We never had it so er, good?

There’s always a bit of debate about whether we need all the fancy and expensive tech gear, and of course we don’t, but it does make life easier, and even more fun at times.
I found my old BMC Safety On Mountains book at my folks and had to post these pages on what-to-wear. It shows how times have changed, and I’m not taking the piss here by posting it, I think it makes some genuinely important points from across the years (it was published in 1988). Included in the list are: wants versus needs;all the gear and no idea; hooray for chest pockets; and has the girl in the drawing grown a moustache or is she pouting?

The book was written by John Barry and Tim Jepson with assistance from Plas y Brenin Staff, Dr I.W.  Jones and the BMC Training Committee. The illustrations were by Roger Durban.

Original intro:


Clothing on the hill needs to do two things: it must provide protection from the rain and wind and it must insulate from the cold by retaining warm air close to the skin.
In addition, well made and designed clothes shoild be strong but light, permit plenty of movement without restriction, and should “breathe” to allow perspiration to escape.

19 thoughts on “We never had it so er, good?”

  1. Interesting. 1988 was when I started hillwalking and I still have an ME brochure from that era.
    Your comments about not needing the high tech gear ring true and if you were to go a few hundred yards from your house you would find a (young) man sleeping along the canal tow path. He has survived the minus double digit nights with fairly basic gear. Perhaps you could compare notes :-)

  2. Timing is everything, I was down the foreshore taking shots of the sunset and old boardwalk timbers just a wee while ago!

    Tom Weir slept under a wool blanket, that’s good enough for me :o)

  3. In 1989 I went on a Winter course with Alan Kimber. He’s a Paramo man now but then he wore multiple thin fine woolen layers in the hills. A sort of early merino layering system. He also had wool trousers. He was wearing a GTX jacket though so he wasn’t completely traditional

  4. Multiple wool layers is like wearing black magic. A merino base and mid has an odd effect on me, it’s wind resistant, but not too hot or cold, in winter it’s just brilliant. Maybe that’s what other folk get in Paramo?

  5. I think he was ahead of his time.
    I must admit Paramo works for me better than anything else. Sometimes in Winter I wear a velez smock (without the hood) over a merino baselayer until I get high up the hill and then wear a longer Paramo jacket (Alta/Alta2) as my extra layer. I don’t mind carrying a Paramo jacket as it replaces insulation and waterproofing and two Paramo layers is pretty much proof against anything except extreme cold.
    I never get uncomfortable in it except for warm humid conditions which are not that common in Scotland

  6. Alan is a great guy!
    On a similar note to your original post, a friend of mine found a book ” climbing in Britain” in a charity shop, it was published in 1946, same as above some of stuff in that book is really worth knowing about, not just clothing, but climbing technique as well. Theres even a section on etiquette on “ladies in tents”

  7. Climbing In Britain 1946 by J. E. Q. Barford:

    Chapter II : Choice of companion, equipment and food.

    “Your first care should be a pair of strong, well nailed and well fitting boots.”

    (after socks) ” The chief point about the rest of the clothing is that it should be warm enough and allow free movement of the body and limbs.

    “it is virtually impossible to to keep dry in heavy rain; and climbers and walkers must grow resigned to getting soaked to the skin on a ‘really wet day’.

    “shorts must never be worn in winter”

    “There is slight disagreement on the best method of supporting the trousers: braces are perhaps to be preferred as allowing greater freedom of movement; belts on most figures have to be worn too tight and constrict the organs if they are to remain secure during violent movement or when clothes are wet. ”

    That is pretty much all it says spare a bit of paraphrasing. There are 2 pages on Hob nail boot patterns, and more opinion on braces or belts than carrying extra layers, the type of fabric, or even any kind of shell layer.

    BTW: choice of companion….. “a good stout fellow” lol.

  8. It was all cotton shirts, wool jumpers and Cagjacs(!) when I began walking and never wear jeans – I’m 44 btw. For proper traditional clothing descriptions try reading Tom Patey’s autobiography “one man’s mountains” or of course W H Murray, those boys were hardy!

  9. Those illustrations remind me of Britain at Your Feet: A Backpacker’s Handbook, a prized possession from the early 80s. Lots of good quotes like those mentioned above and sound all round advice that is (unsurprisingly) still pertinent.

    As to pouting or not it is probably just where item 12 has been chafing…

  10. I think the last 20 years has seen the greatest advance in various new fabrics that we come to take for granted now. John Barry was an ex military guy (marine ML i think) and the stuff around in the 80’s was based around layers of older type fabrics, with the exception of gore-tex, from arctic/Scottish experience. I remember the issued kit then and a lot of it was terrible compared to now.

  11. I’ve still got one of those balaclavas you know.

    The rules haven’t been updated with technology, instructors are still quoting from the above, shops and the media are still towing the same line rather than be the first to put their hand up and say “Hey, wait a minute…”.

  12. I don’t think much has changed significantly in the last twenty odd years. There were just technically inferior versions of what we have today… Poartec 100, 200 and 300, Hollofil and Quallofil and Taslan Goretex, pertex and microfibres. They all existed in the late nineteen eighties.
    The fundamental change happened in the seventies when the first synthetics (for outdoor use), fibrepile,polypropylene, nylon down duvets and Goretex, came out.
    These 1980s books/manuals were written by people with 30 years experience and they would tend to describe tried and trusted rather than cutting edge and expensive new technology.

  13. Aye, they were writing from experience.
    But every profession learns and evolves except the outdoors, there’s a head-in-sand attitude that ignores changes in equipment amd techniques. It’s very frustrating, cutting-edge climbing they fully embrace, but lowly walkers and backpackers get the same old crap they’ve been teaching since post-war Outward Bound days.
    See, folk think I’ve gone mainstream and don’t care about this stuff any more :o)

  14. In twenty or thirty years time you or maybe Holly will be complaining that all the books are recommending trail shoes and event instead of the new nano gear that is thinner than a human hair, because they’re stuck in the past.
    The perceived wisdom is always lagging the cutting edge
    Maybe with biotechnology advances the clothing will be bioengineered organisms that generate heat when it’s cold and provide cooling when warm.

  15. It’s like I always say, there’s no right or wrong, all the different methods are possible, it’s always annoyed me that the information available only told one side of the story, I suppose what we’d call “trad”. Thank Jimmy for the internet so it’s all out there.
    And, we’re all wearing wool again, past and future all in one there, from a technical and environmental perspective?

  16. Looking at the length of that waterproof jacket brings me onto one of my bugbears: why are jackets SO short at present? i read the guff about short jackets being less of a nuisance when wearing a harness but I’d be very interested to know what proportion of people buying these products even know how to put a harness on? The more straightforward answer to this plague of short jackets is the dictates of fashion (rather like Gore-tex in boots….).

    There comes a point in every man’s life when his enjoyment of the outdoors is enhanced by the prospect of a warm, draught-free(!) backside.

  17. There’s a few reasons I’ve had for this, and there’s a bit of truth in all of them.
    One is the mobility issue, when I wore long jackets like the one if the photie I used to have to undo it from the bottom when I was on steep stuff, especially in winter, to get my knees up without bunching the jacket up around my waist. I suppose carrying that through to climbers is why we have the short alpine jackets. But when Karrimor did their cutting edge hip-length Summit jacket, the still had the equally technical and arse-covering Diamond as well.
    Folk started to like the look, the weight and the convenience of the climbers jackets, so that’s where the sales and development went.
    Add in the advent of softshell pants which give more protection than anything we used before apart from shell overtrousers, and you’re suddenly selling two garments to everyone to replace one long jacket…

    In the worst of weather there’s nothing quite like a thigh length jacket to shut out the weather, and some modern jackets do make you feel a little exposed in a winter wind when the ice gusts are whistling round your arse.
    There’s still some jackets that cover the middle ground, the Haglofs Cirque I’ve just got on test has a great length, and I think Mountain Equipment still have longer models, not like my old Sprayway Torridon though, ah memories…

    It’s going to be difficult to find a thigh length jacket in the best fabrics I think, anybody know of one? That’s something it would be fun to get on test.

  18. I must say I’m dreading the day my venerable Lowe Alpine Foraker in Triplepoint Ceramic (remember that?) finally gives up the unequal struggle but, as you say, it does seem to be a ploy to sell the innocent hillwalker yet more kit. I was going to mention that thought in my first post but thought it too cynical and grumpy.

    That said, softshell pants are pretty good things in their own right and I’m currently looking into getting a Buffalo Teclite Shirt and Montane Terra XT combination after christmas.

    Even better, my Christmas pressie from my wife arrived today under plain cover – an OMM Villain! from what I can gather she had the devil’s own job finding one. Looking forward to using it in anger in the New Year

  19. Can’t go wrong with a Villain :o)

    I don’t think the changes in kit style was a plan, I think it’s been a natural evolution that the brands have exploited to the max!

    Lowe Alpine was one of the clothing leaders a few years back, the Asolo buyout killed that. But, I was talking to them recently, and come 2012 they plan to be back in the game.

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