Published 24th June 2024, 18:30

    I ONCE spent 20 minutes trapped in a pair of trousers.

    Definitely at the lower end on the scale of mountain mishaps and no need to call out a rescue team, but a frustrating experience nonetheless.

    It happened as we were descending in deep snow and I needed to make a toilet stop. The trousers were part of a snowsuit, superbly warm and insulated but with one major design flaw – a metal buckle that even someone with a black belt in mechanical engineering would struggle to negotiate.

    This buckle had obviously been designed along the lines of a chastity belt. It contained a double clip and a couple of ball bearings that were supposed to roll across with ease. Except they didn't. Once you were in these trousers, there was no easy escape.

    It didn't help that we were in below-zero conditions and trying to wrestle open a complex metal contraption with rapidly freezing fingers was not ideal. After I had recovered from the ordeal, I decided the belt had to go. 

    This trouser malfunction was not an isolated problem, rather the tip of the iceberg where hillwalking breeks and myself are concerned. Despite the vast improvements in quality and performance of gear over the years, almost every pair I have bought has thrown up problems with the belts. It seems ridiculous that you can shell out £100-plus for a pair of trousers yet the belt always looks as though it cost 10p to make.

    There's also a lack of consistency across the brands: some have clips that don't actually clip, some have loops that constantly come undone while you are walking and others have a tendency to snap under pressure. It seems in the strive by companies to make their products individual, every effort just ends in failure. 

    Surely it would be simple enough to standardise a good, practical belt rather than continually produce novelty systems that don't work. In the meantime, my solution is to throw away the belts provided and use a separately bought one that's fit for purpose.

    I don't remember this problem cropping up when we used to wear britches in the hills, and that includes the make-do variety stitched together at home when we had a lot less money to throw at decent gear. 

    That was also evidenced by the knee-high woollen socks that had to accompany the britches. They were superb but having only two pairs to switch between – three was regarded as somewhat of a luxury – usually meant they wore down faster. Sometimes you even wore both at the same time. A long day in the mountains with threadbare socks could leave you with feet resembling raw hamburger, the remaining strands barely covering the heel and sole and leaving an angry red griddle-pan pattern. 

    It's likely one of the reasons I have gone a bit socks-mad in recent years. Whenever I receive gift vouchers for outdoor shops, I stock up on socks. As any good octopus will attest, you simply can't have too many pairs.

    I currently own about 20 pairs, ranging in weight and warmth from summer to winter, plus a couple of pairs of waterproof ones. Most of the time I keep a pair of these sealskins in my rucksack to change halfway through a walk when it's particularly wet, but it's not often I would wear them for a full day.

    They certainly keep the water at bay but they can be tough on the feet. On one gruelling outing in the Galloway hills I spent the last hour hobbling back to the car with what I thought was water sloshing around in my boots. Turned out it was blood – my feet had been torn to ribbons by the constant rubbing.

    Modern socks have certainly brought a welcome step change, but not everyone is willing to embrace it. One friend who had taken a few years out for family reasons re-emerged in our company still with the old britches and woollen socks.

    It was very much a Life on Mars moment, someone from the past wakening up to find that life had moved on without him. He eventually saw some sense on the trousers but still refused to the last to give up his socks. He really was the Last of the Sockhicans.

    Anyway, I can't sign off on my moanifest destiny without mentioning another big bugbear when it comes to outdoor gear. Gloves. Once again, despite all the recent innovations, no one has yet produced a pair that can be easily put on when your hands are wet.

    You know the scenario: it's raining and you take off your gloves to take a picture or grab a bite to eat then spend ages trying to slide them back on. You finally get one on after a struggle but the second is impossible, so you have to take the first one off again to try to get the second on and then it's back to square one. 

    Someone, somewhere, must be able to sort this out. Life is too short to be glove wrestling on a mountainside.