The essential guide to what to take on a mountain hike

What to wear and pack in your rucksack when hiking in the hills and mountains

Walking in the mountains and wild places of the UK can be very different to a countryside ramble, and having the right clothing and equipment for hiking can literally be a lifesaver.

What to take varies depending upon where you’re walking and what time of year it is. But there are a few essentials that you should take, no matter where and when you go out hiking.

A group of walkers in the mountainsCredit:

To help create our guide, we spoke to instructor Derek Bain, from Glenmore Lodge, Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre.

Bain says: “We could write a book on kit alone, but in summary take good quality clothing and know how to use everything you’ve got with you.”


What to wear when hiking in the mountains


Choose shoes or boots with a treaded sole. The best footwear really depends on your route choice: you’ll often want a sturdier walking boot for greater ankle support.

Walking socks

You want a pair that will keep your feet warm in winter and cool in summer.

A base layer

This should be made from a wicking fabric, which draws moisture away from the skin.

A mid-layer

A fleece jacket or pullover works well in providing more warmth but remaining breathable.


Walking trousers

There are lots of specialist walking trousers but, to start with, wear anything comfortable. Try to avoid jeans as they take a long time to dry if they get wet.

A hillwalker gazing at the viewCredit:

Why you need a rucksack for a mountain walk

You need a rucksack to carry everything. They come in different capacities, but anything between 20 and 40 litres is usually enough for a single day’s hike.

If you don’t already own a rucksack, it’s worth heading to a good outdoor equipment store for advice and to get it properly fitted. Although most are adjustable, it’s worth making sure you get one that fits your back length and chest size.

If you buy it online, test it at home before you take the labels off, in case you need to return it – and don’t forget to put some weight in it so you can feel if it’s still comfortable when full.

The contents of a hill walking rucksackCredit:

What to take when hiking: pack these essentials

Map and compass

An Ordnance Survey Explorer map is essential unless you’re very familiar with the area. These well-known orange 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km) maps are the only ones in Great Britain to display footpaths, car parks, contour lines, campsites, sites of battles, pubs and so much more. Learn how to read one and how to use a compass before heading out. It will help keep you safe and enhance your walk.

Waterproof jacket and trousers

Waterproofs are essential even when the forecast is dry. The weather can be unpredictable and localised in the mountains; it can rain even when there is none forecast. In addition to keeping you dry, they add warmth when the temperature drops.

More than one pair of gloves

Wet hands make you miserable, as they will inevitably turn cold – so be sure to pop an extra pair or two of gloves in your pack.

A hat

Carry a warm one in the winter that provides some wind protection for your ears. In the summer, carry a cap or sunhat.

Buff or similar stretchy neck tube

These can be useful to use around your head, ears or neck – or even as a makeshift bandage or arm sling if needed.

Phone and power bank with charging cable

Navigation and fitness apps can drain the battery on your phone, so make sure you have extra juice in case of emergency.

Head torch with spare batteries

Carry this even if you aren’t planning to stay out after dark – it’s important to pack for every eventuality.

First aid kit

As a minimum, carry plasters or a blister pack, antiseptic cream or spray and a bandage, along with any essential medication.

Food and drink

Don’t forget to carry enough food and drink for your planned trip and a bit more in case. A flask filled with a hot drink is lovely on a cold day.

Eye protection

Work out whether you need sunglasses or clear goggles, or maybe both. If the forecast is windy, goggles are fantastic.

Sun cream and lip salve

The UV index goes up the higher you climb, so it’s easy to get a burnt nose or chapped lips. The higher hills and mountains can experience all seasons in one day, so pack for all eventualities.

And finally…

A group of walkers approaching Pen y Fan mountainCredit:

Optional hiking equipment to consider

An emergency shelter or survival bag

Consider packing these if you are going somewhere remote. These are lightweight and could save your life in an emergency. Shelters vary in size and aren’t just for emergencies. They can be useful to shelter under when having lunch on a cold, wet or windy day. A survival bag is a strong, lightweight bag made from a tough plastic material which you can get inside like a sleeping bag for extra protection.

Walking poles

Walking poles are great for everyday mountain use. Not only do they provide you with extra stability and are a bit kinder on your knees, they also aid with river crossings. Modern poles are lightweight and can fold up to fit in your pack and many rucksacks have external fastenings especially for them.

Ice axe and crampons

If hiking in the mountains in winter, take an ice axe and crampons and be sure you know how to use them. You can attend courses in winter skills (including at Glenmore Lodge) and they are well worth it. We would also recommend packing extra warm layers and hot drinks.

The final word goes to Bains, who says: “If you aren’t sure about exactly what you need, speak to a knowledgeable retailer that trains its staff, such as Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports or Cotswold Outdoor, for more advice.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV.

Her passion is outdoor fitness. She’s a trainee mountain leader; an Ordnance Survey Champion; she organises walks and instructional events for South Wales members of online community the Adventure Queens and she’s vice chair of the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Local Access Forum.

She hated sports at school and only started getting the fitness bug as she reached her 50s. Now she loves mountain walking, trail runs, e-biking, paddleboarding and climbing. She also loves cake.

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