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Kit guide: Top 5

The kit that helped me climb every mountain in England, Wales and Ireland

James Forrest By James Forrest

Record-breaking adventurer and mountain wanderer, James Forrest, shares his top 5 favourite items he used and abused during his adventures in the wild places of Great Britain and Ireland...

Record-breaking adventurer, James Forrest, spent 6 months in 2017 climbing all 446 mountains in England, the fastest time ever! For 8 weeks in 2018 he climbed all 273 mountains in Ireland, another record; and now, he's hiking all 282 Scottish Munros.

Oh, and he even found the energy and time to write his debut book in-between these crazy peak-bagging exploits. So, it’s safe to say James knows a thing or two about the mountains.

Here, he lists his 5 must have items for hiking the mountains of Britain...

1. OS Maps

I can almost already hear the disapproving mutterings of the old school fraternity of map and compass devotees. But I have long since ditched my paper map and compass (or, more accurately, demoted them to back-up, bottom-of-the-backpack status) in favour of a more modern, 21st century approach.

My experience is that you can safely navigate around the mountains with just your phone.

I climbed all 446 mountains in England and Wales using just my OS Maps app – and it worked flawlessly.

But I did it in a sensible and considered way that mitigated risks and maximised safety. Let me explain.

No mobile reception? You don’t need it – I had all of the 1:25k maps downloaded onto the OS Maps app, meaning the maps loaded without 3G or 4G.

Using OS Maps

Photo Credit: Edward Fitzpatrick

Navigating with OS Maps

Photo Credit: Edward Fitzpatrick

Worried about battery life? I carried a power pack capable of charging my phone up to five times.

Concerned your phone might break? As a safety net, I carried my old phone with me, plus I always packed a compass and a print out of my route from the OS Maps desktop version.

Fearful your phone will get wet? Not a problem when you’ve got an Aquapac waterproof phone case.

For me, therefore, exclusively using my phone for navigation was a brilliant approach. I could create routes, record routes, pinpoint my location, and it came at a fraction of the cost of buying the hard-copy maps.

2. Hiking poles

For years I never used hiking poles – perhaps in my youth I had the fitness, strength and the ability to bounce back that I didn't need them. But now, aged 35, I swear by them.

I never go into the hills without my Leki Black Series MVC poles... they are my new essential accessory.

Why do I love them so much? Well, firstly, they help look after my vulnerable joints.

Without poles I often get pains and aching in my knees, which end up feeling tender and sore during descents. But, when using my Leki poles, I find the anchor points provide more stability and balance during descents and seem to cushion each step enough to reduce (if not eradicate) all of the knee pains and aches.

Hiking poles at work

Photo Credit: Edward Fitzpatrick

James' Leki Poles

Photo Credit: Edward Fitzpatrick

Walking with hiking poles

Photo Credit: Edward Fitzpatrick

There are many other benefits too: less falls and trips due to improved balance; more secure footing during river crossings or on rough, uneven terrain; and increased speed when ascending, as the poles enable me to dig in and power uphill more efficiently and rhythmically.

My Leki poles are also super-lightweight and they fold down quickly and easy, so they are easy to transport wherever I’m adventuring.

3. Ultra-lightweight sleeping system

Have you read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods? It has a laugh-out-loud section where Katz, Bill Bryson’s hiking companion on the Appalachian Trail, gets so fed up with the weight of his backpack that he starts, in a fit of rage and desperation, disposing of his cumbersome, heavy items of gear by throwing them over a cliff edge.

I’ve certainly felt like doing that on many of my hikes in the past, as my backpack has begun to weigh me down, slow me down, and cause me back and shoulder ache. That’s why I’ve invested in an ultra-lightweight sleeping system, thus drastically reducing the weight of my backpack and enabling me to travel faster, lighter and more efficiently through the mountains.

On solo trips, I use a Terra Nova Laser Competition 1 tent, which is durable and waterproof but remarkably weighs less than 1kg; a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite sleeping mat, which checks in at just 250g, packs down incredibly small, and always ensures a comfy night’s sleep; and a Therm-a-Rest Vesper 20F down sleeping quilt (an open, mattress-like version of a sleeping bag, weighing just 550g), which has amazing loft and fill to keep me cosy in all weathers, especially when combined with my Rab silk liner (128g).

The total weight is 1,898g, so an ultra-lightweight set-up.

Lightweight tent

Photo Credit: Edward Fitzpatrick

4. Waterproof and warm layers

Wearing warm clothes

Photo Credit: Edward Fitzpatrick

On my challenges I’ve often found myself feeling cold, wet and miserable, being pummelled by gale force winds and torrential rain. In Ireland I once walked every day for 10 days in a row, climbing over 50 mountains – it rained heavily every day and I didn’t see a single summit.

It was not a pleasant experience battling against Storm Ali...

...but it was an experience made marginally more bearable by the fact I was wearing expensive waterproofs that kept me as dry as was possible in such apocalyptic conditions.

I have tested out a variety of waterproofs over the years and across a number of challenges. Some have left me horribly wet; others have worked brilliantly. My current favourites are the Berghaus Changste men’s waterproof, a top-performing Gore-Tex jacket with a hugging fit, and the Helly Hansen Odin Worlds 9 jacket, a super-durable hardshell which stands up to the worst of weather.

In terms of waterproof trousers, I use the lightweight Berghaus Paclite trousers, and for a warm layer underneath my waterproof jacket my favourites are either the Salomon Drifter Mid Hoodie and the Mammut Eigerjoch Hybrid jacket.

5. Tracker and personal locator beacon

My parents always used to worry about me going out hiking alone in Britain's mountains. That was until I discovered the Garmin inReach Mini, a superb piece of kit that has bought me (and my loved-ones) peace of mind and a safety net if anything goes wrong.

The Garmin inReach Mini has three key purposes. Firstly, it acts as a personal locator beacon (PLB) with an SOS button. If, God forbid, you find yourself in a life-threatening situation you can simply press the button (it works without mobile reception) and the device will immediately notify emergency services, who can then dispatch the nearest mountain rescue or search and rescue organisation to your exact location. Better than most PLBs, it will also open up a channel of two-way text communication between you and your rescuers.

Secondly, the Garmin inReach Mini acts as a live tracking device. If you take out an optional subscription, it will track your movements and plot your route on a live map, which friends and family can view online.

Thirdly, the Garmin inReach Mini enables you to send pre-set messages for free to your nearest and dearest, such as "At camp, safe and well, love James".

This trio of features, coupled with excellent battery life, a miniscule weight of just 100g, and an accompanying app called Earthmate, make the Garmin inReach one of my favourites pieces of gear. At £264.99 it is pretty expensive, but you can't put a price on peace of mind.

Garmin inReach Mini

Photo Credit: Edward Fitzpatrick

More images from Edward Fitzpatrick

Find all the Scottish munros marked on OS Maps here.

Published 16/10/2019

James Forrest By James Forrest


James Forrest – aka ‘Mountain Man’ – is the record-breaking adventurer who climbed every mountain in England and Wales in just six months, the fastest ever time. Solo and unsupported, he walked over 1,000 miles and ascended five times the height of Everest during his 446-peak challenge. And he did it all on his days off from work, proving it is possible to integrate an epic adventure into your everyday life.

His debut book ‘Mountain Man: 446 Mountains. Six months. One record-breaking adventure” was released 2 May 2019.

Find out more about James Forrest.