The Angry Corrie 31: Mar-Apr97

TAC 31 Index

Useless Equipment, No.8 - No more into the breeches

Val Hamilton

It's one of those things which has been preying on my mind for many years now but which I have only recently found the confidence to express: why did anyone ever wear breeches? I felt it was simply a question which could not be asked: the answer must be so obvious to all the real walkers and climbers that to even consider it was to single myself out as a complete outsider. For so many years, breeches just were part of the uniform, yet I knew that change was coming when there wasn't a single pair to be found in the 1996 Field and Trek catalogue. There was, however, no bold outright statement - "we have decided that there is no good reason for wearing breeches and therefore we are stopping selling them". It was far more surreptitious: they just weren't there any more.

Some weeks ago, though, I was in the presence of a brave man. Mick Tighe, mountain guide and rescue team member, came out, in front of a large audience at a mountain safety talk sponsored by Boots Across Scotland, and said it: "What's the point of wearing breeches?" I nearly cheered, but the sharp intake of breath which went round the room at this openly expressed heresy made me refrain. Not surprisingly, he was challenged on this outrageous statement, but stood his ground, expressing the revolutionary idea that judicious use of gaiters could keep the bottom of your trousers legs clean if that's what bothered you.

Breeches were always a peculiar shape and those for women in particular seemed to have been designed for some sort of seaside postcard character with a tiny waist and curvaceous hips. I am not particularly tall, but never found a pair of breeches long enough to reach my socks. (Okay, it could be I never got a pair of socks long enough to reach my breeches.) I once spent a whole summer with a thin red - eventually brown - stripe across the back of my legs from a fortnight's calf exposure to the sun in the Alps.

So where have they gone? What do most people wear instead? Tracksuit bottoms are the obvious answer though they often lack pockets. A map pocket in the back was an integral part of your breeches and the maps in our collection can be dated as pre- and post-breek-wearing days by their degree of curvature. Map 33 in particular is easily identifiable by its flaking cover, having virtually dissolved in the steamy atmosphere of my back pocket on its first outing, one baking hot day visiting the Falls of Glomach and A'Ghlas-bheinn.

Trackie bottoms are no way warm enough for nesh folk like me for nine months of the Scottish year. If you're gallus enough you can cope with the problems of a layering system for the legs: I've witnessed (couldn't take my eyes off to be honest) a young Norwegian stripping off on the summit of his country's snow-covered, occasionally highest mountain (see TACs passim) to put his long-johns on under his trackies. But it's not a sight I would wish to see in Scotland too often.

Many people would deal with this by putting on over-trousers and this is where I feel the real revolution has been. In my youth, you wore over-trousers only in the most atrocious conditions, usually when you were already wet through and shivering. They were sweaty and baggy round the legs but too tight to get over your boots. Now with breathable fabrics and full-length zips, you are as likely to wear them as you would a jacket. The ability to turn your comfortable Ron Hills quickly into all-weather protection has rung the death knell for breeches.

So the progress is generally to be welcomed but the demise of breeches has a more symbolic aspect. In the new uniform, the hill-goer no longer blends tweedily into the heather but stands out as an athlete with go-faster stripes. As if by some imported management technique, baggy has become stream-lined; the flash has replaced the fustian. Time-honoured tradition which was perhaps a little itchy and uncomfortable has become practical and fast-drying and thus, maybe, more appropriate to the modern "tick-me-quick" brigade.

TAC 31 Index