Q&A: Shoes vs Boots for uphill

Q I really struggle going uphill. Could it be anything to do with my boots? Would approach shoes be better?

Could your choice of footwear be limiting your walking?

Could your choice of footwear be limiting your walking?


GT is Trail Magazine's technical editor. Anything he doesn’t know about outdoor kit isn’t worth knowing. 


"There are many reasons why you might be struggling to walk uphill, and footwear is only one factor to consider. The type of terrain and your skill at moving over it, your fitness, balance, style of walking, body weight, rucksack weight, the stability of your rucksack and much more all need to be taken into account.

"In terms of footwear, boots have the advantage of supporting the ankle, stabilising the foot, reducing discomfort on rockier ground and keeping debris out – and this can make it easier to walk uphill. But approach shoes are lighter than boots while promoting dexterity and freedom of movement in the foot, which allows a more nimble approach to walking over rougher ground.

"Some people do find walking uphill easier in shoes than boots, but the drawbacks are that you may get more debris in the shoe and this type of footwear may flex more on uneven ground, leading to potentially greater discomfort or the need for the foot to work harder. It’s also very important to consider the stiffness and lug pattern of the footwear as both will probably be of a greater influence on performance than if the footwear is a shoe or boot design."

Q&A: How to get high abroad

Q I’m no mountaineer, but I want to climb something really high abroad to experience altitude. What’s out there for someone like me?  

A 4000m Alpine Peak is something many aspire to... but where to start? Photo: Jeremy Ashcroft

A 4000m Alpine Peak is something many aspire to... but where to start? Photo: Jeremy Ashcroft

A qualified International Mountain Leader, Rob’s led groups all over the world www.expeditionguide.com    

"I always recommend that people first dip their toe in the water with something smaller and with good local infrastructure, and then progress onto bigger and more remote trips as they discover how their bodies adjust to altitude and the routine of being away on an expedition. A great first trip for example would be a week of trekking in the Alps, perhaps ticking off some of the 3000m summits in Switzerland and staying in mountain huts along the way. If you enjoy this, a week in the Atlas Mountains would be a good progression. The food is all a bit more ‘foreign’, it’s further from home in a different culture, you can get over 4000m quite comfortably and the accommodation is all a bit more basic.

"Moving on from that you could look at your first high-altitude trip. Objectives like Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp work really well so long as you take it slowly and allow yourself lots of time for acclimatisation. This will get you over 5900m on Kilimanjaro. You could also consider one of the larger Himalayan trekking peaks such as Mera Peak in Nepal, which stands at 6476m and is the highest of the trekking-only peaks in the Himalayas. On a trip like this you need to go slowly, have plenty of rest along the way, be able to sleep in communal, basic accommodation and eat a pretty repetitive diet – and the smaller trips will help you to prepare and enjoy the big one all the more."



Midges can be the bane of a hillwalker’s summer. They swarm, they bite, you itch. Here’s how to minimise their impact and keep your peak-bagging scratch-free.

Culicoides impunctatus (Highland Midge) feeding. Photograph: The Pilbright Institute


Intel Midges like moist, sheltered conditions, such as tarns or bogs that are out of the wind.
Action Keep to high, dry areas where the lack of moisture and increased breeze keeps them away. Ridges, summits and exposed, well-drained plateaux are best for walking and camping.

Intel Midges dislike strong sunlight and are about in greatest numbers at dawn and dusk.
Action Plan your route to avoid midge-prone areas at either end of the day, and shun shaded locations like forests and woods where they can
be found throughout daylight hours.

Intel Overall weather conditions across the country can influence midge densities in
different locations.
Action Visiting www.midgeforecast.co.uk will give you detailed predictions for midge activity across Scotland, while Met Office predictions of breezes will reduce their numbers anywhere.

Intel Midges need access to skin to feed and are attracted to dark-coloured clothing.
Action Cover up as much as possible with long-sleeved tops and by wearing trousers rather than shorts. Avoid black or dark blues and greens and stick to lighter, brighter-coloured apparel.


DEET: This chemical repellent is arguably the most effective type. It is available in different strengths, and repellents with 25-40 per cent DEET are fine for midges, but side effects including an ability to soften and damage plastics, plus its questionable suitability for use on children or people with sensitive skin or asthma, puts lots of would-be users off.

Smidge: Developed specifically to combat the Scottish midge (hence the name), Smidge is DEET-free and has been tried, tested and proven in the midge-swamped Scottish Highlands. It’s water- and sweat-resistant, repels mosquitoes and ticks as well as midges, is safe for use on children and is recommended by the World Health Organization.

Avon Skin So Soft: When Royal Marines take to covering themselves in the Dry Oil Body Spray from Avon’s Skin So Soft range, it’s probably not for its nourishing, hydrating and softening properties. It turns out that it’s also pretty effective at keeping biting bugs away, although who are we to say that an RM Commando doesn’t want beautifully moisturised skin?

Marmite: Let’s be clear: you’re not supposed to smear it on your skin. Anecdotally, eating Marmite is said to help repel midges, although there’s no science to back this up. But whether it’s something to do with the vitamin B in it, or because it changes how your skin smells, the biggest factor will be this: do you love it or hate it?



Clean: As well as preventing infection, cleaning the bite ASAP can help reduce itching. An alcohol or antiseptic wipe is best, but soap and water will do if available. Applying antiseptic cream is a good idea, too.

Zap: These little devices (above) can be used to administer a small electrical shock to the bite (don’t worry, it’s very, very small), which will relieve itching and reduce swelling. It may sound bizarre, but they really, really work – see our Used and Abused review on page 100.

Relieve: Antihistamine bite relief creams can help reduce swelling and itching when it
does start to become a nuisance. Some people are prone to extreme allergic reactions to bites, and it’s worth carrying antihistamine tablets for use in such cases.





It’s that time of year when outdoor masochists lose every shred of sense and start kipping on top of mountains. But is bivvying as scary as it looks? 

Bivvying on the summit of the legendary Buachaille Etive Mor. It may be mad – but who wouldn't want to? Photograph: Tom Bailey / Trail Magazine

What is bivvying?
Bivvying is sleeping outside, usually in a wilderness environment, using just a rudimentary means of protecting yourself from the elements – namely a bivouac or bivvy bag. In its most basic form, a bivvy bag is a waterproof sack, a little larger than a sleeping bag, although some bivvies have a single hoop to make them feel a little less claustrophobic.

Why should I do it?
Even the lightest one-person tents are still heavier than a simple bivvy bag and take up more space in a rucksack. For travelling fast and light, you can’t beat a bivvy. The other disadvantage of a tent is that you’re limited with where you can put it, while bivvies can be used anywhere there’s space to lie down, and don’t require tent-peg-compatible ground. You could kip on a summit, in a cave, or even on a mountainside, waking up to views most people can only dream of.

What gear do I need?
The kit:
1 x bivvy bag
1 x sleeping bag
1 x sleeping mat
1 x large dry bag or waterproof sack
Usual camping food and water
Usual hillwalking kit and clothing, plus an extra warm insulated jacket

Where should I do it?
Ideally you want a spot that offers shelter from any wind and rain.
Siting your bivvy on the lee side of a boulder or in a small hollow will help, while in designated bivvy spots like those found on Skye’s Cuillin Ridge, low, purpose-built walls constructed of rocks provide the same protection.

Don’t forget about the aesthetic value of the location, too. If you know where the sun is going to set or rise, if there’s a view of your favourite mountain, or if you just want to be able to see where you’ve parked the car, take the time to choose a spot that provides you with the most pleasing outlook.

How does it work?
Insert your sleeping mat into the bivvy bag, then add a sleeping bag. Place all your kit and any spare clothes inside a big dry-bag. Unlike a tent there’s no space to store your pack and boots but you still need to protect it, so put your kit somewhere it can’t blow away, or anchor it down.

Once you’re set up and ready for bed, slide into your bivvy bag and get comfortable. If fine weather’s forecast, you can leave the bag unzipped; but apply insect repellent as the little biters may be up to no good during the night. Otherwise, zip yourself in and nod off to the soundtrack of the wilderness around you…


Do I need a bivvy bag to sleep outside?
No, but if there’s any chance of getting wet, either through precipitation or dew (and in the UK that’s most of the time), you’ll want one.

Will I need a sleeping bag too?
Yes. A bivvy is just a waterproof cover. It offers little by way of insulation, so you’ll want a sleeping bag to keep you warm.

What about a mat?
Yes. Even if the terrain is comfortable, you can lose lots of heat through the ground. Sleeping mats add comfort and insulation, and fit inside most bivvy bags.

Will my face get wet?
Bivvy bags usually zip up completely. While this can make them feel a little like a body bag, the waterproof nature of the material means you will at least be kept dry.

Will I be able to breathe in the bag?
As well as being waterproof, bivvy bags are also breathable to reduce condensation, so you won’t suffocate!

Could I roll off the side of a mountain?
In theory, yes. Unlike a tent, a bivvy bag isn’t anchored to the ground. But it takes some effort to roll over, particularly if you have a sleeping mat, so you should be safe.

Do survival bags do the same job?
Survival bags don’t zip up completely so, unlike bivvy bags, they are prone to leaking in wet conditions. They’re also not in the slightest bit breathable, so you’re likely to end up soaked in condensation and sweating like a grizzly bear in a sauna.


Gearing up for Winter

Winter is arguably the most spectacular time of year to be in the mountains - but only if you have the right kit. Forget something essential and you could find yourself in serious trouble. Mountain Training's Bryn Williams takes us through the gear choices he makes to ensure that a cold day on the hill is still a good one...

Autumn into winter is my favourite time of the year to start heading out to the hills, as the colours are changing and the end of the day is sometimes rewarded with stunning sunsets. The clothing and equipment choice become a vital part of venturing into the hills during the winter months, so here's an idea of what I'll be taking with me.


Start cold and avoid getting too warm and sweaty early in the day. My choices would generally be:

Start of the day:

 - Long-sleeved base layer with high neck

 - Light windproof layer

 - Insulated (synthetic) gilet/vest

 - Thin gloves, Bu , thin hat

 - Soft shell trousers

 - Gaiters

As height is gained or it starts to cool down or rain:

 - Soft shell jacket (with hood)

 - Lightly insulated gloves (not too bulky)

 - Waterproof trousers (with ful-llength zips and ideally high waist/bib style)

Poor weather:

 - Waterproof jacket (fixed hood that can be easily adjusted with gloves on)

 - Synthetic insulated jacket (slightly larger size, which allows it to be worn over the top of all other layers, plus fixed hood)

 - Big insulated and waterproof gloves

 - Thicker beanie hat


During the winter months you'll end up carrying more equipment and clothing than in the summer months, so for starters think about the size of your rucksack. A 40 litre pack is ideal, especially with compression straps (for holding an ice axe and walking poles), supportive waistbelt and a pocket within the lid to stash snacks and random bits and pieces. The equipment I use in winter will differ from summer - always remember that you might need to use it with big gloves on and in the dark.

In my rucksack:

 - Map (including spare and a case or lanyard)

 - Compass (with large base plate)

 - GPS (to assist with the map and compass)

 - Flask (0.5-1 litre with hot drink)

 - Water (0.5-1 litre)

 - More food than summer (mix of slow-energy-release snacks and some sugary quick hitters)

 - Headtorch (brighter and more robust than the one I carry in the summer)

 - Phone within a waterproof case

 - First aid kit

 - Spare gloves or mitts

 - Spare hat and Bu

 - Group shelter (big enough for your team to get in)

 - Blizzard survival vest (one per team member)

 - Walking pole(s)

 - Sunglasses and lip cream

 - Clear goggles (that can be used in darkness)

Essential Winter Kit

Most of the equipment above will be carried within the autumn months, and as winter arrives I'll then add some further essential kit to the list:

 - Winter boots: I use fully rigid winter boots (B3 rated). I like the extra support in winter, and they make kicking steps on short snow patches much easier and far more stable.

 - Crampons: Must be compatible with the boots you use, and robust. A mountaineering crampon would be ideal for most journeys, and if using a B3 boot it will allow a 'clip-in' style that gives a snug and secure fit. Stash them in a crampon bag rather than using point protectors. 

 - Ice axe: Essential kit for support when walking, cutting steps and ledges, aiding balance and arresting a slide should one occur. A longer axe will give more support when walking uphill, whereas a shorter axe will be more useful on steeper, rockier ground. A 'B' (basic) axe is fine for personal walking, and a 'T' (technical) axe is needed if you plan to do roped winter climbs where the axe may be part of a belay. 

 - Fix-it kit: The usual boot laces and duct tape, plus some zip ties and a multi-tool for fixing crampons.

 - Knowledge: One of the main differences in winter is the knowledge required to use the winter equipment competently (ice axe and crampon skills) along with an understanding of the differences and challenges of winter navigation and avalanche awareness. A winter skills course can be a good way to take your summer walking skills into the winter environment.

To find out more about the Hill and Mountain Skills Scheme run by Mountain Training, including the course contents and registration details, visit www.mountain-training.org


Walk your way through Christmas Dinner

Here's your guide to some of our best festive food on a cook's tour of the culinary capitals of the British Isles!


The sweet chestnut was introduced to Britain from Europe, and so it tends to be more prevalent in the estates and parkland of southern England. The nuts are available from mid-October and give off an unmistakable warm aroma when gently roasted over embers and served hot. They make brilliant soup and are a wonderful addition to home-made stuffing.

GET THEM HERE: Mature estate woodlands including London's great parks and the grounds of stately homes in the home counties.

WALK HERE: Download our 'Richmond Hill' walk from www.lfto.com/cwroutes


Farmed salmon is more sustainable than the increasingly scarce wild fish, but intensive salmon farms have come in for criticism. Look for fish reared on the west coast of Scotland, in sea lochs with strong tidal currents. These minimise the impact of the waste on the surrounding ecosystem, and the flesh of the salmon will be firmer and leaner.

GET IT HERE: Inverawe Smokehouse, Taynuilt, Argyll (www.smokedsalmon.co.uk).

WALK HERE: There are pretty woodland walks direct from the visitor centre.


While we can't actually refer to it as champagne, sparkling English wine is now regularly beating French fizz in blind tastings. Our friends across the Channel are so worried that they're busy buying up swathes of Sussex and Kent in a bid to stop English winemakers stealing any more of their thunder. So if you usually indulge in a drop of fizz to celebrate the festive season, buying British is the way to go this Christmas.

GET IT HERE: Ridgeview, West Sussex (www.ridgeview.co.uk); Chapel Down, Kent (www.chapeldown.com); Camel Valley, Cornwall (www.camelvalley.com).

WALK HERE: The Camel Trail passes beneath the Camel Valley Vineyard, while Ridgeview's vines grow on the chalky slopes of the South Downs - download our 'Ditching Beacon' walk from www.lfto.com/cwroutes


No Christmas dinner is complete without some chipolata sausages on the side. Buy British and look for a minimum of 80% meat content - ideally from outdoor-reared free-range porkers such as Gloucester Old Spots or Tamworths.

GET THEM HERE: Cowmans Famous Sausage Shop, Clitheroe, Lancashire (www.cowmans.co.uk).


For perfect devils on horseback, you'll need bacon that roasts nice and crisp rather than steams itself in the oven - so a good dry cure with no excess water is essential. Look for handsalted rashers that have been cured over time, not injected with artificial smoke and frozen before slicing.

GET IT HERE: Denhay Farms, Bridport, Dorset (www.denhay.co.uk).


Turkey is the centrepiece of the traditional Christmas lunch, so it's worth seeking out a good one. Organic freerange birds that have been reared naturally in the open air will cook more evenly and taste better, so the additional investment definitely pays off.

GET IT HERE: Woodlands Farm, Kirton, Lincs (www.woodlandsfarm.co.uk).

WALK HERE: See the turkeys - and several other animals - on the 1.5-mile trail around Woodlands Farm.


Once an English Christmas fixture, goose has made a bit of a comeback as families look for a more strongly flavoured alternative to turkey. You'll be spooning fat from the roasting tray every hour, but it's ideal for roast spuds!

GET IT HERE: Seldom Seen Farm, near Billesdon, Leicestershire (www.seldomseenfarm.co.uk).

8. HAM

Gently simmered in orange juice and spices, studded with cloves and slathered in marmalade before roasting, the traditional Christmas ham is almost as important as the turkey. The Woodall family have been producing outstanding hams in the western Lake District for nearly 200 years - call in at their tiny shop in Waberthwaite then explore the gorgeous valley of Eskdale.

GET IT HERE: RB Woodall, Millom, Cumbria (www.rbwoodall.com).

WALK HERE: Download our 'Muncaster' walk at www.lfto.com/cwroutes


Love 'em or hate 'em, sprouts are among the few fresh vegetables available in deepest winter, as they grow above ground and are best harvested after a hard frost. Acres of Brussels are grown in the fertile Fens to reach their peak in late December.

GET THEM HERE: TH Clements, Boston, Lincolnshire (www.thclements.co.uk).


If you plan to make your own, best get your skates on as 'stir-up Sunday', when you're supposed to make the mixture and let it mature, is on November 23rd. If you've left it too late, try the gourmet puds from the Lakeland artisans who introduced sticky toffee pudding to the world.

GET IT HERE: Cartmel Village Shop, Cumbria (www.cartmelvillageshop.co.uk).

WALK HERE: Pick up a Cartmel pud then wander up the Cistercian Way to the top of Hampsfell for stunning views over expansive Morecambe Bay. Download our 'Hampsfell' route from www.lfto.com/cwroutes


No festive feast would be complete without a selection of cheese. Ours would be sure to include the following: Caerphilly, Crumbly Lancashire, Hartington Stilton, Isle of Arran Cheddar, Somerset Brie and Wensleydale.

GET THEM HERE: Hartington Cheese Shop, Derbyshire (www.hartingtoncheeseshop.co.uk).

WALK HERE: The pretty village of Hartington, at the head of Dovedale in the Peak District, has recently restarted production of its distinctive stilton. Download our 'Hartington' route from www.lfto.com/cwroutes


At 1164ft above sea level in the upper reaches of Glen Trium, Dalwhinnie is Scotland's highest distillery, and its soft, sweet whisky makes the perfect digestif after your bumper Christmas lunch. It also makes a warming tipple for a cold day on the hill.

GET IT HERE: Dalwhinnie Distillery, Inverness-shire (www.discoveringdistilleries. com).

WALK HERE: Explore Glen Trium on our walk beside the falls below the distillery: download 'Glen Trium' from www.lfto.com/cwroutes