Often when I am walking on the moor and it's a cold, wet, muddy day and I am dry, warm and comfortable I often wonder what it would have been like one hundred years ago. People like William Crossing would venture out over the moors in all weathers wearing stiff leather boots, a heavy raincoat and possibly a hat of some kind. The coat was probably not 100% water-proof and the boots more than likely leaked - that is dedication.
This for me is a very emotive subject because I believe that walking gear is one of the biggest rip-offs in this country, there are companies selling garments that do a good job but are extortionately prices and there are others selling ridiculously cheap garments that are as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. Either way it's hard to reach a happy medium and end up with walking gear that will last and stand up to the rigours that Dartmoor will throw at them. Go to a moorland town on any weekend and you will see people walking around in walking gear that must have cost a good £1,000 and they will be going nowhere near the moor. Ok, in this age it seems to be important to be seen in the 'right' clothes with the 'right' labels and for those who want to ponce around in them then they must have more money than sense. But if you are going out on the moor you must have walking gear that you can rely on, there's nothing worse than being stuck out six miles from anywhere in a storm and then feel the water seeping through your coat and down your back. As with equipment this is again a very personal choice, I know walkers who are perfectly happy walking in a wax jacket and wellingtons just as I know people who will be dressed head to toe in Gortex or some such material. Remember Dartmoor is not the local nightclub and you are not out to impress anybody just to feel comfortable, dry and warm. There is no reason why you can't get a decent walking outfit for around about £500 that will last for ages, look sensible and do the job. So this is my personal advice and what, after trying many combinations I am now happy with.
Walk into any outdoors shop and you will be told that for walking in exposed areas you need to work on the layer system of clothing, ie you need a base layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. The base layer consists of a shirt of some kind, vest, tee-shirt, polo shirt or ordinary shirt it's down to preference. Next is the mid layer which these days can be a fleece jersey or jacket or a woollen jersey etc. Then comes the most important layer - the outer which must be water-proof and wind-proof and can be made from a vast array of modern materials. So here we go:
BASE LAYER - As someone who seems to be able to maintain a good body heat I prefer to wear a tee-shirt or polo shirt as my bottom layer. However if you feel the cold then the thermal options may be a good idea in wintertime. As to the lower part of the body then cover that with whatever floats your boat and I will no go into that any. Apart from saying, even though they might keep you warm, I can see no excuse (apart from the obvious) for men to wear women's tights?
MID LAYER - This depends on the time of year or weather conditions and will range from a fleece jacket in winter to a fleece body-warmer in more favourable conditions. I cannot stand having sleeves around my arms so the body-warmer suits me better but even in cold times the jacket gets its sleeves rolled up. It is when you get to this layer that there is cheap rubbish around and also over-priced garments. I would not reckon to spend a lot of money here, make sure the fleece is non-pilling as there's nothing worse than looking like currant bun. I have a Regatta fleece body warmer and a Berkhouse rip-off fleece jacket, hence the warning about high priced clothes.
OUTER LAYER - It is here that it will be worth spending a decent amount of money, there is no need to be looking at the £300 ones but conversely don't be tempted with the £20 sort that appear on market stalls. Also bear in mind that probably a lot of time your jacket will be sitting in your rucksack and so give some thought to the weight. There are excellent water-proof, wind-proof, and lightweight coats around for about £100 - £150 and although that's a lot of money it will ensure a dry and warm walk and that makes for a happy soul. Vander (opens in new window) produce quality clothing at reasonable prices and in the past they have provided gear for the Dartmoor Mountain Rescue Team and if it's good enough for them that must be one hell of an endorsement.
TROUSERS - Having taken care of the torso it is a good idea to take care of the legs. Again in this department you can spend a pile of cash, T
there is no need, for all the years I have walked Dartmoor all I have ever worn is army surplus combat trousers. They are cheap, lightweight, durable, have plenty of pockets and when wet dry fast. Denim is a definite no-no, although they may be comfortable and warm if they get wet they take ages to dry and in cold conditions this can lead to problems and if you're wearing wet jeans next to the skin, you will get even colder not to mention miserable.
In the summer comes the debate on shorts, well again shorts are shorts so don't break the bank on a pair. There is however one thing you may like to take on board. Over recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the tick population which has led to serious problems with Lyme's Disease. Ticks will move onto bare skin to feed without a moments hesitation and any bare flesh is asking for a visit, so although very comfortable in warm weather, shorts aren't always a good idea.
SOCKS - Basically all these need to be are thick and hard wearing, some people say that wearing both a thin pair and a thick pair tend to reduce blisters but providing your boots fit well and are worn in this shouldn't be a problem. I have acquired a pair of Gortex socks and I must say when sploshing around the mires and bogs they do give some extra water-proofing for the feet but I would regard these as a luxury. The reason I have them is that I was given them at a trade show, I would not have actually paid for them
GLOVES - As a lot of body heat is lost through the fingers gloves are an important piece of clothing in cold conditions. I prefer the thin, water-proof ones as opposed to wool or leather. Both the latter become uncomfortable to wear when wet and can make the hands and fingers feel even colder - again no need to spend a fortune.
HAT - This is another garment that doesn't need a stack of money, in cold times I wear a simple woollen hat which was bought from an army surplus store. Providing it will cover the ears then its very much down to taste and budget. Just don't get one of those multi-coloured things that the Peruvian Indians wear, this is Dartmoor we are talking about not the Andes and none of the locals can play the pan-pipes. In hot weather you may need to cover your head depending on your skin sensitivity and cover of hair but in the end what type of hat is down to personal choice. However, there should be a law which bans men over the age of 50 wearing baseball caps, unless they are happy looking like they have stepped out of a scene from Deliverance and have sons that can play the banjo very well.
BOOTS - Out of all the above this is where the money should be spent but that doesn't mean you have to buy a pair from which the shop attendant can go to Crete for a week on the commission. Dartmoor is a rocky place full of clitters, holes and stony tracks so it is vital that you have plenty of ankle support and tread with your footwear. This will protect against twists and sprains should you ever turn an ankle and believe me I do it every time I'm out on the moor. In this light I would never recommend walking on Dartmoor in lightweight shoes or trainers. The choice you have to make is firstly do you go for a fabric pair or the traditional leather ones. The fabric ones are obviously lighter but are not as hard wearing as leather and having tried both I have now ended up with fabric boots. Again there are a few things with boots, never, ever go for long walks in a brand new pair of boots, always wear them in first. I know they are like a new car and you want to see how fast they go but if you don't want painful blisters it's best to soften them up first. Simply wear them around the house for a few weeks prior to going for a hike, you may look stupid but not as half as stupid as when you're limping back to the car. Having made an investment in a good pair of boots always make sure you look after them, fabric or leather, they both need cleaning after each walk and regular water-proofing will ensure years of service. The boots that I get on best with are from the Karrimor Ksb 300 GTX range and today their prices are around £100.
In the summertime there is also the debate about wearing walking sandals and again this is a personal choice but you get no protection with these whatsoever. Be it from ankle sprains, sharp granite, gorse, ticks, and on the odd occasion even adders so I know what I prefer.
LEGGINGS & GAITERS - I am not sure whether these come under walking gear or rucksack essentials but they can be a blessing in wet weather. As far as gaiters go then the most practical kind I have found are the ones with the zip down the front as opposed to the side, they are easier to get on and off. Try to get the ones with a leather or plastic strap that goes under the sole of the boot, these last longer than the cord ones as they don't rot so easily. Again, don't be tempted with the cheap ones (£10) the zips break for a pastime which is a real embuggerance in wet weather. With water-proof leggings it is better to spend a little bit more on the lightweight kind as they are not heavy to carry or wear. The other thing is to get ones that are easy to get on and off, this may sound obvious but in showery weather you will spend a lot of time doing this and its a sod if you have to struggle.
So if you are looking to start walking on Dartmoor or any other upland area get a good balance, don't get ripped off for the sake of a trendy label and don't by something that's cheap and will fail at the first hurdle. Stick to the middle of the road if possible and get affordable gear that will serve you well. For walking equipment see - Essential Equipment.
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