Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

How to… choose hiking gear

Don't leave home without the right kit
© Rick McCharles

Hiking requires determination, skill and endurance. Its other major requirement is a little less personal and often comes wrapped in a cardboard box. Yes, suitable and sufficient hiking gear is every bit as important as your enthusiasm to climb the highest mountain explore the longest trail. But choosing the right gear among the endless shelves is a difficult and often confusing state of affairs. WideWorld asked outdoor store Millets how to ensure you buy the right kit.

These boots are made for walking

The most important items to get right when hiking are walking boots. Available in all shapes and sizes, the quality of the boot depends on the activity; less expensive ones will suffice for the Lake District but if you’re going to trek the Himalayas, a sturdier boot is vital.

Berghaus (www.berghaus.com) have a brilliant selection of breathable and waterproof boots – an essential in rainy Britain.

Always try the boots in store. Every manufacturer uses different sizing and it is essential to get the perfect fit, otherwise it won’t offer support for your foot and you will be prone to painful blisters.

Take a spare pair of socks

Walking socks are every bit as important as the correct boot. Saving space is important when you have a heavy load, but a second pair of socks is essential. If you change your socks, you will reap the benefit of a freshly cushioned sock, reducing impact on your feet. Most outdoor stockists supply inexpensive socks. A good make is Bridgedale Walking Socks (from £12.99; www.bridgedale.com).

When in doubt, get the Compeed out

If you follow professional advice when choosing boots, there should be no reason to get blisters. But it is always recommended to take Compeed just in case (www.compeed.co.uk).
Applied to the blister, Compeed works as ‘second skin’, giving your painful foot a second lease of life and preventing rubbing on your hard-wearing boot.

Stick with It

Hiking sticks (or poles) aren’t for everyone, but if you suffer from bad knees, they’re highly recommended. They’re especially useful when going downhill by distributing your weight to three different points of contact. The steepness combined with the weight of your pack can put too much pressure on your knees and ankles.  Why wait ’til you get bad knees? Start out with hiking poles now. Leki has a good range of sticks starting from £25 (www.leki.com). Look for sticks with spring loaded shock absorbers, taking the pressure away from your wrists.

Saving Space vs Staying Warm

A heavy sack can weigh you down so it’s important to have a minimalistic approach to packing. That said, there are a few essentials you have to take. If you stick to the basic rule of trying to stay warm, you shouldn’t go wrong.  The most important thing is to make sure you have everything you need in an emergency, including a spare fleece. When you stop, your body cools down a lot so you must put on a jumper to retain as much warmth as possible. Along with a spare fleece, always pack a survival kit, whistles, first aid kit, maps, compasses, food and flask (www.blacks.co.uk). Whilst your jumper will warm your body, hot food and drink are important tools for keeping your internal temperature up.

SatNav Goes Climbing

Most people associate using GPS systems with stopping you taking the wrong exit off the M25 but they have been widely used in the hiking game for some years now. Ranging in levels of technicality, GPS allow you to download routes from your PC and plot your locations as you trek so you can backtrack should you need to. They’re useful especially if you go hiking alone, but it depends on where you’re going. There’s no need for a GPS if you’re hiking through a valley, as they won’t have signal. Always bring a compass and a map, just in case.

Millets’ GPS systems range from £68.99 (Garmin e-Trex GPS) to £289.99 (Satmap Active 10GPS). For the entire selection visit www.millets.co.uk.

Carry me Home

Along with footwear, your rucksack might be the most important item you purchase. For short day-trips you can use smaller sacks to hold your essential items, extra clothing and a spare pair of gloves and socks. For longer overnight expeditions, a bigger pack will suit you best. It should be big enough  to hold your tent, sleeping bag, food, stove and emergency items. But don’t fill it up too much  as a heavy sack will slow you down considerably, no matter how good it is.

Millets recommends fitting the rucksack to ease pain during long treks. It’s crucial that you go into a store to try on a rucksack as the fit is individual to the person. The right rucksack must fit your hips as this will carry your weight. As long as it is the right length on the hips, the rest of the harness can be adjusted to your comfort and measurements.

Layer me Up

Choosing the right clothes appropriate for the weather and expedition can be difficult and confusing. Whilst there are clothes made specifically for combating cold weather, layering clothes is the most effective way to keep warm and trap heat close to your body. For a colder trek get a good quality jacket – one that will last through most weathers is simply a waterproof shell jacket with a removable insulated fleece.

Ask for Help

Choosing hiking gear can be difficult as the most important equipment is often person and expedition specific so use store assistants to help and advise you.  Shop staff should understand your needs, budget and commitment, and are trained to fit clothes, shoes, bags etc. for each and everyone. Hiking equipment can be expensive – and it’s a waste if it’s not perfect for you.

Follow the Scouts and Be Prepared

The best advice to give a hiker is to Be Prepared. You never know what eventuality might come your way so pack your sack with the emergency items first. The best hiking purchases to take are these: Duct Tape and Laces. Duct tape will fix everything; it can be wrapped around breaks, repair leaks in tents and taped to hold things together. A spare pair of laces will save you on long treks if yours get torn or broken.

You can never pack everything when going for a trek but as long as you’re prepared for the expedition, with the right equipment, determination, skill and endurance, you’ll be a hiking pro in no time.