It’s that time of year when cold weather sends chills to your fingertips, ice patches turn rudimentary walks into dices with the devil and the rain seems determined to not go around you but straight through instead. Some, of course, see this as a reason to stay indoors with a hot chocolate and Escape to the Country, whilst others cannot wait to pull on their gear and get outside.
The gear, however, is often the variable that makes the biggest impact. Those who are all set for the wintry conditions are more likely to have a safe and enjoyable trip, whilst those woefully underprepared are unlikely to ever head back out on a repeat venture. So with this in mind, it’s worth finding the right gear to not only have a safe winter walk, but a pleasant one as well.
Waterproofs are not just about keeping comfortable but warm as well. In cold, wet clothes, the body works around 55% harder than in dry ones, meaning that tiredness can set in quickly. When taking on a rural walk far from civilisation, this can turn a winter jaunt into a dangerous battle with the elements, so keeping dry is essential. To guarantee the best results, wear a waterproof jacket and trousers to keep the rain firmly at bay.
2. Soft-shell jackets
On those days where rain seems like less of a certainty and the temperature is creeping upwards, a soft-shell jacket may fit the bill. Designed as an alternative to coupling large ‘hard-shell’ waterproof jackets with fleece base layers, a soft-shell jacket allows the wearer a waterproof jacket that’s still warm, breathable and wind-resistant. Be careful though, as these are good for in-between conditions, but may still let water in if you’re caught in a downpour.
Anti-slip boots are a must for any walker, as the craggy, uneven ground takes on a menacing form when covered in pockets of water and ice. Likewise, cold, wet grass may seem like a safe bet but can turn greasy and slippery if conditions dictate. For this, sturdy walking boots are a must, and ones that also support the ankle should give walkers the comfort and warmth they need alongside a firm grip.
Those pushing themselves a little further may wish to use crampons, which are spiked contraptions that can be tied to boots in order to dig in to the ground or snowy inclines, to offer even greater traction in extreme conditions.
4. Head torch
For many winter walkers, the smartphone is often deemed fit for myriad purposes, with illumination being no exception. However, as countless wardens have reiterated on innumerable occasions, these apps and features will do little in the great outdoors when faced with tough conditions. Instead, a good head torch with spare bulbs and batteries will provide a much better light whilst also leaving hands free to move branches or catch hold in case of a trip or tumble.
Those going down the hard-shell route are wise to wear fleeces underneath. Waterproof jackets are now better at handling condensation through innovative materials and air-flow vents. Ideally, you need protection from the wind and rain while staying comfortable warm and dry inside the jacket. Waterproof jackets can be bought as 2-in1s, with a zippable fleece included, but if not then a good fleece will provide added warmth to complement the outer jacket’s protection.
6. Hats and gloves
Whilst the notion of ‘losing 90% of body heat through your head’ has long been debunked, it’s still worthwhile wearing a hat to protect the ears from potential frostbite as the blood begins to change. As temperatures drop, blood thins and extremities (including ears and fingers) are shunned in favour of providing the brain and other organs with the supplies they need. To combat this, wool or fleece-lined hats and gloves should offer sufficient warmth, whilst walkers preparing for rain may wish to try winter sports-style alternatives that would offer waterproofing as well. Buffs are another popular choice and can be worn as a scarf or pulled up over your neck and head for added protection.
Another outdoors essential; a good map is a must-have for any outdoor enthusiast. Maps can’t run out of battery power or fall foul of signal black-holes, so they should always be packed. Just as essential as the map, is the knowledge to use it. Familiarity with basic navigation, map symbols and how to use a map with a compass could make all the difference between a successful trip and a dangerous one.
At Christmas time, socks become synonymous with bad gifts from unimaginative family members. Not so for outdoors enthusiasts, as a pair of quality socks could make a world of difference when out burning off a third helping of mince pies. Thermal socks will keep feet warm and comfortable in sometimes-unforgiving boots, so make sure you’re genuine when thanking Aunt Mildred for her thoughtful gift!
9. Bike lights
Whilst bike lights are something that should be used all year-round (it is a legal requirement for road cycling), winter time is the perfect opportunity to ensure they’re working at their best. Testing them before going out, and ensuring sufficient batteries have been packed in case the others run out, will help make sure you’re not caught out when the daylight starts to fade. Check that your reflectors aren’t covered and don’t forget front and rear lights even when going off-road.
10. High visibilty
As the sun sets at around 4.00 pm in the winter, it’s wise to wear something that will get you seen by other path and road users. The typical yellow reflective jackets and trousers will do the job most effectively, but high-viz bands that can be worn around arms, shoulders or ankles will suffice for those looking for a more compact alternative to pack in their bag.
With these 10 essential items in your armoury there’s every reason to enjoy getting outdoors in the winter months ahead.
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