I felt it might be interesting and beneficial to write about and share how I wrap up for winter walking, now that we’re well in to the darkest season in the Northern Hemisphere.
I’d like to emphasise the fact that I am mostly a hillwalker, hiking around the south-west and west of England and that, at this time of year especially, I will rarely climb higher than 600m above sea level.
What I’m saying is: if you live in the Lake District or the Scottish Highlands, for example; you may need something more.
All About the Layering
Over the last year, I’ve become a patron of layering; wearing several thinner as opposed to adding substantial thickness. When I first started doing day-long walks in 2012 (progressing from the life of a humble dog walker), I wouldn’t hesitate to draw on thick socks and zip up a warm fleece underneath a dual-layer coat.
Hot and heavy!
Let’s start at the feet and work our way up:
I bought a pack of Bridgedale Liner Socks earlier this year and was impressed with the value for money, receiving two pairs for £15. I’d started getting blisters from one or both pairs of my walking boots and, well, I haven’t had nearly as much trouble since I started wearing these socks.
All through the summer, I wore these under another pair of socks. Not once did I suffer with sweaty feet (apparently, this can be an issue with waterproof socks) and they’re helping to keep me warm, while on the move and stationary, through the winter months.
Back in 2013, I bought a few pairs of Brasher socks from a local and independant retailer. They were quite comfortable but holes had developed in each of them by the end of the year (I wasn’t walking anywhere near to one thousand miles, back then). It’s a shame, as some of their wool-blend socks were very warm. I did try another couple of pairs from Mountain Warehouse but I wasn’t impressed. In the end, I dug deep in to the internet and found many recommendations for Bridgedale socks.
Now, I currently have three pairs of Bridgedale socks, in addition to the liners:
A thick pair for winter (Woolfusion Summit)
A medium pair for autumn/spring (Comfort Trekker)
A thinner pair for summer (Coolfusion Light Hiker)
Truth be told, I find the thickest socks (black) are too much for my walking and I have received the odd blister due to overheating. My medium (blue) socks get worn with my leather boots (it’s a comfort thing) but otherwise, I mostly wear the Light Hikers with a liner underneath and even at this time of year.
I’m having some trouble with my Salomon 4D 2 boots, which I only purchased in May… Basically, I need to wear volume reducers beneath the Ortholite insole otherwise, these boots will bend and eventually crack at the toe-bend, as my previous pair did. Now, the consequence of this is that my two smallest toes on each foot get squashed in to an acute corner and rubbing occurs on top. I try to alleviate this situation by wearing thinner socks but, really, I think my feet require a wider toe-box… And a different brand of boots!
Lidl and Aldi
Using the budget supermarkets for my weekly shop, I can buy all sorts of rubbish based on my own curiosity. But I have now sampled ‘hiking socks’ from both Lidl (on the left) and Aldi (on the right). I can definitely say that I prefer Lidl’s socks and think they’re good for summer use. Although, they are a slightly tight fit around the cuff, I find. With Aldi’s, I find they’re okay lacking a bit of length in the ankle height department and just less comfortable.
I feel I may have written about this once before. Just over a year ago, I purchased a set of Merino Wool Baselayers (top and bottoms) from Mountain Warehouse. I wasn’t prepared to spend anything more on a ‘technical’ baselayer.
More than one year on and I don’t really have any complaints. I’ll wear the leggings under any other form of trousers through the winter, although I do find them too hot for anything much more than a freezing temperature. Basically, if I wear a microfleece over my merino top, I get too hot! So, I’m pleased with how effective they’ve been at keeping me warm.
So far, I’ve somehow manage to evade purchasing any merino wool socks…
Second Layer? First Layer?
Bearing in mind that I don’t want to be wearing a fleece over wool, I usually wear a long-sleeved IsoCool top ,again, from Mountain Warehouse. On top of this, I can wearing a waterproof jacket and that’ll certainly keep me warm while walking and climbing hills.
Wot, no midlayer?
‘Midlayer’ is a term I keep encountering. I already know that a microfleece would be too warm with my setup – plus, I’d have to take the jacket off and release a percentage of body heat in order to put one underneath my jacket. I’ve no first-hand experience with insulated down or synthentic jackets but see them frequently touted as the perfect ‘midlayer’…
During the navigation course in November, Andy (the course leader) recommended carrying a layer just like this and pulling it on over your jacket when you come to stop and take a break. Especially on a mountain top or summit, where the cold can bite twice as hard and fast. Down jackets typically pack down well – some in their own pocket; others in to a sack.
I’m not willing to spend £100 on something I’m not sure of but, if I see something going cheap in the January Sales, I might add it to my kit.
I cannot believe how many pairs of gloves I own… I thought I had a few more! There might still be one more pair in the car.
To paraphrase from the teachings of our navigation course leader:
“The precise number of gloves one requires = what you think you need + one more pair”
I would say that four pairs of my gloves are a fairly typically ‘you-can-buy-them-anywhere’ sort of affair and don’t offer any water repllency. Still, I always pack at least one spare pair in the event that my other gloves get soaked through while out for the day. I’ve been caught out with ‘unresponsive fingers’ too many times over the years.
I currently have a pair from Rab (Power Stretch Pro Contact) that are my ‘go to’ gloves on any occassion… And so they should be, at £20! I went to a store to buy a different pair; they were out of stock and when I found these… I also found them to be very comfortable.
My Sealskinz gloves (All Season Waterproof) are regarded as being waterproof. I don’t think I’ve ever had wet hands while wearing them (excpet where I’ve had to take them off to adjust or open something) but I don’t find them to be very warm to wear and, once your bare hands are a tiny bit damp,I find they are a pain to get back on again – and I know I’m not the only one to have experienced this.
Another one of Andy’s suggestions (always listen to a skilled Mountain Leader) was to wear a liner glove underneath the Sealskinz. On the left in green, we have a pair made from merino wool (EDZ Merino Wool Thermal) and, on the right in black, we have a pair made mostly from silk (EDZ Silk Liner).
I’ve been wearing the silk gloves under my waterproof gloves and my hands are definitely warmer for it. I also find it’s easier to slip the main gloves on and off. My green merino gloves are there as spares and for general dry weather. I can even wear them without the Rab gloves on top.
Of course, insulation doesn’t end at your hands or shoulders. On my head, I normally wear a Sealskinz Waterproof Beanie (fortunately, XXL just about fits me) and this has proven to be both waterproof and warm. It’s only a shame that I managed to get silicone sealant on it last year (lesson learned: don’t do DIY in your walking kit).
When I bought the hat, I also bought a Buff, which is mostly worn as a neck warmer or snood but can also be adapted for other head-warming uses throughout the year. This is also made from merino wool – another great thing about this material is that I can wear it for several weeks without developing a bad odour.
Oh and I also carry an extra pair of socks in my backpack. Not necessarily for walking in during the day (unlelss I’m doing a thirty-mile hike in the summer, maybe) but, should I happen to finish a walk with wet and cold socks, I can change them on my return to the car.