Clothing and layering

Weather on the hills can change dramatically. To be ready for what the weather will throw at you I suggest you use the layering approach to your clothes. The idea behind layering is that you can add or remove layers of clothing depending on the weather and with a careful approach you can keep at just the right temperature. Of course there are always those days when there is a cold wind and breaks in the cloud on a summers day which leaves you having to put your warm layer on and off as the clouds break – this can get really annoying. Anyway layering is definitely the way to approach your clothing. The basic idea is that each layer traps air and so provides better insulation. Although there are basically three layers you should consider adding extra layers on colder days.

There are basically three layers (you can add more if the weather demands it):
1. The base layer – which is basically your underwear, although your vest doubles as your shirt.
2. The warm layer – this is what you put on when you are getting cold and the layer you are more likely to double or triple up on (I have seen people in 6 or more layers).
3. The waterproof layer – this would be your hard shell jacket and waterproof trousers.

Base Layer

The best bit of kit I ever bought was my breathable underpants. I think they have saved many a complication on occasions. Which leads me to the cardinal rule of the base layer – it must be breathable. Over the years various people have recommended all kinds of special materials out of which they think you should make base layers. Some are pretty good but others not so. I have found that synthetic base layers are often the cheapest and most versatile of all. However, synthetic base layers do have a habit of getting a little, how can I put this, odorous (they start to stink bad). Look for a material that contains some way of combating the smell (the use of silver is common) – your friends will thank you for it. If you prefer natural materials merino wool is popular, as is silk (very traditional) or even bamboo. With natural materials it is generally (though not always) true that the more they cost the better they perform.

The idea is that you want your glow (that is perspiration or sweat) to pass through the base layer and out into the air or your other clothes. This will keep the damp away from you and hence will keep you warm. This is most certainly true – hence my comment about my wonderpants (that is what I call them and not a brand name).

Avoid cotton in the base layer at all costs. Cotton will soak up your glow (that is perspiration or sweat) and leave you feeling cold and damp (yuk). There are few things more unpleasant (save perhaps damp underpants – see my comment above) than having to put a rucksack back on if you are wearing a cotton T-shirt and so have developed a cold damp back. Of course this also depends on your rucksack but that is another story.

There is plenty of base layer being made by specialist outdoor clothing manufacturers but if you need to save a few pennies take a look at general sports wear, some of it is just as breathable and wearable and although not cheap compared to cotton it is still often cheaper than specialist walking kit.

Your vest (that may be a UK term but bear with me and it will make sense) also acts as your shirt (see what I mean?). If you are a firm believer in a string vest then I would advise wearing both a vest and a shirt, in my opinion a string vest on its own does not look good and probably defeats the object of the thing in the first place.

In really cold weather you may like to consider getting some thermal underwear which then acts as your base layer. Of course if it is really cold you may like to add two base layers but that is your choice.

Warm Layer

The next layer is what will keep you warm (no surprises here I suspect). This will include such things as a fleece jacket or pullover, etc. As well as your trousers of course! The fleece jacket is a modern wonder and is an essential bit of kit to carry even if you are not wearing it. The temperature drops as you go up the bigger hills and sometimes at the top you will find at least a strong breeze. The wind does sometimes stop on the top of hills, these days are usually killers to walk in as you get hotter and hotter, but this is rare. In the winter and early spring and autumn you should seriously consider taking two warm layers with you (I believe on Ten Tors this is considered essential kit).

Let us then turn our thoughts to trousers. I say trousers because I assume that no matter what gender you consider yourself to be you will still need to wear trousers. I often debate with people about whether you can wear shorts on the hills. I would love to wear shorts but never do because I’m afraid of those nasty little things called Ticks – or rather the Lyme’s disease they carry. We have a lot of these in Britain and Europe and the results can be devastating to your health. Wearing trousers won’t make you immune but it helps an awful lot. Of course if you are willing to risk your health over a breeze around your knees then go for it. The same is true of skirts of course. I should also note that in the summer I wear shorts everywhere else (I’m famous for it) but I never do on the hills.

Anyway, trousers also come in some fancy materials. At a basic level you need trousers that will dry very quickly – the quicker the better. There are purpose made walking trousers and these are very good and some makes are reasonably cheap, as well as often being covered with some very useful pockets! If you get more expensive trousers you will find that the rich and famous obviously never carry anything in a pocket and so scoff at the thought of having any useful ones in their trousers. I have some expensive excellent walking trousers with next to useless pockets that double as air vents – how can you vent air through a pocket full of stuff?

My best walking trousers (reserved for when I want to make a good impression) are made of soft shell material which means they are windproof (this is very handy because I often have beans for breakfast on the hills) as well as shower proof. This enables me to laugh at those who have to struggle with waterproof trousers in a light shower. They also seem to dry in about 10 minutes.

I will mention Soft shell jackets in a moment as part of the outer layer but they can be worn as part of the warm layer, doubling up as both shower-proof and a fleece. Whatever will they think of next, I love them!

Outer or waterproof layer

The top layer is the waterproof layer (although to be honest no coat is completely waterproof). This is often described as the Hard Shell. This was the Coat Unions response to the invention of the Soft shell which came along taking the coats rain protection jobs and putting some coats out of work on showery days. In response they decided to call themselves Hard shells so that people would take them more seriously.

You will definitely need a hard shell coat and trousers and they should be carried every time you go out on the hills – even when the forecast says it won’t rain and you can’t see a cloud in the sky. Have you noticed that sometimes weather forecasts are wrong? It is also my experience that you can set out in the morning on a bright sunny day and by the afternoon be in thick mist with heavy rain pounding you. A hard shell coat also needs to be hard enough to cope with heavy rain. Most pack-away coats and light waterproofs will not stand up to the job. You will experience rain on the hills like you have never met before. There are very expensive exceptions but check out what your coat can cope with before you go out on the hills.

Waterproof trousers come in all kinds as well and you may not feel like bothering. I recommend taking them but I confess to not always wearing them. If I know the weather is showery and we are only getting light rain I might put up with it rather than to stop and keep putting on and taking off waterproof trousers. However, wet legs can be a recipe for disaster and so you definitely need some and need to wear them if it gets really bad. Look for some with zips that go all the way up the leg or some other useful help in getting them on and off. Getting trousers over boots is not easy.

Soft shell jackets are wonderful on a showery day (you don’t have to keep taking your coat on and off because your fleece is essentially shower-proof) and I highly recommend them for spring and autumn in particular. The combination of waterproofing and warmth is excellent. Of course my Dad would tell me that in his day they just called it a coat. Anyway they are also useful when you are around town so a good investment.

Down Jackets (stuffed with feathers) or the synthetic equivalent are wonderful if you can afford one. It can get pretty chilly at a camp site and a nice padded jacket can save a lot of problems – you do know how important it is to keep warm don’t you? The advantage with down filled is that the warmth to weight ratio is usually better than synthetic and it will therefore pack down smaller – I have one that will fit neatly into my daysack so in the winter I can pop it on when I stop for lunch or when I am checking a group on a distant hill. The disadvantages are that Down can have problems if it gets wet and it is usually much more expensive. You can also get Down trousers but these are really for those going to extremely cold places and not usually required on the hills or moorlands of the UK.

Clothing care

I need hardly say that base layers need a wash every time you wear them but take note of the washing instructions because some don’t like being tumbled dry and need a wash at lower temperatures. Of course they dry so quickly that none of this is a problem.

Soft shells need special treatment to keep their waterproofing. Wash in a dedicated cleaner (a cleaner for delicate clothes should also work) and then either tumble dry or iron to re-activate the waterproofing. Always read the manufacturers instructions though! If you need to improve the refresh the waterproofing use a spray on version of the product and spray the outside. In my experience the 2 in 1 types of cleaner/treater don’t work so well on soft shells because the inside is usually some kind of fleece.

Hard shells need the same treatment as soft shells only here you may get away with a 2 in 1 rather than having to spray. Just read the manufacturers instructions.

Down jackets need a specialist cleaner and most people advise adding a couple of clean tennis balls to the wash. The tennis balls help to stop the down from forming in to clumps during the wash. Find a cleaner that will also add a little waterproofing to the down if you can.

Cleaning and treatment manufacturers

There are two main manufacturers of clothing treatments and they both have their devotees and to be honest are both very good. You will find helpful advice on which of their products to buy on their sites and because they seem to improve their treatments often (strange that because the last lot I bought was supposed to be brilliant at what it did anyway) I haven’t added any advice on which to use on this page.
Grangers and Nikwax