Gear. It’s something you obviously need if you are a keen walker. It’s also something that, if you are me, you seem to end up with far too much of. As part of a general attempt to de-clutter (with partial success) I’ve jettisoned a load of old gear that either doesn’t fit or has reached the end of what accountants refer to as its ‘useful economic life’ – i.e. it is falling to bits to the extent of not being fit for purpose. Unfortunately in my case gear doesn’t always last long – for instance as a result of trousers being ripped at the bum due to the use of ‘five points of contact’ when scrambling, or the rucksack that was in a shed and got eaten by mice as I had forgotten I’d left some muesli bars in it. I still seem to have far too much though – why have I still got the walking boots that give me blisters when I have 2 other pairs of 3 season boots that are perfectly ok? And I still have my first ever pair of walking boots which did me for the first 15 or so Munros but were a Hi-Tec cheapie pair and the tread has now worn pretty thin. The logic for hanging onto these is for long flat walks down here and they are as comfortable as a pair of old slippers.. I guess that makes some sense!
I think people go through stages with gear:
Stage 1: totally unsuitable
Before I started hill walking seriously I did a lot of coastal/ flat walking with the odd small hill thrown in. And wearing what? A cagoule, jeans, trainers (in summer) wellies (in winter) t-shirt (summer) jumper or sweatshirt (winter). No rucksack – when I was a kid my dad carried all the food in his rucksack (as well as about a ton of photography equipment); as an adult I just shoved a sandwich or some chocolate and a bottle of water in the cagoule pockets. Not exactly suitable hill kit.. yet seen frequently on Ben Nevis, Snowdon, Scafell Pike or any honeypot mountain that people walk up that don’t really do walking.
Stage 2: cheap & cheerful
This gear was clearly unsuitable for a first attempt at a big hill and fortunately Stuart being (a) Scottish and (b) sensible insisted I bought some proper stuff. I think I spent £50 on my walking boots (Hi-Tec), about the same on a waterproof (Peter Storm) and about £30 on a pair of Craghopper trousers. £10 on a fleece and £25 on a small Berghaus rucksack and we were sorted. Oh, and £20 on a hydration bladder and same on poles… so cost over £200 before even getting to the top of the first hill. I wore a tie-dye pink T-shirt as my base layer and it was a warm day.. by the end of the walk I had dyed myself pink and was half convinced I had some horrible hill walking disease until I realised the dye in the top had run. So the next purchase was £10 for a cheapie base layer in an outdoor shop in Callander.
Stage 3: gadgets
This is the point at which you really get the bug and decide you need: (a) a GPS; (b) lots of maps of areas you might go to at some point; (c) mapping software … yes these two arguably duplicate each other. But hey, I like maps; (d) a hydration bladder type gadget designed to carry wine. This leads on to the next stage..
Stage 4: camping
At this stage you start thinking it’s a bit expensive to keep staying in B&Bs or hotels and wonder about life under canvas.. and a whole new world of gear. It becomes clear that the old festival tent, Milletts sleeping bags and airbed just won’t do. So you enter the world of 3-season sleeping bags, self-inflating mats, backpacking tents, inflating pillows, Primus stoves, collapsible camping mugs etc.. to be fair the 2-person Vango backpacking tent has had plenty of use. But we also own an enormous tent we have used about twice and a smaller 4 man tent we haven’t yet used at all.. fingers crossed we can soon!
Stage 5: upgrading
At some point the cheap and cheerful gear starts to wear out. Or even if it doesn’t you think it’s time you invested in something of better quality. Peter Storm or Mountain Warehouse gets replaced by RAB, Mountain Equipment, Mountain Hardwear and the like.(Though I still go for Craghoppers trousers. Given the amount I manage to rip there’s no point spending loads). The E-trex GPS gets upgraded to an all singing all dancing version with full colour OS mapping (which it took me a fair amount of time to figure out how to work).
If you are a girl (which clearly I am) then there is also the phase of realising none of your existing gear goes with each other and that wearing a bright pink fleece with a burnt orange waterproof may not be the best colour combination.. but the waterproof was half price in the sale and the black or pink version wasn’t so I’ll just have to live with it. Doesn’t mean the other gear shouldn’t at least make an attempt to match though…
Stage 6: winter
At some point the idea of snow capped mountain vistas begins to appeal – the sort of days where the British mountains can look truly alpine with white hills stretching off into the distance, and you can pose with an ice axe looking like a ‘proper mountaineer’. Of course, this brings with it the need for a whole load of extra gear! Ice axes and crampons are necessary but not cheap and nor are crampon compatible boots. Plus stuff like insulated jackets, snow goggles, emergency shelters, really toasty warm socks, Kahtoola microspikes (not a substitute for crampons, but brilliant for icy paths).. of all our gear this is probably the stuff with the highest cost per use. But you really wouldn’t want to be on a snowy hill without it.
Stage 7: accumulation
This is the stage where you think you really need that extra fleece or baselayer… or a backup waterproof… or a swishier pair of walking poles. In our case this has happened for two reasons. Firstly we have deliberately duplicated to a certain extent as we leave gear at Stuart’s parents in Scotland which is great for avoiding baggage charges on Easyjet.
Secondly the scenario that many hill walkers will be familiar with. You look out the window in Ambleside/ Keswick / Killin/ Fort William/ Aviemore and the weather is grim. Not borderline just plain grim and the only sensible plan is a wander to the shops then the pub. Cue digging out the plastic in Gaynor Sports/ George Fisher/ Killin Outdoor Shop/ Nevisport / Ellis Brigham (strike out outdoor shop which does not apply) I’m sure there is a use for that extra baselayer/ fleece.. so long as I can find the wardrobe space to store it!!!
The next question has to be.. what’s stage 8?!