Hiking Pyrenees - the right equipment

How the Wrong Trousers led to the right kit for Pyrenees hiking

WHAT led us to buy a barn in the Pyrenees and settle here was our love of hill/mountain walking. We’ve always gone about this in a half-cocked fashion, wearing the right boots (usually!) but not always thinking about the rest of the kit.

This came home to us today when we attempted to follow one of the routes on our hillside. It comes straight past our barn, heading down the hill towards Massat. However, we wanted to go up the hill, to beyond the treeline to the exposed scrub on the top. We can see this from the barn, but we’ve not yet been up there.

So, on with the backpack, with water, dog’s bowl, compass (which we have used in anger when caught in fog on Kinder Scout last year), sweets but not much else. We strolled down the road, using the local map, found the turn-off up the hill and were confronted with a tiny lane full of brambles and nettles.

We were wearing shorts and teeshirts. It was a hot, humid day so not an unreasonable choice. But within minutes we were suffering from stings and scratches. This was not enjoyable and clearly a case of the Wrong Trousers.

Now Jack may occasionally look like Grommit, but I’m not Wallace. I couldn’t produce the Right Trousers with a press of a button. we turned back and enjoyed, instead, a stroll along an easier part of the hillside, discovering some nooks and crannies we’d not seen before.

So, not a total wash-out but clearly we have to get a bit more serious about the kit. Over to Trail Magazine, the UK’s top hiking mag, for some worthwhile kit advice. Here’s what they say:

The right gear makes the difference between enjoying and enduring your day on the hill.

Rucksack Spare warm layers, waterproofs, and plenty of food and water are vital to let your body cope with the ever-changing demands the mountain environment places on it. A rucksack offers the closest thing to effortlessness when it comes to carrying all your kit.

Waterproof jacket Keeping dry is nice, but keeping warm is vital. Waterproof jackets keep rain off, but also block the wind, and trap warm air inside. All walking jackets breathe more than your old cagoule, but take care not to overdress underneath as they can’t get rid of all the condensation your body can throw at them.

Gloves Cold hands annoying, but they also make it hard to carry out normally easy tasks like operating a compass. Thin windproof gloves are useful all year round.

Walking trousers The best walking trousers are stretchy, quick-drying and water-resistant, with reinforcement on knees and bum, and a comfortable waistband that doesn’t rub with a rucksack waist-strap done up over it.

Socks Good quality walking socks provide insulation, padding and moisture control, and help improve the fit of your walking boots.

Walking boots Help reduce the risk of foot and ankle injuries on rough terrain, provide grip and waterproofing. There are different boots made for varying walking conditions.

Hat It may be warm in the valley, but it’ll be a different story on the summit. Up to 70 per cent of body heat-loss is through your head, so a hat’s warmth-to-weight ratio is peerless.

Base-layer The layer nearest the skin, designed to transport moisture away before it can make you cold or uncomfortable.

Mid-layer Made from synthetic fleece, they all keep you warm by trapping warm air. The latest ‘soft shell’ designs also offer water- and wind-resistance in differing combinations, but are more expensive.

Map & compass A map and compass are as good as any GPS when combined with a sound knowledge of how to use them – essential before you venture into the hills.

Gaiters Stop the bottom of your walking trousers getting soaking wet and water getting into your boots over the ankle cuffs. Not essential, but a major boon when you step in the inevitable bog.

Hydration system It’s essential to stay hydrated when walking –  a hydration system means you don’t have the hassle of taking off your ’sack to get at a water bottle.

Head-torch In case you’re still in the hills as night falls. An LED torch is the most hassle-free.

DIY first aid kit Make your own, including the following: paracetamol, medical gloves, wound dressing, big bandage, plasters, safety pins, whistle and tape. Keep in two watertight bags.

Waterproof over-trousers Wet legs are chilling and miserable – any over-trouser is better than none.

Survival bag This or a group shelter will keep you warm if you become stranded on a mountain and have to await help or daylight.

Blimey! That’s a whole lot more organised than we’ve ever been… but we realise we’re in serious mountains now. We have to take them seriously too… so long as we can continue to take a Caprese salad, bread and cheese, and wine gums for lunch!

Trail Magazine
Hiking Ariege