Firstly apologies for the lack of mountain / outdoor related posts on here. I haven’t been out of late but hope to remedy that in the next few days.
So it occurred to me as I sat here reading my daily dose of blog updates and witty comments, watching the Tour de France live in which I hope Bradley Wiggins does it (that’s if Lance Armstrong doesn’t mind you) and lusting over gear websites that there aren’t so many women’s opinions and reviews out there on gear/kit/apparel. I mean we girls do have money to buy and we do like decent stuff other than the usual mundane kit in shades of pink or ocean blue! I’ve not come across any websites/blogs that talk solely about women’s stuff. Sure there are the odd mentions of gear (this one being my first port of call for info) and its good and then there’s the comments from guys who’d ‘tried to get our lass a pair of them there fancy troosers in short versions’ etc etc but i don’t think I have come across any kit advice/news from women. (if there are please let me know). So... Why not write something I thought, so I am. And here it is. My take on the kit I use and wear for my hill adventures. I’ll start at the beginning (as you normally do).
Now I'm not going to go into every detail of every piece of kit i own but will try and give my view on it and how it worked out for me.
Some back story (for those who don’t read this blog regularly). I’m fairly new to this outdoor life having come at it a bit later than most. But now i’m here i wonder why i never did it sooner... ach that’s a whole other story that will be written in my book! (NOT appearing in a good book shop near you soon!). Anyway it all began with the preparations for my infamous trek to Mt Everest Base Camp in April 2009. But my whole hill-walking kit buying spree began in April 2008. I can't quite remember but i think my first ever piece of kit was a pair of North Face Meridian zip off trousers (ooh the shame!). See at the time i just knew i didn’t want Berghaus as it always seemed like the stuff your mam or dad would wear to go to the annual Glamis Castle motor show thing or that your neighbour would wear to walk the dog, feed the horses or some other task like that (A point to note: my neighbours neither walk their dogs nor have been near a horse but you get what I’m saying eh). Anyway I knew i didn’t want Berghaus it just seemed... old-fashioned? (sorry Berghaus people). So I went to Tiso, the only gear shop within spitting distance from my house and bought the NF Meridians. I hate the colour (Asphalt Grey) but it was all that was available and i’ve slowly gotten use to it (better than the beige option). The material is light so these aren’t winter troos. The zip off legs are handy but have never been ‘zipped off’. The fit! Now, all women will know that you may be, for example, a size 10 in some makes of clothes but a size 12 in another – a very annoying thing about women’s clothes and i don’t think that will ever change. I’ve found that North Face trousers tend to be ‘wee made’ a bit neater on the hips and thighs for someone that isn’t stick thin. In their favour is that they do come in short, regular and long leg lengths. Tick! For those of us who don’t even hit 5’3” this is good news. They were ok for a first buy.
My next bit of kit were the boots (above). I have funny feet. Inherited from my Dad i think. I’m between sizes 3 and 4, depends what shoe and what make really. I need to try all shoes on, both feet, before i even contemplate buying. So again it was a trip to Tiso (I was becoming a regular in there). The guy was very helpful but came out with this line that i totally and wholeheartedly don’t agree with – you should buy a size up from your normal shoe size!! What?? I’ve never really had blisters before but this was ringing in my head. My little delicate feet would be a mess if i got shoes that are way too big. After much mooching about the shop, having previously taken advice from people who were meant to be in the know and trying on different boots i settled for the Scarpa SL M3 leather boots (on checking the website today i noticed they’ve gone up by £20!!! Shocking!). Heavy as anything and i wasn’t entirely happy that they started at a size 5. However i gave into the pressure of being in the shop for nearly 40 minutes and having to buy something. I bought them, took them home, walked up and down the stairs a few times and felt like i had done a lower leg workout they were that heavy. I decided right there and then they were going back for a refund and i would seek advice elsewhere.
A few days later i headed to Ellis Brigham’s at Braehead as i’d seen another pair of Scarpa boots that came in half sizes and were much more what i was looking for. Lighter too. I tried them on walked about and bought them. A pair of Scarpa ZG10 boots in a size 4! I wasn’t conforming to this 'get a size bigger' rule. I don’t believe in it. The boots got their first test in early May 2008 up Dumyat. They worked well but i got the most almighty of blisters, probably to be expected as my feet were used to trainers or work shoes for years. Since then these boots have been my trusty companions on all of my mountain adventures so far and i don’t see that being anything different in the future (unless i buy trail shoes!). Their only black mark was about 2 months ago on a jaunt up the hills near Tyndrum one very wet Saturday morning, they got totally soaked. My feet were splunging. It was probably due to the fact we were trudging through very boggy ground and had to cross a raging river at one point near the bottom so by then i wasn’t caring about foot placement and just wanted to be back at the car. I'm not going to come down too heavy on my wee boots just yet. They did take me to 4,367m in the Himalayas after all.
Anyway i kinda started panic buying kit as there was the works annual hill walk looming on Saturday 7th June 2008 and I had a trek to buy for. I had no kit whatsoever before this and thought that the old pink Karrimor rucksack that i used for the gym would suffice in the hills. Mistake. After a few practice jaunts up Dumyat i realised this rucksack was not made for me on the hills. Plus it was old and the straps are ripped a bit and i’m not really a pink kinda girl anyway – more on this later! I started searching shops and the web for some kit basics: waterproof jacket and trousers; socks; fleece; tops; water bottles and other bits and bobs. Got a few bargains too but probably spent too much on the wrong stuff and i’m paying for that now!
On the eve of the annual DASS hill walk i headed off to Cotswold Outdoor at Springburn and bought one of the only things I have ever bought without anything less than a 2 week ‘humming and hawing’ period. I had been looking at rucksacks. The EBC trek kit list said I needed a 30-40l daypack for the trek. All the 30-40l daypacks i’d seen (usually in Tiso’s) were big dumb ass heavy Berghaus things that just did not feel right on me. The straps were thick. The material seemed sturdy which equates to heavy and the colours were truly uninspiring. Others i tried were Lowe Alpine and Deuter which were not too bad but when on me i felt i couldn’t move freely, my head was being knocked at from the obviously over-stuffed top pocket, this wasn’t right.
Then i seen it! The Spicy Chili Osprey Talon... hanging just above the eye line amongst the otherwise darker colours of its neighbours. I asked the guy to get it down for me so that i could try it on. Instantly it felt right. You just now these things eh. What surprised me was how light it was and it was packed to the gunnels with lots of packaging to make it look ‘packed’. I slipped it on and it was my friend almost immediately, we had a connection like no other. It was mines and I bought it. Am i really spending £70 on a bag?! I thought to myself but somehow i knew it would be worth it. I was chuffed and took it home to get packed for the next days adventure. I should point out it was at this point too that I found another friend - the Exped dry bags – in a rainbow of colours – braw!! I can tell you the Osprey Talon 33L performed very well and has done so ever since. It fits me like a glove now that I've had it over a year. It's still pretty clean (I use a damp cloth to wipe off any dirt). I love the harness straps which are mesh and let you breath. The pockets on the hip belt are handy for storing things like lip balm, hankies, phone or even a wee cheeky pack of Haribo jellies for when no-one's looking! It takes my 2L Platypus as it has an easy access hydration sleeve on the back. The back panel is size adjustable and has an 'airscape' panel but admittedly i do still get a bit damp on the back if its a scorcher. The only slight niggle i have is that recently I've been carrying water bottles too and store one in the stretchy side pockets. This means contorting your arm to get the water bottle out, getting a friend to help or to take the pack off for a drink - very time consuming. I think the pockets are at a funny angle (well for me they are). This is only a slight pain and other than that this has been one of the best things I have bought. Although recently after being out and it not being full but still looking full I've decided i maybe need (read want) a smaller pack for walks? Another decision...
So after all of that this is what I took on my first walk up the hills (Bidean nam Bian & Stob Coire Sgreamhach - Glencoe):
Osprey Talon 33L pack; Sigg water bottle; Exped rucksack liner; Berghaus Paclite waterproof trousers; Bridgedale comfort summit socks plus spares; North Face beanie hat; Marmot iGloves (great but I've lost them - boo!); Adidas long-sleeve base layer; North Face Stratosphere waterproof jacket (got it cheap but now want a new waterproof jacket); North Face fleece; Boots SPF25 suncream; Olympus mju digital camera; food; a glass bottle of Irn Bru (ha just kidding, checking you were still paying attention!) plus lots and lots and lots of other stuff that i never needed since it was a scorching hot day! Pack weight – very heavy. Legs – totally gone after 10 hours walking. Me – emotionally and physically drained but looking forward to this new life.