Personal gear for mountain walking

personal gear for mountain walking

Good, sound clothing and equipment is essential for mountain safety and contributes greatly to an enjoyable day on hills and mountains. Its important to have the right personal gear for mountain walking at all times, but especially when you’re out and about in winter; when the weather is likely to be colder, wetter, windier and more changeable than at other times of the year.

Collectively, our Club members have a vast amount of knowledge and experience of what clothing and equipment is suitable for various mountain activities. So don’t be afraid to ask them for advice. They’ll be only too willing to help. Please also read our guide to safety in the mountains.

Here we’ve put together helpful tips on the essential and optional gear you need for a day out walking in the mountains. Because they’re essential whatever the activity, we begin with footwear and clothing.


Members and potential members must wear suitable footwear on the hills and mountains. This means it should be comfortable to walk in and yet sufficiently robust to offer the support and protection that is needed on rough and tricky ground. Footwear must provide adequate/good grip and good ankle support. Ideally, footwear should keep your feet dry and warm for as long as possible. One or two pairs of socks will provide cushioning and warmth. There is a wide choice of boot and sock materials.

Clothing (four-layer)

We recommend you use a four-layer system of clothing. This should be sufficient to keep your body temperature within a range of a few degrees to ensure the efficient functioning of the body. You don’t want to be either too hot or too cold. As weather conditions change during the day, you can vary the amount of insulation by putting on or removing one or more layers of clothing.

The system is flexible, depending on your activity and/or the season. You can adapt layers to be lighter or heavier and/or reduce/increase the number of layers. You will likely need less or thinner layers in summer than in winter. There’s an expert overview in this three-part article on staying warm in the mountains.

A typical four-layer system of personal clothing for mountain walking consists of:

  • Base layer next to the skin (wicks away moisture from the skin).
  • Mid layer (insulation layer) – thin fleece or similar.
  • Outer layer (an additional insulation layer) – thicker fleece or down/synthetic jacket. Note that the insulation properties of down are much reduced when it is damp/wet.
  • Outer shell layer – windproof and waterproof jacket with hood, and over trousers; usually a breathable fabric such as Goretex.
  • Gloves and/or mittens
  • Headgear – warm hat and/or balaclava – wool, fleece

Some individuals need more or less clothing than others. With experience, you’ll learn what personal gear works best for you.

Essential Equipment

The main thing is to carry as little weight as possible. However, some things are essential in addition to the footwear and clothes you start out wearing, especially in winter when days are shorter and colder:

  • A spare insulation layer – fleece or similar
  • Spare Gloves or mittens
  • Spare hat or balaclava
  • Map and compass
  • A basic first aid kit
  • Whistle (in many cases, already built into the chest strap of your rucksack)
  • Head torch/torch
  • Individual survival bag/shelter
  • Water
  • Food (including additional supplies for emergency)
  • Watch and/or phone

Of course, you need something to carry all this personal gear in. A good quality 35 litre (approx.) rucksack is sufficient for most day outings year-round in British hills and mountains. There’s lots of choice so do take time to research, ask around, etc. and see what suits you best.

Additional Equipment

Depending on the weather and/or conditions underfoot the following personal gear items may become essential as well:

  • Ice axe*
  • Crampons*, micro spikes
  • Goggles or wraparound glasses (for wind, rain and blizzard), sunglasses (even in winter)
  • Sun cream (especially in summer but may also be necessary in the winter), lip salve

* Among Club equipment there are several walkers’ ice axes and pairs of crampons available for loan.

Optional Equipment

In addition to the essential equipment outlined above, you may also find any or all of the following to be useful:

  • Gaiters, to keep trouser bottoms dry and stones/mud/water out of your boots
  • Walking/trekking poles
  • Spare laces
  • Map case
  • GPS/digital maps

In case of an Emergency (ICE)

We recommend that you carry personal identification information, as well as details of an emergency contact(s) and of any existing medical conditions/medication.

Specifically, this information should include:

Your full name and sex
Date of birth
Telephone number(s)
Medical condition(s) / medication
Name of first emergency contact, telephone number, and relationship to you
Name of second emergency contact, telephone number, and relationship to you

Note: For various reasons, we don’t recommend that you rely on ‘ICE’ facilities of your mobile phone.

Your emergency contact/medical information should be printed on or protected in something waterproof. Generally, that should be kept in one of the zip pockets of the lid of your rucksack. Correspondingly, in the event of an incident, other Club members know to look for it there.

First published April 2024. Last revised: April 2024.