Venturing up your first big hill or mountain can be a daunting prospect and riders often will pack far too much and get bogged down, or simply not take enough.
Wideopen’s Website Editor Pete spends as much time as is humanly possible in the highest parts of the Scottish back country. When he’s not working on the site he’s out bagging Munro’s – that is, Scottish peaks over 3000ft (914m) high.
So far, his list sits at 11 Munros, on the bike, with multiple ascents of peaks such as Ben Lomond and Ben Vorlich.
Here’s Pete’s pick for the essentials when heading up your first bloody great big lump of rock, back country mountain bike adventure or Munro.
If you’re looking for some rides to try in Scotland, we’ve got a great list of the best non-trail centre rides here.
A Primaloft jacket.
It’s a given that for every 100m you climb vertically, you will lose 1 degrees centigrade. This is long before you have factored in wind, rain/snow/hail and sweat. A 1000m peak’s summit will be below freezing when it’s 10 degrees at the sea. You’ll also be sweaty and hungry at this point, so stopping to refuel will see your core temperature plummet. Get yourself a good, lightweight Primaloft to keep the heat and stoke levels high.
I have been using the Alpkit Heiko and the Endura Flipjack with impressive results. The former is smaller, lighter and packs down better, but isn’t bike specific and lacks a hood. Both are excellent for the task.
… and a waterproof jacket
The absolute bleeding obvious, it will be windy and probably cold and maybe even wet. Give yourself the best chance of enjoying the view from the top with a decent waterproof. The waterproof/primaloft combo can be the absolute business during the shorter days when there’s snow on the ground too.
I have been testing the Fox Downpour recently and it’s the one I usually pick out if I need something a little thicker than a boil in the bag jacket.
If, like me, you don’t like riding in knee pads, then you can’t go far wrong with a set of the 661 Recon Knee Pads for a mountain gallop. At 140g for the pair, they take up very little room in your riding pack, or act as a decent knee warmer on the climb should you want them on all the time.
Big mountains have an increased risk of a tumble as lines don’t stay in your head and you’ll be tired much quicker than normal on the descent. Cover your knees and you’ll ride better as a result too.
A second pair of gloves
Your hands are usually the first thing to feel the cold, and this is even more evident up a mountain. As temperatures drop, your hands will lose their feeling well before the rest of your body.
If it’s very cold or just damp, having a second pair of gloves inside your jacket or stuffed somewhere where your body will keep them warm can be a lifesaver. Trying to get off a hill with no feeling of what the controls are doing can end in disaster. Packing a set of winter or waterproof gloves as your second pair never hurts should the weather take a nasty turn.
A good multitool
It never ceases to baffle me how people leave the house without a good multitool, and this is even more so the higher you go. I usually take something like the Crank Brothers M19 as it works well in a gloved hand, has decent leverage and a heap of tools, something you’ll be very pleased of as time marches on. Rounding bolts on the hill isn’t an option. Get a good tool with good leverage and you’re onto a winner.
A decent riding pack
This one sounds pretty straightforward as you can’t really carry the things on this list quite so easily once you add food, water, tubes and the rest. Yes you’re going to take a pack, but picking the right pack for a day on the mountain is crucial.
My USWE Patriot 15 went everywhere with me in the Alps with a full set of camera gear, even though it wasn’t designed to accommodate it; through the Pyrenees with Basque MTB and on pretty much every outing since I’ve had it. Ample storage, no bouncing about and it even holds the bike well on my shoulders for those hike-a-bike missions.
We’ve also had loads of success with Camelbak packs – the Camelbak Kudu 12L is a great one for riders that need a bit more space to carry kit.
… and a decent light
Every now and again, shit hits the fan. You’ve planned to leave early, told people where you’re going, checked the forecast and tuned your bike up. Everything goes Pete Tong and the light begins to fade.
My Exposure Diablo Mk5 will accompany Nokia 8610s and cockroaches after we’ve nuked ourselves to dust. Slap it on charge the night before, fire it in your pack and pray you don’t need to use it. It will save your life if you do though.
An Emergency SMS
Originally designed for those deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired to contact the emergency services, the Emergency SMS service could be a lifesaver in those places where signal just isn’t good enough for a phone call. Register your phone number and again, pray you never have to use it.
Light weight, low size, high energy food
I don’t carry huge amounts of food on my rides but if you’re new to big mountain adventures it’s wise to carry something to eat – rides can easily drag on a lot longer than you expect and you need to stay on top form from start to finish.
Bonking on the red lap of your local trail centre just means limping back to the car. A bonk up a Scottish mountain in shite weather with a technical descent ahead could well be significantly more disastrous. There’s no trail centre cafe up Ben Ledi.
We’d recommend that you carry something that’s light weight, small in size but also high in energy. We’ve recently tried out Clif Bars with some really good results – the new mint version is great! They taste good, weigh just 70g and pack in plenty of energy to keep you rolling. Clif Bloks are also great for a really quit hit of energy when you need dragging out of the pain cave.
A first aid kit and a few emergency bits
Fingers crossed you won’t need it – but when you’re up a mountain there’s no way you can bail out on a fire road and roll back to the cafe. It’s worth packing a First Aid kit to cover minor injuries. A survival blanket will help keep an injured buddy warm in a proper emergency. I’ve never used one but those wee hand warmers can come in handy (get it?) if conditions turn chilly.
A light, portable stove to celebrate reaching the summit
This isn’t something that I carry personally, but I know a lot of people that swear by them. A light, portable stove is great for a celebratory cuppa at the summit and can also help resurrect a thoroughly cold and miserable ride when morale is ebbing.
We’ve tested the MSR Windburner here at Wideopen and we absolutely love it. It boils water in 60 seconds, works in low temperatures and high winds, can prepare hot foot and drinks and even comes with a neat cafetiere attachment. The whole lot packs inside itself and weighs next to nothing. You can read Wideopen’s full MSR Windburner review here.
… and a few basics just in case
There’s also a few bloody obvious basics you should just leave in your hydration pack at all times. Hide them away in the bottom of your pack, pray you’ll never need them and one day be smug that you’ve got them.
When tubeless fails you’ll want a decent mini pump like the Topeak Mini Morph, a tube and some decent tire levers. Zip ties and a roll of Gorrilla tape will solve all manner of sins. An emergency fiver and a few coins can get you out of scrapes that need a phone box, a taxi or a surprise cafe stop. Superstition means many riders pack a shoe lace … just in case.