These are perhaps the most important investment you will make in your hiking pursuits. Discomfort caused by a sleeping bag that is not warm enough can be rectified by the wearing of more clothes. But boots that are uncomfortable or just unsuitable for the job need to be given to charity.
I divide boots into two categories: lightweight and heavy duty. I use lightweight fabric boots for day walks and heavy-duty leather boots for rainy weather or weekend trails. In either case I insist on high padded ankle support and nonslip soles. I have scars to illustrate the wisdom of insisting on the latter. A popular brand of an imported lightweight boot is a good example of the wrong soles for our condition. Get the sales assistant to assure you that the soles are nonslip.
It is advisable to buy a boot with a sewn-in bellows tongue. A good bellows tongue helps to keep out sand, dirt, twigs etc., and in the case of leather boots helps with waterproofing.
When trying on new boots make sure that you are wearing a thick pair of mountain socks and that you can still fit a finger between your heel and the back of the boot. Rather err on the side of them being too big than just right.
Thinking of socks (or underpants for that matter) never wear nylon. It does not absorb sweat and will almost certainly result in blisters or chaffing. I prefer cotton socks underneath with thick woollen (or mainly woollen) socks on top. Should you start feeling a “hot spot” – the start of a blister – immediately apply a fabric plaster or “moleskin” (obtainable from chemists).
A final word on boots: do not attempt to dry them in front of a fire. Leather boots will harden and become uncomfortable, while lightweight boots (nylon fabric) have even been known to melt.
Once again we have a choice of two basic types: internal and external frame. A few years ago, the preference was about equal, but nowadays the internal frame type enjoys about 95 per cent of the market.
The only advantage of the external frame is that it holds the pack away from the back, thus allowing ventilation and less sweating. but the design of internal fames these days allows for almost the same air circulation and the frame moves with the body. The soft daypacks (no frame) are available in 20 different models. I can recommend a Backpacker Newbadger for men. I use this for two-day trails and the larger Backpacker Boulder for 5-day trails. Ladies could use the Backpacker Canyon for either.
Features to look for:
A quilted lumber pad and cushioned hip belt for greater comfort.
An internal frame which can be bent to the shape of your back
An adjustable frame strap system which can be adjusted to suit your own height and comfort.
A top flap with elasticised side wings which mould to the load.
A main section divided into two compartments by a removable partition (in case you wish to fit tent poles into your pack).
A bottom compartment with a half-circle zip for much easier access. The whole front opens up, rather than a slit halfway down the pack.
Side pockets with a zip down the side as well as the top, for easier access.
Zips covered by a weather flap.
YKK zips, the only ones that give a lifetime guarantee.
Compression straps, which are useful for smaller loads. These are horizontal straps which when tightened hold a lesser load in place and prevent it from jumping about.
Even on a long trail, you should try and keep your pack weight down to 20 per cent of your own body weight. At an absolute stretch on a long trail you could push yourself to 25 per cent. But beyond that will not be a pleasure, and you should be looking at ways to shed luxuries.
The load should be spread between your hips and shoulders. This is why a padded hip belt is important, as it will take up to 70 per cent of the weight off your slightly curved spine. All the weight on your shoulders will give you backache in no time at all.
When going uphill, adjust the shoulder straps so that you take most of the weight on your shoulders. While going downhill tighten the hip belt and loosen the shoulder straps a fraction, so that you take the majority of the weight on your lower torso. With these minor adjustments from time to time you will feel far more comfortable and capable of carrying heavy loads.