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Make the most of the outdoors

Expert tips from adventurer and storyteller Leon McCarron

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Tips from adventurer Leon McCarron

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I have always enjoyed spending time in the wild parts of our world – both close to home and on the other side of the planet – and through writing and filmmaking I share the stories of the journeys that I go on. I love to travel by human power, and to explore the physical and mental limits that we can push ourselves to. This has led me to walk 3000 miles across China, kayak along Iran’s longest river, cycle 14, 000 miles from New York to Hong Kong, and ride a horse across Patagonia. Here I want to share with you some of my top tips for making your own journeys, small or big, this year.

Leon McCarron

Adventurer

Flat Terrain

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There are a lot of factors involved in choosing the correct boots. They should fit perfectly, regardless of terrain – there’s no room for error here. On flat, lightweight trips, I often wear trail running shoes – I like how ultra-light they can be whilst retaining great grip and traction. These are obviously not as long-lasting or durable as regular hiking shoes, but offer a lot in terms of comfort, breathability, and don’t require as much breaking in.

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Longer Hikes

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If you’re going further, or don’t fancy the minimalist approach above, then look at hiking shoes with a stiffer sole and more support. Measure your feet again before you order online, and make sure that when you do your feet are at their largest (i.e. at the end of the day, as this is the best reference point for how they’ll be on the road.) I recommend a waterproof option and I like the durability of leather alongside the synthetic materials. If you are relatively new to hiking, or if you feel like you could just do with a bit of extra stability, then go for boots instead of shoes – these will cover the ankle and help on rougher terrain. This is also very helpful when carrying a heavy pack.

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Mountains

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All boots need some breaking in, but especially those for the mountains. These boots will be much heavier. Get a rigid sole to counteract loose, rough ground, and look for something with excellent grip and the option to attach crampons if needed. Make sure they are cut high to wrap over and around the ankle snugly. You’ll want them to be waterproof but also breathable, and make sure you have the right socks for the conditions.

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Jackets

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For British adventures, a waterproof jacket is essential. When you’re out in the hills in the rain, however, you don’t want condensation to start building up as you move. ‘Hardshell’ jackets offer the most resistance against the elements, while ‘softshells’ are more flexible, with increased breathability, but perhaps a slight loss in waterproofing. Choose what you buy based on where you’ll be wearing it. Make sure the jacket is big enough to fit other layers underneath, but also that it can be sealed around the cuffs and waist, and that the hood is adjustable.

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Bags

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The first question to ask is – how big does it need to be? A daypack is usually around 20 - 30 litres (less for ultralight activities.) 30 - 50 litres will cover most multi-day activities, and 60+ litres is what I use on expeditions. An internal frame is best for most adventures (frameless is only advisable if saving weight is a real issue) – look out for something with a suspended mesh panel on the back to help with ventilation. Most packs are accessible from the top – this means you should pack essentials last. Finally, make sure that the hipbelt and straps are well padded.

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Top tips to make the most of the great outdoors

from Leon McCarron

1. Never compromise on the most important bits of kit for the type of activity you want to do. For me, these are normally boots and pack – both have the potential to make or break a hiking trip. It’s always important to remember that price and quality aren’t always intrinsically connected – often the right piece of kit can be the cheapest available option. I’d urge you though not to buy solely based on low price – half way up that next mountain, you might regret it.


2. Layer up to keep warm. This is old advice, but it’s the best there is. I like to use polyester or merino wool base layers next to the skin, with a fleeced item on top of that. Depending on conditions, my outer layer will be a breathable hardshell or, if required, an insulated and hooded synthetic-down jacket. As always, when you stop moving, put on an extra layer to counteract your body cooling down.


3. While we’re on the topic of layers, it’s important to understand a little about materials. The key is to look at heat and moisture, and how each item of clothing reacts to those. Cotton, for example, is very comfortable. I will only wear it in dry weather, however – cotton is a nightmare in the rain (it stays wet, and therefore so do you.) In wet conditions I’ll wear merino wool as a base layer for regulating my body temperature, and a polyester fleece to trap warmth. Occasionally, in very cold conditions, I’ll wear down-insulated jackets, but for the most part I prefer the synthetic materials in the UK – they’re not quite as warm, or as light, but they react much better to getting damp.


4. If you’re scrambling up and down hills, then make sure the trousers that you choose are robust yet flexible. They also need to fit snugly, but not too tight. This might all seem obvious, but there is nothing worse than having a loose waistband getting in the way or, even worse, stretching for that next rock to hear the dreaded rip of fabric from behind! That can make for a very cold (and embarrassing) walk home…


5. Look after the extremities! I can’t remember how many times I’ve been told that the human body can lose up to 80% of its heat through the head. This isn’t actually true, but what I have learned from my own experiences is that any uncovered extremity - head, hands etc. - can very quickly drain heat. I use my head as a kind of cooling system on the trail – when I need to insulate, I cover up with a beanie hat. A jacket with a hood is a good idea for this, too. If the intensity of activity increases, or the temperature climbs a little, I remove it (and any gloves) to release any excess heat. A good trick is to keep your hat inside your jacket when you’re not using it – that way, when you do put it on, it’ll be nicely warmed in advance.


6. Prepare for the worst (and hope for the best!) This is another old adage in the adventure world, and it has served me well. We all want the best possible conditions on whatever journey we’re making, but it would be foolish to rely simply on hope (or even on something more concrete like weather forecasts or past experience.) I always carry extra insulation and waterproofing layers and, without fail, I pack an extra pair of socks. Whether you’re stepping out for a day, a week or a year, dry feet at the end of the day make all the difference.


7. Look after your gear. Clothing these days can be very technical at times, and even the best waterproofing systems will need a touch up now and again. It’s also a good idea to make sure your clothes are kept warm and dry when not in use – stash them away in sealed dry bags inside your pack. A little care and attention both on the trail and at home will go a long way in extending the lifespan of your gear; it’ll give peace of mind, and save the cost of replacements.


8. Find what works best for you. We are all different shapes, and our bodies work in different ways. We’re hiking different trails, and climbing difference mountains. It makes sense then that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ advice here. Use the sizing guide on Zalando to make sure you get your measurements correct, and if needed open the Chat Box for advice from an expert. Rotate through a few different clothing options in different conditions, and see what you respond best to. Once you’ve found the right setup, you’ll know.


And finally...
Gear is only part of the puzzle. Follow good practice for the rest of your adventure – prepare well, plan ahead and be sensible. Dress appropriately and pack the necessary camping/climbing/hiking gear, but also remember to eat well (and often), to drink water regularly even in the cold, and know where your water sources are if you’re planning to resupply enroute. Be safe out there, and good luck!