Saturday, September 20, 2014

Gear and Safety

I'm very happy that my little running group Hardly AC has taken off.  We started in the summer months with a classic loop around Gowbarrow Fell and since then have put on a different route every Wednesday evening.  I didn't really have any aims for the group, I wasn't even particularly wanting it to be a group, I just posted on Facebook that I was going for a run and invited others to come with me.

It's been really rewarding to see new runners and runners new to the fells getting out and feeling confident about getting around our routes which sometime, yes I'll admit it, have a fair degree of climbing.  So far we have been blessed with daylight and good weather and these have been ideal conditions to get used to running in the fells.  I really want people to keep coming out on a Wednesday but it's time to take a serious look at safety and kit.  A few bits of essential kit can give you the confidence to carry on going out in bad weather and when it gets dark.  It will hopefully also make sure that, if something does go wrong, you are equipped to get down safely.

I'm not pretending to be an expert but I've learnt a fair bit with trial, error and the advice of others.

Please have a read and I would welcome comments or corrections:

For me, important planning factors to consider are weather conditions, route/terrain and distance/difficulty.  Gear for a crisp winter weekend is very different to a wet and windy winter evening.  I have a range of kit to choose from and to try to make sure I take what I need, I have a simple checklist:

I'm not suggesting you need everything for every run but if I go down this list and decide whether I need it or not for the run I have planned.

I've already seen a couple of omissions:

First is a headtorch.  I've just bought a brilliant one for £150 but they start at £10.  Go for the brightest you can afford (you will be more confident and able to go faster) and think about the need for spare batteries.

As well as this I will take a first aid kit.  Not a full kit but essentials such as a range of plasters and a bandage.  In a group I would say that it's not necessary for everyone to have a first aid kit but it's important to think that groups can be split up, choosing different routes.  

Going down the list, drink/food may not be required for the shorter distances we plan but if you stop, get lost or have an energy slump, you will be very glad of it.

Map/compass/gps.  I'm not a fantastic navigator, particularly at night.  Practice makes perfect and the group situation does give some security.  A GPS is a useful back up, it should tell you more or less exactly where you are.  Spare batteries are another consideration.  If you can't use a map and compass, learning to do so is very rewarding and empowering.

A phone is obviously useful if you do need to call for help.  I have been in situations where I have been absolutely fine but out on the fells for much longer than anticipated.  A text with a revised ETA can prevent unnecessary worry.  Phones can also have location aps, compass aps etc but I would say use as a back up rather than first option.

There are times in the winter where you can be confident that a waterproof is not needed.  However, a spare top and emergency shelter should be considered essential.  What I have learnt through experience is that if one person doesn't have something like a warm top or an emergency blanket/shelter, it makes the group vulnerable.  If you have been running (and sweating) you get cold very quickly when you stop.  If you give an injured runner your top to keep warm, you need to find a way to keep warm yourself.  Some people use a buff as a hat.  Buffs can have a multitude of uses including keeping your head/face warm or as an improvised bandage.

Spikes if the conditions warrant it and cash if you find yourself wandering into the wrong valley.

When it comes to buying kit, you pretty much get what you pay for.  Some of the more expensive equipment is designed to be superlight and aimed at racers.  Having said that, something like an OMM or inov8 smock jacket is a great piece of kit that will tuck away nicely into a back pack.

One recommendation I will make is one of these emergency shelters:

Shop around because I'm sure I picked one up for about £5.  The foil emergency blankets are pretty useless really.  This will sit in the bottom of your bag and hopefully never have to be used.

Cotswolds, George Fisher, Planet Fear, Needle Sports all have decent gear to check out.  If you're on a budget, some decent gear can be found in the discount shops like Mountain Warehouse, Field and Trek, but you do get what you pay for.

As I said, I'm no expert.  This is some of what I have learnt.  I don't want to scare anybody away but I think the group responsibility thing is important to emphasise.

If you're unsure, there are plenty of people in the group who can give gear recommendations.

It is invigorating to realise that you can go out in (almost) any conditions.  Have a look at the photo's below to see:

one of my favourite days out - worth a read here.

Blake Fell in very different conditions to last week

Jonathan, about to get cold and rained on, for fun.

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