Before you head out on your biggest adventure yet take a look at the 10 bits of kit that I can no longer live without.
Every outdoors enthusiast has their own favourite equipment. Whether you are a proud a.g.n.i (All gear no idea) or a forum trawling boffin you will find thousands of reviews, videos and articles arguing over the lightest, strongest, flashiest gear. Living a year outside in Scotland I was tested both physically and mentally, I relied upon my equipment which played a vital role in keeping me not just warm and alive but at times comfortable .
Want to know what I valued most? Here are my personal top ten pieces of kit for tackling the winter munros.
1. Rab Latok Waterproofs An adventure in Scotland; Enough said. I needed a tough, reliable water-proof. I could not destroy this jacket! I scraped it on rocks and Ice, whacked it with careless ice axe swings, glissaded on it, stood on it in crampons, dropped it in a fire (just for a second) and it remained like new. Admittedly I did finally put a hole in it toward the end of my expedition; a hole the size of a penny after a 35mph bike crash!…much tougher than the bike held up. I have now worn this jacket for over 350 hill days and it is still waterproof. The Latok was comfortable, the pockets were positions comfortably and ample size for maps, cameras… all sorts of random stuff. The hood stayed on my head even in the fiercest of winds (a problem for me because I have a tiny head) but was adjustable enough to fit over a helmet at times too…great for biking/climbing. In my opinion this is the ultimate mountaineering/munro-baggers rainwear.
2. Dhu Cashmere Performance Base Layers Ok, I’ll admit when I first heard of Cashmere my thoughts were ‘But… I’m not playing golf’ however when I learnt that Sir Edmund Hillary had worn it to the top of Everest and that it comes from actual mountain goats I figured it was worth a try. This top was like my second skin. I wore it day and night; My personal record was 2 months without removing this top from my person…yes I was smelly but no the cashmere wasn’t. I thrashed it, soaked it in salty water, infused it with woodsmoke, mud and swatted midges yet this garment never tore, never failed and somehow seemed to look clean; even though it was white! I have always found wool (including merino) a little itchy but cashmere was soft. Even in Scotland’s heavy rain it seemed to hold the heat and somehow feel dry even when it was drenched. This is still hands down the best base-layer I have ever owned and the same goes to the hat that came with it.
I have always preferred to compromise ultra-light for ultra-tough. Looking for a shelter to withstand the Scottish winter I found the Soulo fit both criteria. I have now used this tent across two expeditions with over 500 nights of use to it’s credit. The Soulo is a spacious 1 man tent with a sizeable atrium, that said I have spent 7 weeks spooning my friend as we crossed Iceland and a further 12 months spooning my rucksack (for company) all over Scotland. The freestanding geodesic design allowed easy pitching everywhere from rocky beaches to 100mph gales in the mountains. The addition of tough 10mm poles the tent handled snow superbly; often I woke up and had to dig myself out of the door.
Sometimes I will got cold, sometimes I got wet…but knowing I had somewhere secure and warm to escape to and sleep the night made all of that much more bearable.
4. Primus OmniFuel Stove Eating an average of 8000 calories per day I was cooking a lot. My first memory of a primus was a comical argument between my parents; we had experienced a power-cut and my mother had burned my fathers whisky in one to brew a cup of tea. The OmniFuel is the modern equivalent; it burns gas and pretty much anything liquid and burnable inside…although I refuse to test it with Whisky. Only once in 6 years of owning it has it failed on me which I think was largely due to melting a block of butter onto it by accident. It is loud like a jet engine, a little heavy and bulky but virtually invincible.
5. Rab Generator Alpine Jacket Scotland isn’t all to friendly to down jackets. It is wet here a lot. The next best thing is Primaloft, a synthetic alternative which although less compact remains warm when wet. I love this jacket! It is comfortable, stylish and feels like a warm hug whenever you put it on.
6. PowerTraveller Explore 2 Charger Carrying luxury items such as Iphones, Ipods and GPS devices in the field is a personal thing. For me an Ipod was an essential part of keeping my sanity and moral on the short winter days and long featureless navigation legs. But in the cold electronic stuff tends to give up pretty quickly. Using the PowerTraveller I found that it was rugged enough to be carried on my person, it go bashed about, submerged in rivers and rain, frozen into a block of ice (several times) and not only still worked but somehow held its charge. Where my camera, Iphone and Ipod had all given up this humble battery pack soldiered on so I could listen to that extra B-Side Hendrix album that extra few times.
7. Silva Expedition 4 Compass Navigation is essential. The Exped 4 compass is tough, reliable and easy to hold in pretty much all weathers. With map roamers, glow in the dark arrows and an easy to read face it helps massively in finding the right way on and off of a mountain. It also makes a pretty kick-ass spoon when one is inevitably forgotten.
8. My Dad’s 1980’s Antarctic Mitts Old, weatherbeaten and covered in dust…no I don’t mean my dad. As part of his 1980’s work on South Georgia a set of standard issue Orion red mitts were essential. The old sun-faded canvas like sheath around a pile lining was less waterproof and more like a sponge yet held their heat. Easy to throw over my under gloves (£10 french gardening gloves) they kept my fingers moving that little bit longer each day.
9. A butchers cotton meat-sack. Yes. This ones a little weird but bare with me. A thick down sleeping bag was an essential part of keeping me warm at night and for my Scotland expedition I used a Rab Ascent 900 down-bag. I found the daily packing and un-packing in snow and rain soon meant the bag (and everything else) inevitably got wet…The down remained warm enough to survive but over time started to smell like mouldy cheese left in a football sock. A £5 cotton meat bag bought from a local butcher made a great dirt-bag liner which kept things a little cleaner and stopped much of the stank. The cotton also added a small offering of extra warmth on-top of the super warm bag and a barrier from my wet feet touching the down.
10. SPOT2 Personal Locator Beacon. This was a piece of kit I was reluctant to include in here as I technically never used it. However the comfort of knowing that at the drop of a button I could summon help kept my mind a little more at ease. More importantly it kept my parents a little bit less anxious for a stressed mother is far more formidable and scary than any mountain. Of course there are lots of other bits of kit that I found essential: Ice axes, maps, snow shoes etc etc. But for now I hope this top 10 helps even just a little bit in your own adventure planning for the future.