When you walk with a group of people or a hillwalking club, you have a responsibility to the entire group to be properly equipped. Having the correct gear will also make your walking experience more enjoyable. However, in addition to that there is a safety issue, as incorrectly equipped walkers can lead to accidents, hypothermia etc. Walkers who are not properly attired also put unnecessary stress on the leader who has responsibility for the group. Glenwalk Leaders are instructed to refuse to allow on their walk members who are ill-equipped.
In this article we have split the gear and equipment list into 2 parts. Part 1 deals with equipment that all walkers must have right from the beginning. The 2nd part lists equipment that, while not vital, will make your overall experience of walking more enjoyable and safer. You can end up spending a lot of money buying cheap equipment only to replace it a short while later because it is not fit for purpose. So read on and discover what 30 years of hillwalking experience says about gear and equipment.
List 1 includes items that you must have with you on all walks, in all seasons and conditions.
Footwear: you should only wear dedicated hillwalking boots on the hills. Hill walking boots are waterproof boots that lace above the ankles, and have a vibram-type sole for grip. See photo below. The ankle support prevents ankles being twisted on rough ground, while the vibram-type sole provides a good grip on slippy, muddy ground (which there is a lot of in Wicklow!). Runners are not suitable as they do not provide the right type of sole or ankle support. It is also important that the boots be the correct size to avoid blistering.
Gore-Tex boots tend to be lighter and more breathable, good for summer, however they can get a bit wet in rain, this is where gaiters come in handy. Leather boots are tougher and more waterproof and better for snow and winter conditions. Leather boots should be regularly cleaned and waxed, always dry them naturally e.g. in a warm room and never in direct sunlight. NB when buying boots remember “snug is bad”, i.e. make sure there is a bit of expansion in the boot, as feet tend to swell slightly as they heat up. Always try on your boots with a thick pair of socks, so bring a pair along or buy a new pair. Some shops allow you take the boots home and wear them around the house (not outside) and if you find they don’t fit they allow you to return them, remember to keep the box. Many outdoor shops now use boot ratings. You would be looking for B0 (three season boots) or B1 (4 season and take crampons). Take your time when making your purchase.
Waterproof jacket: a waterproof jacket is a must in Irish conditions, preferably Gore-Tex. You should look for a jacket that, when zipped up, will completely cover your mouth (very useful in driving rain, hailstones, etc). One of the big mistakes that new walkers make is buying jackets with a lining. Proper hillwalking jackets are what is known as a “shell” i.e. they have no lining. The reason for this is that lined jackets cause you to overheat quickly especially when climbing, they are also usually less waterproof. On the mountains you achieve warmth by “layering up”, i.e. putting on several thin layers is better than one thick layer. The outer pockets of the hillwalking jacket should be up high, i.e breast pockets. The reason for this is that low pockets get in the way of the rucksack waist strap. Make sure that the attached hood comes down well over the head and face and can be tightened so that it does not blow off in wind.
Once again many novice walkers make the mistake of buying leggings that have a lining. These will cause you to overheat quickly. Similar to the waterproof jacket you should buy waterproof leggings that are simply an outer “shell”. Buy leggings that have legs zips which go all the way up to your hip. People often make the mistake of buying cheaper leggings with shorter zips. It is very difficult to put on such leggings over your boots and removing boots during a walk is not a good option. And remember waterproof leggings go on over your gaiters.
There are thousands of types of fleeces out there. The only recommendations we would make is ensure that the front zip goes all the way from top to bottom. Pockets with zips are also very handy so that you don’t lose things on the walk. Apart from that be aware that some fleeces are very light and would not be suitable for winter conditions. Fleeces with lining are also much hotter than normal fleeces, which is not necessarily a good thing when ascending.
Under your fleece you should wear two base layers (which can be put on or removed as required). These are usually breathable base layers (one long sleeved and one short sleeved). The advantage to breathable over cotton is that they are lighter and don’t overheat as easily and they don’t get as wet from perspiration. They also dry out better.
Most experienced walkers “layer up”. This would involve wearing a breathable T-shirt, a breathable long sleeved shirt, a fleece and a jacket. These are then removed or put on as required. Some walkers also carry a spare thinner fleece with long sleeves in their stuff sack inside the rucksack (more about stuff sacks later).
There are two main types of hat. There are dedicated hillwalking hats that are windproof and cover the ears as well as having a small visor. Then there are the rest, such as woolly hats which have the disadvantage of being neither waterproof nor windproof. Woolly hats are grand for cold days with little wind or rain, but not much not much good in wet, windy conditions.
We would advise mittens with removable fingers which allow you to eg. adjust something on your rucksack without removing your gloves completely. These can be hard to find in Irish outdoor shops and we would recommend going online. The big problem with gloves is what to do when they get wet. Some people have a second pair however these will probably also get wet. The best option is to buy waterproof over-mittens. So, when it rains you put on the over-mittens to protect your gloves (see item on over-mittens below). It is always advisable however to have a second pair of gloves in your bag.
Dedicated hillwalking trousers are highly recommended for the Irish hills and remember no denims or cords should ever be worn. Proper hillwalking trousers are light (you put on your waterproof trousers if it gets cold), have many pockets with zips and have removable legs for the summertime. They also have a belt which can be quite useful when wearing a rucksack.
The best type of rucksack to use is one which has a space between the rucksack and your back, as shown in the photo below. The advantage is that when you get hot and sweaty your rucksack will not stick to your back! We also suggest a rucksack that has a chest strap as well as a waist strap. A waist strap with pockets in it also allows quick access to small items you might need such as a compass. Learn how to place the rucksack properly on your back for maximum comfort. By the way rucksacks are not waterproof so your new rucksack should come with a rain cover. Most leaders also carry a “stuff sack” (which is waterproof) inside their rucksack.
It is club policy that all walkers have a whistle attached to one of the straps on the outside of their rucksack, where it is easily accessible. The louder the better!
You should always carry a torch with spare batteries, or even a spare torch. One of the handiest brands is “Petzl” which can be worn as a head torch.
List 2: The following items are recommended, but not required, however you should gradually acquire them as your hillwalking career progresses.
Gaiters go over your trousers but under your waterproof leggings. They help to keep your boots dry especially in rain and when crossing small streams. Buy full-length gaiters to start with. Some people buy shorter gaiters for the summertime.
There are 2 main types: ones that you adjust by twisting them and ones that adjust with a clip. It is our strong advice to buy the ones that have clips, as they are much quicker and easier to adjust and less prone to breaking or malfunctioning. Some sticks have a combination of both we don’t recommend these. Sticks with clip adjustors may be more expensive but will last much longer. Learn how to use your walking sticks properly, i.e. shorten them for uphill, lengthen them for downhill.
We recommend a platypus rather than a water bottle for drinking, because with a platypus there is no necessity to remove your rucksack to take a drink, this takes time and slows down the group.
In heavy rain your gloves will soon become wet, this in turn makes your hands cold. Some people have a 2nd pair of gloves that they put on but these in turn will become wet. One solution is to buy a pair of waterproof mittens which are worn over your normal gloves to keep them dry. Once again the best type is of the “shell” variety which don’t have a lining.
In driving rain or hailstones a scarf or balaclava protects your face.
Even on cloudy days you can get “sunburn”. You should always carry a small bottle of suntan lotion with you.
Invest in a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Emergency bivvy bag/group shelter
All leaders carry an emergency bivvy bag or group shelter when leading. It is a good idea to invest in one especially for walking outside the club.
Waterproof stuff sack
Most people don’t realise that rucksacks are not waterproof. This is why all good rucksacks, such as the one mentioned above, come equipped with rain covers. In addition some walkers/leaders put their “dry” year into a stuff sack and then inside their rucksack.
In winter we can sometimes get blizzard conditions on the mountains. Some of the more experienced hillwalkers in the club wear ski goggles. Note that you can also get extra large ski goggles to go over your prescription glasses. Ski goggles also have tinted visors to protect your eyes in snow conditions.
Bring along some Compeed in case of blisters. Note that the best size of Compeed to buy is the larger ones, as these cover most situations and can be cut to size. You should only apply Compeed before a blister has developed.
- Do the club Mapreading and Mountain Skills course (once yearly)
- Attend a club Equipment and Safety talk (check club newsletter, website, emails)
- Do a club GPS/ViewRanger course. (check club newsletter, website, emails)