Nine ways to be a safe and responsible hiker
By Sarah Marshall
Ongoing travel advisory chaos and confusion has spurred a wave of staycation bookings. Splendid weather has been the icing on the cake.
But rather than settle for a sunbed on an overcrowded beach, many holidaymakers are sensibly seeking relaxation in more remote corners – scaling mountains, scrambling across moors or wandering through woodlands.
Perhaps it’s a result of months spent confined to four walls, or a reflection of our growing affinity for nature – but there’s a new appetite for adventure and it only looks set to grow.
Unfortunately, enthusiasm isn’t always matched by experience.
Recently, Cumbria Police and the Keswick’s Mountain Rescue Team reported a “tidal wave” of avoidable rescues in the Lake District, involving groups of amateur hikers who were poorly prepared or ill-equipped.
One of the main problems was a reliance on smart phone mapping apps, with no back-up when batteries drained.
Nick Giles, managing director at Ordnance Survey Leisure, says: “If you are on an outdoor adventure, you should never leave home without a paper map, just in case your phone dies or falls into a puddle.
“People are now realising the importance of mapping and the need to carry both types from a safety point of view.”
He shares nine more safety tips for novice hikers hoping to head for the hills this summer…
1. Plan ahead
Before setting out, take a good look at a map and familiarise yourself with the route you want to take, he says. “Think about your own experience and capabilities, along with the experience and capabilities of anyone going with you.” The 3D planning tool in the OS Maps app (£2.99 per month; ordnancesurvey.co.uk) allows you to visualise routes in fine details from all angles, giving a better understanding of the landscape and terrain before you set off.
2. Check weather conditions
“In autumn and winter, weather can vary over the course of a walk, especially in hilly areas,” notes Giles. “Have a back-up plan in mind in case the walk needs to be cut short.”
3. Brush up on navigation skills
Knowing how to read a map properly and navigate with a compass is essential, says Giles: “Refresh these skills as they could be vital, not least because the weather can change so quickly. If you ever get in serious difficulty, being able to give the emergency services an accurate grid reference for your location can save valuable time.”
4. Wear the right clothes
For the basics, warm and waterproof clothing (multiple thin layers are always better than one thicker jumper), walking boots, and quality socks should keep you comfortable throughout your journey.
“Make sure your kit is colourful,” he advises, “even if it might look silly in an everyday scenario. Black jackets are hard to spot against black rocks.”
5. Carry the right kit
“If you’re heading into the mountains or out for longer walks, you really should think about a survival bag, a torch (or head-torch), spare batteries, a whistle, spare clothes, hat and gloves, a first aid kit, and spare food.
And if climbing, bring an ice axe and crampons,” says Giles. “Make sure you have a good rucksack to carry everything in and check you’re comfortable carrying it.”
6. Pack plenty of food and drink
To keep your spirits and energy up, make sure you pack a decent supply of food and water. “Eat or drink regularly to keep yourself hydrated and sustained,” he continues. “The last thing you need miles from the car on a cold winter’s afternoon is a sudden energy crash with nothing to keep you going.”
Take a warm drink when climbing or hill walking, or if you’re out somewhere for a long time. “Never underestimate the joy of hot tea when you’re cold. It’s one of the best feelings in the world and can be a lifesaver, too.
“Boiled eggs are also handy. Mountaineers used them hundreds of years ago. As well as being full of protein, they keep their heat for hours and make fantastic hand warmers.”
7. Let people know where you are
“Letting someone know where you are going and when you are likely to return is a good idea,” Giles adds. “Make sure you notify them when you return and agree a time frame when they should contact the emergency services if you don’t contact them.”
8. Always have a back-up
If you prefer to navigate with a GPS device, don’t forget to carry a paper map and compass as back-up in case it loses charge. It would also be an idea to carry a spare battery too, Giles advises. The free app OS Locate will give you an accurate grid reference for your location, and does not need a phone signal.
9. Take litter with you
“Getting outside among beautiful landscapes is a fantastic experience, so protect it,” Giles concludes. “Take a small bag to keep any rubbish in, which can be thrown in the bin when you come across one.”