Hairy – breeks, Helly Hansen, Headbands, String vests, Tartan shirts, The RAF Smock, Karrimor gaiters, wristlets and wind up crampons!!

The RAF Smock and wind up crampons- Karrimor Gaiters.

The RAF Smock and wind up crampons- Karrimor Gaiters and the old wristlets.

I am off to the West despite the forecast the bothy is booked and I was sorting out my gear. How it has changed! My first weekend in the RAF Mountain Rescue was in February 1972 at Kintail. My first Munro with the team was the remote Mullach Na Dheiragain 1151 metres and Sgurr Nan Ceathremhnan 982 metres. These mountains North of the Affric range are complex and remote. We had permission to drive into Iron Lodge but the track was very icy and it was a long day, just me and Dave Pierce (he hardly spoke to me and we wore crampons for most of my first day out once we reached the long ridge). I had no clue really 9 little changes) but was fit and kept going in the heavy snow in places. It was a long walk out in the dark and a tired laddie that got back to Kintail for the night. Next day was Beinn Sgritheall in a blue sky day. Then the long 3 hour drive back to RAF Kinloss in an open 4 ton wagon character building!

Hairy breeks - the issue of the day!

Hairy breeks – the issue of the day! Photo Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection. You needed gaiters with them in winter.

I was issued with all the gear  for the hill from the team store an Alladins Cave to a hill walker it was a walkers heaven. Sadly the new guys got really old gear usually all two sizes to big, typical military. The hairy breeks issued that rubbed your legs and thighs at the end of a long day raw. They were the work pants for many years for the team and mine had leather   patches on them from the old sling protectors from our climbing hawser laid slings. They were heavy in the wet and got even longer as they got heavier, there are few photos of this era but they did the job.

1973 beinn Dorian - Tom wearing the new nylon breeches! Mine the old hairy ones.

1973 beinn Dorian – Tom wearing the new nylon breeches! Mine the old hairy ones. Also the famous Curlies boots.

Why breeks ? My thoughts are that is what the keepers wore and they became fashionable believe it or not but in winter needed gaiters to keep the snow out as they went just below the knee. In summer they were so hot or on a mild day and there became plenty of new fabrics that came into there own.

From the Scottish Mountain Heritage collection

“We’ve never been able to quite work out when knee breeches became the ‘in thing’ for climbers and walkers. The early pioneers didn’t wear them but they were certainly in vogue during the 1950’s and 60’s. And while just about everything from that era harks back to the Second World War, we can’t think of a breeches connection. The problem was that you needed very long socks to bridge the gap and because they extended below the knee there was still a restriction when the knee bent.
By the time 2000 came along they were pretty much ‘history’, modern full length trousers with various stretchy materials are the norm, and if you want freedom of movement there are some good shorts on the market!
Ex RAF Mountain Rescue stalwart,Martin Mackay kindly donated this pair which probably date from the 1970’s.
Though not referring specifically to the pair we have here in the collection – here’s what Ellis Brigham has to say about a similar pair in his 1973 catalogue. They would have cost around £4.00 back then.
Accepted by all outdoor people as being the most satisfactory apparel for modern individual sports and pastimes. The leg is cut full but cannot be called baggy -there is plenty of seat room cleverly hidden by the use of front pleat darts. The squared double seat reaches to the side seams. This double seat incorporates on the right-hand side, a large pocket to take a peg hammer head first, slings and chockstones. All our breeches have t-his feature as standard. The two deep side pockets button down like the extra back, left-hand hip pocket which has been reinforced to carry a hammer, head first. Velcro touch tab bottoms give instant and effortless adjustment and will never let the wearer down, no matter what the conditions.
Belt loops – extended top band – button fly. The breeches are available in regular and long leg lengths. Double thickness knees for extra wear on the lighter weight materials. Regular sizes have total leg length of 19″ and outside leg length of 27″. Waist sizes 28″-38″ in two-inch changes. Long sizes have an extra 2″ on the leg.

Acquisition Method

Donated by Martin Mackie”

We also had string vests that were issued to the RAF Fireman and aircrew shirts made of  cotton and were useless in winter when they got soaked. Many of us wore pyjamas under the breeks in winter to keep warm and most of my wages was spent on gear at the time. Of course we wore hats or bunnets, they were in fashion as well.

String vests and Tartan shirts! On the way to Knoydart.

String vests and Tartan shirts! On the way to Knoydart.

From Scottish Mountain Heritage website

“Anorak – In recent times the word ‘anorak’ has come to be associated with people who have hobbies considered by most people to be boring, though we’d rather concentrate on the other meaning which is a warm, often waterproof jacket which is pulled on over the head and invariably has a hood. The word itself seems to have had its origins with the North American and Greenland Inuit people where it is written in various ways such as annoraaq or anoraq. The word seems to be pretty much interchangeable with Parka which is very similar, though Europeans tend to think of a Parka as being longer, bulkier and opening at the front. Both may or may not have fur around the collar.
From a Scottish mountain heritage point of view, anoraks seem to have been the fashion in the 1940’s/50’s and 60’s with just about everyone wearing one, often an ex army version which we suspect is the origin of the one we have here in the collection, though it’s so worn and faded that we can’t tell.”
RAF mountain rescuer, Dave (Heavy)Whalley, kindly donated this item to our collection, whether or not it was his, or he got it elsewhere we’re not sure. It was mine Mick and used on the hills a lot, we were issued with them!

The Smoc or Pixie jacket used by RAF MR since the 50's and the Curlies boots.

The Smoc or Pixie jacket used by RAF MR since the 50’s and the Curlies boots. They were modified with map pockets etc! Headbands were in fashion!

1978 West to East bothy heavy tirred (2)

The Walk 1976 – hard days simple gear!

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.

Modified Helly Hansen jackets

Modified Helly Hansen jackets – really hard photo of a hard walk in winter 18 Munros 64 Munros!

The walks across Scotland were a great way to test kit and we were happy when we got our new Henry Lyodd jackets in 1977. We even modified them with a map pocket, which was a great addition then. We still got very wet inside and they were pretty heavy. This was a really bad day on the Mamores when we were having a real hard time hence the grim looks. We were cold tired and knackered, things never change.

1976 bothy the new Helly Hansen gear what a change

1976 bothy the new Helly Hansen gear what a change

The greatest thing about this was we all bought the new Helly Hansen polar fleeces, they were revolutionary. They were light, warm,dried easily and had a zip incredible and they were hard wearing ideal for the mountains. The RAF bought them for teams about 3 years later. We used to wear Moleskin breeks as well that iced up and froze on you and of course the famous Curlies a basic boot, that your feet froze in, especially in winter. Great days, all the gear and no idea is still a good saying!

So as I pack my kit  for the weekend I live in wonder and what we managed to do with gear we had! It will be a walk round memory lane 43 years since my first visit to Kintail and my kit still dose not fit.

Why not have a look at The Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection and see if you can help?

Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection Have you any old kit that they may use?

Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection Have you any old kit that they may use?

The Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection (SMHC) is a unique assortment of mountain memorabilia from Scotland and around the world, which has been cobbled together here on our website in what we hope is a legible and enjoyable format. The site is a living thing as we continue to update, improve and add new acquisitions. So, please take a tour around our virtual museum and let us know if you have any ideas, new information, or indeed any donations.


About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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