Mountain leader Alex Foxfield: the hiking gear I couldn't live without

Kit I couldn't live without: Alex Foxfield
Advnture contributor Alex Foxfield in the English Lake District (Image credit: Alex Foxfield)

We've asked Advnture's writers, contributors and partners for their personal take on the five piece of outdoor gear they couldn't live without, the essential pieces of kit they treasure above all others.

Here, Advnture contributor Alex Foxfield talks about his five favorite items of hiking gear and what it is about them that makes them so special. As a keen hiker and mountaineer, Alex can often be found in the high places and he enjoys nothing more than getting his teeth stuck into gnarly winter days.

Mountain Equipment Ibex Pants

Kit I couldn't live without: Mountain Equipment Ibex pants on Sgurr nan Gillean

Wearing the Ibex Pants during a hike on Scotland's Isle of Skye (Image credit: Alex Foxfield)

Mountain Equipment's Ibex Pants have been a mainstay during my hiking and mountaineering exploits for the last five years. They're hard wearing, comfortable and practical, which is all you really need from your hiking pants

They've been my companion on so many unforgettable adventures and have kept going strong. I once tore them during a glissade (that's fancy talk for sliding down a snowy slope on your bum) but took the time to patch them up. They've seen more expensive pants come and go since I first bought them and I still reach for them today.

I love that they have five zippered pockets, it gives me loads of versatility when I'm on the hill. I often end up putting chocolate wrappers in the back pocket, while the two thigh pockets are great for items like a compass or for stashing my best headlamp.

They're not fully waterproof, so I always carry rain pants that I can wear over the top in case of a downpour. The only time I ever swap my pair of Ibexes out is to wear insulated trousers when things get truly wintery.

Haglöfs Heron Hood

Kit I couldn't live without: Haglöfs Heron Hood

For me, hand warmer pockets are an essential on any mid layer (Image credit: Alex Foxfield)

This is a classy hooded mid layer from Haglöfs, a Swedish brand I have nothing but praise for. It ticks every box. It's noticeably warmer than my other mid layers, wonderfully comfortable when wearing a backpack and its recycled polyester fabric allows freedom of movement.

I like a mid layer to have hand warmer pockets, which the Heron has, for those hiking days where it's a bit nippy but you don't really want to be taking gloves on and off every time you want to take a photo.

It's one of those garments that's so comfortable and good looking that it's almost tempting not to subject it to the trials of rugged backcountry hiking. It's fair to say that I've worn it around town just as much as on the hill.

The only downside is that it's quite expensive. I have my sister to thank for it, as she bought it for me a few Christmases ago. She's a graphic designer and I'd always assumed her own preference for Haglöfs' gear was because of their stylish aesthetic. Turns out their kit's performance is as good as it looks.

Mountain Equipment Couloir Gloves

Kit I couldn't live without: Couloir Gloves on a wintery hike

Me and my trusty Couloir Gloves taking on the winter classic that is the Ring of Steall in the Scottish Highlands (Image credit: Alex Foxfield)

No one likes spending £100 on a pair of hiking gloves but these are truly worth every penny. Probably the biggest difference maker since I started exploring the great outdoors.

For a long time, I was making do with two pairs of relatively low-end hiking gloves. I'd always need both too, as it was all too common that they'd end up soaked during my mountaineering trips to the Scottish Highlands or the Alps.

At the start of the 2022 winter season, I decided to gather recommendations for the best winter gloves and Mountain Equipment's Couloir Gloves kept cropping up. I decided to make the investment and – boy – am I glad that I did. Cold, wet hands are a thing of the past thanks to their water-resistant Goatskin leather and GORE-TEX insert, while they're also blessedly warm.

There are loads of other great design features, like the one-handed drawcord closure, the internal karabiner loop and the elasticated wrist leash that allows you take them off but have them still tethered to your arm. This eliminates the possibility of the winter wind whisking them away, as happened to a previous pair of mine on a trip to the Cairngorms National Park.

Highlander Bamboo Base Layer Long Sleeve Top

hiking gear I couldn't live without: Highlander Bamboo Base Layer

For a standard hiking day, the Highlander Bamboo Base Layer is gloriously comfortable (Image credit: Alex Foxfield)

With this great value base layer from Scottish brand Highlander, it was a case of love at first wear. It's not the warmest, it's not the fastest drying, it's not the best performing and it's not a top I'd put on to go for a pint in the Clachaig, the Vaynol Arms or the Wasdale Head Inn. So what's it doing here?

The reason I love the Bamboo Base layer from Highlander is that it is supremely comfortable. For an average hiking day, there's no doubt I'm reaching for it. It's lightweight, soft against the skin, fits beautifully and wicks moisture well.

I've got base layers made from all sorts of materials, from synthetics like polyester to natural materials like Merino wool and yak wool. Quite simply, none are quite as comfortable. Of course, I opt for a fast-drying polyester top when I run, while my warmer Merino and yak wool base layers are my go-tos for winter mountaineering.

But, when it comes comfort on the trails when I lace up my hiking shoes, this is the one.

La Sportiva Trango Tower GTX boots

Kit I couldn't live without: La Sportiva Trango Tower boots on Helvellyn

I find La Sportiva's Trangos much more comfortable for long winter hiking days than Scarpa's lauded Mantas (Image credit: Alex Foxfield)

Having sought advice from a helpful man in a shop in the Cumbrian outdoor capital of Keswick, I opted for La Sportiva's Trango Tower boots for my first pair of crampon compatible winter boots. Their lightweight qualities made them the perfect choice for transitioning from overzealous fast hikes and low grade scrambles to exciting adventures in the winter environment.

I'd be lying if I said that the Trangos were as comfortable to hike in as a standard pair of hiking shoes. The fact is that winter boots are always going to be a little heavier and a lot more rigid in order to do everything that they have to do. However, the Trangos are the most comfortable winter pair I've worn, perfect for the kind of long walk ins you often get during Scottish winter missions. 

During lockdown, I bought a pair of Scarpa Manta Pro GTXs. Everyone bangs on about how brilliant these boots are but comparing them directly to the Trangos, I found them to be woefully clunky and uncomfortable. Maybe its my prefered fast and light approach, but I'm definitely a Trango man.

Alex Foxfield

Alex is a freelance adventure writer and mountain leader with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He's the former President of the London Mountaineering Club, is training to become a winter mountain leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and is always keen to head to the 4,000-meter peaks of the Alps.