When shopping for gear to wear while enjoying the Great Outdoors, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the vast choice of jackets, trousers and shoes available and the technical terms used. So follow these top tips.
Choosing a waterproof jacket
Jackets repel water in different ways depending on the design of the fabric, and you’ll see plenty of waterproofing jargon on labels when out shopping. Thanks to technological advancements, however, it’s now rare for any waterproof fabrics to let in water, and it’s the actual design of the jacket that makes all the difference when you’re caught in the rain.
A badly designed jacket, or one that’s poorly made, can allow water to seep in. In contrast, features that allow air to enter the jacket, such as vents and adjustable cuffs, can improve its breathability and comfort.
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TIP Try on the jacket before you buy to ensure the best fit. If you walk with a rucksack, take it to the shop to see if it gets in the way of pockets and zips. If you usually wear layers underneath, take them with you too and put them on to make sure the jacket is not too tight.
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Choosing waterproof trousers
Designed to be worn over a base layer of leggings or trousers for protection in wet conditions, many waterproof trousers are made using microporous fabrics, such as Gore-Tex or eVent, which contain a membrane made with billions of microscopic holes that are too small for water to get through.
Waterproof trousers are designed to be put on and taken off as the weather dictates. If you’re caught out in a sudden storm you won’t want to be fiddling around with uncooperative zips and tight ankle openings. Most brands come with leg zips and elasticated waistbands, which should help you get them on and off without having to take your walking boots off first.
Once on, Velcro ankle tabs can help to give a tight seal around your boots to protect you from wet vegetation or the occasional puddle splash. A drawstring inside the waistband is a good idea too.
TIP Try trousers on over your normal walking gear to ensure there’s plenty of room to bend your legs when walking or climbing. Shaped or articulated knee sections can help your knees bend more freely for unrestricted movement.
Choosing walking shoes and boots
Anyone who has walked any distance in a pair of ill-fitting shoes or boots will know first-hand that getting your footwear right is essential to an enjoyable walk. Always try shoes or boots before you buy and visit
a retailer with specialists who will be able to advise you. They may also be able to suggest lacing techniques and accessories to help improve the fit and comfort.
Remember to take along a good pair of walking socks, and try on shoes or boots that are one size larger than your normal shoe size. Don’t assume you can just break in new footwear. The fit should be right in the shop, so don’t buy unless you are happy with your purchase.
TIP Go to a store with a ramp that will allow you to see how the shoes feel when walking up and down a slope. Some stores also have surfaces of different terrains so check out the grip.
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Choosing a backpack
A well-designed backpack can make the difference between an enjoyable day hiking, or an aching back.
The right fit is crucial when it comes to backpacks but as everyone is different you really do need to try them on before you buy – good retailers will allow you to load it with a few heavy items to give you an idea of how it will feel when walking.
The size of backpack you need depends on what you intend to use it for – too big and you’ll end up carrying more weight than you need, too small and you’ll struggle to fit everything in.
Backpack capacity is measured in litres, and typically varies from 20-80 litres. For daytrips in good weather, 20 litres should suffice, as you’ll probably only be carrying lightweight waterproofs, some lunch and a couple of drinks. These smaller bags are sometimes called ‘daypacks’. A 30-50 litre bag will be big enough for a winter day trip, whereas you’ll want a 70 or 80 litre pack for a longer camping trip or expedition.
TIP Despite the fact that they’re called backpacks, the bulk of the load should be supported by your hips, not your back. A well-fitting hip-belt (that sits on the hips, not round your waist) is the key to minimising the strain on your spine and shoulder muscles.
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