Hill-walking

Hill-walking (aka hiking) is the other major activity of the club (alongside climbing), because it's a great way to explore some of the most beautiful areas of the UK. And unlike climbing we generally do it whatever the weather. Members do all sorts of walking at all levels – from coastal paths to full-on scrambling in the mountains and bothy-to-bothy long-distance hikes in Scotland.

On a normal club weekend we usually aim to get a full day’s activity on Saturday, followed by a late night re-living it all in the pub, or over a barbeque if the weather is suitable. On Sunday we do it all again (different summits!) although we do finish a bit earlier to allow time for the long journey back to London in time for the last tube home.

“Walking is easy in comparison to climbing... all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.” That may be true of some of our coastal, lowland, and moorland trips, but the more mountainous areas (Snowdonia, the Lake District, and Scotland) will require rather more effort, often over quite rough ground. Do you fancy using the stairs to get to the top of the Shard - then coming back down and doing it twice more in quick succession? That’s about the same height gain you will need to get from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon, or from Wasdale to the summit of Scafell Pike. And afterwards we will continue on to climb other summits.

If you are an experienced hill walker you will probably love our weekends in the mountains. However if you haven’t done much hill or mountain walking before we would encourage you to start with some of our coastal or moorland trips, because if you go on a mountain trip you may very well end up hating it (and us)! Of course you don’t have to head straight for the highest summits, but if you want to do lower ones you may need to plan for a day by yourself. If you're completely inexperienced we recommend that you have a few days out with Metropolitan Walkers or the Saturday Walkers’ Club first, preferably undertaking some of their longer and more strenuous (ie. hillier) walks.

 

Equipment - suggested kit for walking and hiking with the club

Rockhoppers trips include everything from coastal and lowland paths (eg. Cornwall, Pembroke, Wye Valley), boggy moorland (Yorkshire, Dartmoor), steep hillsides (Lake District and Snowdonia) through to snow and ice covered mountains (Scotland and on occasion winter trips to the Lake District and Snowdonia). What kit is actually required should match your interests but also your aspirations, bearing in mind that mountain and winter trips generally will require an investment in more specialist gear.

This list covers the basics, but please ask other members and look at what they are using as we have loads of experience between us; but beware, we may bore you to death with some of our recommendations! Brand names have been avoided, but it can usually be assumed that the more expensive something is, the more likely it is to perform better or last longer. Look out for special offers and sales, particularly if you are of small or large size. You could try some of the online discounters who sell overstocks cheaply. But you should double check the suitability of the equipment (what stopped people buying it when it was at full price?), and ensure that any purchases are really the bargain that they appear to be. Rockhoppers membership gives you a discount in several outdoor shops - check the Membership page for details.

 

Boots

Whilst sturdy walking shoes, approach shoes or trainers may suffice on a well graded coastal path, generally in the hills a hiking boot is required. This should be fairly stiff to protect the ankle from twists, but most importantly it should be comfortable. Try them on thoroughly before buying and ask the shop assistant for advice - staff in specialist outdoor shops generally know what they're talking about. A good hiking boot is essential for walking in the hills, especially when away from tracks and paths, but also when backpacking.

If you wish to go above the snow-line in winter then a pair of mountaineering boots is a must: these are generally heavier, and stiffer and able to take a crampon. See Crampons and Ice-axes below.

 

Waterproofs

A waterproof jacket and over-trousers are essential for any Rockhoppers trip. Gone are the days of sweaty non-breathable nylon anoraks, to be replaced by Gore-Tex, Event, and Analogy, technologies that to some degree allow your sweat to escape whilst keeping you dry. This is Britain and it rains, and you will get wet a lot. Waterproofs will also protect you from the wind.

Lightweight examples will suffice for lowlands in summer when it would be hoped they will stay in your backpack, but for higher hills and winter use something more substantial will be required. The combination of wet, wind, and cold is a killer and will quickly lead to hypothermia, which you do not want.

 

Layers

Your waterproofs will generally form the outer shell of a layering system of clothing, rather than relying on one single layer of chunky insulation.

Next to the skin it is best to have a thin layer such as a t-shirt or vest made from a synthetic (smelly) or merino wool (not smelly) material that wicks sweat away from the body and keeps you from becoming clammy: cotton is a no-no. Same for socks. Some people also like a liner sock as this can reduce rubbing and the likelihood of blisters.

For a midlayer, a thin fleece will suffice in most conditions. An insulating layer made from a synthetic material such as primaloft may be needed in colder conditions, and is useful for adding during rest stops. Remember down ceases to provide insulation when it is wet: the advantage with a synthetic jacket is that it can even be put on over wet waterproofs and still provide warmth. What works best is often a case of trial and error, as we all have different metabolisms and some people run hot whilst others run cold.

Accessories

Windproof gloves and hats weigh very little, and can be vital on a windy ridge in the summer. Balaclavas, and sunglasses are all useful according to conditions. Remember the British weather is unpredictable so it is always best to have something in reserve. Gaiters are useful when bog-hopping and can also keep stones out of boots. In snow they are essential and can even keep the water out during short shallow river crossings. Remember ski-goggles are an essential in winter when the wind whips up the snow and blasts it in your face.

 

Poles

Walking poles are not just the reserve of oldies with dodgy knees. They genuinely help stabilise on steep descents and when load carrying, provide aerobic benefits at altitude. They also assist balance when bog hopping and crossing streams. However they can get in the way on scrambly sections so it should be possible to quickly store them away on the pack: for this reason clip-lock rather than twist-lock poles have the advantage. In general use of poles is a personal preference.

 

Rucksack

Generally a daypack large enough to store everything you need for the day (30l), larger in winter, a backpack if carrying a tent and stove and camping out (65l). Larger backpacks are for masochists or those on extended expeditions. Whatever size just remember that contrary to the claims of the manufacturers they are never waterproof, so protect the contents with a waterproof liner (or strong plastic bag).

 

Head-torch

You should already have one of these as you used it when you put up your tent in the dark. They are also useful for sneaking out of the bunk bed when you need a pee in the middle of the night. Make sure the batteries are charged and you have spares. They are also essential during the short days of winter, allowing early starts and late returns to base. At night your torch can be used for an emergency signal.

 

A drink for the hill

A water bottle or bladder: personal choice. Remember bladder hoses can freeze in winter making them useless, as can a water bottle attached to the outside of a pack. Keep it inside and upside down (ice forms at the top) or consider taking a flask.

Map and compass

And learn how to use them! We really like it when novice walkers take an interest in where we are going, and follow the route on a map. Navigation is an essential tool for self-sufficiency and therefore enjoyment in the outdoors and on the hills. Those more experienced are generally willing to offer advice, and the club also offers navigation training courses for members. If you know how to use them then GPS units can be considered supplemental but only as long as the batteries last. As for altimeter watches: they're useful for telling the time but save them for the Alps!

 

Survival bag

Carrying a basic plastic (usually bright orange) survival bag is perhaps prudent in the hills, as it would make a sustained wait for rescue more comfortable. The club has some emergency group shelters which are taken on winter trips, but you should always have your own survival bag too.

 

Crampons & ice-axes

If going above the snow-line in winter then crampons must be worn and an ice-axe carried. The club has a limited supply for loan. Crampons come in three general types: C1 (greatest flex for walking), C2 (limited flex for general mountaineering), and C3 (rigid for technical climbing). Boots likewise come in three equivalent types: B1 (greatest flex), B2 (limited flex) and B3 (rigid). For Scottish hillwalking a C1 and B1 combination would be most suitable, but for someone aspiring to steeper routes such as gullies at lower grades, or to Alpine ascents, then a C2 with B2/B3 combination might be more sensible as it offers a wider scope. C3 crampons/B3 boots are not at all comfortable for walking, but are extremely supportive for climbing near-vertical ice.

A general mountaineering ice axe has a mainly straight shaft and when held with your arm straight by your side the spike should be about level with your boot top or perhaps a little longer if preferred. Shorter, more curved axes are for technical climbing. The most important thing about ice axes and crampons is not how cool they look, but that you know how to use them. Club trips to Scotland in winter will generally include the opportunity for a winter skills course.