Gear freaks The hiker By Sally Williams

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Also known as: walker, rambler, backpacker (an American import), trekker (implies walking abroad, particularly in Nepal), scrambler (includes high and low-land), bimblie (a derogatory term used by mountaineers), chump (climber having upwardly mobile phone).

Numbers nationally: 11.4 million (both walkers and ramblers).

Favourite locations: Lake District, Ben Nevis, Nepal, the Pennine Way, Hebden Bridge tea shops, Covent Garden.

Representative associations: Ramblers Association, Open Spaces Society, Long Distance Walkers Association, Youth Hostel Association, British Mountaineering Council, Footpaths Association.

Magazines: Trail Walker (annual subscription pounds 24), Country Walking (annual subscription pounds 24), TGO (annual subscription pounds 25), Strider (free to members of the Long Distance Walkers Association); Rambling Today (free to members of the Ramblers Association).

Hazards: blisters, rain, bullocks, barbed wire, brick walls (from houses built across public rights of way), angry farmers, vertigo, Kashmiri separatists, journalists (the Sunday Times recently ran a report stating that brightly clad walkers were polluting the countryside).

The kit: key words when choosing hiking gear are "wickability", "breathability", "hi-performance", "ultra-light", "super-compact" and "synthetic" - natural fibres, apparently, let you breathe, but are useless at wicking (allowing moisture to pass through, rather than absorbing it), although silk pants are sometimes still worn (as they were in the First World War trenches), being one of the few materials in which lice cannot live. Buying a kagool is now a highly technological experience. It's about Moisture Vapour Transfer Rate (breathability), Hydrostatic Head (waterproofness), wickability, NASA space programmes and physics A-level. It should be made of Gor-tex (Tasian, Jura, Geo, Pongee or Sultra) which has a PolyTetraFluroEthylene (PTFE) membrane. A "fleece" sweatshirt should be made from Polartec (100, 200 or 300), with its lofty polyester knit, good insulation and quick- drying, soft, comfortable feel. Berghaus, Lowe Alpine, Karrimor or North Face are the labels and a jacket is not just a jacket, it's a strategic part of a delicate clothing system consisting of "base-layer" (pants and vest), "mid-layer" (fleece jacket), and outer waterproof "shell-layer". Hiking gear technology is now so complicated that the Field and Trek magazine is the only mail-order catalogue which includes a 32-page technical guide and a Gor help-line, not for hiking horror stories, but for leaking Gor- texes.

Ultimate gear: Karrimor high-performance Polartec 200 fleece overshirt with Power-stretch Bearhug sleeves (pounds 89); Berghaus Trango Extrem highly breathable abrasion-resistant 2-layer Tasian Gor-Tex mountain jacket (pounds 239); Berghaus Trango abrasion-resistant 2-layer Tasian Gor-Tex Salopettes with hard-wearing Ardura on the knees, seat and inner calf (pounds 185); Lowe Alpine Triple Point high-performance 1600 Mountain Cap with Polartec 200 fleece lining and wire-stiffened peak, ear flaps and Velcro head band (pounds 24); Thor-lo hiking socks designed in association with Daniel "Wingfoot" Bruce, leader of the 2150 Nine Appalachian Trail Hike, with high-density ball, toe and heel padding (midcalf pounds 7.95, overknee, pounds 9.95); Koflach Clima Comprex plastic climbing boots with enhanced grip, ventilation system and shock absorbing heel (pounds 179).

Accessories: any 40-50 litre Karrimor rucksack with integral Aergo Supercool Back System and 2-litre Camelbak hydration pouch for hands-free drinking (pounds 180); Rad Ladakh 1,000 full four-season sleeping bag with Pertex 4 outer and Ripstop Pertex lining and 1,000g filling of 550 fill power down (pounds 219).

Optional extras: Wilkinson Sword Survival Knife with tweezers, fishing line and metal match (pounds 245.95); Casio Alt 6000 Watch with altimeter, barometer, clock, stopwatch with split times, five alarms and hour signal, temperature and backlight (pounds 119.99); mobile phone (pounds 10 plus call costs).

Ultimate experience: A narrow ridge at high altitude (particularly Aonoch Eagach, Glen Cow or Crib Goch, Snowdon); "bagging" (reaching the summit of) the 277th Munro; shopping in Alpine Sports, Covent Garden.

Ultimate gadget: Garmin hand-held GPS 40 (pounds 439.00). Standing for Global Positioning System this sophisticated navigation aid communicates with 24 satellites to pinpoint your position on the earth's surface to the nearest metre. But only within non-military sensitive areas. Of course, you still need a map.

Bare essentials: Comfortable boots with good support and grip (pounds 50), any trousers, except jeans, which chafe (pounds 25), seamless walking socks (pounds 10), waterproof jacket (pounds 50), 20-25-litre rucksack (from pounds 15), blister kit (pounds 5.99).