Winter hill walking equipment

It’s the middle of winter, time for adventures in Scotland, the Lakes or Wales… well, it would be normally but instead, we’re in Lockdown 3 and like all third sequels – it’s rubbish. Think of this lockdown as the Covid equivalent of Return of Jedi.

And whilst we can’t get out in the mountains, we can review the kit we use, how we use it and maybe try out a few ideas locally before taking them into the hills. This article will go through some of the basics that we need to take with us and a few top tips on kit that I find indispensable.

How to keep warm? Layers!

First, we need to think about what we’re going to wear for our trip into the hills. Flexible layering is key here! Starting next to the skin, our base layer is going to be one of the hardest working layers as it will move any moisture away from our skin, therefore, keeping us drier and thus warmer.

I love Merino Wool, it comes from, surprisingly enough, Merino sheep in Australia, it isn’t scratchy and it moves sweat quickly. It has the added bonus of having natural antibacterial properties and so doesn’t get smelly – great for multi-day trips where getting changed is a bigger deal than single days. This is equally applicable to legs as well as upper body. There was a time when Merino was really expensive, but now, you can buy it from Aldi really cheaply (other supermarkets are available) – it won't last as long as a Smartwool item but will do a few years (depending on use).

If you don’t want to use wool, then have a look at synthetic base layers. These are either made from blended polymers and elastane or cellulose fibres, such as viscose and modal - from which thin, silky fabrics are produced. But the main take away from this is to avoid cotton like the plague. When cotton gets wet, it holds water and then gets cold, which will make you chill down much faster.

Next, we move onto the mid-layer(s) and this (dependant on the activity and move rate) can alter throughout the day. I tend to wear a thin synthetic long sleeve top such as the Rab Pulse which has a long zip to aid venting. Depending on the weather, I’ll then have a micro-grid fleece (Mountain Equipment Micro Zip T) and a Primaloft gilet (Arcteryx Atom LT).

If you're moving, having the flexibility to shed or add on layers as appropriate will be far more effective than one big coat.

On my legs I normally have Mountain Equipment Ibex trousers – I have used these for years and have a few pairs, and I find them great for walking, mountaineering and climbing.

Waterproofing

So, we've covered base layers and mid-layers, we know how to keep the moisture away from the skin, but how do we stop getting soaked from the outside in?

In truth, we don’t.

Due to the climate we enjoy in the UK, we spend a lot of time in the rain and we will get wet, but if we can stay warm then we will still enjoy our time in the hills.

There are two main types of waterproof systems: a membrane system such as Gore-Tex, where a membrane is laminated onto a face fabric; and a “pump” system such as Paramo, where two separate layers work together - one pump liner and an outer water repellent layer. The Paramo system mimics the action of animal fur, pushing liquid water outwards to protect you from rain, condensation and perspiration whilst also protecting your insulation. This is combined with a directional microfibre outer to deflect wind and rain.

I use both regularly but I tend to reach for my Gore-Tex first, I think that is more out of habit than anything else. My main waterproof jacket is currently a Mountain Equipment Shivling Jacket, made from Gore-Tex Pro, and when used with a pair of ME Tupilak Over trousers it feels pretty bombproof.

Boots!

Winter in the hills isn’t a time for the lightweight summer boots - it’s time to get the big ones! For walking, I normally use La Sportiva Trango’s which are stiff enough (B2) to take a crampon if conditions dictate. If I know I’m going to be spending most of my time in crampons, I will use a stiffer B3 boot (La Sportiva Nepal’s currently). For detailed info on winter mountain boots, read Levi's blog post.

Head, hands and a bit of extra kit

I always have a buff and beanie, either shoved in the top of my rucksack or wearing from the off. The buff does tend to just make things a bit more comfortable.

In a big Scottish winter, I always take 3 or 4 pairs of gloves as they will get soaked through by lunchtime, and having a dry pair to change into is just fantastic. I go for gloves with a bit of shell – Gore-Tex type, with some insulation. Mountain Equipment Guide gloves are a favourite.

The final thing on clothes – I always have a "Belay Jacket" in my pack, either to use when actually belaying or to throw on over the top of everything else when having a bite to eat – Rab Photon Pro is my current jacket and it’s toastie warm.

Extra Kit for winter (on top of what you’d normally take out):

  • Ice Ax & Crampons (and know how to use them)
  • Head torch and spare (Petzl do some great cheapies for a spare)
  • Spare map
  • Extra food
  • GPS
  • Dry bags
  • Walking Poles
  • Snow Goggles
  • Group Shelter – I’ve got a couple – one big one for working with groups, and a smaller one if there’s only a couple of us out. Smashing to have lunch in and a potential life saver if things go pear-shaped.
  • A 35-40 ltr Rucksack

 

Written By Chris McCellan

 

Kayaking River Clean Up on the River Arun in Sussex 2019

5 Volunteers, 2km of river, 6kg of rubbish!

Rock Climbing in Swanage

I had the most amazing first experience climbing in Swanage.

Foreword By Tom Hatt

I have known James for a number of years and climbed with him all over the UK and on trips to Europe.

Once he started on his path to becoming a rock climbing instructor he was committed to say the least. He volunteered with us shadowing a number of our instructors gleaning all the knowledge he could from them while developing his own teaching style. His passion for the sport is second to none and since passing his qualification, he has become one of our top instructors.

A few years ago I found myself driving from West Sussex every weekend to sea cliffs in Dorset, quarries and edges in the Peak District, limestone crags in the Wye Valley and the mountains in North Wales to go climbing. Cold temperatures, wind or rain didn’t stop me attempting day trips with early starts, weekend stop overs or whole weeks away planned well in advance. All I wanted to do was climb!

Whenever I got home I would record my achievements and attempts on the UKclimbing forum (commonly known as UKC) logbook facility. Half way through an evening of updating my logbook I asked myself, why am I recording all this? I never really read it, so what was the purpose did it serve? I was discussing this point with a friend soon after, they asked me if I had thought about doing my RCI or Rock Climbing Instructor Award.

I hadn’t thought about it for a while, in fact not since I had worked a summer season for one of the large UK outdoor providers after finishing college. I had not been climbing that long at that point so the RCI (then SPA) seemed a little out of reach for me and an expensive outlay.

Things were different this time though, with the all the personal climbing I was doing I had easily surpassed the entry prerequisites and I could now afford to pay for the qualification training and assessment. I would be climbing those weekends anyway for fun, but this would also contribute something to my C.V. So I said to myself, why not?

I registered for the award with UK national governing body (Mountain Training). Here you can see prerequisites for the qualification you want to register for and once registered you’re provided with a login and a digital log for your climbs. This allows your experience to be shared with the trainer/assessor and later potential employers etc. Handily you can import your log book straight from the UKclimbing forum, result! If you don’t currently log your climbing on UKC and there is a any possibility you might want to do your RCI in the future, I highly recommend you start doing so. I then needed to pick a training provider, someone who would deliver my training and assess me once I was ready. A friend recommended a small independent adventure company run by a few members of staff, something I personally like to support. I also believe you get a slightly different experience from this type of provider. All paid up, I was nervous and excited in equal measure, this was something new to aim for, a new goal other than pushing grades or exploring new climbing venues. On the flip side, the need to show you have climbed in in various places in the U.K may also be a good excuse to climb in new places. But was I ready?

The weekend came round quickly and I drove up to the Peak District with my kit loaded up for a weekend’s climbing. My brain, however, I left at home. It was scrambled. I was so nervous! I suppose climbing around a bunch of strangers seemed a bit daunting. So what did I do the day before training? I went climbing, a fantastic day on a long trad traverse route. In the end the training turned out to be so much fun. It was relaxed and well structured, I learned loads of new things, met some like minded people and also confirmed some of my current skills...and it was really sunny so I topped up my tan.

After completing training the focus becomes gaining experience, being part of a variety of group sessions. These can include and ideally be a good mix of, shadowing professional climbing and abseiling sessions, volunteering on such sessions and taking inexperienced but willing volunteers out for free having explained you are not qualified but are in training. Ideally this would be in a mix of locations and as many of them as possible at single pitch settings with easy access to the top and bottom as this is the limitation of the qualification once assessment is passed. I would also recommend getting out in as many different weather conditions as possible with a variety of people as you will learn so much more.

One assessment prerequisite is to have led 40 trad climbs with 20 of these at grade Severe or above. Luckily for me I had all the personal climbing I needed so for a few months I took friends out climbing, setting up top and bottom rope systems for them. It was difficult gauging achievable routes for newbie at first, but I soon got the hang of it. I even took my OAP mother-in-law out on a cold day in November, the week before my assessment.

It really benefited me approaching climbing businesses big and small to volunteer and shadow the sessions they had running. This was invaluable, being part of real situations, with real clients, perhaps a little nerve wracking but brilliant. The sessions I helped out on included a charity abseil which was really interesting and something no one else had done on my assessment and gave me great confidence on setting the abseil up on the second day.

So the assessment. Again I was nervous... really nervous.

This time around in mid November there was no sun. My accommodation for the weekend was my car roof tent, embracing temperatures of minus three overnight, something I had checked after being woken up by boy racers at one in the morning - not an ideal way to spend a night prior to assessment.

The first day went well, everyone shivering, wrapped in many layers looking like michelin men trying to climb the windswept gritstone edges of the Peak District. I again enjoyed confirming my skills and as on any good assessment learned even more. The second day saw a couple of hours of sun but just as much wind. British climbers are generally used to some shared suffering, approached with a certain humour to get each other through and this was no exception. Our instructors applauded our ability to get on with what was asked of us, including setting up top rope, bottom rope and abseil systems and rescue scenarios all with groups in mind.

Then came the results. Walking back from the crag we were called over one by one to chat to the instructors and receive our course feedback. The instructors had picked up on my first day nerves but had said that my second day was much improved which meant…I had passed!

Passing the full RCI includes completing a 16 hour outdoor first aid qualification. The first aid course I attended was great although I have since heard some stories of some that are not so good, so try and get a recommendation for a good one near to you.

With all this completed I am now able to pick up work around the UK using my new qualification passing on my experience and that feels really good. Part of this work has been for Hatt Adventures and I really look forward to this 2019 season with Tom and his team.

All in all would I recommend doing your RCI? Certainly! Question is, what to do next?

By James Yoxall

Winter mountaineering boots and crampons

Here we talk you through the main points to consider and things to look for when choosing these essential bits of winter kit.

Hatt Environmental Pledge

We love the outdoor world around us and we try and run our company with the minimal amount of impact as possible.

We've teamed up with Neil Collins from Blackbrook Crossfit based near Ditchling Common in Sussex to bring you the second instalment on training for climbing.

We've teamed up with Neil Collins from Blackbrook Crossfit based near Ditchling Common in Sussex to bring you a couple of articles on training and improving your climbing.

When it comes to fundraising events, few challenges are as electrifying as a charity abseil.