Advising on clothing and equipment
Selection and proper use of equipment affects the safety, comfort and enjoyment of ant walking or skiing trip. The equipment required will depend on many factors including the area, terrain, weather conditions, time of year, type and experience of the group, and objectives of the trip. Tropical walking on Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland, will require very different clothing and equipment from that required for skiing the Main Range, New South Wales in winter, or day walking in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. A higher standard of equipment is usually required for ski touring and bad weather situations. The lighter the load carried the better, but safety should never be compromised.
Leaders have a responsibility to ensure that groups are informed of the expected conditions, and there is often a need to check the equipment carried or worn by each group member. Leaders must be satisfied that equipment is adequate for the trip and should not hesitate to refuse to take someone with unsuitable or inadequate equipment which could jeopardise the safety of the group. With experienced groups this may mean little more than a verbal check at the beginning of the trip to see that each has the required equipment (e.g. full wet weather gear and two litres of water). With beginner or inexperienced members it will often be necessary to physically inspect equipment, preferably well before the trip, so that any inadequacies can be remedied. With these groups it is advisable to give and explain an equipment list, and possibly demonstrate key items early in the planning stages.
Some equipment can be shared, particularly within a tent group (e.g. stove, billies, trowel). For longer trips there may be some whole group items (e.g. a spare fly for bad weather protection, spare ski tips or extra snow shovels for a ski trip). When day walking, group first aid is often the only shared equipment other than the extra items that you as leader may carry for emergencies.
Equipment should be suitable for its purpose, lightweight, strong, reliable, maintained in good condition and of as high a quality as is affordable. In practice, the final choice on any major item of equipment is likely to be a compromise between most of these ideals. As new equipment is expensive, you might suggest the order in which items should be acquired when asked for advice on selecting equipment. A waterproof jacket is probably the highest priority, followed by suitable boots, pack, sleeping bag and tent. Trying equipment before purchase can often be helpful. This can be done by borrowing from friends or hiring from clubs or shops. The best source of information is other group members. It is important that new walkers and ski tourers inspect as much of the gear as possible that others are carrying and ask about experiences with that gear.
Outdoor magazines have regular equipment surveys and there are many specialist shops displaying a wide range of equipment. Warn new walkers and ski tourers that homework needs to be done before going shopping, as salespeople do not always have experience in using each item available. Suggest that they also try more than one shop, as prices, even on similar items, can often vary significantly between shops, and some shops carry a limited range of brands.
There are some secondhand gear shops in most major cities and these are often a source of cheaper and partly broken-in gear, or a solution to wrongly selected gear which you no longer want to keep. Some clubs arrange preloved gear nights which can be helpful. They are worth considering.
It is vital that this expensive equipment be maintained in good condition. Boots need to be cleaned and resealed, tents dried out on return home and before storing, sleeping bags aired and inner sheets washed, coats cleaned as per manufacturer’s instructions, backpacks cleaned and checked for condition and skis and specialist ski gear cleaned and repairs arranged. Leaders can only explain the need for this to those new to these activities, as it is ultimately their responsibility.
Other than specialist clothing such as wet-weather gear, boots and ski clothes, a carefully selected range of ordinary clothes is often advisable. These are usually known to be comfortable and are already available. Synthetic fabrics are being used more and more as they tend to be lighter in weight, are often more robust and usually dry more quickly. Whether natural or synthetic fabrics are selected is an individual preference.
Leaders must make sure that the group members are aware of the layering principle. Several thin layers with the air trapped between them provides very efficient insulation. It also allows flexibility when adjusting clothing for variations in temperature. Beginners should be advised to take enough suitable, warm clothing, even on midsummer trips, as cold conditions can occur in any season. Very heavy woollen jumpers are rarely satisfactory, and wearing jeans can be deadly in wet weather, due to the wicking effect, which greatly increases heat loss from the body. Remind the group to have a spare set of dry clothes left in the car to travel home in.
Possibly the best advice you can give is to read lists provided, and talk to and observe others and their equipment on trips.
See Appendix 1 for clothing and equipment lists and Chapter 13 for specific equipment information about skiing and snow camping.