The hills are alive with the sound of people enjoying themselves. After nearly four months of staying close to home in Wales, it’s joyful to be able to get into the mountains again and see solo hikers, couples and families who have had that lockdown ‘lightbulb’ moment about the wonders of the great outdoors.
But, suddenly, fly-camping is a thing and there are unprecedented piles of litter all over the place. The chair of the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association has appealed to the ‘new visitor’ community, some of whom are setting out on adventures beyond their experience and capability, and certainly beyond the contents of miniscule rucksacks and even – yes, really – handbags. ‘Avoidable’ call-outs on mountains such as Scafell Pike are reaching, well, a peak, with walkers putting themselves (and their rescuers) in serious or life-threatening danger, and things need to change.
The Scouts and Girl Guides have the simplest of mottos – be prepared. So, in addition to water (of course) and enough food to do a hobbit’s second breakfast justice, here are eight pieces of kit I don’t hike without:
There’s no such thing as the wrong weather, said a wise fellwalker who had 214 Lakeland summits named after him; only inappropriate clothing. It’s not rocket science; being wet and cold is miserable and being toasty and dry makes you want to hike a few miles more. A good waterproof jacket is not necessarily cheap, but do your research and the right one will last years. Alternatively, join a kit exchange group on social media; some are UK-wide while others are more local, with some great nearly-new bargains to be found.
2. Woolly hat and gloves
Even in August. Especially in August if you’re venturing above 1,500ft in Wales. Don’t be fooled by the fact you’re slapping on the suncream at the foot of the trail and the teens are complaining it’s too hot to walk. It won’t be for long, you can promise them with beaming confidence.
3. A handy knife
I’ve always sworn by my trusty (imitation) Swiss Army knife, with all its lovely and surprising gadgets, but lately I’ve been using Opinel’s No. 8 Walnut Classics Originals knife and I feel like I’m back in the Guides (darn right I was patrol leader). It’s needle sharp, surprisingly light and with a beautifully carved handle. Perfect for emergency repairs (see 8, below), not to mention cutting up fine squares of cheese for canine hiking companions.
Note that any knife carried in public in the UK must be a folding pocket knife with a blade of three inches or less.
4. Dry bag
‘Keep your matches dry’ is a pretty sound piece of hiking advice, and so is keeping the rest of your kit safe from downpours or even persistent drizzle. Some rucksacks come with pull-out covers attached, usually stitched into a lower pocket (beware those unattached, as they have a tendency to blow away in a stiff breeze), but nothing IMHO beats a dry bag inside your rucksack. Personally I love my OEX Drysac from Go Outdoors. With individual bags ranging from two litres to kitchen-sink sized, they also come in multi-packs to suit the different compartments of your rucksack. And if you’re camping or bivvying, they double up as a pillow – marvellous!
5. Map and compass
Yes, I know, these are strictly two essentials, not one, but trying to separate them is a bit like watching Bert without Ernie. Get yourself a paper map and compass… and learn how to use them. If map reading seems daunting, think like a child. Ordnance Survey has a great series of map reading skills for children, including how to make map skills fun, which explains in simple terms what the grid squares represent and how those lovely orange contour lines work (clue: if they’re really close together, you might want to retrace your steps pronto). Practise on local walks and, if you do actually have kids, let them plot routes and navigate in ‘safe’ areas you know well.
Even if you’re in a group and ‘someone else’ is in charge, having at least an idea of which OS map you’re on is useful if the someone else gets injured and you have to call for help. Phone apps are great, yes – my home page reads something like: OS Maps, OS Locate, Mountain Weather Information Service, What3Words, Google Maps and Map My Run – but the thing with all the marvellous technology is (*lowers voice*) sometimes it doesn’t work. Paper maps always, always work when safely carried in a clear waterproof pouch or your trusty map-sized dry bag.
6. First aid kit
… including plasters, sterile bandages, scissors, tick tweezers, suncream, Savlon, paracetamol, antiseptic wipes and microporous plaster tape for starters. I also keep matches in mine, plus a few balls of cotton wool to help light a fire if needed. Another tip I was given recently, as a rather wobbly newbie cyclist, was to carry a tube of sterile water to wash out grazes and scrapes. Read up on basic first aid and know how to spot the signs of hyperthermia. See August on a Welsh mountain, above, especially if your hiking essentials include little more than a pair of Superman pants.
6. Loo essentials
Yes, let’s talk about this. One of my more bizarre hiking experiences was scrambling up one of Tryfan’s jolly gullies as a teenager and coming face to face with some poo that distinctly wasn’t left by a goat. As there was no way my blanched fingertips were letting go of that gully, I was torn between disgust and admiration for such a feat of balance (I opted for outrage). Sadly, I’ve also encountered used sanitary products strewn across the top of the Roaches, one of the most beautiful ridges in the Peaks.
It’s really simple; don’t leave it for someone else’s teenager – possibly yours – to find. Anyone seen the Dora the Explorer live action movie? Watch it, just for the scene with the shovel, and learn (Dora’s my all-time adventuring hero, by the way). You don’t need a spade that big – not all backpacks are magic, after all – but you can take a small trowel or, yep, dog bags. Carry a small cosmetics bag with tissues, hand sanitiser and tampons (optional for the guys), don’t do your business within at least 100m of water and leave no trace. Thank you.
8. Duct tape
A lifesaver when you’re halfway up the Minffordd path and your water bladder springs a leak (the one in my rucksack, I mean, even though I am a lady of a certain age), or when your friend’s hiking pole falls apart on the steep side of Fan Gyhirych. Don’t forget your handy knife to cut it with!
Of course, there are many more essentials for a day in the hills (a flask of hot caffeine, a raisin and biscuit Yorkie, a darn good trails book…). I would love to hear what your must-takes are – please let me know!