Sunday, 7 February 2016

On Hiking Differences

The biggest difference between hiking in the UK and South/West India is the investment in equipment. 

In Mumbai, and I suppose Pune, Chennai, Bangalore or anywhere in South India, you can afford to be a minimalist when you hike i.e you don't need a lot of stuff. All I used to wear on a day trip from Mumbai was a t-shirt, non-denim trousers, sneakers and a light raincoat. I'd swap the trousers for shorts if it was a shorter hike, involved a beach, flat open ground, or involved wading through water. I'd stick with trousers if it involved forests, shrubbery, thorns and mosquitoes. The fact that most of my hikes took place in the monsoons didn't matter. It was still humid enough to warrant the bare essentials. I did carry a wool pullover on overnight trips just in case it got cold. It was the only time I ever used the pullover normally stashed away in the back of my wardrobe in Mumbai. 

I usually carried a light raincoat. Not among the most durable of apparel, it did its job, which was to keep the bulk of the rain off my body and cotton clothing till the end of my hike. I know guys who hiked shirtless. In a humid monsoon hike, maybe polyester shorts and shoes are all you need. I wore a simple hat to keep the sun out of my eyes and the rain off my glasses. Most people didn't. They found it too hot, irritating or distracting. 

My shoes were initially everyday sneakers. Yeah they weren't the best for rough hiking, but they were great for most of my hikes that involved flat trails. I switched to Woodlands, which helped with longevity. Again, not a priority for casual hikers who stick to flip-flops or sandals. I never considered wearing gaiters. No idea if you can even buy them in India. We just considered water in our shoes a normal unavoidable thing. Gaiters can help keep your shoes dry to an extent, but not when you're shin deep in a flowing river. My socks were normal cotton ones. I never needed insulating ones. There was no cold to protect against. In hindsight I think wearing thick or double pairs of cotton socks would have meant less damage to my toes. 

Contrast this with the UK, where people usually wear professional branded light stretchable hiking trousers that wick rain away. And waterproof overalls over wear over your trousers in heavy rain. And hiking trousers with thick lining on the inside in case it's a winter hike. Or perhaps just thermal on the inside. Or maybe lycra running pants. As long as you have a base layer. The more expensive the better the quality. Depending on your budget, you can buy anything from £5 thermals that are 50% synthetic, to £25 thermals that are 100% synthetic. And professional hiking T-shirts that wick sweat away. Short sleeves in summer and long sleeves in winter. With probably a base layer underneath in winter. With a mid layer and jacket on top. The weather dictates what you wear.

You always carry a rain jacket, preferably one made of weather-proof Gore-Tex for toughness. Or one that's simply weather resistant. Cheaper, but shorter-lasting. You could wear a mid layer like a fleece jumper if it's colder. A medium or heavy fleece in cold weather, or a medium fleece with a jacket if it's snowing/raining. A micro-fleece in autumn, or a jacket on top if it's snowing/raining. Or just a jacket with fleece lining on the inside to combine the best of both worlds, unless it gets warm and you'll have to either keep it on a sweat, or take it off and freeze. This is why layers are useful. Thermal monkey caps or hats that protect your ears against the cold and wind are common. And so are wide brimmed hats that protect against the sun. And hiking sticks to keep your balance and take the pressure off your knees on downhill climbs.

And then there's the shoes. You get weather-resistant hiking shoes (Gore-tex again). And professional thick hiking socks. I usually buy my shoes one or two sizes too large and then wear a couple of thick hiking socks to protect my toes and keep my toenails. The cushioning helps. If you don't hike often, you can always reuse your running or gym equipment. I've seen a lot of people show up for hikes in tights, running/sports jackets and running shoes. I suppose this is OK for day hikes on easy ground. Running/sports clothing tends to be fragile as it's made for quiet straightforward runs along city streets that only involve sweat, cold and light rain. On a challenging hiking trail involving thorns, rocks, stretching, mud, sleet and hours of continuous use, they'd fall apart.

And then there's the brands. In India, we mostly wore what we had lying around. My total annual clothing budget for hikes was zero. In the UK, my hiking trousers are from Craghoppers, my fleece from Pierre Cardin, my jackets from many assorted places, my hat and gaiters from Karrimor, my shoes from Crivit, my socks from Gelert. It will get worse if I do winter hikes. Other common brands are Merrell, Patagonia, Berghaus, Rab, The North Face, Regatta, Marmot, Paramo and Hi-tec. And then there's the walking poles, head torches and energy bars. You could spend hundreds of pounds a year on equipment.


1 comment:

Melvin Dsouza said...

Informative. Its functionality more than brands actually. Every day wear won't stand up to rigours of the trail.
M.S.A. stocks Merrell among other brands and priced near about a Woodlands it seems like a good shoe.

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