In the depths of winter, it’s obvious to think carefully about dressing for a day in the hills. That’s when snow, cold and wind are on the agenda. However, whilst snow on the tops in summer is highly unlikely, hillwalkers still need to dress sensibly.
‘Sensibly’ means much more than avoiding the shorts and sandals scenarios that crop up regularly in mountain rescue stories. It means having a flexible combination of clothing that can cope easily with changing weather conditions and varying levels of exertion, allowing you can be in control of managing your body temperature. Plus, of course, it means being comfortable throughout the day whether slogging up a mountain track or being battered by the wind on an open ridge. The trick is to balance layers to ensure adjustable warmth and protection, levelling out the extremes of over-heating and shivering with cold to achieve a happy equilibrium.
Being next to your skin, base layers are not just about warmth. By drawing sweat through their fibres to evaporate they avoid becoming damp, cold and uncomfortable. Depending on the time of year, different weights offer a variety of comfort options and, of course, they can be worn on their own in mild conditions. In cold conditions, thermal base layers ensure good retention of body heat. Relatively new, cooling base layers not only whisk sweat away but also help to avoid overheating as they have low heat retention.
The mid layer is all about insulation, trapping warm air to maintain your core body temperature; options include fleece as well as goose down and synthetic fills, such as Primaloft. Zips allow ventilation and, even on a sunny day, a warm top should packed in your rucksack as a pleasant outlook in the valley could turn out very different a few hundred feet higher up.
The outer layer protects you from the elements. Rain is the obvious offender but wind can whip heat away and chill you to the bone so being windproof is a key consideration. ‘Softshell’ tops are not completely waterproof but are windproof, stretchy and can cope with a wide range of wet weather.
If you want to make sure you never suffer from cold feet again then slip on a pair of thermal over socks. Finally, don’t forget hats and gloves. Quickly slipped on and off, they allow conservation or loss of body heat to be adjusted easily. Keep them handy in pockets rather than buried in your rucksack.
With your plans made and dressed sensibly, don’t forget to let a responsible person know where you’re going and when you expect to return. Let them know when you do get back to avoid needless call-outs for mountain rescue teams.