Hats, Gloves and Headgear

##Hats
Hats are a vital and often overlooked piece of kit. With a good hat you can pretty much take on the world.

A good hat depends again on the season, but also to some extent (more than for other pieces of kit) you’re ability to pull it off as a fashion statement.

So wool is good, fleece is always good. Bright wool, especially with those tied down bits you get in Peruvian headgear, not so much.

Wide rimmed hats are a great choice is you know it’s going to be raining for most of the trip. It keeps the rain off your face and deflects a lot of the wind. With a good wide-rimmed hat you can almost, almost pretend that it’s not raining sometimes, unless its actually hammering down.

Main drawback of the wide rimmed hat is two fold. Firstly, it’s got a lot of surface area, so you kind of need to lash it down to your chin or it’s going to leave you rapidly. Second thing, you do end up looking a bit of a d*ck. Remember, this is the hat the the British Army uses as standard issue, and it even makes them look less than hard. So just be aware, and if you’re trying to impress someone on the trip, go for the branded black fleece scull-hugger instead, and just be prepared to have a wet face.

Gloves

For gloves, for anything less than baltic conditions with driving snow, go light. Just having any kind of cover over your hands makes a difference, even if it’s warm, because these are at the extreme ends of you, get cold easily, and are usually out in the wind, rain and cold. Gloves will take all of that pain away.

But bulking up on gloves when it’s not strictly necessary can really slow you down. If you need to pull your hands out of a big puffa-style glove every time you want to get a bit of nutty out of your pocket, this will quickly annoy you. Not least is that water will tend to immediately run off your jacket onto your hand, then into your pocket when you go to get a piece. Wet pocket, wet nutty, sadness.

I’d avoid mitts if you can. They’re fiddly, and even less practical than puffa-gloves. You’ll wear them for about an hour, then take them off and stick them in your pack for the rest of the trip.

Neckwear

There are some pretty sexy pieces of neckwear than you can get. These are loops of material that usually live round your neck, and can also be pulled up over your ears and sort of over your head to act like a hat. It is a hat with a big hole in it (where your head used to be), but it kind of works. And it is very cool.

Outside of this, I’ve never been one for wearing a scarf on an exped. They seem to just get in the way when you get into the tent, and end up wrapped around stuff they’re not meant to be wrapped around. Get a decent fleece and jacket that zips all the way up to your chin and you’re sorted.

Sun glasses

Hmmm, yes, these can be handy. If it’s blue sky out there then you’re likely to get it in your eyes, right? But other than looking the dude, there’s not a hell of a lot of point in carrying sun glasses with you. They’re expensive, breakable bits of kit of dubious value.

Still, if you’re going to do it, get those wrap around Oakley types…

Survival Kits & Valuables Boxes

Survival kits

I love these little things. They’re quite often shaped like old baccy (tobacco) tins and have a list of really useful sounding quite useless stuff. Sort of thing you get in there is a flint and steel (for lighting fires, usually by trying to set fire to tampons), a snare for catching rabbits, a line and hook for fishing, a mirror for signalling rescue aircraft, that sort of thing.

Although all of these sound like they could save your life one day, in reality would you ever use them? Certainly in Scotland, things are never going to get so bad as it’s necessary to catch your own emergency survival rabbit, rather than spending that many, many hours this would take getting your sorry, hungry ass off the mountain. Likewise, lighting a fire with a flint sounds cool, but is difficult and comes down to the standard of what you’re trying to light. And if that’s dry enough, then matches or a little disposable lighter is better. Ok, so you could argue that you’d run out of these, but if you do, get your bum home where you’ll warm up, don’t mess about trying to survive out on the hill without the right kit.

The one place these do come in useful, though, is pretending you’re a Para on exercise, or when you’re trying to hone some of those survival skills that Dusty, legend that he is, wrote about. If that’s what you’re after, there are few things as pleasing as a well-stocked survival kit.

Valuables

This is the wee things you need to take along, but which aren’t really part of your kit. Phones, car keys, credit cards (always useful), cash. They kind of just get in the way, but can really spoil your day if you lose them up a mountain.

Best thing for these is a little hard case with o-ring seal. This will protect them from being squashed or soaked. If squashing is less of a worry, you can get little dry bags instead. These range from the resealable bags you get for frozen food (which are ideal for waterproofing your kit) to sea-going dry bags which are sealled by rolling over the top lip again and again, then clipping off with a fastex clip.

Once secure, stick it right down at the bottom of your kit bag so it doesn’t pop out, or if you have one, sticking it in the top flap pocket of your rucksack works well. What you want to avoid is it falling out without you noticing when you get the rest of your kit out, as you might not notice…

Rucksacks

Rucksack manufacturers do a great job of giving the impression that their designs have been honed over decades, have undergone field tests and wind tunnel tests, and as ergonomic as an lyrca vest. The reality is, it’s all about size.

For an overnighter you’re probably looking at a 60L to get everything in to. For a day trip (which isn’t wild camping, strickly speaking) you can get away with 45L.

The length is important as well. To fit a rucksack properly you need to look at the distance between the waist strap and the shoulder straps. Ideally, most of the weight is carried by a good fit at the waist. If you get this, then the weight is carried as close to your own centre of gravity as possible, and won’t swing about and pull you off balance. Once you’ve got this, then the shoulder straps can be used just to pull in the top of the rucksack close to your centre line. There really shouldn’t be that much weight going through those straps.

If you can get this waist to shoulder distance fitted properly, you’ll be able to heft weights you thought unimaginable, with disturbing ease. As everyone’s trunk size is personal, and not really a function of height (tall people can have long or short legs), then this is a piece of kit that you really do want to try on before buying.

Some rucksacks have an adjustable waist-shoulder length. These can be pretty expensive, though, so if you can find one that fits without having to be adjusted, then great.

The next measurement to look for is head-neck swing clearance. When the pack is on, you should be able to roll your head around a full loop, shrug your shoulders and otherwise have complete freedom of movement. If it touches your pack at any point, it’s took high or too close (strapped in.)

A another adjustment you want to look for are the webbing straps that hang from the body of the rucksack. These are the dangly bits you see when you’re walking behind someone. Depending on their position these can shorten the height of the rucksack, or make it thinner round the middle. This is a useful thing to be able to do. If you don’t happen to have exactly the right amount of kit to fill the rucksack, you’re likely to have empty space in there. Empty space lets your stuff move about, which can put your centre of gravity out and lead to backpain. So if you can tighten the whole thing up until it’s straight and packed, then great.

It’s also much easier to have a larger pack that you reduce in size with these straps than a smaller pack you try to stuff everything in to. Bear in mind that kit, when wet, usually expands in size. Even camping stoves and cameras seem to take up more space when everything’s sodden. So a pack that was nice and tight when you started can easily end up way too small when you’re out and about.

So when you get through trying out the rucksacks available and find the ones that fit you, have webbing adjustment, allow for head movement, and have a good, comfortable waistband, then you’re probably down to the last two in the shop. That’s the point where you can start to look at the other bits and pieces.

For example a top zipped section is useful to keep must-get-at-quickly stuff. Separate side pockets are useful for keeping nasty stuff away from nice stuff. For example, one side pocket stuffed with old smelly clothes keeps them away from your sleeping bag. They can also be used to store food away from camping stoves/parafin, and putting water bottles in.

Some rucksacks have neat little pockets for camel backs. These are flexible waterbags with a long drinking tube, which you put on your back and constantly sip from. They can taste disgusting, but are great for keeping you hidrated. So if you like these, having a rucksack that has a separate wee pocket for them is great. Even having a little hole to poke the drinking tube through can be useful.

Some rucksacks come with mesh back-pieces that let air whip round your back. This can be quite nice. Others also come with flexible back-plates that can be pulled out, moulded, then stuck back in. I’ve heard of instructors claiming you can use these as emergency splints, but the ones I’ve seen would be rubbish at that.

Then finally come with little loops, hard points, lanyards and webbing straps. These are meant for hanging stuff from, stuffing stuff down, tucking stuff in. They can be quite useful, but I’d use them sparingly. Swing too much from them and you may as well walk along yodelling or singing the wild rover. And never, never consider them an appropriate place to dry your pants on.

Legwear

The choice of trousers is quite important. This is highly depenedent on the sort of weather and temperatures you expect to find, but generally I go for shorts first, and for as long as possible, then to light trousers, then to heavy trousers.

The reason I go for shorts over trousers in the summer months is comfort. There are many types of shorts that you can buy with cargo pockets, zip pockets, double pockets and so on. So in terms of stuffing stuff into your pockets, these are just as good as trousers. However, if there is anything more than a little sun, hiking up a high gets me very sweaty. At this point, having a large heat-sink (my lower legs) exposed is a great way to keep cool.

Beware if you go down this route, though, as there are hazards. The first is the dammed burrowing mites that you get in heather. These bite into you, bury their heads, and drink away. You need to be careful when getting them out as if you break off their head the wound may become infected, but they’re not painful.

Likewise, midges (small flying beasties) will have a go at any exposed skin. The first you’ll know is an itchy bump that gets itchier and itchier. You can avoid these guys by knowing where they hang out (forests) and when they come out (dawn and dusk.)

Finally be careful when you stop with shorts on. You can get quite cold quite quickly. So long as you keep your core warm this isn’t going to be a problem, just uncomfortable for a bit. (Keeping your core warm is all about having a great fleece on your upper body, along with a windproof or waterproof). However, if you haven’t got that sorted you can get cold much more quickly if you’re also wearing shorts.

But stand fast that lot, shorts can be the way to go in the summer.

Moving into less warm periods, or during the summer when it actually can still be rubbish weather, light utility trousers are the thing. If you can get the very thin sort that wicks away water, that will oddly keep you warmer than heavier cloth that doesn’t. What happens is that they get wet, the water spreads out, has a bigger surface area, and dries more quickly. So if you’re going through showers and don’t mind being wet for 10 minutes, light trousers are the thing.

Avoid denim like it’s the devil’s own material. It will get wet, then drag you down to a cold, wet, miserable death.

Finally, for very cold conditions, there are heavier trousers with similar wicking features also available. Some of these are even fleece lined, which you’ll love yourself for having the foresight to buy when you put them on in the morning. (Fleece has the weird property of always feeling warm to touch, even when it’s wet.)

Whichever it is, shorts, light or heavy trousers, I always take two pairs. This allows you to go into wet and dry routine, which sounds horrible but absolutely is the way to go for trips of more than one night.

Wild Camping Torches

Torches

There’s a huge choice when it comes to torches. These include wee LED ones, big flat LED ones, super bright halogen ones. It includes torches shaped like batons, torches for your head, torches for your shoulder, torches for one side of your head, all sorts.

The must-have things to look for in torches though, are the obvious ones. Make sure it’s waterproof above all else. If you can’t leave it to soak overnight in your bath, then it’s going to fail at some point when you’re out and about. Prefer ones that have multiple o-rings so that if one goes, the other will catch it.

Lighter ones are better for the same wattage, but as most of the weight is in the batteries the differences between similar torches won’t be that large. LED torches tend to last longer: their bulbs fail less often, sometimes fail gracefully (one element at a time), and use less battery. Halogen or incandescent bulbs can fail in one flash, and when they’ve done this to me it always seems to be when you’ve first turned them on on the first night. Some of the more expensive models have little holders at the bottom of them with spare bulbs, which definitely helps.

Beware of florescent tubes. You can still get these, but if the ampage left in the batteries falls below a certain level they simply fail on you.

It’s hard to overstake how much of a pain a failed torch in the dark is. If there are two of you you’re left constantly pestering your tired mate for a go of their torch. Everything takes twice as long. It’s disorienting and totally rubbish.

If your torch fails and you need to walk off the mountain, then you’re in real trouble. That’s when you start to get deep in it.

So go for torches you can depend on, are robust and watertight, and fail gracefully. You probably don’t need to take spare batteries as this adds a lot of weight and are rarely used, but for the small cost of them I’d definitely recommend replacing batteries often, and always if you’re going out for more than one night.

Guide to Wild Camping Kit

Kit list for Wild Camping in Scotland

Unless you intend to drive, stop, camp, drive away, it’s worth bearing in mind two guiding principles when you’re choosing your kit list and packing your rucksack for a wild camping exped.

Watch your weight

The first is that you, personally, will need to carry every gram of weight that your put into your rucksack. You’ll probably also need to carry it quite a distance.

Seems that this goes without saying, but what it’s quite easy to do is pack your rucksack, pick it up and put it on your bag, weigh it even, then think ‘yes, that feels fine.’ But you’re doing this when you’re fresh and probably warm. More than likely you’ve had a pleasant evening getting your kit sorted out for an exped. So when you hoof the rucksack on to your back it feels light as low-fat squirty cream.

But fast forward when you’re wet, your kit is wet, there’s a wind in your face and you’re trying to hike up a gradient that in another season you could ski down, then it becomes a little different.

Also, even if it’s dry and lovely, even a small amount of extra weight will convert into quite a large amount of extra effort if you’re doing any kind of distance, or planning on hiking up a mountain. In other words:

        Effort = mass x distance.

So even a little weight (mass) takes a lot of extra effort (sweat, tears, tantrums, sweeties, chocolate) to take with you.

So pick your kit list carefully.

Don’t make yourself miserable

The second point to remember, though, is don’t pack your rucksack too sparingly. Ultimately you’re there to enjoy yourself, so if you’ve cut the kit list to the bone, and have left out stuff that would just make you feel that little bit more comfortable, or warm, or human even, then you’ve potentially turned a great trip into an endurance test. Fun in it’s own way, but not if it’s by accident.

So with these points in mind, what’s a reasonable set of kit to take with you?

Boots
Torches
Shelters
Tents
Trousers
Rucksacks
Hats, Gloves and Headgear

Boots

Guide to Good Hiking Boots

There are a few die-hards left who still swear that the sacred hills of Scotland are descrated by anything other than pure leather hiking boots, broken in in 1956 over a 4 year period, and kept waterproof by occasional dipping in goose fat.

There are also those of us who think that there’s way, way too much dickishness in hiking boots.

Boot tech has come a long way over the last few years, so while breaking in boots used to be a right-of-passage, now all you need to do is make sure that they’re appropriate for the terrain and fit you well.

There are three types of footwear you see out and about (if you ignore the blokes in £10 a pair trainers and a bottle of buckfast.) These are boots, lightweight boots and shoes.

Heavy Hiking boots

For boots, you can get these all the way up to the massive, clumpy leather-boys I mentioned above. But unless you’re going ice climbing and need to strap on some crampons, there’s really no point. They’re uncomfortable, difficult to walk in, and expensive.

Lightweight Hiking Boots

There are lightweight boots available, and some of these are very good. These are well-padded, often completely waterproof, and have massively gripply soles. Anything with a vibram sole is generally good here, but Salomon, Karrimor, Berghaus are all good. Well worth a look.

Hiking shoes

However, my personal favourites are hiking shoes. These are pretty much identical to the light weight boots, only shorter. As such they let your angle move around. Although this doesn’t sound like a good idea on rocky terrain, that’s one of the myths around hiking. High boots which restrict the movement of your ankle are essentially stopping it doing the job it was meant to do, stabilise you. If your ankle can’t stabilise you when you slip, you automatically go higher up your body. Think flailing arms, cries of “oh sh*t!” and big splashes. Also, because so much more of you is now moving faster than it should in the wrong direction, stop your fall can end up giving you a serious injury in it’s own right. Usually something like a shooting pain in the back follows.

So I’d seriously give hiking shoes a go first. Then if it’s not working out, go for lightweight boots.

And avoid hiking sandles if you’re actually going hiking. They’re not a good idea. Best keep these for trips to Waitrose.

Where to buy hiking footwear

The only thing to watch out for is buying these from specialist camping shops, as more than likely the prices will be much higher that elsewhere. This is partly to pay for the awkward sales staff hanging around being dudes and giving sometimes obvious, sometimes wrong advice, and partly because of the ‘survival chic’ lifestyle they’re offering. Fine if that’s your bag, but it’s not the only place to go.

When we buy hiking boots, it’s more than likely from the large sports warehouses where you’re left to your own devices. That let’s you try them on, walk about a bit in a self-conscious kind of way, then decide if they fit.

There’s also online, of course. Here you need to be prepared to send stuff back, but certainly in the UK we have great consumer protection that lets you do exactly that without quibble. So if you’re credit card balance can stand it, order a few pairs, trying them on, then return the ones you don’t need before the end-of-month statement comes in.

Just remember, though, for both the sports warehouse, the specialist shop and online, you won’t really know how a particular make and model will work out for you until you’ve walked a decent distance in you’re chosen terrain. It’ll also depend more on your personal feed admin (how and whether you bind up your toes with zinc oxide tape, put on vaseline, that sort of thing.) So be prepared to fine tune your boots, or bale on them and get a new pair if they really are eating your feet alive.

Tents

Tents

The choice of which tent to use for wild camping is similar to the choice you make when buying a car. There is no such thing as the perfect car; there may be some that are more appropriate to what you want them to do, and there may be some that look great, and that you’d love to own, but which are just way to expensive. So in the end you usually go for the middle ground, and accept compromises.

Tent choice is just like that – you need have a clear idea of the sort of use you’re going to put it to, and be ready to make compromises.

The usual trade offs that are needed when considering which tent to bring with you on your exped are:

  1. Space
  2. Comfort
  3. Weather proofing
  4. Wind Proofing
  5. Weight

Getting a tent just the right space amount of space

Overall, there is a massive difference between having to carry your own kit and having it either carried by someone else, or using your car to lug it around. If it’s only ever going to be in the back of your car, or being put up, then go large. These are called valley tents, and are designed for use in calm weather, in a valley, with a sit-down chair and a pair of slippers.

OK, so this is hardly wild camping. But there are some who like the idea of wild camping but not the idea of walking anywhere wild, so for them valley tents are perfect.

If you’re having to carry the tent around with you, then it’s best to err on the ‘slightly too small’ side, especially in chilly places like Scotland. Even if you like the idea of lots of extra space to lay out your gear, come the middle of the night that’s a lot of cold air to heat up with your bodies. The smaller it is, the warmer it’ll stay. There’s also the benefit that your camping partner can’t roll too far away from you. Sounds ropey, but it’s the equivalent of a little hot air heater in the tent, so the closer the better in cold weather.

Finally, there are some tents that go ultra-small. These can be little cheeky numbers that almost deploy themselves (you can throw them out and the ‘self-erect’ because of spring-like poles. Drawback with these are that the shape needed to give this spring-like quality isn’t ideal to sleep inside. It’s essentially a tube, and so the top can squash down in wind and heavy rain, which makes them miserable to be in.

There’s also no space for anyone else. Because they fold to a circle shape, there is a maximum diameter when folded based on what’s practical to carry. This dictates how large they can be when deployed – hence they’re almost all one-person tents.

Comfortable Tents

The design of a tent is primarily about keeping you warm, dry and out of the wind. Arguably, that’s all about comfort. However, as I’ve said before there’s no point in going wild camping to have a miserable time, so even if the tent is warm, dry and windproof, if it’s really uncomfortable, it’s pointless.

The best way to judge how comfortable a tent is is to take a trip to a tent warehouse, where you’ll see a large number of them sent up. Now imagine what it would be like carrying out all of the necessary tasks when you’re camped up. How easy is it to cook? Is there a porch area where you can cook out of the rain? Are there two way zips at the entrance to make it easier to use, and potentially two zips so you only need to expose the lee-side when getting out.

Are there doors at both ends? This can be very convenient, and a bit of a hedge against a bad day with the stove. Are there good ventiliation flaps? These are usually held open by guy lines so that a decent amount of moisture can escape without letting in too much cold. (It’s important to let moisture out to avoid everything feeling soggy in the morning. Remember that if you’ve gotten wet, then cosy, you’ll steam slightly. This is made even worse if you brew up or eat your bag meal inside.)

Now move on to utility. Is there enough storage space inside the tent for you and your hiking partner, for example, plus your rucksacks? If not something’s going to be left outside and will get soden overnight. Are there any suspension points inside the tent to hang socks up to dry? Is there anyway to suspend a headtorch so you’re not having to wear it inside?

Of paramount important in Scotland – is there a mosquito net to stop the midges from getting in? Although remember, the midge will always get through, so this is just to help slow them down.

Finally, and importantly, get into the tent, lie down, quieten your head, and look about you. Is there anything about the tent that would annoy you if you had to spend some time in there? It may sound an odd question, but some tents are just – annoying.

Tent Weatherproofing

It only seems fair to give yourself a fighting chance by always choosing a tent that’s waterproof. Although it may seem obvious, not all tents are. Those that are used at very high altitudes, and so look the business, do not always need to be waterproof as windproofing (see below) is of paramount importance when you’re never going to get above zero.

Waterproofing comes with a number, to help decide whether a tent is waterproof enough. The number is a height – being the height of a column of static water that the material can withstand in direct contact with it before leaking. Generally look for around 5000mm.

Lightweight tents usually come with separate fly-sheets. Usually these are nylon or polyester, and are the bit of the tent that’s actually treated to be waterproof. When checking these over, look carefully at the seams as these are always the weak point in waterproofing. Ideally these should be taped up secure by the manufacturer. If you want a bit of DIY it is possible to keep non-taped seams waterproof by using resen sealant (like blackwitch), but best to only give yourself that job if there’s damage, rather than a planned-for necessity. It’s not fun, and blackwitch smells.

The design of the tent should allow a good clearance between the fly and the inner tent. Some can be zipped together which makes them easier to put up in bad weather, but as water can seap through two layers if they are in contact with each other, be wary of this. Others solve this issue by having ties inside the fly which attach to either the poles or the inner. These are also a weak spot for leakage, but much less of a problem.

The groundsheet is part of your waterproof boundary, and so if you’re planning on going anywhere you may need to pitch up on wet ground, best that this is of the ‘bath tub’ style, and incorporprated into the tent. This will give you a few inchs of waterproof skirting all around, which can save your night. If it doesn’t have this, or if you’re going army-style and having no built in ground sheet at all, then you can use bivouac bags (bivvy bags). But these add more weight that a groundsheet attached to a tent would, and are less effective, so unless you’re doing it for enterment, best to avoid.

Tent Windproofing

Wind can make your life a misery, and if you’re tent is not fit for the conditions can pose a serious threat to your safety. A tent which is not strong enough to withstand the wind, or which has the wrong shape, will simply fail. Usually this happens very quickly, and sometimes with you inside.

The way to avoid this and choose the right tents for the wind conditions is to follow the ‘seasons’ numbers that almost all tent manufacturers follow now.

The season of the tent has nothing to do with temperature, even though some manufacturers list that amongst the stats. Rather the season of a tent is the design conditions that tent should easily be able to withstand when considering the wind and rain you’re likely to encounter.

So if you’re planning on leaving the valleys and heading for the mountaintops, it’s probably sensible to go up the seasons to deal with the extra wind you’re likely to encounter. Likewise, if you’re reading a weather report that expects lashing rain in the middle of the summer (which is more often than not on the west coast of Scotland), then again you’d be wise to upgrade the season of your tent.

One thing to be aware of, though, is that as you go up seasons, and therefore start to get into specialist tents that are meant for mountain use, the material they’re made from is often less forgiving of rought handling. Quite often a misplaced pole is enough to rip the flysheet of a very expensive mountain tent if rammed in along the length of the stuff sack, for example.

They can also be less forgiving in how they are put up. For similar reasons, a rip could develop if you lose control of a mountain tent in high wind, perhaps more easily than it would for a cheaper, lower season tent.

The other aspect of a tent which gives it a season rating is the shape. The shape of a tent makes a huge difference to surface area presented to the wind, and to the inherent strength of the tent once up. For example, the strongest design in terms of shape is the geodesic tent, which has a series of overlapping arched poles to give it strength. Likewise there are low-profile tents which are suitable for high altitude because of the low surface area to present (although personally I’ve had a poor experience with these, as in heavy rain the shape sometimes allows pools of water for form in a hollow or fold in the material, drenching you as you come out.

When considering which shape to use, be aware that not all are the same difficult in terms of deployment. Putting up a geodesic tent can be a pain. Quite often the design calls for you to put up the inner tent first, then the flysheet. And so if you do this slowly in a rain storm you could well end up with a drenched inner, and a wet night.

As with many things to do with kit, the answer is not to wait until you’re on a mountain to try things out. Go play with it! It’ll be fun, you’ll get faster at putting it up, and it will allow you to spot any drawbacks with your choice.