Sunday, 12 April 2015

Equipment for Basic Expedition Leader and Lowland Valley Leader – Making the right choices

This is the first in a series of articles on what equipment you should take for your assessment in a range of qualifications. This week is Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) and Lowland Valley Leader (LVL), and over the next week I will also be posted on both Mountain Leader and Single Pitch Award. I have also previously done articles on expedition kit, mountain leader kit, and winter kit for feel free to have a look at them too! Enjoy!

I am a qualified Mountain Leader currently working towards both my Winter ML and Mountaineering Instructor Award. I am also a course director for the Basic Expedition Leader Award and soon to be a Director for the Lowland Valley Leader too. I have a wealth of experience working with groups for over 10 years, and the recommendations made in this article are based on that experience. Choosing the right kit for taking groups out can be tricky. This is complicated by the fact that during assessment your choice of equipment will be scrutinised for suitability by your assessors. This article is meant as a ‘foundation’ on which you can develop your personal equipment choices, this list is not exhaustive and there may well be other items you wish to add to your kit. This article also focuses on the equipment required for a day walk as opposed to a multi-day expedition.


Choosing the correct rucksack is essential as it allows you to not only fit the required amount of equipment in, but also remain comfortable throughout the day. An ideal rucksack for your leader kit on BEL or LVL would be around the 40 Litre mark. In my personal opinion Osprey packs are worth considering, whilst at the top end in terms of price, they are also at the top end in terms of performance, providing excellent comfort and well-designed packs. 40 Litres is only a guide size, and you may wish to carry a pack that is either bigger or 
smaller than this.

Key things to look for:

When you buy your rucksack test it! Most reputable shops will have weight bags you can place into the bag to test it. Do not blindly buy off the internet!  Also bear in mind that many brands of rucksack now produce packs in different (fixed) back sizes, so do your research and make sure you get the right size for you!

First Aid Kit:

As a group leader you are responsible for ensuring you have the correct equipment to deal with a range of emergencies on the hill. One of the key items in your emergency kit is your first aid kit. Your kit must be big enough to deal with multiple injuries to multiple casualties, but also take into account the fact that you need to be carrying it around with you all day. The result needs to be a balanced kit comprehensive enough to cover all scenarios, and light enough not to be a burden on the hill. My kit began life as a Lifesystems Mountain Leader first aid kit. I added several items to the kit and removed items such as painkillers (as leaders we cannot administer these to young people). I added; foil blankets x 2, small GPS, incident card, blister plaster pack, tick tweezers, and extra gloves. Adding these items is not required to make the kit usable, but I have found these are the items I use most frequently and aren’t included in the kit, and therefore top up the kit to provide everything I need. You may wish to add extra items not mentioned above, or add nothing. I also like the Lifesystems First Aid Kit layout because it splits the sections of the kit down into usable areas like “breaks and fractures” and “Bleeding” which means anyone can know where the items in your kit are stored in the event you are incapacitated, or need someone else to use it.

Key things to look for:

When buying a first aid kit make sure it is big enough to cover everything you need. Some people prefer to buy an empty first aid kit bag and add their own equipment. Don’t overload yourself with kit, you have to carry it all day remember!

Group Shelter:

A group shelter is an essential and sometimes overlooked item of emergency kit. It provides a temporary emergency shelter for injured parties, provides a temporary respite from poor conditions, or even a convenient place to hide during a lunch a stop. There are various sizes and brands of group shelter available. When choosing a group shelter bear in mind the potential size of your group; a 2 person shelter is no good if you plan to be working with groups of 8-10. Group shelters can be found in sizes up to 20 person. Personally I carry an 8 person shelter (Terra Nova Bothy  8), which will work for around 10 young people. All the brands of shelter are broadly equivalent and will generally work for 2 or more people than the size stated (i.e. a 10 person both could fit 12 at a push). Group shelters are a balance  between size and weight, the bigger they are the more they weigh, so consider what size you want to carry to provide shelter in an emergency without burdening you with extra weight.

Key things to look for:

There are 3 main brands of group shelter; Outdoor Designs, Vango, and Terra Nova, all produce shelters of varying sizes. Terra Nova sell a “Superlite” version which costs a lot more but weighs less (the 4 person standard shelter weighs 600g and costs £45, the superlite weighs 400g and costs £120). In my opinion such a huge difference in cost does not represent value for money where the saving in weight is only 33%.


In the modern world it makes sense to take advantage of current technology. I believe all leaders working with young people in the hills/mountains should carry, and know how to use, a GPS handset. In a pinch these provide simple, one touch access to a pinpoint location which can be provided to emergency services. This also takes the pressure off you in an emergency, allowing you to focus on treating the casualty, rather than needing to work out an accurate location. There are several dedicated GPS handsets below £100 on the market, with the Magellan eXplorist110 and Etrex 10 being 2 of the most popular – both reviewed on this blog if you search back. On a budget? There are a wide variety of apps available for android and iOS that use the GPS functionality of your phone to provide accurate fixes. Before using one of these make sure you check whether your phone has a GPS antenna or just uses an internet fix to provide location. Failure to check this could mean you think you have access to GPS in an emergency, when in actual fact it relies on a solid 3G or H+ signal to work.

Key things to look for:

Keep it simple, there a wide range of GPS sets that have OS map functionality etc. Do you really need access to these features? Or do you need a simple set that provides a quick and accurate read out in an emergency? Consider this when buying a GPS. Also check that the handset is fully waterproof, this may come in handy for UK weather!

Spare kit:

When operating with groups it is often prudent to carry spare equipment in case of drama on the hill! This can vary depending on the leader. Most leaders carry spare hats and gloves. Personally I carry spare hats and gloves x 2-3 pairs, in addition I carry spare socks, and spare laces, along with a spare warm layer such as a down jacket or belay jacket. The equipment you choose to carry is completely down to you, but also consider the time of year, the location you are operating in, and the weather.

Key things to look for:

Your spare kit doesn’t need to be expensive!

Consider conditions when packing your leader kit
Personal Kit:

  • Waterproofs
  • Warm layer (down jacket etc)
  • Map and compass
  • Water + Spare water (consider a hydration system of some description)
  • Walking poles (can also be given to a group member in event of injury)
  • Penknife or similar

This article contains recommendations for equipment to be carried, however I stress that choosing YOUR leader kit should be based on personal preference. Your equipment will constantly evolve, as you gain more experience what you carry will change. Consideration also needs to be given to your group size, conditions, time of year, which may mean you carry more or less of certain items.


  1. In the modern world it makes sense to take advantage of current technology. I believe all leaders working with young people in the hills/mountains should carry, and know how to use, a GPS handset.In the modern world it makes sense to take advantage of current technology. I believe all leaders working with young people in the hills/mountains should carry, and know how to use, a GPS handset.

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  3. I found this really informative and useful thanks

  4. Great overview! Down to earth and straightforward. :) I've just done my training and will probably do the assessment next year.