Top Ten Tips For…
Little bits of wisdom from years of working in the great outdoors from www.originaloutdoors.co.uk!
You need to be aware of how much time you have. Work out your driving time between each peak, how to get there, where you can park and how much time that leaves you to actually get up and down the mountains! Expect to get tired and frustrated, and probably to get naggy with each other towards the end of the trip. Just remember the reasons you are attempting it in the first place!
Find a driver
Don’t even think about trying to drive AND climb the three mountains. A nominated driver can rest whilst you walk, and then you can sleep whilst travelling, safe in the knowledge that your driver is well rested and alert.
Obey the speed limits
Statistically, the most dangerous part of your challenge will be the motorways and roads between the mountains. Obey the speed limits and stay safe, no matter how tempting it is to gain a few minutes.
Sort your socks!
Take a fresh pair of socks for each mountain, and take your boots off at the earliest opportunity when you get to your transport. It’ll be tempting to leave them on and just fall asleep, but you’ll give your feet the best chance of success if they can dry out and ‘breathe’ whilst you rest
Treat your feet
Whilst we’re on the subject, make sure that you take care of your feet on the hill. Don’t bother with taping them up because you “heard once that it’s a good idea” or peeing on them every night to harden them. Just make sure that your feet are used to walking uphill in those boots, and that you have worn those socks before with no problems. Foot powder (available at Boots or Tesco) is a good idea every time you remove your boots, as it will dry them out and keep them healthy.
Blister Prevention NOT Blister Treatment
Blister plasters (Such as Compeed, the only choice in my opinion) are there to prevent blisters, not to go on top of an existing blister. As soon as you start to get a ‘hop-spot’, stop and sort it out with the appropriate sized Compeed. Taking an extra 5 minutes now is much, much better than taking an hour longer on the descent because of your crippling blisters!
Hydrate (or else)
Making sure that you are drinking enough water is never more important than when you are attempting something like the 3 Peaks. You’ll be wanting to get through about 2 litres of water per mountain, and using a hydration bladder such as a Platypus, Source or Camelbak means that you can drink on the move. Saving 5-10 minutes for every ‘drink’ stop soon mounts up by the end of the trip.
Work hard on your relaxation
Take an eyemask, a proper pillow (travel/inflatable ones don’t really work that well) and a blanket of some kind. That way you can sleep properly on the minibus/in the car whether it’s day or night. Earplugs can help too, and make sure that you eat early on in the transfer period between hills so that your body can digest it and replenish it’s energy reserves.
Your appetite will drop as you progress through the challenge due to fatigue, just when you need to eat the most! Little and often is the key to eating when on the hills. Cereal bars are great, and you can stuff them in your pockets to eat whilst on the move. Don’t just eat sugary foods though, having something like pasta or similar waiting for you at the bottom of each hill is a great idea. Make sure that you keep an eye on each other during the challenge, and that you are all eating enough.
Make sure you know what you are doing and stay safe
Thousands of people attempt the 3 Peaks Challenge every year, and some of those people make some real howlers of mistakes. It isn’t unknown for people to try and climb the wrong mountain or to suddenly find themselves marooned as mist and fog roll in (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon are each only miles from the sea, and the weather can change from bright sunshine to 5 metre visibility in ten minutes). Navigating safely on all three mountains can be tricky at the best of times, let alone when you are tired and wanting to move quickly. ALWAYS carry a working headtorch and spare batteries, ALWAYS carry a map and compass AND know how to use them properly. The last thing you want is to become one of those people you hear about on the news, being retrieved by Mountain Rescue and becoming an example of the ill-prepared.
There’s lots more that I could tell you about kit choice etc, but most of it is down to personal choice, physiology and experience. All of the info above will hopefully prove useful.
Have fun, stay safe and make sure that you take plenty of photos of each other during the trip – this is something that you’ll want to remember!
Start a ‘Tick-list’
There are a few ‘hill lists’ for the hills and mountains of the U.K. The Munros, the Corbetts, the Wainwrights, the Marilyns, there are lots to choose from. The point is that by ‘ticking off’ the summits listed you are encouraged to climb hills that you might not normally bother with. They may not be the highest or the most spectacular, but they may have hidden charms that are well worth discovering.
Train for an ‘event’
Hillwalking is great training for all sorts of outdoor activities. It encourages aerobic fitness, stamina and uses muscle groups that don’t normally get exercised! So it doesn’t really matter if you are training for a marathon or a charity cycle ride, hillwalking is a great way of getting fit and staying fit.
Try and get the ‘perfect’ summit photo
The mountains are just naturally photogenic. Craggy outcrops, tumbling streams, huge open and unspoilt vistas. It’s difficult to take a really bad photo in the hills, but it can be a lifetime’s work to take a great one. The best way to maximise your chances is to persevere and keep heading up in all weathers. Still, foggy days in winter are often a good bet, as you’ll rise above the clouds and experience a temperature inversion, where you are stood on the summit in glorious sunshine, and the surrounding peaks are like rocky islands in a sea of clouds.
Most of us have probably spent at least one night under canvas in our lives, most probably as a kid on holiday, but if you have then I will bet that it was on a campsite somewhere. Whilst Wild Camping is technically illegal in most of England and Wales, it is tolerated in most areas. Walking for a couple of days carrying everything you need on your back, apart from collecting water from streams every now and again, some would argue that it’s the only way to experience the hills. Just be warned, once you get into it it’ll be difficult to prevent the ‘wanderlust’!
Go hunting for history
Old mines, Roman forts, World War 2 air crash sites, ancient burial cairns… the hills of the UK seem to have been pretty busy places from time to time. With a little bit of detective work you can find all sorts of hidden artifacts scattered all over the place. Some require a little bit of searching for, and some are well known but it’s a good reason to visit little-known corners of the mountains.
Take up geocaching
This ‘sport’ rose to popularity once GPS receivers became cheap enough for the average hiker to own. Soon after people were ‘hiding’ objects (often old ammunition boxes or Tupperware, even 35mm film canisters) in obscure parts of the countryside and listing the rough co-ordinates online for others to seek. Most ‘caches’ contain a logbook for the visitor to sign, and sometimes contain riddles or clues to reveal the location of subsequent ‘caches’. You do need a GPS receiver to partake in this sport, but all of the details of the geocaches can be found for free online. You’ll be amazed how many there are in and around your local neighbourhood!
Become the next Attenborough
Try taking a closer look at the grass you’re walking over, the lichens and mosses you pass by on that old stone wall, the birds, insects and mammals that surround you without you immediately realising it. A couple of guidebooks or even an app for your phone will reveal their names and how incredibly hardy they are to survive where they do. Suddenly the seemingly empty landscape is teeming with life, and you’ll be keen to go and find new and rare flora and fauna in the quiet corners away from the tourists.
Try walking in the dark
Normally the average hillwalker tries very hard to be off the hills before it gets dark, but sometimes they don’t know what they are missing. If you are a good and confident navigator, have a good headtorch and know the area, why not try a bit of nocturnal walking? If there is a full moon, the weather is calm and you have the right gear then a nightime ascent of your favourite mountain will reveal a different side to it – and you’ll probably have the place to yourselves! Don’t go solo on your first attempt and make sure that you have filed a route plan with somebody first though.
Make use of alternative transport
Most of the mountains in England and Wales have a variety of bus routes running through the valleys under your favourite hills, and with a bit of planning you can make a day into an adventure. Park your car at your intended destination, hop onto a bus (or even a restored steam railway?) and a short journey will take you far enough away to make the return journey into an inspiring walk. This method is great for doing ridge routes, or if you particularly loathe circular walks!
Stay in a bothy
These are very basic mountain huts, free to use and always in secluded locations. The vast majority of them are in Scotland, but a handful are scattered in the Lakes and Wales. They often have a wood-burning stove, a table and not much else! But they are a good alternative to staying in a tent. More info can be found at the Mountain Bothies Association website www.mountainbothies.org.uk.
Something to put it all in
Let’s start with the piece of kit you will be most intimately connected with – your rucksack. The size required is dependent upon how much stuff you are taking with you, how much discomfort you are willing to put up with and how long you are going for. I’ve done overnight trips with a bivvy bag and a 30-litre bag, and multi-day expeditions with no re-supply options en route carrying a 120-litre military rucksack referred to as a ‘bergen’. Your options are generally to go lightweight and suffer some discomfort and a smaller margin of safety, or go heavyweight and have to lug it around with you. Experience is the best way to find out which approach is best for you. Whatever size you take, you need to look for a bag with a waist strap, preferably a chest strap and (most importantly) one that fits your back shape and length. Most manufacturers offer a variety of sizes for back length, and often a female-specific fit as well.
Something to sleep in
Tent, tarp or bivvy bag? You will need some shelter from the elements (or midges!) and your choice will be based on how good or bad you expect the weather to be, and how comfortable you want to be. Tents are the heavier option but offer 360º protection from wind and rain, and enough room to get changed in and even cook in. They are often the heaviest option though, so try to look for a tent that weighs about 1-1.5kg PER PERSON, as you can often spread the load with a walking partner (one of you takes the tent, the other takes the poles and pegs). Beware of claims about how many people a tent is suitable for – some 3 person tents I’ve shared would only be suitable for three persons if they got on VERY well with each other! Try before you buy/borrow.
Bivvy bags are great for going lightweight, good-weather overnighters and alpine excursions, as well as sleeping in other shelters such as caves or bothies. They are made from a breathable waterproof fabric, and can range from a glorified sleeping bag cover to a miniature single skin tent (often called a ‘hooped bivvy’). They tend to weigh less than a kilo and pack down to a small size, but despite being a breathable fabric they are prone to being damp due to the condensation from a sleeping body. Further reading can be found in the excellent “Book of the Bivvy” by Ronald Turnbull.
Tarps can either be used on their own, or with a bivvy bag or hammock. They are surprisingly effective in poor weather as they can be rigged so that they provide full coverage on the side the wind or rain is coming from but open on the lee side. The downsides can be weight and limited pitching sites; the combined weight of a tarp and bivvy bag can be very close to that of a lightweight tent, and tarps need somewhere to be hung from so often trees or even trekking poles are required to tie onto.
Something to sleep in 2
Once you have sorted your accommodation let’s look at your bed. A sleeping bag is the most common choice, although insulated quilts are becoming popular for lightweight backpackers. The insulation in a sleeping bag is either synthetic or duck/goose down. Down is warmer gram than synthetic, but if it gets wet then it loses most of it’s insulation value. It does however pack down to a very small size. Synthetic insulation is generally heavier, but is better suited to wet conditions as it stays warm when wet. Manufacturers give temperature ratings for their sleeping bags. These are guides only, so do your research.
Pick your insulation type based on where you are going and how much you can spend – down tends to be 30-50% more expensive than synthetic.I would also suggest taking a set of thermals to sleep in. Nothing feels better than getting out of uncomfortable wet clothing and into a set of dry clothes after a particularly tough day walking.
Something to sleep on
You need a sleeping mat of some kind, either made from foam or inflatable. Sleeping directly on the ground is bad idea, partly because as it is very uncomfortable but mostly because the ground is cold and will leach the heat out of your body and sleeping bag. There is a wide variety of options available to suit all budgets – just make sure it’s big enough!
Something to cook on
A cooking stove is a good idea no matter where you are going, even if you think you will be able to cook over a fire. Modern gas and liquid fuel stoves are reliable and work well in most conditions. Gas stoves tend to suffer at altitude or in cold conditions, and gas isn’t always easy to source in some countries. Liquid fuel stoves are heavier and often have slower ‘boil times’ than a gas stove but are more reliable in poor weather.
Something to cook in and eat from
Together with a stove, your cooking pots will make up one of the heaviest, least compressible items in your bag. Find a pot just big enough for your cooking needs, and make use of its internal space to pack other items in.
There are products available, such as the excellent Jetboil, which come as a cooking system. The stove and pot all lock together, and are designed to pack together and be used as one item. They have very fast boil times, but are only really suited for boiling water and either heating ‘wet’ ready meals or re-hydrating ‘dry’ meals.
Remember to pack some cutlery! Cheap plastic BBQ sets will do, or you could buy the beautifully designed Light My Fire Spork.
Something to drink from
A plastic mug is much better than a metal one. They retain the heat better, and reduce the risk of burning your lips. The round tupperware-type pots are excellent spill-proof mugs as you can clip the lid in place whilst waiting for a drink to cool down.
Something to light your way
A head torch is a must. Hands-free lighting for reading in your tent, moving around camp or late-night toilet trips is invaluable. Most head torches use LEDs now, which mean longer battery life and no need to carry a spare bulb.
If you are planning on goind for a wander away from your tent after dark make sure you pack a glowstick and attach it to your tent first. It is not unknown for people to lose their way and not be able to relocate their camp!
Something to keep it all dry and organised
Rucksacks aren’t waterproof, and ‘rain covers’ are nigh on useless. To keep British weather out of your gear I strongly recommend at least a bin bag to wrap everything in, or a plastic rucksack liner. Even better would be to build a collection of roll-top dry bags. These can be found quite cheaply and in a variety of sizes. I have one for my sleeping bag, another for food, another for spare clothes and so on. If you pick a range of colours you can organise your gear so that you can easily locate the item you are looking for without turfing everything out of the rucksack.
Something you should normally carry
On top of this you need to take your usual hillwalking gear – waterproofs, warm layers, hat and gloves, first aid kit and so on. Obviously, depending on how many days you are traveling for and where you are going you will need to change these items or take duplicates. Toilet paper, hand sanitiser and a toothbrush are also a good idea. You will also need to take any medication you would normally take/need, plus a few ‘luxury’ items such as a book or MP3 player (in a waterproof bag!).
Of course we have only scratched the surface of what you could take on your wild camping trip but hopefully it has given you a brief guide of what to think about. When faced with a cavernous 70-litre rucksack it is very tempting to keep throwing stuff in until it’s full, but carefully think about every item you pack – you have to carry it and the weight soon picks up. I go through a debrief process every time I unpack. I put items into two piles – used and unused. If I used an item (headtorch, mug etc) it will go with me again next time. If I decide that I either didn’t use an item or barely touched it (binoculars or MP3 player) and it ISN’T an emergency item (first aid kit, map, spare clothes) then I don’t choose to take it next time. There is a certain sense of pride that comes from only carrying what you need, and using your experience and judgement to enjoy a comfortable night out in the hills.
We teach all of this plus a lot more on our Wild Camping Course which take place over two days in the mountains of North Wales.
What’s your temperature?
People are different, it’s a fact. Some people have to be in 35ºC before they start to crack a sweat, some people will be dripping in perspiration whilst there is snow on the ground. Physiology, weather and type of activity all have their part to play. It’s important that you know how ‘hot’ you feel whilst walking uphill with a full rucksack compared to walking along a reasonably level ridge or the path back to the valley. This knowledge will allow you to predict what you will need to wear that day. For example, there is no point putting on a fleece, a big waterproof jacket and all of your hats and a pair of gloves if you are about to walk up a steep ascent for the next 4 hours… you will probably dissolve in sweat! Similarly, you wouldn’t strip down to a baselayer just before stepping up onto a windy, exposed ridge if you had been sweating your way along on the uphill!
Start at the skin
To be quite honest, most of what we are talking about here is sweat. Hard physical exercise will make you sweat, that sweat will cool and cling to your clothing, that wet clothing will make you feel cold. It’s quite simple really. A base layer is a close-fitting thin garment (t shirt, long sleeve shirt or leggings normally) that helps to rapidly remove that moisture away from the skin (called “wicking”) so it can evaporate. A cotton shirt won’t do this as it will absorb the moisture and keep on absorbing it so it becomes heavier and wetter, conducting heat away from your body.
There are different types of baselayer, and most fall into two types – synthetic and ‘natural’. Synthetic baselayers are made of nylon or polyester, and are a better choice if you either sweat more than most, or the weather is particuarly warm. ‘Natural’ baselayers are made from wool, bamboo (seriously!) or silk. They tend to be warmer to wear, and aren’t quite as efficient at wicking moisture away. This makes them a better choice for people who either ‘feel the cold’ or in particuarly cold conditions.
Wear an old toilet seat!
Bear with me on this one! The next layer from the baselayer tends to be insulation of some kind, or ‘midlayer’. These days this tends to be a fleece top or jacket, or even a gilet. They add insulation to the system, are comfortable to wear, don’t restrict movement and tend to be hard wearing. They are also eco-friendly (they are made from a recycled plastic, a large part of which comes from old toilet seats!). They fit in well with the ‘wicking’ system and will transfer any moisture away from the body.
You have to plan ahead with to when you’ll wear your fleece. If the route ahead has a steep ascent you would be better off just wearing a baselayer and waterproof. You’ll soon generate enough heat to keep you warm, but if you wear your fleece you run the risk of saturating it in sweat and making it less effective.
It’s all about the moisture – and keeping it out!…
The next obvious layer to choose is your waterproof layer. The key word here is ‘breathability’. This describes the process where moisture vapour is able to pass out through the waterproof membrane of the jacket, but water drops (i.e. rain!) are not able to pass in. Remember all of that sweat moisture that we have been so concerned about up until now? Well the more breathable your waterproof is then the more chance that moisture has of escaping out and away from your skin. My advice is to go for the best one your budget allows!
Your waterproof does a good job as a windproof as well. It helps block the effects of the wind and maintains a warm, moist micro-climate – but be aware that sometimes it’s better to feel slightly cold and allow the moisture vapour to escape, as well as preventing too much heat building up in the first place!
The care of waterproof garments is very important, and relies on maintaining a water resistant coating. Make sure you carefully read and follow the care instructions that come with your jacket.
Big stuff on top
For those times when you are sat having lunch, waiting for your friend to catch up or standing around on the summit enjoying the sights, you could use a bit of extra warmth. ‘Block insulation’ describes thick jackets etc filled with fluffy things like goose down, duck down or a synthetic equivalent. These materials trap a layer of air which in turn helps prevent heat being lost from your body. Think about it as a sleeping bag for your top half!
Because these garments rely on trapping a thick layer of warm air, if you compress them under a waterproof jacket you reduce their effectiveness. So the best plan is to wear them ON TOP of your other clothing! That way you don’t have to remove other layers, and can quickly add or remove this top layer without faffing too much.
Remember that goose and duck-down becomes next to useless when wet (it clumps together and takes a long time to dry out again), and if you expect to be using your block-insulation layer in wet conditions consider buying a synthetic-filled jacket or a down jacket with a waterproof outer!
Don’t forget the legs
Your legs make up around 40% of your total body mass – so it’s worth considering them in your layering system! You can apply the same rules as for the top half of your body (baselayer, midlayer, waterproof). The baselayer element doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-length legging, it could just be comfortable non-cotton underwear. The midlayer would be good walking trousers (not jeans!) and the outer layer is normally waterproof overtrousers (ideally with venting zips or similar).
Head, hands and feet
The bits that stick out need consideration too. Generally a warm, fleece hat will suffice for your head. You can upgrade to waterproof cap if you desire, but as long as your waterproof has a hood this isn’t strictly necessary.
Warm gloves are must-have no matter what time of year it is. Cold hands are less nimble, fiddly but vital tasks such as using a compass or changing the batteries in a headtorch can become impossible for want of a warm glove.
Socks are fairly straightforward, look for something warm, wicking and of similar thickness to those you were wearing when you first purchased your boots.
There are now a huge variety of ‘windproof’ garments on the market. These are very lightweight, very breathable jackets and trousers etc that block the effects of the wind without adding too much warmth. They aren’t particularly waterproof, but they are small, light and worth looking at.
If you are putting all of this effort into choosing what to wear, it’s wise to put some effort into how you use it. Plan your clothing choices, look ahead at your route and try to predict what will be required. When you stop to ad/remove a layer, try to do it quickly. There is nothing worse than stopping to add a fleece when the weather is foul and losing all of your hard-earned heat when you unzip your waterproof. Plan your moves, and don’t let anything blow away!
Be bold, walk cold
You have probably got the impression by now that it is better to prevent the buildup of excess heat and moisture than to manage it. If you are stood still at the bottom of your walk and you fell nice and cosy, you’ll be too warm within half a kilometer. However, if you are feeling slightly chilly when stood still you should be just about right when you are moving!
These tips are just an overview of what to look for when buying kit for mountain walking, but they should help give you an idea of how the various items work together. If you want to learn more, and huge pile of other skills, please book onto one of our mountain walking skills courses held in North Wales.