Summer’s here and the hills are calling. Time to rethink your wardrobe.
Mid summer’s a great time to be in the hills. Warm weather and long daylight hours provide a perfect platform for big days out.
But things are seldom as straightforward as they seem, and the weather can be just as fickle this time of year as any other. In fact, the difference in temperature between a sunny, windless valley start and a clagged-in, force five buffeted summit can be quite astonishing. So the right clothing, plus quick and efficient navigation are still key to a good day out.
For navigation, Viewranger will meet the challenge every time. You can’t really beat pinpoint positioning on an OS map to help you make quick decisions, and if you decide to go further or perhaps even shorten, then the ability to select waypoints from a map and then aim straight at them means you’ll hardly break your stride. But these are long days right? So, spare battery power or a good way of charging it, is recommended. And keeping your phone dry is just as important in summer as it is in winter. Try Ortleib or Aquapac for a good choice of waterproof cases.
Clothing is a more complex issue, but a bit of careful forethought will take care of most eventualities.
Let’s start at the bottom.
Base layers are the foundation to any clothing system. This is the layer that is closest to your skin and its job description is simple: to hurry your perspiration away from your skin and out into the atmosphere. Get this bit right, and you’re well on your way to cracking it. Get it wrong and nothing else is going to work.
Fortunately, base layers are also the easiest layer to dial. There’s really just one rule: no cotton. Cotton soaks up moisture - either from your perspiration or from the rain - and water conducts heat more than twenty times faster than air. So it’s got to be synthetic or merino wool – both have advantages and disadvantages but both work. Keep it light because the insulation is provided by your other layers. And keep it reasonably snug. Sleeve length, collar height etc. are a matter of personal preference. But long sleeves can always be pulled up and remember that you may need protection from the sun – even in Britain.
One area that’s often overlooked is underwear. The same rules apply: cotton briefs or boxers wet-out the same as t-shirts and should also be avoided. Merino or synthetic again. Once your base is sorted, your aim now is to cover as many eventualities as possible with a minimum amount of layers. Let’s start with dry days.
Shorts are obviously popular in summer – there’s no greater feeling than the freedom of striding out with bare legs. But they aren’t very versatile and are best saved for very warm days. Even then, remember long trousers can protect you from the sun and even ticks. Zip-offs can be a solution but some people find the zips uncomfortable. I’d plump for some lightweight, wind resistant, synthetic trousers that will dry quickly if they do get wet. Pocket selection, style etc. is very mush down to the individual.
And then there’s your top half.
If you run hot, like I do, then you probably don’t need much insulation when you’re actually walking. So I always go for just a base layer and pull on a very light and very breathable windshirt if it does start to get chilly.
This though, is never enough for rest stops or when you reach windy, exposed summits. My tactic for this is to carry a very lightweight, synthetic insulated jacket with a hood near the top of my pack. The minute I stop, it goes on. When I move on again, it comes off.
The beauty of this is that it’s actually doing the job it was designed for, which is to provide insulation. It’s way warmer than a waterproof, so I don’t need to carry a specific mid-layer. And if I do need to walk in it, even putting in a lot of effort, it’s infinitely more breathable.
I hasten to add that I do always keep a very lightweight waterproof jacket and trousers in my pack. Together they add less than 500g but it means that I am covered for everything.
Remember your hands and head. For me this tends to be a judgement made on the basis of the weather forecast for the day. If it’s likely to be very warm and sunny, I’ll go for a cap and leave the gloves and beanie behind. If it’s going to be cold up high, I’ll throw in a beanie and a pair of fleecy gloves. And if it’s going to be really foul, I’ll add a pair of very lightweight, waterproof over gloves too. If you’re going to be scrambling, where your hands touch the rock a fair bit, the throw in a spare pair - there really are few things worse than cold, wet hands.
Last but by no means least is footwear.
Firstly socks… these are the base layers for your feet and are very similar to your other base layers really. In warmer weather, you’re not looking for insulation. On the contrary: if you want to avoid blisters, you want to keep your feet as cool and dry as possible. Their main job then is to wick that perspiration away from your skin. The other role they play is to reduce friction between your foot and the boot. With heat, friction and moisture, there will be no blisters.
Boots are a very personal thing with - some walkers prefer trainers, and others go for the same stiff and heavy leather boots they wear in cooler climes.
Footwear pros and cons:
Trainers are light and encourage you to walk, or even skip, carefully and sympathetically with the landscape. But unless you’re walking in very dry hills, your feet will always get wet. There are two solutions to this: the first is to wear shoes with a waterproof lining. This is fine to a point but once water comes in over the top, it won’t drain out and won’t dry very quickly. The second is to forget the waterproofing and let the water flush in and out at will. It never feels quite as bad as it sounds, as long as you’re not cold.
Boots still rule the roost though although I personally prefer to put away my leather winter boots and go for a pair of lighter, cooler fabric ones for warmer weather.
The more you experiment with your clothing, the better you become at getting it right. Listen to your body, be prepared to get it wrong now and again, and perhaps carry a failsafe fall back option in your pack the first time you try something if you’re not sure.
Tom Hutton is a writer and photographer based in Snowdonia. As well as working for many of the UK’s leading mountain biking, walking and climbing magazines he also leads people in the mountains on foot and by bike.