very quiet compared to traditional nylon waterproofs, making them ideal for bird and nature watching
- Down jackets - When the weather gets really cold and you need some extra warmth when you stop for lunch or to camp in the evening, an insulated jacket will keep you extra cosy. Down doesn’t like getting wet so a bit more care is required, but it is very warm, light and packs down small. Whilst it is too warm for active use in all but the coldest conditions, the down is naturally highly breathable and does a reasonable job of temperature regulation
- Insulated or belay jackets – Essentially the same as a down jacket, but uses synthetic insulation. Synthetic insulation is good for the damp British climate, but it is not as warm, doesn’t pack as small and is heavier than a down equivalent. Can be a bit warm and sweaty for active use. Ideally used on a belay whilst climbing or for walking when you stop for lunch.
- Manufacturers fabrics – for example Berghaus Aquafoil, The North Face Hyvent, Mountain Equipment Drilite and Patagonia H2No. Great value for money, they are waterproof, windproof and breathable, but they will not be as waterproof or as breathable as more expensive fabrics like Gore-Tex or Event. Ideal for light use, first timers or fair weather walkers.
- Gore-Tex Performance Shell - Designed to provide comfort and durable waterproof protection. Ideal for a wide range of outdoor activities.
- Gore-Tex Paclite- the lightest, most packable fabrics. Extremely breathable, ideal when weight and space is critical.
- Gore-Tex Pro Shell - Made with the most rugged, breathable fabrics for extended, extreme conditions. Meets the demands of outdoor professionals and serious enthusiasts.
- eVent - a top-quality waterproof and breathable fabric, made using similar materials and construction to market leading Gore-Tex. In tests it is more breathable than Gore-Tex, but it is not quite as windproof.
- Paramo Analogy - mimics the action of animal fur – pushing liquid water outwards to protect you from rain, condensation and perspiration, while protecting your insulation. This is combined with a Directional microfibre outer to deflect wind and rain.
Other things you might need are:
- Hat & gloves.
- Buff – is it a hat, a neck gaiter, balaclava, hair scrunchy, bandanna, sunhat, ear warmer, chin warmer, headband, hairband? It’s all of these and more!
- Socks – modern socks are knitted with layers built in so you don’t really need to wear two pairs of socks, but if you suffer from cold feet or blisters, then try a liner sock inside your main socks. Available in synthetic and merino wool fabrics, with the same pros and cons as these fabrics for baselayer.
- Pants – some people prefer wicking fabrics like baselayer, but this is one place where cool cotton is probably OK to wear in the outdoors.
- Sunhat or cap.
- Gaiters keep lower legs dry and stuff out the top of your boots.
Outdoor sports are potentially dangerous. This guide is offered for guidance only and you should seek advice from a qualified person if you are unsure about any aspect of your equipment or outdoor skills.