Kit guide – climbing UK hills and mountains

It never ceases to amaze me just how unprepared hikers can be when going up some of the UK’s biggest hills and mountains. Yet a busy day can see mountain rescue called out time and time again, even on the tourist paths where rescue on foot just isn’t practical. It’s true that most people happily clamber up Britain’s biggest peaks without incident – but poorly chosen boots, bad weather or fast moving cloud can quickly change a pleasant day out into a nightmare.

To help mitigate this risk, I’ve put together a kit list that I would recommend taking when climbing any UK mountain or large hill. This may not match every other kit list on the web but it is based on my own personal experience – and kit. Note that you’ll need some extra items (and probably different boots) if you’re going up snowy mountains mid winter – this is a general list for the rest of the year.

Clothing

  • Waterproof jacket with a hood and trousers (for warmer months you can get the super foldable lightweight ones to put in your backpack)
  • Layers for warmth eg. fleece jumper
  • Base layers (a top and leggings)
  • Walking trousers – these are comfy lightweight trousers. They’re loose fit so sit well over leggings. They dry quickly if there is a little shower, and you can put waterproof trousers over them if you need to. Do get these rather than wearing jeans which are useless if it rains a bit, difficult for layering and very uncomfortable for long hikes.
  • Gaiters if there’s any chance it might be rainy or muddy – they go around the bottom of your boot and up your leg to just under the knee, keeping water and mud out of your boots.
  • A warm hat

The key thing to remember here is that the weather is very unpredictable. If you wear layers, you can adjust accordingly. As an example, the very first mountain I ever climbed was Ben Nevis which I did one October (some of the pics in the gallery are from this very first trip). As a complete novice I thought it would be freezing all the way so I wore my snowboarding trousers. I think I sweat off half my body weight going up – but it was freezing cold at the top! Lesson learned – the conditions may change throughout the day and also at different levels on the mountain, so layers help you adapt.

I am a huge fan of Under Armour UA rush for my base layer. You can get both tops and leggings with this technology which are worn next to the skin and have been proven to improve strength and endurance – the mineral-infused fabric absorbs the energy your body emits and reflects it back into your tissues and muscles so they can work harder. It’s pretty awesome.

For my warmth layers, I also love Under Armour hoodies – they are such good quality. I’ve had mine for years and I’ve put them through everything from snowboarding (admittedly just the hoodie and base layers) to gale force winds on the mountain side (few more layers for this!).

I have two Under Armour hats – one is fully waterproof, the other isn’t. I have to admit I don’t like the waterproof one – it does work but I get sweaty in it. My favourite hat is actually a woolley one that my daughter’s Grandma knitted for me! And if you took a waterproof jacket with a hood, you really don’t need to worry about a waterproof hat.

Socks

Everyone goes for the same thick boot socks but if you get a little bit of water in your boots (or a lot) you get soggy feet and I can’t stand it. So I always wear Sealskinz waterproof socks. If you’ve never come across these before, put your hand in them and run them under the tap – you’ll see just how crazy good they are. Dry feet, whatever the weather (plus they last forever).

Make sure you pull them up properly so they’re fitting your feet, but not too tight so they don’t constrict. Then make sure your boots are done up properly. If you don’t put your socks and boots on properly, you’ll not only be uncomfortable but you’ll also get painful blisters from them rubbing.

Gloves

Another thing I cannot stand is having cold or wet hands. So again my gloves are Sealskinz which are super warm and keep my fingers dry in all conditions.

Footwear

Living in England, I get to do more hill walking than mountain hiking – so a lot of the time you’ll find me out in my Sauconys (Omni). Although a lot of people will point out that they provide no ankle support, I have issues with my feet and I have absolutely zero pain with these. On a mountain or steeper climb however, I have walking boots with ankle support and this is important. You also need to know the difference between mountaineering boots and hiking boots. Probably, you’ll want a good pair of hiking boots – and  I recommend getting these fitted at a specialist outdoor shop rather than buying them online as a badly fitting pair of boots makes for a very miserable climb, or possibly even injuries.

Equipment

I see a lot of hikers with gigantic bags and wonder why on earth they would add all that weight. Isn’t it hard enough walking uphill? Personally, I think 25L is a great size for a day trip up and down a mountain. Make sure you buy a waterproof backpack.

Inside your bag, you’ll need:

  • Water – min 2 litres (the alternative is to take a lifestraw bottle – see below – but personally I prefer to just have one of those for emergencies)
  • Ordnance survey map and compass – OS or Silva are the best type (please, don’t just take these – learn how to use them. These guides are super easy to follow.)
  • Suncream / sun hat / sunglasses
  • Fully charged mobile phone (I take a portable charger with me as well)
  • Yumqua waterproof pouches for your phone, map and bits of your emergency kit (below). I’ve had two companions lose their mobile phone to unexpected downpours. These pouches are great to prevent that!
  • A shewee, if you’re a she. Few hills and mountains have facilities (perhaps with the exception of Snowden which has toilets at the too – but even these close in bad weather!) and it’s not easy going outside for us girls. Once you realise how much easier your hiking life gets with these, you’ll never look back.

Emergency pack

  • Emergency whistle
  • Small first aid kid
  • Survival bag – the flat, cheap polythene ones are just fine and don’t weigh too much. Don’t leave this behind – I’ve been on the mountain in two complete white outs, I was lucky that they passed with a bit of waiting but bad weather can stick around. If it’s not safe to descend and it’s freezing cold, you’ll be glad you spent a few pounds on one of these as a last resort.
  • Torch plus spare batteries (this is the one I have)
  • Stormproof matches and a little tinder.
  • Lifestraw bottle (I am kind of fussy so I don’t use this as my main water supply, I take an empty one as an emergency water purifier)
  • A swiss army knife – mine is a small cheap equivalent. I’ve pulled it out a gazillion times for all sorts of little scraping and cutting jobs.
  • Pike trail pocket blanket. You can sit on it, shelter under it or wrap up in it if conditions turn bad.

All of this sounds like a lot but there’s very little weight here. Most of the weight comes from your water and food which you’ll eat as you go up.

Food

Personally I like oaty bars, bananas, dark chocolate, edamame, oranges, snacking seeds and nuts. They’re all foods that are great for energy and they travel pretty well (bag your fruit though, there’s nothing worse than a rucksack pouch of squashed banana).

You might also want:

  • I have a separate waterproof map pouch (my Yumqua bags aren’t totally clear so not great for holding maps). I’ve been up several mountains and hills when the rain has come down and it’s invaluable having these to store maps and directions in.
  • Walking poles (I don’t use them and it seems to me that they get in the way on some mountains like Snowden, but some people like them)
  • Insect repellent
  • A change of socks if you didn’t follow my advice and buy Sealskinz 🙂
  • Spare dry clothes

Before you go, make sure you know how to call for help if you get into trouble. There’s a helpful guide here.

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