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Getting Your Winter Walking Clothing Right

It’s the middle of winter, time for adventures in Scotland, the Lakes or Wales… well, it would be normally but instead, we’re in Lockdown 3 and like all third sequels – it’s rubbish. Think of this lockdown as the Covid equivalent of Return of Jedi.

And whilst we can’t get out in the mountains, we can review the kit we use, how we use it and maybe try out a few ideas locally before taking them into the hills. This article will go through some of the basics that we need to take with us and a few top tips on kit that I find indispensable.

How to keep warm? Layers!

First, we need to think about what we’re going to wear for our trip into the hills. Flexible layering is key here! Starting next to the skin, our base layer is going to be one of the hardest working layers as it will move any moisture away from our skin, therefore, keeping us drier and thus warmer.

I love Merino Wool, it comes from, surprisingly enough, Merino sheep in Australia, it isn’t scratchy and it moves sweat quickly. It has the added bonus of having natural antibacterial properties and so doesn’t get smelly – great for multi-day trips where getting changed is a bigger deal than single days. This is equally applicable to legs as well as upper body. There was a time when Merino was really expensive, but now, you can buy it from Aldi really cheaply (other supermarkets are available) – it won’t last as long as a Smartwool item but will do a few years (depending on use).

If you don’t want to use wool, then have a look at synthetic base layers. These are either made from blended polymers and elastane or cellulose fibres, such as viscose and modal – from which thin, silky fabrics are produced. But the main take away from this is to avoid cotton like the plague. When cotton gets wet, it holds water and then gets cold, which will make you chill down much faster.

Next, we move onto the mid-layer(s) and this (dependant on the activity and move rate) can alter throughout the day. I tend to wear a thin synthetic long sleeve top such as the Rab Pulse which has a long zip to aid venting. Depending on the weather, I’ll then have a micro-grid fleece (Mountain Equipment Micro Zip T) and a Primaloft gilet (Arcteryx Atom LT).

If you’re moving, having the flexibility to shed or add on layers as appropriate will be far more effective than one big coat.

On my legs I normally have Mountain Equipment Ibex trousers – I have used these for years and have a few pairs, and I find them great for walking, mountaineering and climbing.


So, we’ve covered base layers and mid-layers, we know how to keep the moisture away from the skin, but how do we stop getting soaked from the outside in?

In truth, we don’t.

Due to the climate we enjoy in the UK, we spend a lot of time in the rain and we will get wet, but if we can stay warm then we will still enjoy our time in the hills.

There are two main types of waterproof systems: a membrane system such as Gore-Tex, where a membrane is laminated onto a face fabric; and a “pump” system such as Paramo, where two separate layers work together – one pump liner and an outer water repellent layer. The Paramo system mimics the action of animal fur, pushing liquid water outwards to protect you from rain, condensation and perspiration whilst also protecting your insulation. This is combined with a directional microfibre outer to deflect wind and rain.

I use both regularly but I tend to reach for my Gore-Tex first, I think that is more out of habit than anything else. My main waterproof jacket is currently a Mountain Equipment Shivling Jacket, made from Gore-Tex Pro, and when used with a pair of ME Tupilak Over trousers it feels pretty bombproof.


Winter in the hills isn’t a time for the lightweight summer boots – it’s time to get the big ones! For walking, I normally use La Sportiva Trango’s which are stiff enough (B2) to take a crampon if conditions dictate. If I know I’m going to be spending most of my time in crampons, I will use a stiffer B3 boot (La Sportiva Nepal’s currently). For detailed info on winter mountain boots, read Levi’s blog post.

Head, hands and a bit of extra kit

I always have a buff and beanie, either shoved in the top of my rucksack or wearing from the off. The buff does tend to just make things a bit more comfortable.

In a big Scottish winter, I always take 3 or 4 pairs of gloves as they will get soaked through by lunchtime, and having a dry pair to change into is just fantastic. I go for gloves with a bit of shell – Gore-Tex type, with some insulation. Mountain Equipment Guide gloves are a favourite.

The final thing on clothes – I always have a “Belay Jacket” in my pack, either to use when actually belaying or to throw on over the top of everything else when having a bite to eat – Rab Photon Pro is my current jacket and it’s toastie warm.

Extra Kit for winter (on top of what you’d normally take out):

  • Ice Ax & Crampons (and know how to use them)
  • Head torch and spare (Petzl do some great cheapies for a spare)
  • Spare map
  • Extra food
  • GPS
  • Dry bags
  • Walking Poles
  • Snow Goggles
  • Group Shelter – I’ve got a couple – one big one for working with groups, and a smaller one if there’s only a couple of us out. Smashing to have lunch in and a potential life saver if things go pear-shaped.
  • A 35-40 ltr Rucksack

Written By Chris McCellan

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