University of Manchester Hiking Club

Equipment

This page has lots of detailed info on hiking gear and is aimed at those who have been on a few trips, have a little bit of experience and are looking to invest in some snazzier gear. For a more concise list of what you need on a typical club trip, read the Crucial Guide.

There is a big difference between hiking wearing the clothes you would wear on a rainy Manchester morning to what it is like being kitted out with proper outdoors gear. A day out on the hills is much more fun in terms of warmth, dryness and general comfort with even just one or two of these wondrous items.

Hopefully this page will simplify what is out there before you spend too much money on the wrong stuff! Everything to do with outdoors wear revolves around layers — that is wearing the right combination of clothes to suit the conditions and which can easily be changed on the go — instead of being stuck with one jacket that is too cold or too hot.

Base layerBase layers

These are worn closest to the skin and replace your sweat-hording cotton t-shirt. A base layer can make a massive difference to your day and should be one of your first purchases. They allow sweat to pass through quickly and evaporate away, rather than holding on to it like ordinary clothes. This stops you getting too hot when moving around, and also prevents you from getting damp and icky.

Base layers can be inexpensive and all do a good job. The most popular amongst club members are by Helly Hansen, and these are fantastic at what they do but are a little pricier. Base layers can be short- or long-sleeved, and you can also get them made from Merino wool for its natural anti-bacterial (so anti-smell) properties.

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Mid layerMid layers

On chillier days and for prolonged lunch stops, a mid layer comes into play! They are pretty self-explanatory, and most commonly come in the form of fleeces. As with base layers, a good mid layer is breathable so that sweat can pass through and are quick drying if wet, which makes them more pleasant than wearing that jumper you got for Christmas. Cheap fleeces are easily available and there isn't a great deal of difference between a normal, boring one and a super-swish, hiking one.

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Waterproof jacket

Making something waterproof isn't hard (you could go out wearing a bin bag!) but making it breathable, like the rest of your clever hiking clothes, is. People often complain that their jacket isn't waterproof. Chances are it is, but by being waterproof on the inside as well means that while no rain has come in, their sweat hasn't gone out! Yuck.

There are two main types of jacket, called hard shell and soft shell:

Hard shell jacketHard shells

The most well-known material for these is Gore-Tex, but there are also other materials such as eVent and Paramo's Nikwax Analogy. All do the same job of keeping rain out without keeping your sweat in. There are also versions of each material designed for different activities, for example Gore-Tex Active Shell is light-weight but less durable (ideal for runners), whereas Pro Shell is heavier but tougher (ideal for big pointy scrambles).

Most gear manufacturers will have two ranges of hard shells: one made with their own-brand waterproof material (e.g. Berghaus's AQ2, or Mountain Equipment's DriLite) and another, more expensive, range made with another company's material (e.g. Gore-Tex or eVent). The main difference is that the more expensive materials are more breathable, although own-brand materials are generally quite good. (In fact, many own-brand materials are based on the original Gore-Tex patent, which has expired and so is free to use.)

A decent hard shell can cost somewhere between £100 to £500, with the more expensive ones generally being better suited to colder, rougher and wetter conditions. Other differences are in the quality of the material followed by the features such as pockets and hood.

Soft shell jacketSoft shells

Soft shells are an entirely different breed. They are usually windproof, with only a small amount of insulation, but are not a full waterproof. They'll keep light rain off you for a decent time and heavy rain for a short spell, but it will get in eventually. The advantages of soft shells are that they are much more breathable, more comfortable against your skin and don't make a constant rustle like waterproof jackets.

To add to the confusion there is no one real definition of the term soft shell. Different soft shells made of different materials will keep out different amounts of rain, wind and cold, unlike hard shells which all more or less do the same thing. They are best worn on days when there is little chance of heavy rain, there is a cold wind to keep out or when it's snowing. Of course you should always have a full waterproof in your rucksack, just in case.

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Insulated jacketInsulating jackets

These are designed for the really cold times, such as a Scottish winter or spending the day climbing in bad conditions. They will keep you warm, but usually too warm if you are doing anything more strenuous than standing or strolling. There are two types of insulators, down jackets and synthetic jackets:

Down jackets

Down jackets are the big, puffy jackets you might associate with the cold. Made from down feathers there is nothing that is warmer. They are also very light and compressible, making them easy to carry around. However, when they get wet they lose their warmth, become very heavy and take a long time to dry. If you are wearing one it is probably too cold to rain, but if the weather changes to something worse than a drizzle it is advisable to put it underneath your waterproof jacket!

Synthetic jackets

Synthetic jackets are designed to overcome these problems with wet down. They are heavier and less compressible than down jackets for the same level of insulation, so you probably wouldn't want to pack one unless the conditions definitely require it. The advantage is that they stay warm when wet, making them easier to look after than down jackets. That said, in bad rain it is still a good idea to keep it try to prevent it getting heavy.

Depending on whether you are intending to visit Scotland, Everest or Antarctica, insulating jackets range from £125 to £500. For club use you don't need to spend more than the minimum.

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Waterproof trousersTrousers

Legs are similar to your torso, but a little simpler as they sweat less and don't tend to get cold. It is easy to buy cheap trousers designed for hiking (or general sportswear) that are comfortable, stretchy and quick drying. This is very important as materials like denim absorb great quantities of water, become heavy and cold and are slow-drying.

Waterproof trousers are very important to prevent your legs and feet from getting soaked in heavy rain. They range from £20 to £150, where more money gets you more advanced technology. The more expensive ones are more breathable, but probably not worth the extra money unless you have nothing else to spend it on! Waterproof trousers also have the advantage of being windproof, which stops your legs getting chilly in a gale.

Please note that we will refuse to take anyone who is wearing jeans.

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BootsBoots

(But first, a word on socks!) To prevent sore feet on long walks a good (free) technique is to wear two pairs of socks. Hiking socks, which have two layers to prevent your foot rubbing on your boot, work even better than this. These can be brought for around £10 and are worth it for sure.

Now for boots. If you're reading this then you probably already have at least a cheap pair that you have been using. Boots are important because of the increased grip (over normal trainers), their stronger construction and ankle support. These factors help prevent slips and injuries in tough terrain, as well as keeping your feet comfortable for the whole hike.

Please note that for these reasons we will refuse to take anyone who is not wearing walking boots.

Choosing the right boots is a very personal thing, more so than for any other item of clothing. Ideally you should set aside an hour or two, head to the shops and try on as many pairs as you can be bothered to until you find the right ones for you. It's best to go in the afternoon as your feet gradually expand through the day. Make sure you try them with the same socks you would wear on a hike, and practice uphills and downhills to ensure your toes and heel don't rub. (Most shops have a ramp for this.) Ask the staff if you can try them for a few hours indoors at home for a more in-depth test. As long as you don't lose the receipt and keep the boots clean they should let you return them if it turns out they don't fit perfectly.

As the price of boots increases you will find that they have stronger, more durable soles, better quality leather or fabric, improved construction for waterproofing and the addition of materials such as Gore-Tex for even more waterproofing.

Boots suitable for winter conditions are in a separate class. Generally, winter boots are like the upper end of summer boots — and then more. They are very tough, waterproof and also warm to help cope with deep snow and ice. The toughness allows you to kick steps in snow with real force without hurting your feet. Winter boots are rated from B0 to B3 to correspond with what crampons they are compatible with:

B0

Not winter boots, so general hiking boots fall under this. If your boot has no rating, or you don't know what it is, then it is a B0. The significance of this is that they are not officially compatible with crampons. In reality it is possible to attach C1 crampons, but you run the risk of them falling off when you bend your feet, as the soles are not stiff. As such one has to be careful, especially as your feet might not be as happy as they could be if you're wearing B0 boots in winter conditions!

B1

Basic winter boots, with the features mentioned above, and stiff enough to support C1 (strap) crampons. When using crampons with these boots you should stick to walking activities, as opposed to climbing.

B2

Like B1 but a bit tougher and stiffer, and have notches to allow attaching C2 crampons as well as C1. With these it is possible to use crampons for climbing as well as walking.

B3

If you are thinking of getting these you probably don't need to read this! These boots are for difficult ice climbs and as you can imagine, compatible with C3 crampons.

When buying boots, summer boots will generally cost between £20 and £150 and winter boots £150 and £250. Unfortunately, winter boots are pretty uncomfortable to use when it isn't snowy, so you ideally need two pairs if you see yourself doing lots of summer and winter walks. Otherwise, you can usually make do with just one pair for making occasional and easy trips in the 'wrong' season.

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Other kit

GlovesGloves

Gloves are very handy. (Ha ha!) They make a big difference and allow you to keep using your hands in the cold. You probably already have some gloves lying around somewhere, which normally are fine unless it is really cold and wet. If you decide to invest in a pair, warm, waterproof gloves are between £30 and £80, the amount you spend depends how badly you get cold hands! Another handy (enough, now) tip is to have more than one pair so you don't have to reuse wet ones.

HatHats

Hats play a crucial role in the club, in that you must always be on the lookout for the silliest hats you can find. The sillier the hat you wear, the more effective hiker you become. Simples! Needless to say, a hat keeps your head and ears warm, which makes you a lot more comfortable when it's cold.

GaitersGaiters

Gaiters are good for stopping water from entering the top of your boots (especially if you manage to step in the wrong puddle) and even better in the winter to stop snow entering your boots. You can probably live without these most of the year but they are certainly worth it just to stop the snow. They range from £10 for basic ones to £50 for breathable ones that stop you from getting too sweaty.

Torches

Torches are vital for night hikes and very useful in the winter when it gets dark early. Head torches are obviously best for hiking and can be had for around £10. More expensive ones tend to be brighter and have all sorts of colours and flashy settings.

Snowy gear

Finally, a quick word on ice axes and crampons. The club has a set of these and so you should always be able to borrow them from us when you need them.

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Washing

Outdoor clothes are generally made of clever materials and this has the side-effect of them not getting on very well with being washed. A lot of washing detergents have added chemicals which can lower the performance of your gear, for example by blocking breathable materials. As such it is recommended to always wash your stuff with simple soap flakes (NOT soap powder) or a specific detergent such as Nikwax Tech-Wash or Granger's XT. You should never use any detergents, conditioners or softeners on your waterproofs, as these can drastically reduce its breathability or, in the worst-case scenario, damage the waterproof layer itself. If you can, hand-wash your waterproofs: this prevents any of these chemicals getting on your waterproofs (they can sometimes be left in a washing machine's pipes) and allows you to more easily control how much soap you use.

Waterproof jackets

When it comes to waterproof jackets made from breathable materials, such as Gore-Tex and eVent, people often complain that they have lost their waterproofing. The reality is actually a little complicated. These jackets are made up of two layers: an inner, waterproof layer and an outer, breathable layer which is coated durable water repellent (DWR), which is what makes water bead up and run off it. Over time the repellent wears off and the jacket begins to "wet out" as the outer fabric absorbs water in the rain. The inner, waterproof layer is still doing its job, but a wetted out outer fabric impedes the breathability of the jacket and so your sweat builds up as you walk making you think rain is getting through. All is not lost, however: you can buy reproofing agents such as Nikwax TX-Direct which will restore the repellent layer again.

Boots

Once you've spent ages finding the right boots you want them to last you a long time, so how do you look after them? The main thing is to clean them with a stiff brush soon after you get back from a hike, and to let them dry naturally, not on a radiator, hot pipes or your oven! If you have leather boots it is worth buying a conditioner or cream to keep them soft and prevent cracking. There are loads of different ones and they all work the same.

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