Winter Walking – How to Choose the Right Gear
Brian’s personal advice on what to wear when the weather turns cold.
In these difficult times, the daily walk has become an unmissable highlight for many. We’ve certainly had a lot of rain in the Peak District, but that hasn’t put us off. With cold weather now on the horizon, it’s even more important to make sure you are adequately equipped for the conditions ahead. And remember, better days are coming!
With the Right Gear, You Can Walk All Year Round
However there is a saying that, “there is no such thing as bad weather it’s just a question of using the wrong clothing.” To a large degree this is true. I don’t think you should let cold or wet weather spoil your enjoyment of the ‘great outdoors’ (unless it’s extreme.) Like anything else, if you plan for it and apply logic and common sense, then you can still enjoy your favourite outdoor activity all year round. Some of the best walks can be appreciated more in the autumn and winter than in the height of summer. In fact, I prefer to walk when the weather is colder: I’m not overheating; the cold wind on my face is bracing and I enjoy my evening meal (drink!) so much more. Add to that the beauty and variety of countryside colours and the feeling of well being, when you return to the warmth of your ‘fireside’… well, it’s bound to lift your spirits and keep those ‘winter blues’ away!
How to Choose the Right Gear
OK that’s the motivational bit over (if you needed any), now what about choosing the right gear. Well, common sense and logic is where you’ll have to start but before you even think about packing your rucksack, consider:
– Where you are going: is it likely to be muddy; wet grass; rocky; icy etc?.
-Will there be anywhere to shelter to change wet items or have a drink & something to eat?
-What type of terrain you’ll encounter: will it be exposed; steep; have footpaths; liable to flooding or be dangerous/inaccessible in bad weather?
-What are the weather conditions likely to be: check the local forecast.
As always, before you go out on a walk at any time of year, but particularly in the winter, always tell a reliable person where you are going. Tell them the route you are planning to take and the approx. time you expect to return. Don’t rely solely on a mobile phone. You can’t always get a signal in the countryside and as you’ll be well aware the battery always goes at the wrong time!
The gear – well I usually think about starting from the bottom and working my way up.
How to Choose the Right Footwear
Make sure you have the right type of boots/shoes for the terrain and the weather you’re likely to experience. If it’s mainly lower level paths and trails, then you’re probably OK with a decent pair of walking shoes, preferably waterproof, but certainly with good grip and some support.
If you’re hill or mountain walking then it has to be boots and boots that are designated as being correct for the use intended, having more ankle and under foot support, waterproof and with good grip (check treads).
How to Choose Jackets, Mid-Layers & Base layers.
It’s all about layering and having the right layers at this time of year. Normally I’m in favour of the lightest combination of layers with maximum breathability because when I’m walking and generating heat I don’t need keeping warm. In fact I normally start my walks with less layers because I know that it won’t be long before I’m too hot! However, I’m talking about autumn/winter walking and let’s face it, we are all different and need to understand what the correct choice is for each.
A good walking jacket should be waterproof, windproof, and breathable, with a good hood. It should not be so heavy or bulky that it can’t be stuffed into your rucksack. The more breathable and the more features it has (such as pit-zips) will add to the cost – so it boils down to your own budget and personal preferences. Personally, for the climate in the UK, I wouldn’t wear a Down jacket, because for me it would be far too hot and not waterproof. If I were in a colder, drier climate then that’s a different matter. Then it may well be desirable or possibly essential. Waxed cotton jackets also are not for me. They are too heavy and not breathable (and usually don’t have a hood.) Also if you get too hot, they won’t stuff in your sack.
This is the part of your clothing system that keeps you warm by trapping your body heat inside its fibres to form a thermal layer. Fleeces are the obvious choice because they are light, thermally efficient and can be carried in your sack. They are made from synthetic breathable material that allows perspiration to pass through to your outer breathable jacket so that it can escape. There are different weights of fleece to chose from, commonly referred to as 100,200 & 300 weight. Most of the time you’ll be OK in the autumn/winter with a 100 or 200 but again if it is very cold or you feel the cold, maybe try a 300. I’d prefer in cold weather to wear 2 x 100’s or possibly 1x 100 & 1 x 200. Whatever you choose I would always advise carrying a spare 100 fleece in your sack in case it gets a lot colder, or you need to stop for a period of time.
This is an important layer when it comes to comfort. Modern synthetic base-layers are very light and breathable. They ‘wick’ moisture from your skin so it can pass to the next layer. You stay drier and the garment itself will dry faster. Cotton is not a good fabric as a base layer because it soaks up sweat and you’ll feel cold as the temperature drops. Merino wool makes a good base-layer as it insulates well and is still breathable, possibly the best choice for colder weather.
I prefer, like all the other outdoor clothing, to wear gloves that are thin and light that I can easily put in a pocket. If you want warmth without the bulk it is better to wear a windproof (possibly waterproof) glove with a thin liner glove inside. This will also give you more flexibility as the temperature changes. If you really feel the cold, you’ll find mitts are warmer than gloves, though obviously you’ll lose a lot of dexterity. It is possible to buy a mitt that is both wind & waterproof without being too bulky.
How to Choose Hats
You can lose a high proportion of your body heat through your head so always carry a hat even if you don’t always wear it. These days there are lots of hats to choose from. Consider whether you want a hat to fit under your hood when it’s cold & wet or, if like me, you don’t want to use your hood unless you have to, consider a waterproof hat. Don’t buy one that you can’t easily stuff in your pocket as the weather changes.
I usually wear one pair of good quality padded walking socks. If I’m walking in the winter however, I’ll perhaps wear a thicker walking sock and possibly a liner sock. Socks are a personal thing and different people have different views depending on whether they’re prone to feel the cold or not and how their boots fit. Socks shouldn’t be tight, as this will restrict blood flow. They should allow your toes to move. It is better to wear thinner multi-layers, as with other clothing, than one thicker layer. Always take spare socks with you as it is still easy to get wet feet even if you have good waterproof boots. I always take 1 spare pair of liner socks and 1 pair of 3 season socks just in case.
How to Choose Legwear
There are 3 layers to consider: trousers; overtrousers/waterproof trousers and base layers. It really is about keeping dry and warm and having the freedom of movement to be comfortable.
Always need to be taken with you, either worn at the start or kept in your rucksack, just in case. They not only keep your legs dry but are windproof and keep you warmer if worn over your walking trousers if it’s very cold and windy. You can buy waterproof trousers which are more expensive. These do away with the need for overtrousers and are more comfortable to wear. They can also be worn with a base layer of choice underneath.
Should be walking trousers that allow freedom of movement and are wind resistant and fast drying (not denim!) If it’s very cold or you feel the cold, then opt for an insulated pair of walking trousers and possibly combine them with thermal or wicking base layer long johns.
There are 2 types of base layer function – breathable wicking and thermal wicking. The use of either type will keep you warmer under your walking trousers but obviously the thermal are the warmest. It is not only about keeping warm though, it is also about being comfortable, so consider wicking breathable base layers if you are someone like me that easily gets too hot! It is a good idea to pack some thermal long johns in your rucksack with you anyway, just in case it gets very cold or you get stranded.
Consider wearing waterproof gaiters particularly if you are walking through long wet grass/snow or if it is very muddy. They will help to keep your trousers clean and drier and help prevent water/snow getting over the tops of your boots.
That’s about it as far as clothing & footwear are concerned for winter. However, there’s other gear you would be well advised to consider packing, particularly if you are walking in remote or more challenging areas:
- Walking poles
- Rucksack waterproof liner & waterproof pouches.
- Survival Bag & Emergency Blanket
- First Aid Kit
- Hydration Sack/ Water Bottle.
- Torch/Head Torch
Now you know most of what you need to consider. You’ve got the gear. Get out there and enjoy our beautiful countryside – it’s free!