I only started walking in the Lake District in 1997 but now it is the focus of everything that I do. I started from scratch, everything I know is what I learned by myself - sometimes the hard way. Where do I begin? Let me start with the gear that I started with and the reasons why it was wrong.
I bought a pair of walking boots from Clarks; very nice looking but they were really road walking boots with not enough of a tread pattern. When I was walking downhill I frequently slipped onto my backside and my feet were always wet through even on moderately wet days.
I bought a waterproof Regatta jacket with a zip-in fleece; with the fleece in place I got far too warm after only ten minutes walking. The jacket wasn't breathable so wearing it in wet but warm weather made me sweat so much that I was wet through by the time I finished my walk. In any event the wet days in the Lake District overcame any waterproof properties that the jacket may have had.
I bought a rucksack that was adequate in size for the shorter walks that I started with but with no capacity for spare clothes, hat, gloves, food and water. There was very little waterproofing making it quite unsuitable to carry mobile phones, guide books or electronic car keys.
I decided to walk in jeans rather than buy any specialist walking pants, they kept me warm except when it rained; they retained most of the water that they absorbed and once they were wet they got cold and stayed cold.
I bought the cheapest compass that I could on the basis that they worked fine but were just a bit smaller than the more expensive; in reality they tended to stop working properly in the damp atmosphere of thick mist.
The first map that I bought was plastic coated which was good, but the 1:50000 scale wasn't detailed enough to identify landmarks on the ground or to properly plan a route. I placed too much trust in the guide books that I bought and I didn't understand enough about navigation to avoid getting lost.
The best buy that I made was the collection of "Best Walks" books by Paul Buttle, £1.95 each for a book with several walks starting at short low level walks, leading up to more strenuous full day walks. There are some imprecise navigation moments but generally they provide a varied and interesting way of learning about fell walking; however they were susceptible to water damage in an unlined rucksack.
So what have I learned? The most important lesson is to understand the fells, you can't be told how wet and cold you might get or how lost you might become; it is something you have to learn by experience. The guide books will tell you how to get there but they won't tell you how it feels to be wet, cold or lost. It would be easy to spend a lot of money on the best (assuming that the most expensive is best) but you have to decide what it is you want to achieve. Visiting the Lake District once or twice a year is very different to walking on the fells every weekend.
The minimum that you need is a pair of boots with a good tread pattern, a jacket that is windproof, pants that will dry quickly, a plastic liner for your rucksack, a good compass, a waterproof map, and a good idea of where you are going and enough to eat and drink for twice as long as you think you are going to be. Even in summer it can be very cold so don't forget gloves, hat and extra layers of clothing and a rucksack big enough to hold the extra stuff
Learn the meaning of waterproof; it doesn't mean you won't get wet, it means you won't get wet as quickly as you would without the waterproofing. Windproof is more important, you can survive being wet if you can keep the wind out. If you get wet and the wind gets to you then you might not survive; don't underestimate how dangerous the wind can be, it is the master of the fells. The rain will make you wet, the mist will get you lost, the snow will make you wet and cold and make you get lost but the wind will kill you.
Don't underestimate how long it takes to get to the top of a fell, don't think that it will take less than two and a half hours to reach the major summits and of course it will take the same amount of time and energy to get down again.
Make sure that you have enough to drink, a hot cup of coffee is nice but you need water to stop you from becoming dehydrated. Sheep have a habit of dying in streams so don't rely on them for water, I will drink from a stream but only if I can see its source. In summer I carry 4 litres of water, it's heavy in the rucksack but it is very unpleasant when you become dehydrated.
Don't underestimate the Lake District, it is beautiful but it is dangerous if you are not careful; ideally you should walk with an experienced person on the high fells. Practically, Wainwright's advice is still valid, watch where you are putting your feet and use common sense.
So what do I wear and use to survive and enjoy the fells? If you plan to walk only in daylight hours and in good weather then you've come to the wrong place, you don't need my advice but then you might not get the conditions you expect either. To find your way round you need the Plastic coated 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure (OL4 to OL7) maps and a compass that costs at least £19.95. In the event that you get seriously lost and it becomes dark you need a whistle, a head torch, a hand held torch and at least a plastic survival bag but ideally a proper bivi bag.
What you wear depends on how much you want to spend, the more time you spend on the fells the more money you will need to spend. Not having waterproof boots will make you miserable; I like leather boots that you can treat with Nikwax Aqueous Wax as you finish the walk and you can wax them before the next one. You still need good boots, I wear Scarpa SL's that are suitable all year round. The Scarpa SL is also B1 rated for C1 flexible crampons to complete their year round suitability.
Some people swear by their socks but as long as they are comfortable your boots should take care of the waterproof side of things; I always wear a pair of thin socks under my walking socks to avoid any unnecessary friction caused by the roughness of them.
Gaiters have one function; to keeps things like snow and gravel out of your boots, the frequency of getting gravel in your boots is so low that you should only worry about snow. The only other need to wear gaiters is when you need to cross a stream in spate or to cross some of the wetter swampy places in Scotland.
I wear Ron Hill trackster pants that are warm enough in most conditions, football shorts when it gets warm and waterproof over-trousers for when it gets wet or very cold.
I usually just wear a short sleeved tee shirt with a collar to turn up when it is sunny and hot; only in the coldest winter days do I wear a vest underneath the tee shirt.
I hate having to change clothes on those days when it blows hot and then cold, I like to carry only a single jacket that I either wear or put in my rucksack. Other people will take different garments to wear as individual layers and will add or remove clothing as the conditions change; it really is a matter of personal preference, how much gear you can afford and how much you want to carry.
The jacket is all important, the difference between hot and cold, wet and dry. On warm summer days you don't need to wear a jacket; altough, even at the height of summer, it can be cold or wet enough to need a good waterproof but more importantly windproof jacket. Gore-Tex is the most reliable brand name to look for; the label says guaranteed to keep you dry but it means only when the jacket is new. Even Gore-Tex jackets need to be cleaned and reproofed and the waterproof lining will eventually wear away but the Gore-Tex label is still the most reliable guide to waterproof.
I wear glove liners most of the time when it is cold, it makes putting big gloves on easier especially when it is wet. The hat should cover your ears and forehead, in wet conditions or when the wind is very strong and/or cold it should be possible to wear your hat under the waterproof hood attached to your jacket. I also wear a fleece neck-gaiter, it stops a cold wind from getting inside your jacket and prevents you losing heat from your neck and shoulders.Check the BBC's guidelines safety on the fells and what to do in an emergency