Basic Safety Guide for People New to Hillwalking

Seasoned Hillwalkers often jokingly understate the preparation, equipment & experience needed to enjoy the hills safely. We make it sound easy but it’s taken more than a little pain to gain that experience & we’ve all had moments when things have gone wrong. If you are new to hillwalking please take a moment to read the following before trying any of the walks mentioned here or elsewhere.

  • Weather can change in minutes, even on low-lying hills. The higher you go, the lower the temperature (1 degree C/ 100 metres), the stronger the wind (2 to 3 times the speed in the valleys), the more rainfall (3 times that in the valleys) and the more risk of mist and cloud (mist on the tops 3 days out of 5).
  • Decide where you are going and how long it should take before starting out and get a weather forecast for the area.
  • Ensure that you will be off the hill before dark.
  • Don’t walk alone in the hills unless there are other walkers near you and never take a chance.
  • Remoteness of the hills in bad weather can be very unnerving, even for experienced walkers, and lead to serious mistakes being made.
  • Walking boots with good ankle support are essential when going off road.
  • Wear clothing suitable for the outdoors and carry spare warm clothes at all times. Jeans should be avoided. A waterproof jacket and overtrousers, headgear and gloves are essential, irrespective of the weather on starting out.
  • Carry a rucksack for spare clothing, food and a hot drink for the walk plus some spare high-energy snacks such as chocolate, glucose sweets or energy bars. A torch, whistle and small first aid kit are also useful.
  • Know where you are in the hills at all times. This involves having a 1:50,000 scale map (waterproof or in a case), compass and, most important, the ability to use them effectively in poor visibility.
  • Be careful about foot placement, as there is always the risk of concealed holes, rocks, slippery ground and soft bog. Be particularly careful when descending steep ground and when crossing streams and rivers. Streams in flood are particularly dangerous.
  • Try to leave word with some responsible person where you will be walking and at what time to expect your return.
  • Mobile phones can be of help in emergency situations or for calling to say you will be later back than expected. Never rely on being able to use a mobile phone in the hills and never do anything which you would not do if you did not have the phone with you.
  • In a genuine accident or emergency situation, contact the emergency services and ask for Mountain Rescue. Six blasts on a whistle or flashes of a light at one-minute intervals is the recognised distress signal.
  • Consider joining a hillwalking club which provides training for its members or attend an approved Mountain Skills Course. It will greatly improve your enjoyment and safety in the hills.

2 Responses to Basic Safety Guide for People New to Hillwalking

  1. the prawn says:

    Absolutely right. In my day, seriously back in the previous century, there was little problem with what you took and what experience you had, because almost no-one had a car then. So you got used to the weather, being soaking wet and half-frozen and being aware that food didn’t grow on trees nor half an hour away in the car or somewhere you’d drive to. You went out, shopping or to school or events, prepared for anything. Nowadays, I’ve met people in mid-winter at Dale Head Tarn in dense mist and rain, wearing shorts and T-shirt with no jacket, no boots, no hat, no map, and not the foggiest [sorry!] idea where they were.

    Walking alone is safer than with companions in one important way – you have to choose each footstep for yourself. Chatting away, you can fail to spot icy patches or wobbly rocks.

    The Lake District can be seriously serious. Are you ready to walk the West Highland Way alone? Scary thought? Then get some experience with a club or walking holiday or a mountain course (the latter is a great way to enjoy Scottish or Snowdonian scenery) And take a spare fleece and a couple of spare choccy bars, one for you and one for the shivering soul you come across up there..

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