One of the best things about trekking is that it’s free to do. Other than some essential kit and the cost of getting to your destination, trekking is an accessible activity that’s open to people of all ages and budgets. You don’t need to pay for expensive lessons or a coach, and it’s the perfect way to explore our natural surroundings, and places we wouldn’t normally get to see up close and personal. Better still, it can be done all year round, but of course certain weather conditions can make trekking a little more challenging, so having the right kit can make all the difference, not just for keeping warm and comfortable, but also for staying safe on that mountainous terrain.
- Boots: A good pair of boots is probably the most important piece of kit you’ll need. There’s lots of choice out there, and understanding what goes into a pair of boots can help you make your decision. But most importantly, make sure they fit you properly as a pair of ill-fitting boots will put an end to your trek before it’s even started.
- Clothing: You’ll need a warm and waterproof coat for the colder weather, as well as thermal tops and windproof trousers. Multiple layers are better and more comfortable than one or two big thick layers as you can peel them off if you get warm. Choose clothing with anti-chafing and moisture-wicking properties for comfort. You’ll also need special hiking socks with cushioning in the heel and ball of the foot. Go for quality socks to help prevent blisters, and make sure they’re made of moisture-wicking material to help your feet stay dry.
- A backpack: This is essential to carry your belongings on your trek. You’ll need at least a 50 litre backpack to carry all your clothes, food and camping and cooking equipment. You’ll need enough space for all your supplies, without weighing you down too much. A good backpack will come with shoulder straps and a hip belt to put most of the weight on to your hips where it’s more comfortable, rather than straining your shoulders and neck. They are usually lightweight and padded to reduce the impact of the weight of your load. A bag with lots of outer pockets and compartments is useful so you can find all your essentials quickly (just make sure you’re not packing unneessary items just because you have the space as this will weigh you down). And go for something durable (and ideally waterproof) so it will hold up against the elements and will last you for years of treks to come.
- Trekking poles: Also known as walking or hiking poles, will help you travel faster and more safely on that mountainous terrain. Two poles are recommended as they can aid balance, especially on steep rocky paths to help avoid injury. They can also help those with dodgy knees or ankles as they will spread the impact. Look for poles that are lightweight but tough, and fold small enough that they can be packed away when you’re not using them. They are particularly useful on muddy and slippery terrain, and river crossings.
- A trekking tent. This is an essential piece of kit as treks tend to last a few days. You’ll need a tent that’s durable and wind resistant, especially if you’re pitching up mountainside. It will need to be waterproof for those rainy days, and you may want blackout panels to help you get a good night's sleep as you’ll need your energy for the rest of the trek ahead. Opt for a tent with good ventilation and maybe sun protection if you plan on trekking in the summer, or in hotter climates. Though be careful as any fancy features on a tent are likely to add weight, which you’ll need to lug around with you on your journey. Also get a tent just big enough for the amount of people sleeping in it. A bigger tent will give you more space, but you’ll regret it when it comes to setting off on your way again. Don't be afraid to try out the tents in store. Climb in and lie down, and practise pitching it and taking it down again so you can ensure you choose the tent that works for you.
Other useful pieces of kit for your trek are warm gloves, a sleeping bag, navigation tools such as a map or compass (remember your phone may not always have signal in the countryside or in remote areas). A knife or multi-tool, first-aid kit, a headlamp or torch, and plenty of food and water (and cooking equipment) to keep you going throughout your trek.
What technology goes into trekking boots?
Specialist outdoor gear has definitely evolved over the years. It’s become more fit for purpose, and is now much lighter and durable. Trekking boots now offer far better support and cushioning than previous designs, which make them much more comfortable on longer trips. Before synthetic materials graced footwear, boots were all-leather, even the outsole. A leather outsole is smooth and flat when first worn and only becomes more grippy as it scuffs, not ideal for tricky terrain. The invention of the rubber outsole was a real breakthrough in trekking boots, which made them safer and longer-lasting. Here are some of the key materials and features to look out for when choosing which footwear to buy as a beginner:
- Boot uppers: determine a boots weight, durability and resistance to water. Full-grain leather is the best of the best. It’s water resistant, and has a luxuriously smooth surface as it has not been sanded or buffed, making it the most durable. It’s used in heavy duty trekking boots, so it’s not as light and breathable as other options, and you’ll need plenty of time to break leather boots in. For something a little more lightweight (and cheaper), you can go for a split-grain leather, which is usually combined with a nylon mesh for breathability (although it is less resistant to water and abrasion). Nubuck leather (or suede) is buffed full-grain leather. It’s very durable and water resistant, but needs plenty of time to break in. Or beginners might want to start with the entry level synthetic material boots which are lighter, break in more quickly, and do not cost as much. Though they will not last you as long if you do become an avid trekker. Also look for a waterproof Gore-Tex® membrane so your boots will stand up to the elements with confidence.
- Boot midsoles: provide cushioning and stability. An EVA midsole is light but well cushioned, and a Polyurethane midsole is generally firmer and more durable, so it’s usually found in tougher trekking and mountaineering boots.
- Boot outsole: rubber is used on all trekking boot outsoles for durability and grip. And for better grip on challenging mountainous terrain, go for boots with plenty of lugs (those little bumps found on the outsole). The deeper, thicker and more widely spaced the lugs, the better the grip.
If you plan on going trekking in the winter when the ground is icy and slippery, you’ll need extra grip. Some trekking boots are crampon compatible. A crampon is a traction device that you can attach to your boots to improve mobility on snow and ice. Searching for boots which are compatible with crampons will help you to narrow down your search.
How do I know which trekking boots to go for?
Trekking footwear varies a lot. So when choosing your boots, make sure they are suitable for the type of walks you’ll be going on. For tackling challenging mountainous terrain with steep descents, you’ll need boots with good ankle support, heel moulding, toe protection, and good grip, whilst being waterproof. And make sure you wear them in before going on that first trip as the last thing you’ll want is to get blisters half way through.
Here’s a quick guide to the different types of boots on the market:
- Day trekking boots: these mid-cut models are a good choice for shorter treks. They flex easily and are lightweight. They will provide good ankle support and they don’t need much time to break-in. And many good day boots are also waterproof, with a Gore-Tex® membrane applied around the shell of the boot. Just remember that day hiking boots offer less support and durability compared to backpacking boots, so aren't ideal for longer treks.
- Trekking boots: are heavy-duty boots, built for multi-day trips and where you might have a heavier backpack to carry. They have a higher cut that wraps above the ankle for good support and they’re usually more durable with stiffer midsoles than lighter footwear. They’re built for tough, rocky trails, and the thick upper materials and good waterproofing make for excellent performance in wet and snowy conditions. Backpacking boots tend to have a bit more insulation in them too, but this does make them pretty heavy. And a good quality pair will tend to be made of leather which is very durable, but it does require treatment from time to time to keep the leather smooth and to prevent cracking. And they’ll need lots of breaking in too so they’re nice and comfortable for your trek.
If you’re just looking to invest in one pair of boots for trekking through the mountains, then go for backpacking boots as you can use those across most treks and conditions. However, if you don’t really see yourself trekking for days on end and prefer to stick to day trips, then stick with the lighter and more comfortable trekking or hiking boot.
Stay clear of hiking sandals, trail and hiking shoes as these do not offer as much support as sturdier boots. They will not withstand the long walks up and down mountainous rocky terrain and could lead to some nasty ankle injuries.
How do I choose the correct size boots?
Getting the perfect fit is so important. Boots which pinch or rub could ruin your first trekking experience, so when trying on boots, make sure you try both on with special hiking or trekking socks. When your foot is firmly inside, put your weight on the front of the foot and you should be able to fit your index finger easily between your heel and the back of the boot. The boot should also feel snug on the width, but not too tight around the ball of your foot. Have a good walk around the store so you’re sure you’re buying the right size. And gradually wear in your boots so they conform to the shape of your feet before your trek.