With the night’s drawing in and the cold and wet weather affecting large parts of the British Isles already this autumn, our attention is directed towards cold and wet weather outdoor gear to cope with it all. Read on to find out about our top suggestions.
There’s great popularity at the moment for cosy puffer and duvet jackets, which can either be quite cheap with synthetic fill insulation, or quite expensive with various degrees of down or a down and synthetic mix. Most of these are great in really cold weather, but a lot of the time people will quickly overheat wearing them if they are undertaking any activity. They are also not particularly water resistant and down jackets become like wet tea bags when they are soaked - with lack of insulation to match.
There are some very compact ones on the market however, made by companies like Montane and Mountain Equipment which offer real warmth, but are very compact and can be conveniently pushed into rucksacks for easy packing if you don't need to wear them. A compromise would be a down gillet; which is a jacket without the arms. This keeps your core warm and your arms can remain very active.
Most people will rely on the tried and tested layering method to maintain adjustable warmth as you just remove or put on layers depending on how you feel. The best thing to start with is a base layer, perhaps with smart wool which is significantly odour free after even a couple of days of activity. Over this you can then have a fleece, hooded ones are quite popular, but you can always put a beanie in your pocket.
Over the top of the fleece (which will morph into something like a wet flannel if allowed to soak) you need a shell which is waterproof and windproof. There is a lot of choice for these again such as, Berghaus, Montane, Mountain Equipment, Rab etc. The waterproofness depends upon the price between chemically coated fabrics and those which are layered such as Gore Tex. The trend is for lighter and lighter fabrics.
Although some of the older waterproofs had the consistency of cardboard, some of lighter weight fabrics today are not that durable and most of us can't afford or even want to replace our gear every year or two especially as we think about our footprint on the planet. Even though they are a little more expensive, we have been very impressed with the quality of Paramo jackets, a British company who have their designs made up in Colombia, part of an on-going project to help local women find gainful employment. The result is something which is quite different to the norm. There are many walkers who swear by them, and a number of mountain rescue teams use them too. Their jackets have loads of features including hand warmers, ventilation zippers and a comfortable inner lining, this makes them heavier than some, but they offer great comfort and proper waterproofing and temperature control. A great innovation is a lightweight mountain smock (and over the head jacket) with warmers, pockets, ventilators a hood and a drop down tail for mountain bikers. We would highly recommend.
We also can't forget about our legs which need protection especially when the temperature drops and the rain starts. All the major manufacturers offer waterproof trousers, although they often don't seem to last long, perhaps because the seams get quite stressed over time. However, they are essential to prevent wind chill and the best ones to look out for would be those with good venting and long leg zips to enable you to get into them with boots or shoes on if needed.
SOCKS AND GLOVES
In terms of hands and feet you can get totally waterproof socks and gloves from manufacturers like Seal-skinz, but we have found that they do take a long time to dry when they are washed and some may still prefer a traditional wool and synthetic mix of sock. It's up to you as both will do the job.
When it comes to gloves, the famous climbing mitten of the 1950s-70s: 'The Dachstein mitt,' is being manufactured again from pre-shrunk wool and it's definitely worth a try if you want the best of both worlds, with a modern take on the traditional. Note that although you are obviously more dextrous wearing a glove, mittens keep your hands warmer which is why we would rate these for colder conditions.
We have mentioned beanies, which are obviously super easy to carry around. However, perhaps the most effective and stylish winter hat that we have seen is the Tilley woollen hat. This is largely waterproof and has an inner lining for more comfort which includes drop down ear warmers, so if you're in the market for a new hat, this is the one we would choose.
Don't forget to carry a lightweight head torch, Black Diamond or Petzl have good ones, as the days are shorter and you can easily get caught out if your walk takes longer than expected. Alternatively, if you just keep a torch in your pocket it will always be waiting for you, just remember to check the batteries regularly!