I’ll start with the weather! In the Scotland you need protection so it seems proper to start by looking at shell clothing — waterproof jackets and trousers. You have to be prepared for anything on the TGO. You may be lucky and have a sunny and mainly dry crossing. I’ve certainly experienced some great weather crossings but usually the really decent weather is reserved for the last few days. But on these days the weather can be dreadful. On some years the weather never seems to let up and you can certainly find yourselves walking for two or three days through driving wind and rain. So, protection is important!
Let’s think about those days of driving wind and rain. You certainly need to plan for these. Waterproofs need to be effective. You will have probably noted by now the trend for lighter gear, indeed, the obsessiveness of some gear nerds (myself included). But first of all, before we get to weight, you gear needs to be effective. Your shell clothing needs to protect you from the wind and rain in both cold and warm conditions.
To Paramo or Not Paramo
This is one of the favourite debates of UK hikers. Paramo is a great system being more breathable than conventional shell systems. You may have already got some Paramo gear in your gear cupboard — for day hikes Paramo is almost without peer. But, you may have also read some detrimental comments about the system from Challengers. I walked my first four of five Challenges in Paramo but it is no longer my first choice.
The problem with Paramo is with the new lighter-weight fabrics and garments. A few years ago my Paramo jacket completely failed after a day of being buffeted by torrential rain and high winds. A number of others complained about the same time. I think in trying to get the label weight of their garments down Paramo have compromised the performance of these garments in bad conditions. The light and thin outer fabric is simply not able to hold back enough water and the internal pump liner gets simply overwhelmed.
The heavier and more high duty Paramo gear is just as effective as ever but it is heavier. So, if you are a paramo person I won’t dissuade you from using it. But that multi purpose, lightweight, top might be fine for a day’s cycling but quite possibly not up to the Highlands. So, go for the heavier duty stuff.
For me I simply fell out with Paramo. In all honesty I could keep the weight of the system down but it simply wasn’t as versatile as layers. For me, a conventional layered system is now best but again, is Paramo is your thing then fine. But ask around about the effectiveness of the different systems.
A hell of a lot has been written about fabrics on the net — not least by me! However, as ever in this game perspective is key.
Most modern fabrics are breathable enough. Is Gore Tex better than this or that? I doubt it. Breathability in lab conditions is one thing, effectiveness on the hills is another. By all means, have a good read of those comparisons and reviews but approach everything with a little skepticism.
For my money the best reviewer of gear in our conditions is Chris Townsend. Not only does Chris have years of experience but you know when he has reviewed something he has properly used the stuff on the hills.
Even people like Chris (and me) do have a tendency to get excited by new materials. Often these are very expensive but just because you pay a lot more doesn’t mean you will be better insulated from the elements and more comfortable!
One of my favourite fabrics is eVEnt which although a few years old now is still very good (so long as it is kept relatively clean). You don’t see eVent as much as you used to do mainly because they allow individual companies to brand it individually. So, this jacket in a proprietary fabric might well be eVent. In broad terms any fabric from one of the well known manufacturers will likely be OK — check the real-world reviews on Google though. You might fancy the latest thing from Rab, Mountain Hardware and the rest but if your budget only stretches to Karrimor well that will probably be fine as well!
Personally, I steer clear of Gore-Tex. Over the years I have owned some of their stuff and I’m not sure in outperforms others, though some of their new fabrics look very interesting. My main problem with Gore Tex is the way the company manipulated retailers and distorts choice!
So, I’ll focus on my gear a little.
My current jacket was bought when my previous jacket — eVent from Montane — literally had worn itself out. My replacement jacket was the first one I had ever bought with Scotland specifically in mind.
I chose a jacket from UK specialist producer PHD, who sell exclusively from their website. I bought on the back on their design and expertise, designing for UK mountains. I say it is a jacket but it is really a smock; it doesn’t have a full length zip down the front of the jacket.
A smock design is a good choice for Scottish weather. Where there are zips, around the neck on on map pockets, these are tough, waterproof zip. The jacket has an excellent hood which offers decent protection from the wind.
This jacket is made from a propriety material, for at least marketed as one. I’m not sure what this is but it is more than breathable enough when lugging a heavy pack up a very steep hill. Perhaps, it is not the most breathable fabric I have used but it is breathable enough. On the design features you can’t do better really.
One other nice thing about PHD is their sizing. Don’t ever assume that the sizing quoted on the label or the web bears much resemblance to the real world. PHD sizes not only relate to the real world but their garments are over-sized. This means they are still comfortable worn over layers and even down jackets — your freedom of movement is never restricted with one of these.
When it comes to other brands check sizing in shops. That store might not have the Tab jacket that you want but try on another just to get a feel for how they size their garments. If you feel bad about using the store like this you can always order from that store’s website.
Bear in mind that even the big stores now don’t carry their full line in store. They can always get you something in a day or two but you might as well buy over the internet. Also, internet retailers tend to only stock a small range of shell items and some — such as backpacking light.co.uk — have given up selling shell jackets almost entirely.
Over-trousers are a pain, indeed, I chose not to carry any on my first challenge; I never did that again. This is where Paramo might score big time but I’ve had real problems with the lightweight fabrics, they simply are not robust enough.
Breathability is not as critical when it comes to your legs. On Bob Cartwright’s advice I bought a pair of Berghaus Pac-Lite (Gore Tex) trousers. These are very lightweight and completely waterproof. Job done. I think the lightweight Berghaus range now uses a different fabric but this is one area where I wouldn’t be looking to spend to much, although I’d want to keep the weight down.
These are worth their weight in gold in Scotland. A good cap will give you a great deal of extra protection when worn sun bad weather under your jacket hood. There is non better than the Paramo Mountain Cap. This is effective, pretty light and not too warm.