Written on 12/12/18 by Elizabeth Oldham

Winter - Time to check your gear

Winter is a wonderful time to be on the fells. Quieter than the busy summer months, you can find yourself alone on even the most popular fells during the week. There's nothing quite like an early start on a crisp frosty morning to make the most of the short daylight hours.

Catbells from Castlehead viewpoint
Catbells from Castlehead Viewpoint

Now, before the winter really gets going, is a good time to check over your gear. Wash and re-proof jackets and trousers, dig out those hats, gloves, balaclava, etc. Check everything is in good condition, including ice axe and crampons. If you use micro-spikes (we use Kahtoola Microspikes) they too need checking they are still sharp enough to grip on icy paths, and the rubber band has not perished. Repair or replace as appropriate.

Welcome to The White Room
Your navigation should be top notch in winter

Get it done now so that when the fells are snow-capped and bathed in inviting sunshine, you aren't faffing about whilst under pressure to get out there.

Talking of time, even if you don't plan to be out after dark it is absolutely essential to take a decent head torch. And maybe even two. A Petzl E-lite lives in our rucksack all year anyway as it weighs so little. Not something you want to deliberately be out with after dark but it'll get you home when push comes to shove.

The little E-Lite is a backup for our main head torch. Which should be something reliable and throws a good light that will last a few hours. There are many manufacturers: Fenix, Led-Lenser, Zebralight, Black Diamond, the previously mentioned Petzl, and the affordable Alpkit to name a few. All do lightweight and highly efficient LED torches. There is simply no excuse for being caught out by nightfall. Always take freshly charged batteries and, if possible, a spare set - this is also where a second torch is useful to enable you to change batteries. Keep spares close to you to keep them warm as they'll last longer when it's really cold.

Do not rely on mobile phones as a navigation tool. They're fragile, and batteries subjected to low temperatures don't work as well, having less capacity than expected. Also they do not have the screen 'real estate' to show you the bigger picture than a paper map in a proper waterproof case.

Multiple pairs of gloves are also a good plan. Cold hands are not only uncomfortable but everything takes longer and becomes much more difficult. A good idea is to start with a very thin silk like liner pair so you can slip your hands in and out of your main gloves easily even when a bit damp. Then at least one pair of good waterproof gloves or mitts. Take a spare pair in case one gets lost in the wind, or gets soaked. It wouldn't be outrageous to take more. In extremis spare socks can be worn on your hands.

We like to take a synthetic belay or insulated jacket to throw on when stopping for more than a minute. It keeps the heat in and importantly keeps you functional. It can also be a life saver if you have an accident, or cannot move fast enough to generate sufficient heat. Prefer overlaying, as it's called, to taking off a jacket to put a fleece underneath. Hydrophobic down jackets, or down jackets with a waterproof outer, are much warmer for the weight than synthetic, even those with the newer Primaloft down like insulation. However, beware of its limitations. Prefer synthetic when it's wet. Down for snow. However, saturated insulation does not work at all.

If there is a bunch of you consider taking a group shelter, often called a bothy bag. Useful for lunch stops or for getting out of the weather to sort out problems.

This article only touches on some of the issues encountered with kit, and conditions in the winter fells. Walkers who want to continue into winter conditions would be well advised to consider a Winter Skills course. There are many providers who work in the Lake District or Scotland as well as the national mountain sports centres: Plas y Brenin in Wales and Glenmore Lodge in Scotland.

The Langdale Pikes and Elterwater
The Langdale Pikes and Elterwater

Tagged: equipment, safety, walks

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Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.