Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Hillwalking Equipment

Something I wrote for a friend who is putting together an anthology of peoples' ideas and experiences related to hillwalking.

People who enjoy spending time in the mountains will often, after a day on the hills, get back and discuss, or even argue about, equipment. I have spent many evenings in pubs, around campfires and huddled inside a small tent to avoid the weather with fellow hill walking friends, and you know that the conversation will eventually turn to equipment. Now everyone has a different opinion about the best gear to carry up with you. Personally I prefer to carry equipment that is the lightest possible that will do the job. A lightweight waterproof is just as waterproof as a heavier one in all but the very worst of conditions, and is a lot smaller to stuff into your day-sac if the weather turns out to be good. Similarly, with waterproof trousers, the lighter the better, and in this case they need not be anywhere near as expensive as the jacket.

Then we come onto boots, for the past few years I have been using a pair of Meindl boots in all but the best of conditions. They may be a bit heavy for summer use, but then again the extra strength from lugging them around in the summer will pay dividends in the winter when I have no choice.

So here I am, having been asked to write about some of my favourite items of gear. Well I think that mountain clothing is a bit of a no-go zone, as whatever I say will cause most people to disagree. So instead I will settle for what will only cause some people to disagree: some items from the rest of my kit.

One piece of kit that I always take on trips, even if it is left at base camp for day walks, is my Trangia stove. It is one of the best designs to come from Scandinavia, and unlike Ikea, has the build quality to match. Consisting of a two part stand, one part of which supports the methylated spirits burner, the other supporting either the frying pan, kettle (optional) or either of the two pans. The whole thing fits into itself to make it easy to carry and the spare space inside is filled with a variety of useful things. After much experimentation, I now pack inside the kettle the burner, pot handle, a small bottle of washing up liquid, scouring pads, and a few small items of cutlery. A recent addition is an entomological pin (which is quite flexible) inserted into a cork handle. This makes it easy to clear the holes on the burner if they should become blocked (this recently happened to me in Snowdonia and drastically slowed the cooking time). If you are thinking of buying one, buy the larger model. If weight is an issue later you can always jettison one of the pans, the larger pans make all the difference. The kettle is not strictly necessary, but is quicker than using the pans for boiling water.

So what is the attraction of this piece of kit? Well, it is very versatile, for instance by cooking pasta in one of the pans and placing the frying pan on top it is possible to cook bacon while you boil the pasta. Once you have lit the meths, the stove is virtually windproof, unlike some of the cheaper gas powered stoves that are available. The whole thing is also capable of taking quite a bashing, certainly useful in terms of reliability in the hills. If anything does break you can replace that particular item, instead of the whole thing too, which certainly keeps the wallet happier. Buying spares separately also allows you to mix and match the Trangia for your own needs: fancy aluminium pans and a non-stick frying pan? Well you can have it!

Of course, I still use the old-fashioned silver Sigg fuel bottles. They just seem more robust than the new plastic Trangia ones!

Speaking of Sigg bottles, I also have a Sigg water bottle. It is now looking a bit worse for wear, the plastic outer is pealing of the metal body in one or two places, and it’s covered in dents, but this is why I got it in the first place: it’s built to last. Alongside the Platypus (essentially a water reservoir that goes in your backpack, with a tube and mouthpiece that you clip onto the shoulder strap) this provides adequate water for most days walking.

Another item that I always consider worth carrying is my Petzl head torch, now the model doesn’t really matter. Petzl make good equipment, but I find the ones that take the large square 4.5v batteries to be useful. These batteries give a very good lifetime, and can be replaced with an AA adaptor kit. Having it in your bag makes things that bit easier if you get stuck on the hills overnight, or if you end up coming down the last stretch a bit later than you planned.

I could go on, but I will save some stories for the next time somebody brings up the subject of equipment over dinner. In the end what matters more than equipment is skill and experience, or, for you first few attempts, the skill and experience of those around you.

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