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Sunday 29 January 2017

Is it possible to look stylish when hiking?

Gail and John Hanlon below a rainbow hiking in the Borrowdale Valley
The rainbow was a bonus on a day when the weather was mostly grim 

What? I hear you cry. Stylish when hiking? Surely an oxymoron!

Well, dear reader, before we started our trips to the Lake District back in 2012, I had no idea I would soon be avidly scouring The North Face website for their latest drops, or scurrying into George Fisher as soon as we arrive in Keswick each time to buy more stuff.

We usually go to the Lakes twice a year, in May and late September.  We've also been to Wales to climb Snowdon, and we do some walks in our local forest.

Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton? after climbing Helvellyn and Striding Edge, in pink North Face fleece and Sherpa hat

The first time we went to the Lake District,  I had bought leather Brasher boots online,  the sort Alfred Wainwright used to wear (see above) and I didn't have much in the way of fleeces, base layers, special gloves, etc. And no hiking poles.  

Without sticks and with my dodgy knees, it took me a long time to descend on the shale from Haystacks (the biggest hill we climbed that first time) and to add insult to injury, I was bitten by a pony while Mr Mutton was off filling the water bottles from the babbling brook.

By 2013, I had got more savvy: subscribed to Country Walking and bought all the right stuff from the North Face, Sherpa (hand made by old ladies in Nepal!), Berghaus et al, including walking poles.
Wearing "normal" clothes on long walks - eight to 10 miles, with very steep hills up to 3,000 feet, and with very rapid changes in weather - is not possible. You need highly functional, technical clothes from brands like these.

My Eureka! moment with boots

The Brasher boots were a disaster: they gave me blisters every time and were so heavy and rigid I couldn't move my ankles. It wasn't until 2016 that I finally gave them up when I tried on a pair of wonderful Meindl boots from Germany which have changed my walking experience (I'm wearing them in the photo below).

Because we don't go when the weather is likely to be really bad, I don't have to buy insulated winter jackets, crampons and so on. But even in May and September, it can get horribly cold, wet and windy. So windy once that we had to come down from High Stile because we could no longer stand up. That was frightening. And so cold, last September, that I couldn't unzip my jacket because my hands were too cold.

In typically British fashion, you can get all types of weather in one day so we have to take everything with us - summer and winter combinations. Walking quickly warms you up and you shed layers, but when you get to the summit for lunch you usually need to wrap up again.

For each holiday I like to get a couple of new fleeces in the latest colours (!) - I have a whole rainbow of them, teal, yellow, pink, orange, black.....I try to colour co-ordinate with my base layers, which are usually my gym tops, and my hats, Buffs and trousers/tights. Even the socks are special ones, by Bridgedale. I had a new rucksack for Christmas, it's the Deuter one below, complete with flower!

Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton? on a hill climb overlooking Buttermere Lake, wearing a yellow top and leggings from Adidas

Hiking trousers - never a good look

Hiking trousers are the most unflattering garment known to man. I have several pairs but hardly ever wear them now because they add a stone to your weight (in appearance). The Swedish brand, Fjällräven, has introduced some trousers for women with curves but I haven't tried them yet. Instead, I generally wear walking tights from Montane or three-quarter length gym leggings, and carry deluge trousers which can be pulled on in a couple of seconds when it rains. I also carry a lightweight rain jacket - I have a purple one from Sherpa and a black one from The North Face.

Hiking clothes generally aren't cheap and you pay more for features such as breathability, wicking and so on. I used to visit Rei in the US when I travelled on business to buy pricier items at lower cost. The soft plush cream jacket below came from Rei.

Blogger Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton? and husband John on a hike in the Lake District

A few other essentials which always get packed: sunglasses, Radox for weary muscles, high SPF sun protection, plasters, head lamps, in case you get lost and find yourself out in the dark (which happened to us once)  a whistle, should you need to get help, and protein bars, which are reassuring to have as emergency rations. Mobile phones don't always work up in the hills.

You earn those big dinners

The great thing about hiking, apart from the spectacular views of course, is  that it's excellent exercise and I can fully enjoy a cooked breakfast, a packed lunch and the hotel's amazing three course dinners without putting on weight. Result!

We're off to the Lakes again in May - see you there!

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  1. I never thought of being stylish when hiking, lol.
    What a brilliant idea and info. The photos of you two in the Lake District made me go down memory lane.
    Thank you so much for this post, dear Gail

  2. What a great adventure - and being well-dressed for any event is the best! xox


  3. Hi Gail, wow, the scenery is spectacular. I love to hike,( I do what I can) and enjoy the serenity of being out in the woods and in nature. You certainly look stylish in the bright colors. I find that finding the best hiking boots is key to enjoying the hike, as I have weak ankles and have learned the hard way!
    stop by when you can
    jess xx

    1. Thanks Jess...it seems we all learn the hard way with boots. I couldn't believe the difference when I bought new ones!

  4. I always think the extra effort pays off, and hiking is not any different. Living smack in the middle of the mid-west, mountains are hard to come by but I walk around in the country a lot. I have exercise clothes and they do remind me of yours for hiking. Thank you for dropping by my blog today. I now have you on my bloggers list. Terri meadowtreestyle.com

  5. Quite an insight into the life of a walker Gail, so thank you. I'd no idea you needed such a lot of kit and very specialised too!

  6. Great backdrops for your style shoots! Liking the Deuter backpack too. Must get away from greige or black next time I go walking.


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