Why Windproofs are Essential for Hill Walking

It’s staggering how many people you see setting off from the usual trailheads dressed from head to toe in waterproof Gore-Tex, eVent or even Paramo. That’s fine during the typical wet weather that we get, but utterly inexplicable at most other times. They’ll usually plod onwards, trying to work out why they’re overheating and getting sweaty. Next thing, they’ll be blaming the jackets for not being breathable. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, but there is a better way.

Setting off on a mountain walk in your waterproofs unless necessary is going to get you sweating and even though your kit is breathable, you’ll still produce enough sweat to be uncomfortable. Even in Paramo, which is as breathable as a teabag, you’ll end up wet from sweat if you work hard enough. They simply struggle at that level. The obvious answer is to wear something totally breathable that still cuts out the wind – so long as it’s not raining as part of a well thought out layering system.

Windproofs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and prices from a few quid to well over a £100. The more expensive types are often quite technical ‘softshell’ garments that are a somewhat ambiguous group of kit that sacrifice waterproofness for breathability. So read softshell as being a windproof with knobs on (Wikipedia defines it as – describing “garments that combine partial or full water resistance with partial or full wind breaking ability” – which is basically a windproof).

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The more expensive ‘softshells’ often combine a wicking insulation layer making them useful most of the year round, if a tad warm for summer. This is all well and good, but the main problem with this is that if you need to restore the water-resistance you can’t use a convenient wash in proofer as it prevents the inner from wicking. On any trip however, they’re much more useful than a mere fleece alone and as such make a useful addition to your pack (Rab Vapour Rise). You can get simple lined windproofs that are basically a pertex covered microfleece, but having two garments in one is not as flexible as having them separate to cope with changing conditions.

I prefer lightweight windproof only shells that are more often than not made of pertex, such as the Montane Featherlite Smock. These provide virtually no insulation, but cut out the wind effectively for the tiniest weight penalty and pack down to the size of an apple. Coupled with a fleece, you have an effective layering system for cool and windy days. You can also get heavy duty types – e.g. Paramo Fuera, that do a similar job to the Pertex tops but being much more durable.

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Windproofs are usually showerproof. With a decent baselayer underneath, you should be comfortable even if some water does get through. Just remember that they don’t replace a decent waterproof!

Why can’t you use a lightweight waterproof I hear no-one ask? Whilst that would entail carrying just the one item, no matter what the marketing blurb boasts, a breathable waterproof is not as breathable as a windproof. As a result, you’ll probably be more comfortable in a windproof when you’re sweating than in a waterproof.

If you run as well, then investing in a decent windproof is a must. Lightweight garments such as the Montane Feathlite Marathon are perfect for both running and as a just in case top for the hills (though it’s questionable if you buy the fluoro yellow versions!)

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Finally, don’t forget that you can also get windproof trousers. They’re often very light and lend themselves well to high energy activity, and you can also wear them in showery weather without worrying about getting in and out of your waterproof leggings. I use the Montane Featherlite Pants for running, as well as for summit wear for quick after work jaunts up Snowdon when the wind can be particularly biting during the late evening.  Paramo do a heavy duty pair (Fuera) that are ideal for changeable conditions.

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So a windproof can take up less space in your pack than an apple and be of much more use on the hill. You can often get a pertex top from a top brand at under £30 if you shop around, so why not give them a go this spring?

Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader.
Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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