"So, my question is, for a full day out on the British Hills in winter what are the bare kit essentials that a responsible and self-reliant person should carry?" Step 1, define your hills. I'd want rather more for a winter traverse of the Cuillin ridge than I'd want for a fair-weather dander over the North Downs. Both are "British Hills".
As usual it comes down to context. How far, how cold, how remote, how technical, how many pals, how fast, how experienced etc. etc.
"It's psychosomatic. You need a lobotomy. I'll get a saw."
No, the drink of choice for xc-ski trips has to be hot saft... somehow it tastes fantastic out in the snow, and disgusting if you ever try to drink it indoors!
Btw, it seems a bit daft to me to declare a flask of tea 'a bit on the heavy side' - maybe so if you're running, but for most other winter hillgoers I think it's important to get beyond the simple but fashionable "weight is bad" view and consider the balance of the benefits it can bring.
Does it have to be a flask of tea? What about coffee, hot chocolate? Do they weigh more?
But seriously - flask of hot drink is an essential in my winter backpack.
I'm with Matt on saft (fruit drink like squash, if you've not been to Norway). Really hits the spot and is my flask-fuel of choice from DNT huts with a filling service.
Top Tip for flasks... don't put hot chocolate in one you've used for mint tea and not cleaned out properly. Don't ask me (or my family) how I know this...
Some interesting points. If i was out solo, i wouldn't carry extra kit just in case i came across someone needing help. I would do what i could with what i had. I agree 100% with your comment about fitness. Winter hills, especially challenging ones with deep snow, will find you out if you are unfit. Like myself at the moment. Having that fitness 'in the bag' can be a life-saver if it goes the way of the pear.
What to carry is down to experience.
Fitness and a change to you walking habit can help in winter. What I mean is shorter and fewer stops and the ability to walk all day due to increased fitness whatever the conditions can go a long way to you needing less gear. However it is not when you are mobile that you are in trouble but when you are immobile for whatever reason. At that point you might want all the gear you have (probably most of it at home or in the car) to survive if in trouble. However there is the old advice that carrying too much gear just in case you might need it can increase your chances of needing it.
I've seen a runner before go up over Catbells, Maiden Moor and round in t-shirt, shorts, fell shoes and a tiny bumbag. That was about 1.5 hours away from nightfall. He was super fit and moved effortlessly and very quickly over the terrain and I Had no doubt whatsoever he would be ok. I had a relatively light walking kit and had been going up the way at the time. I turned back. I had more gear (mostly a down smock and spare gloves/hat, etc.) but was not moving as quickly so I had to. Two different gear levels and both right for the person using them. OF course knowledge of when to turn back is probably more important in some ways. Nothing wrong with bugging out IMHO.
I concur with Pete.
I always consider benightment, and how I might cope with it, and this guides my choice of what I carry. Fell runners ought to, too, and competition rules are there for that very reason; to make sure that competitors have adequate kit to survive such benightments. After all, if all the competitors are carrying the same complusory kit, then it's a level-ish playing field. Playing silly buggers with competition rules (like Action Man waterproofs) is stupid legalese nonsense.
The one thing I always carry, apart from more insulation in winter, is a bivvy bag.
Even in summer, you can never no if you will need it.
Things can always go 'glutes' over 'pecs' and can be a life saver. Not only for your self.
Metric Kate wrote (see)
Coffee might be alright, but hot chocolate has a lower specific heat capacity so it'll get cold quicker and warm you up less. Surely that's reason enough to stay well away?
This came home to me in the summer when involved in a rescue. When asked to contribute first aid kit only 5 out of the group of 15 had something beyond the 'compspeed/brufen' kit. All who contributed had completed a Wilderness First Aid course.
One of the chaps who taught the course where I got my outdoor-oriented first aid certificate was asked what he carried as a personal kit. He replied he didn't bother (perceps excepting a roll of gaffer tape) as you could improvise most stuff from what you had. Obviously not stuff like pain-killers, but there's an important distinction between comfort stuff and survival stuff.
First aid is mainly about procedures, not stuff.
One occasion I ended up involved in a rescue was after a cornice collapse had caught a climbing party at Craeg Smeggy. Various problems ranging from shaken and stirred to suspected broken back. I quickly dug out my reasonably well filled FAK and... found absolutely nothing I could do with it. The jobs were immobilisation and protection of the ones with breaks and suspected breaks, and keeping them warm and spirits up. So fleeces and snow-shovel were far more use than triangular bandages etc.
I carry a FAK, so I clearly think they're worth having along, but anyone getting the idea it'll save lives is probably wrong. What it might well usefully do is reduce discomfort to levels that mean a day isn't ruined by a minor mishap. In other words, compeed and ibuprofen are a pretty good thing.
Zuma wrote (see)
Coffee is not good in winter it drives water in your body off.
The diuretic strength of coffee, even really strong coffee, is not enough to make you lose more water than you just took in by drinking it.
I suspect people are more likely to feel refreshed and rehydrated after drinking tea than after drinking coffee, however.
I suspect psychology has a lot to do with the effect of whatever you drink/eat, in a manner related to placebos. This is why a wee nip from a hip flask at the summit, though technically bad for an organic robot, will actually create a morale boost for many a normal person which will get them moving on. Ditto the sugar spike from chocolate etc. If it makes you feel good it will quite possibly get you going (though obviously you shouldn't apply this to people who won't get going, so no nips for hypothermia cases!). And on a cold, gloomy day just being hot and wet is usually enough for a drink (though see previous note about mint tea and hot chocoalte mixes...).
Coming back from the local firework display our 8 yo daughter was a member of the walking dead as we came around the local hill between our house and the park. Too tired to go on, leaning heavily on me every step. Just the mention of hot chocolate in front of the fire when we got back was enough to perk her up in to action.
Peter Clinch wrote (see)
And on a cold, gloomy day just being hot and wet is usually enough for a drink (though see previous note about mint tea and hot chocoalte mixes...).
Absolutely. When I lived in Rome, I found myself eventually buying a jar of instant coffee despite living surrounded by bars selling the most awesome coffees ever. I realised that what I actually wanted was not coffee, but a hot, wet drink in a BIG MUG that I could cradle in my hands. Hence no problem with drinking decaffeinated - it's not for the buzz!
I will, however, remember the bit about mint tea and hot chocolate
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