My pal Graeme has just completed his Munros in 100 days (this was his 4 th round) it is amazing how the gear has changed even in hill walking since my early days. He was wearing the lightest and best gear available during his trip in a very poor summer for weather. When I look back in my time how much has changed in Gear over the last 50 years I have been active in the mountains.
My Mum and Dad gave me a love of the mountains and wild places from my very early days on Arran, that magic mountain island. We climbed all the hills in Arran and a few on the mainland especially Galloway and though we had no gear but that did not stop us having great days. The photo above of my Mum at Loch Ossian in 1938 and shows how simple the gear was but they still did some incredible days.
My Dad wore simple gear an old pair of trousers and a shirt and jumper, he was hard as nails, no matter the weather, he wore shoes on the hill and would not wear boots. He always had a stick on the hill from his days in Glen Dessary Loch Arkaig working as a student Minister. He had a simple compass and map for navigation and was extremely fit. I am wearing my Black jacket in this photo it was my first buy from my paper round and a pair of boots from the Army and Navy stores. We carried a small rucksack and everything else was in our pockets, the best part of the day was the huge bar of Cadburys chocolate Dad carried a special treat on the summit.
When I joined the RAF MRT in 1972 I could not believe the gear we were given. In the store at Kinloss it was an paladins cave of a climbers dream. As I was very small little fitted but I was amazed by what I got it was treasure to me. I had always wanted a pair of breaches ( breeks climbers wore them) and though they were hairy, made your legs raw when sweaty and froze in the winter they were magic to me. The boots were Curlies simple boots with a Vibram sole my first real pair of mountaineering boots. In summer they were magic but in winter so cold they froze I wore a bigger pair with 3 socks on each foot. I soon bought my own socks as the RAF only had size 11 and they were massive!
Terry wearing the famous Pixie Jacket and Bert with the new Helly Hansen Jacket battered gear
We had the famous pixie jackets as used by Captain Scott Polar expedition it was a simple canvas cover with a pixie hood a magic bit of gear in the summer but very light for the winter. It also froze like iron and were all one size extra-large!!! Much of our gear was modified by our pals in Safety equipment on Base, they could add pockets for maps and fix rips and tears with their heavy industrial sewing machines. Many modifications were used by the then very new Outdoor industry in new gear, we were the ideal testing arena out every weekend in all weathers and then add the call – outs. Usually at night when our kit was soaked, never easy.
Crampons were heated to fit each pair of boots and we had many problems with crampons breaking due to our modifications. The strapping on the crampons was awful and in these early day waterproofs trousers had no zips so at times you had to take your boots off to put on the waterproof trousers. We were still very lucky as our kit was free if in the team and Covered from head to toe in the RAF Mountain Rescue Team and felt like a real mountaineer. The kit was heavy though and when wet awful and even heavier and froze on you especially the cotton aircrew shirts! As time went by new gear came out it was amazing the changes that came in. Nylon breeches, and decent boots from abroad Kastingers and Dolimites that took a bit of breaking in and were very costly. The big changes in clothing to me came when polar fleeces and lifa gear came in from the famous Helly Hanson Brand and what a massive difference. This was a huge change from the string vests as issued! Yachties and Cavers had showed us the benefits of this magic piece of gear.
Helly Hansen – The original fleece, the fiberpile, was developed in 1961 and has been perfected for almost 50 years since. This new insulation layer was warm, lightweight and fast-drying, ideal for wearing under the protective layer. It was soon embraced by workers because it offered extraordinary insulation against the cold, and ventilated well during hard, physical work. It even protected against snow and light rain, staying extremely durable and warm after many washes.
The photo above shows my Curly boots and hairy breeks, Tom has nylon breeks and posh Norway wool jumper and maybe Hawkins Boots all bought by himself. Tom was always a bit at the front in the fashion stakes as a mountaineer in these days. I miss the old Tartan shirts a must in the 70’s.
The layering story was completed in the 1970s, with the development of LIFA. This wonder-fiber, used in LIFA, kept the skin dry and warm by pushing moisture away from the body, making it the ideal baselayer fabric for outdoor and workwear use. The latest generation of LIFA is still used in our baselayers today. I had some fun when my Mum and girlfriends tried to iron the Lifa gear – it melted or put it in a dryer to hot and shrunk badly. These were costly lessons on gear and relationships!
We used the Helly Hansen gear it on our walk in 1976, we bought it ourselves and what a great piece of kit it was. It was costly though and it did smell a bit but dried quickly and became a huge part of climbing gear in these days! My Big walks across Scotland gave me some great ideas and we spent lots of our money on the new usually lighter bits of gear. It got some hammering every weekend and on call outs. Many call outs were after a long day on the hill when gear was wet and often you could not get back to base for dry gear. It was so hard to stay warm and you bought the best available. The Civilian Mountain Rescue Teams had to buy all their own gear as they do now with very limited resources, we in the RAF were very lucky with what we had.
Ventile Jackets seemed to be the answer for a while and when we modified them with a zip they were great if a bit heavy when wet. These were big changes in gear from my Mum and Dads early years and mine in the team from 1972 – 1980. Dachstein mitts were issued and were and still are a classic bit of gear. Maybe at the time the best part of our gear?
Dachstein Mitts are classic heavy-duty, pre shrunk wool mitts for serious mountain warmth. Made well oversized and then boiled to shrink to a thick felt like mitt, they are a definite must for the tough Scottish winters. Great gear!
I bought a good duvet I think a Point 5 from Nevisport a small outdoor shop in Fort William and a great sleeping bag but they were great companions for many years. Outdoor shops were opening places like Bill Marshals in Aberdeen, Tisos and a few others gave us discount. It was here that we learned about new gear and they were places to meet the other climbers and get more information. Also outdoor magazines were starting up Climber and Rambler, then The Mountain Magazines, Crags and others became new sources of gear and clothing. There was so much information about. Great days.
If I have missed so many bits of gear and if you want to add to it please do – I may update from 198o onwards where I will look at boots crampons, technical gear and clothing!