Autumn essentials for the Hillwalker

4931239979_205280870a_bBy October autumn is well and truly with us. In addition to the colder and more unsettled weather this brings to the hills, the available daylight hours reduce rapidly, especially when the clocks go back later in the month.

This brings additional challenges to the hillwalker, and to meet those challenges it is important to carry a bit of extra gear to ensure our safety and comfort.

Below is a list of the extra kit I would consider essential for an autumn or milder winter day on the hills. (Note that this is in addition to the normal gear you would take, including waterproof clothing).

Spare hat and gloves – You should be carrying a warm hat and gloves any time you are out on the hill, but as the temperature drops it’s a good idea to carry spares too. These are important items to pack, keep them dry and in a watertight bag. Unfortunately gloves are not really water proof; the problem is that big hole into which you put your hand. In wet conditions it is hard to avoid water getting in, so a change of gloves at lunchtime can make you more comfortable and reduce heat loss through the hands. In addition, a glove can easily be lost when out on the hill, so keep those spares handy and avoid painful numb fingers.

Head Torch – If you don’t carry a head torch through the summer, then you should now, with the reduced daylight hours available to us even a small incident or delay can result in having to finish the hike in the dark. Remember to carry spare batteries, or even better a second head torch.
Being caught out in the gathering dark is a poor excuse for calling out the mountain rescue.

Extra warm layer – as the temperature drops and the weather becomes more unsettled, the warm glow of body heat generated while walking can soon be stripped away by cold winds and rain when you stop, and you will cool down rapidly. To ensure you stay warm pack a spare layer you can put on over your clothes. A synthetic insulated jacket, sometimes called a belay jacket by climbers, works best. This will retain heat and keep you warm even when put on over wet clothes.
The difficulty then is taking it off again before you resume the hike!

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Emergency bivi bag – This bit of kit should be in your pack all year round, but in the colder weather consider taking a blizzard bag instead. This has two layers with stitched baffles to trap air and improve insulation, essential if you or an injured colleague has to spend any length of time on the hill waiting for help to arrive.

Gaiters – Not really in your pack, but on your lower legs, gaiters will prevent water entering your boots above the ankle cuff as you wade through streams or trudge across those wet bogs. They will also help to keep the bottom of your trousers clean. If you are wearing gaiters you are also more likely to stick to the paths, even when they are muddy, this way you might avoid bypassing the wet parts, which causes further erosion and path widening, exacerbating the problem.

Map and compass – your map should be waterproof or in a map case, and your spare in your pack. Don’t rely on others to supply the map as you may get separated from the group. Compasses have been known to be permanently effected by the magnets in mobile phones and other electronic devices, so keep it away from your phone, and carry a spare in your pack just in case. (If you cannot navigate with a map and compass then you should consider going on a map and compass course).

Flask of warm drink, extra energy food – A warm drink on a cold day can be a real blessing, and lift morale too. Avoid caffeine if you can, my personal favourite is rosehip tea with honey. You will require more energy when hiking in the colder months, so consider your extra nutritional needs, oaty flap jacks, fruit cake and cereal bars are good energy sources.

(Russ Mills owns and runs Mountaintrails, a guided hiking and mountain training business based in Dublin. Find out more at mountaintrails.ie )

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