Choosing the right stuff – caveat emptor

About 10 years ago when I decided to start backpacking and walking seriously again, I had no gear to speak of. So I started buying both Trail and The Great Outdoors (TGO) magazines which (a little like a wedding magazine) were excellent in making recommendations on where to go season by season and what to take, as well as passing on really useful tips on how to do it all reasonably safely. They were critical for me in building my confidence that I could get fit enough and adequately equip myself do some of the routes I had enjoyed 40 years ago – and take on new challenges whatever the season or conditions.

There is a considerable amount of trial and error in the process of finding what gear that fits you, suits your approach to being outdoors and which works best for you, not least in what kind of walking you expect to do and crucially, what you want to spend. There is just soooo much stuff out there . The magazines have a remit to constantly review new products and this can overload the would-be buyer with a dozen choices for every new longed for shiny class of item every month! I fell into the trap of rushing the process. I wasn’t going to get to Scotland in the winter for a few years so didn’t need to buy ‘bombproof’ gear that was massively over-specced for the kind of walking I was going to do for the foreseeable and indeed for most of the time I’m out walking. I suppose I bought using ‘worst case’ thinking. Hence I ended up with a mountain tent that is too hot for three seasons of the year, boots that were too heavy and jackets that felt like armour. Put simply I was the safest I have ever been while beyond my front door but in most instances, hot, uncomfortable and burdened by heavy expensive, inappropriate equipment.

The realization that I was doing it wrong came when I started to wear trail shoes (Merrells’s Chameleon and Capra models, then Garmont’s Trail Beast). Very much influenced by the writings of backpacking guru, Chris Townsend. These had a freeing effect in more ways than one. I began to appreciate that the walking itself is a great deal of the enjoyment of being outdoors and trail shoes just allowed me to walk further and enjoy more with a lot less discomfort or pain. I also began to look at ways to tailor my kit around enhancing the process of enjoyment. Effectively I was going lightweight. I found other blogs and review sites (listed below) which further informed and advised, a great many from the US, where the ultralight movement is the pre-eminent philosophy for thru hikers tackling the immense national trails. I also began to feel less overly concerned about what might befall me in the UK. We have no bears wolves or large cats, water is abundant and you are never more than seven miles from a road anywhere in the UK. The point is to get out there whether on a brisk four miles on my local heath or 16 miles crossing the Black Mountains. Get fitter, know your kit and grow in confidence.

Merrell’s Capra Shoe – my first trail shoe and not the best.

This process takes time and your preferences change as your walking continues, your approach is developed and advice improved. I now have a kit list which includes options that suits me for ninety percent of the time. The hardest part was getting to know my feet. I am amazed that so little time is spent considering and understanding the very fundamentals of the activity. I am lucky to have found the shoes and boots that fit me perfectly – the Salomon X Ultra shoe and boot in a 2E width fitting. On reflection perhaps I should have had my feet measured correctly at the outset but given the limited width fittings available to the UK market I’m not sure I would have found the shoe that best suited my needs. I have bought new and second-hand gear. I generally wait for the sales and visit sites that offer decent discounts. I have also sold a lot of gear over the years and passed stuff on to friends I walk with as I have pared down to my favourite kit. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do all this but hopefully the following links will be of use. Hardly comprehensive but these are where I go to first when choosing equipment and gear, getting motivation or where and when to go.

Motivation, routes and reviews:
Chris Townsend Outdoors –
Walk highlands –
Carrot Quinn –
Andrew Skurka –
Philip Werner – Sectionhiker –
Backpackingbongos –
Terry Abrahams –
Darwin on the trail –
Blogpackinglight –
Alex Roddie –
Clever Hiker –
Backpacking Light –
Outdoor Gear Lab –
Blissful Hiker –
My Open Country –
Brian Outdoors –
Trailspace –
Phoebe Smith –
London wlogger –
Cool Hiking Gear –
Peter Macfarlane –

And not forgetting Youtube, a really good rabbit hole in which to start research – link is to a review of the excellent Tarptent Notch tent:

Favourite sellers:
Backpacking Light –
Ultralight Outdoor Gear –
Anti Gravity Gear – –
Sportpursuit –
Gaynor Sports –

Favourite Brands:
Dan Durston:
Tarptent –
Treadlight Gear –
Mountain Equipment –
Rab –
Osprey –
Salomon –
Darn Tough –
Berghaus –
JetBoil –
Snow Peak –
Soto –
Arc’teryx –
Black Diamond –
Western Mountaineering –
Montane –
Sea to Summit –
Viewranger –
Garmin (In-reach Mini)
Thermarest –
Outdoor Research –

Glen Feshie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s