Category Archives: Beginners

How to Plan a Hiking Route in the UK

How to use a route card

The best way to plan a hiking route is to use a route card. This is a short summary of your planned walk, key points and times that allows you to plan effectively and easily share your route with others. In this post, we will look at what a route card is, how to complete one and why creating and sharing a route card is important.

To complete your route card, you will need a map of the area you are planning on going to – I always use an Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map as that is what I am most comfortable using – and a compass.

What is a route card?

A route card is simply a way to log and note your hiking route, the direction, distance and time for your route on one table. To do this, you split your route into legs; short sections of your route that are analysed individually. Each leg is then taken in its own right and the required information calculated and filled into the table.

Once it is complete, the route card will serve several purposes. Firstly, it will be useful to you on your walk to help keep you on track. You can measure your progress along the sequential legs, track your overall time against the estimated time and use it to help navigate in real time. The second purpose is its use a safety feature. You can leave a copy of your route card with someone that is not on the hike with you, leaving instructions that “if I have not been in contact with you after X hours, then try to contact me. If you cannot get into contact with me, contact Mountain Rescue and hand them this route card.”

Handing a route card to Mountain Rescue will be an invaluable tool for them to know roughly where you should be or where you have been. I would think that being told that they are in the general area of Rannoch Moor (about 50 sq miles of featureless moor land in Scotland) is a much harder challenge than “here is their planned route, they set off 8 hours ago and planned to go in this direction” which should mean they can find you and help you much faster.

What does a route card look like?

A route card will usually fit onto one piece of paper, depending on the length of your route and number of legs. At the top of the page it contains key information such as the route name, the target hills, the starting grid reference and start time. All key things that set up your walking trip.

The route card itself is a simple table with specific headings within it. The headings I use for my route cards are: Leg Number, Grid Ref and Description, Bearing, Distance (km), Time for Leg, Height Gained (m), Time for Height Gain, Total Time for Leg, Escape Route detail.

Route Card Headers

We will go through these headings in detail to explain what goes in each column.

Leg Number

This column is just used to make sure that the legs are in order and a the legs run sequentially. You wouldn’t want to take the bearing from the wrong leg when you are trying to navigate on the hill. When I am using a route card, I sometimes cross off the legs as they are completed.

Grid Reference and Description

Try and be as accurate as you can with your grid references here as they will help keep your bearings accurate and you on course. I tend to use 8 figure refs on my route cards as I am completing the card at home and that is accurate enough to keep me where I need to be.

Use the romers that are on your compass to get accurate grid refs for each way point. Your way points are the beginning and end of each leg. An example entry into my route card in this column might be:

4824 5376 – base of steeper slope at path junction

Always put your first way point in the first line. You will be standing at your start point anyway, so you wont need that in the first line of the route card (the starting grid ref will be above the table in the sheet anyway).

Bearing

A simple notation of the bearing you need to walk on to reach the waypoint grid reference in the previous column. When calculating your bearings at home, you will be using your map and compass (I like to use my Silva compass for this – you can get yours here) and taking grid bearings. Be sure to convert these to magnetic bearings before you write them on your route card. Remember grid to mag – ADD; mag to grid – GET RID!

My advice here as always is to be as accurate as possible. Navigating on a bearing is easy enough if you are accurate. Inaccurate bearings and sloppy route planning has been the undoing of more than one hiker over the years.

Distance (km)

Measure the distance using the ruler on your compass from the start of the leg to the end of the leg. The convert this using the scale on the map to the overall distance for the leg. For example, on a 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map (my preferred map type) 1cm on the map equates to 250m on the ground. One grid square (4cm) is equal to 1km in this mapping format.

Time for Leg

It is now time to break out your primary school maths (or use a calculator 😉 ), To work out how long it should take me to cover the distance I use Naismiths Rule. This states that on average people will cover ground at around 4km/hour. You can add and subtract time for climbing and descending – but we will look at that in the next two sections. In this column, we are only interested in getting a base line time for the distance covered.

If we accept that 4km/hr is our average speed (mine is slightly quicker than that) then we will cover 1km in 15 minutes and 100m in one and a half minutes. I will then calculate the base line time for the distance of that leg and enter that time into the route card.

Height Gained (m)

The brown/orange lines that run all across your map are contour lines. They (on a 1:25000 OS map) denote a vertical height gain of 10m. Be sure to check the key on your specific type of map to ensure that this is the case on the map you are using. Orienteering maps and maps of a different scale can be different.

To work out the height gained or lost, simply count the number of contour lines that your leg crosses. Be careful to understand which direction you are crossing the contour, either uphill or downhill, and account for both. You will end up with an overall height gained or lost figure to the nearest 10m, enter this into your route card.

Time for Height Gain

Naismith’s Rule stated that you should add on 1 minute of time for every 10m of vertical height gained. That’s easy enough to apply when you think about it. However, on a mixed route where you are ascending and descending at different gradients it can become a little more challenging.

Walking down a gentle gradient will probably speed you up a bit, however, walking down a steep gradient will likely be slower than walking on flat terrain. There have been several extensions to Naismith’s rule that try and allow for this, however, in my route card, I tend to apply the 1minute per 10m for ascent and the same for descending on steep ground where the contour lines are packed close together.

In this box on the route card, total up the additional time you calculate for height gain/loss over the length of the leg.

Total Time

Enter the total of the time for leg column and the time for height gain column. This is the time is should take you to walk from the grid reference at the start of the leg to the grid reference at the end of your leg using the route you have selected.

Escape Route

I don’t fill this is in on every line, but I do fill it in when there are obstacles (such as river crossings), steep ground (both ascending and descending) or cliffs/crags near to that leg.

What you are looking to in this column is a ready to go route out of danger should something happen on that leg. It helps you when on the route, as should something happen, an injury for example, you will already know which direction to turn should you need to get off the hill and back to civilisation quickly.

An example entry in this column might be “Head north east down hill towards the river, use bridge to cross river at grid 1234 5678 and then walk on bearing 240 to reach land rover track. Turn left at the track and follow.”

Summary

A route card is really important, especially if you are walking alone or the route is particularly challenging. I would not fill one in for a walk with my kids in the hills as we would not be going far, high or long and I would be confident in my ability to get them out of there if I needed to.

However, I would definitely fill one in for a multi-day or solo walk, leaving a copy with the wife with clear instructions on what to do should things turn sour.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief run through of how I plan my routes, please let me know if there is anything different that you do or something I could add to my route cards to make them more useful.

Thanks

Dave

This post contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

How to Lace Your Boots Correctly

Tying your boots correctly is an important factor in ensuring your boots stay comfortable throughout your hike as well as helping to prevent hot spots, blisters, and blackened toe nails. Changing the way your boots are tied can relieve presure points and give your feet space to carry you effectively through your walk. In this post I am going to cover some common ways and some less common ways to tie your boots and why you might consider using these methods to tie your boots.

Despite being a minor issue, getting the lacing perfect will make a big difference in the overall comfort and support of your boots. If you are considering changing the lacing pattern in your boots, first think about the problem areas for you. Do you always get blisters on your heels? Or do your toes slip forwards on descents? Or even do you get sore balls of your feet during a hike? All of these issues can be helped, if not solved, by changing the lacing pattern of your boots to alleviate the specific issue you are experiencing.

I’ve spent a bit of time researching and trying each of these lacing styles to make sure they work and I have grouped them under the problem that they best alleviate. I used these techniques boots on my Karrimor Mount Boots (link to the review) all with differing results.

Heel Slipping

Having your heel slip up and down whilst you are walking becomes increasingly uncomfortable and can lead to hot spots or even blisters if left long enough. Try this lacing technique to help avoid it.

Lacing Pattern for heel slippage

Between the final two eyelets, bring the laces directly upwards to the final eyelet. The run the lace under the opposing loop that you have just created. This creates a snug and secure fit for your heel and holds it firmly in place around your ankle. As someone with quite skinny ankles, I found this a really useful and is definitely something that I will be implementing from here on.

Toe Pain

Black toe nails are sometimes seen as a bit of a badge of honour amongst hikers, but using this technique, you can open up the toe of your boot, giving more space to the toes and preventing them from impacting the front of the boot, relieving the cause of black toe nails. Having your toes un-constricted is a really important way of walking efficiently and without pains in other muscle groups and joints too.

Lacing pattern for toe pain

When choosing this lacing technique, run one side of the lace from the bottom eyelet directly to the opposing top eyelet. Do this first, so that it is not over the top of the other laces. Then take the other half of the lace and run it across the shoe and up one eyelet, then directly across to the corresponding eyelet on the other side. Repeat this process up the shoe until the final eyelet.

Sore toes or black toe nails is not an issue that I experience too often, only on long steep descents. When trying this lacing technique, I found the additional space in the toe cap quite odd, but I do think that if you normally feel constricted in this area, it would be a great way to solve it.

Wide Feet

Having too narrow boots for people with wider feet can be a real challenge. You can cause sever discomfort along the ball and sides of you feet, making walking painful. It can also lead to infections as the skin on the underside of the foot creases, trapping sweat, dirt and other contaminants next to the skin. One to definitely be avoided. This technique will allow for your feet to spread and make maximum use of the space within the boot.

Lacing pattern for wide feet

For this technique, take the lace out of the boot completely. Re-lace, missing out the retaining sleeve at the bottom of the shoe. Ensure that the lace is running across the bottom two eyelets.

Cross the laces and use the next set of eyelets – this give a solid point across the top of the boot. Cross again, but this time, miss a set of eyelets. This lets you foot make the most of the available space – and repeat this process to the top of the boot.

I found that there is all sorts of room that you would not expect when using this technique. As one who does not have wide feet at all, its not a technique that I will be implementing, however, I can see for those that have wide feet, that it would make so much difference.

One Area Too Tight

This technique is the one that I can see the most benefit in using. Its is flexible and can be combined with more standard lacing patterns throughout your walk. I know that I have found on some days, for some reason that I feel a little discomfort in a particular area. Using this technique can quickly allow you to alleviate some of that pain.

One Area too tight lacing pattern

To use this technique, lace as normal from the base of the shoe, up to the point at which you feel the boots are too tight. Once you get to that point, run the lace up to the eyelet directly above it and then continue on as normal. I tried lacing these over the boot material (i.e. you can see the vertical link whilst wearing it) and under the boot material and found that having the lace under the boot material was more comfortable for some reason.

I also think that having these vertical links (that can turn into loops when your foot bends, depending where they are on the lacing grid) exposed might lead to catching them on any brush or low vegetation. Definitely something to be aware of, but again, something that I will be using going forward if I start feeling my feet getting tired in one area or any discomfort.

Swollen Feet

I think we can all appreciate the moment you take your boots off after a long hike. The weight and pressure during a long walk can make your feet swell, not to mention the heat an potential pressure points too. Being able to alleviate that pressure due to swollen feet will feel like taking your boots off after the walk, a relief of pressure, making it easier and more enjoyable to complete your walk, before actually taking your boots off at the end.

Lacing Pattern for Swollen Feet

Start this pattern by removing the laces and threading through the bottom eyelets from behind. On the right hand side, take the lace up, missing an eyelet and feed in from the front. Take the lace across to the opposite eyelet and then up again missing an eyelet.

On the left hand side, take the lace from the bottom eyelet, directly up to the next eyelet and across to the opposite side. Then, up two eyelets on the same side before coming across to the other side. Repeat this to the top of the boot.

I don’t often feel my feet swell too much when walking, it is usually afterwards when I am wearing a comfy pair of trainers. However, on those times that I have felt them swelling, I wish I had known this. It is super easy to do (even though my explanation is a little convoluted) and will really help alleviate the pressure.

Conclusion

Sore feet need never be the bane of the hikers and hill walkers again. Buying correctly fitting boots, using the correct lacing technique should solve most foot problems. Clearly, getting your feet wet will impact this, but generally speaking, many of the more garden variety issues we face can be stopped or improved by well fitting boots and lacing up appropriately.

A point to note is that some of these lacing techniques use more lace than others. You might want to consider buying slightly longer laces to help. You can pick them up pretty cheaply from Amazon – like this set here – for under £10.

The other thing to look at are insoles. Coupled with the right lacing technique, a good well fitting set of insoles can make them seem like a whole different set of boots. I don’t use insoles, but you can get some half decent ones pretty cheaply – like these.

This post contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

What to Drink When Hiking

A good guide is to drink 500ml of water per hour or moderate intensity exercise in moderate temperatures. This will very considerably if the weather changes, the activity becomes more/less strenuous or you are stopped for a break.

First things first, I am not a doctor or a medical professional. The limit of my expertise in this area is a few sports science modules at university, common sense and personal experience. Please take all of the below as relatable advice, rather than medical gospel.

Hiking and specifically hill walking is usually classed as moderate exercise, during which, you will lose water through increased sweating and an increased breathing rate. This is above your usual rate of water loss of you were sitting at home or in the office. The amount of water you lose is really difficult to estimate as it will vary on the intensity of exercise, the outside temperature and what you are wearing. There are also about a million other factors to consider as well but those are the main 3 we will look at in this article.

So, knowing that whatever we do in terms of hydration is likely to be wrong, we have to approximate and estimate based on a rule of thumb that gives us a rough ball park for our water consumption. I use the rough guide of drinking half a litre (500ml) of water per hour whilst hiking in moderate temperatures.

Once I have that as my base line, I can then think about the hill intensity, I’ll try and drink more going up hill rather than down hill as the exercise is more intense. Also the outside temperature, if it is a baking hot day, clearly I will increase from the 500ml per hour water intake.

What should I Drink?

The most basic thing you can drink that is easily consumed and readily available is water. Water is the majority of your body weight, and is critical for your body to function properly. I always drink water when I am hill walking. However, there are other options you can look at. Sports/Isotonic drinks are water based but also contain a combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates as well.

I tend to choose water because I can easily refill my bottles on the walk and I don’t like the overly sweet sports drinks. However, replacing lost electrolytes and increasing your carbohydrate intake can be advantageous if you struggle to eat enough during the day. Other options that I steer away from are fruit juices, fizzy drinks and any milk based drink. Keeping these cold is difficult, and fizzy drinks will get shaken up in your pack, potentially making a bit of a mess.

I use two bottles to drink from on the hill, that are the same size (0.5 litres) as well as sometimes carrying 1 litre extra in my pack. I will then look to refill these bottles at every opportunity to keep as close to 2 litres in total as much as I can. Mine are similar to these bottles , which are leakproof and BPA free. I also like the size of these so that I can easily drink and refill from them on the move.

Before your Hike

It’s a good idea to ensure that you are sufficiently hydrated before you start your walk. If you aren’t, you will be constantly chasing your water requirements and start off on the wrong foot, so to speak. A good rule of thumb for drinking prior to your walk is to aim for 250ml per hour prior to your walk. The way I manage this is that I will work out what I should drink during the drive to the hill. Let’s say that it is a 4 hour drive to the start of the walk, I will pack an extra 1 litre (4x250ml) water bottle in the car and aim to finish it when I arrive taking small sips throughout the drive.

During your Hike

The rate of your water intake will vary a lot depending on the weather during your hike. A moderate temperature would require you to drink 0.5L per hour during the walk. At warmer temperatures, this can increase to 1L per hour or even more. Clearly if you are drinking 1L of water per hour and plan to walk for 6 hours, you would need to carry 6 litres of water for one days walking.

Personally, with the other equipment I carry, this would put my rucksack weight over what I feel comfortable carrying for a day out. The way that I reduce this weight is to, during my planning time, is to identify possible water refill points during the walk. I’ll recap what to look for in a refill point later in this post.

If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. It is really important to keep on top of your hydration during the day, dehydration can cause headaches, joint pain, muscle stiffness, vomiting and eventually death in extreme circumstances.

After your Hike

I try and drink 0.5 litres of water immediately on finishing my walk. I will have a bottle of water in the car that I can use separate to the water I have with me on the walk itself. This just makes sure that any shortfall in my water intake is covered off pretty quickly afterwards. I will then sip on water all the way home to keep me topped up until I get back.

One other pleasant thing to do is to stop at a nearby pub at the foot of a hill and have a cold refreshing beer (other drinks are available). One thing to note, is that alcohol is a diuretic and you will lose water, even though you are drinking another drink.

How to Find the Perfect Water Refill Point

Map showing how to select the right place to refill your water bottles.
Selecting the right water stops

During the planning phase of a trip I will think about my water plan and, if I need to refill my water bottles, where I might be able to do that during my route plan. When looking at the map, I am looking for streams and rivers that I will cross or pass nearby, ideally on steep ground. I will discount any standing water such as ponds/lochs, instead looking for the point where the water might flow into the lake.

When you are on the walk, I will be searching for running water that is above human habitation (almost always on hill walks), ideally white water where the water is running quickly and away from any livestock or animals that might contaminate the water supply. If the water ticks all of these boxes, I am comfortable drinking without treating the water.

If I cannot easily access clean, flowing water, I may need to consider purification of the water to make sure that I do not have any gastro-intestinal issues or feel unwell on the hill. Water filters will take out any of the larger contaminants, but I also carry purification tablets that you can add to the water to ensure there are no chemical or organic contaminants that a filter might miss.

The other option, is to purify your water using UV light. This is not something that I have done before but looking at a UV water pen, you stir the water in your bottle with the pen for about a minute, purifying it in the process – certainly something that I would use if I am ever lucky enough to get one.

In Conclusion

Plan ahead. Look out for water refill points on your route. Before your hike, aim for 0.25L per hour prior to starting off on your hike. During the walk, your water requirements will vary on the level of exertion and outside temperature, keep on top of your hydration to ensure you do not become dehydrated. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. After your walk, continually sip water to cover any shortfalls in your hydration strategy.

I hope that this has been useful, let me know what else you want me to explore in my future posts!

This page contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

What to Wear when Hiking or Hillwalking

What we wear when we are out in the hills is incredibly important. It is our first barrier against the weather as well as protecting us against other factors in the environment through which we are travelling. What you wear will vary with the season, the time of day and general conditions, and the activities that you are planning to undertake. There is such a variance, that to cover every clothing choice for every eventuality would take a post longer than I care to write.

In this post, we will look at what I pack and wear for a single day walk during the British summer time. Clearly, the worse the weather gets, the more gear you will need. In some instances it can also get rather technical and provide rather more than just protection on the hills, but can for part of your safety equipment too.

Layering is the key word for outdoor clothing, and it essentially means combining different pieces of clothing to combat the conditions and keep you comfortable during your walk. Layers can be added or removed as the conditions change throughout the day, giving you flexibility to deal with a wide range of weather, temperature and terrain.

Upper Body

Closest to the body, I always wear a long sleeve technical t-shirt. This is similar to what runners wear and is designed to remove (or wick, the technical term) sweat away from the skin, to help regulate my body temperature. On hot days, this is all I will wear as it helps keep me cool. I can also roll the sleeves up if I need or want to. The t-shirts are quick drying too, so if it gets wet, it is usually dry in about half an hour. I usually go for a lighter or brighter colour here as black clothing attracts the suns heat, which is not really the point of this article of clothing. I would avoid woollen or cotton clothing for this layer as they will get wet with sweat and stay wet, cooling your body and making you feel the cold.

Black Men's Fleece Jacket

On top of that I will wear a fleece. My current favourite fleece is the Karrimor KS-300, which I have reviewed in a previous post, and is great for walking on cooler days. A good snug fit with a fleece is important as it helps retain body heat. Layered with the long sleeve top, this is the basis of my walking clothes for almost all my walks. By combining these two layers I can be prepared for any weather or temperature that is dry and above about 12 degrees centigrade.

The last layer that I will usually pack in my rucksack, and use on top of the fleece, is a softshell or rain jacket. You can pick up a decent waterproof jacket for a reasonable price on Amazon. This is my waterproof layer for when the skies open and will always have a hood to keep the rain off my head and the back of my neck, which I hate. I always pack my waterproof jacket near the top of my bag so that I can grab it if the weather changes unexpectedly. Sometimes I will leave the fleece later out, climbing in a base later and waterproof jacket if it is wet and warm out, or if we are climbing a particularly steep section of hill and I am already warm. I generally only use this combination in late spring or summer rain storms.

Lower Body

The big question with your choice of clothing for your lower body is shorts vs trousers? I am firmly in the trousers camp – but if you prefer shorts, you’ll get no judgement from me. Trousers offer better protection from scratchy grasses and heather, as well as discouraging ticks, midges and other beasties that want to get at my skin.

Two colour lightweight walking trousers
Montane Walking Trousers

Shorts offer a greater cooling effect as they expose more of your skin to the air, aiding in cooling, but the more you expose, the higher the risk of those midge bites! My lightweight summer trousers are a bit of a compromise in that they actually have vents in that run on the outside of each leg from knee height to mid thigh, aiding cooling. I also have a pair of heavier weight soft shell trousers that I use in winter that are much warmer and don’t have vents to conserve heat in that case. I will select which weight of trousers I wear based on the expected temperature for the day on the weather forecast. It’s really important to base many of your clothing choices on the forecast weather, I covered this in a previous post about weather forecasting.

I will also carry a set of waterproof trousers in my rucksack to layer over the top of the chosen days trousers. I try not to use these unless absolutely necessary, because I don’t really like wearing them. Both my summer Abby winter trousers are water resistant anyway so will cope with quite a bit of rain. However if the forecast is for heavy rain all day, I will add this layer on to minimise the risk of getting too wet.

When looking for waterproof trousers I’m looking for ones that I can easily get on and off with my boots on and are quite slim legged so that they will fit under my gaiters. That’s another item of lower body clothing that you can choose to wear should the ground look particularly boggy or wet. The ones I currently have have full length taped zips down both legs so I can open them right up to get them on in a hurry if I need to.

Feet

Looking after your feet is really important for hill walking. They are your mode of transport and emergency escape route if things go wrong. You can choose between boots and shoes, coupled with a good pair of socks. Here is a link to the boots that I currently wear on most of my hikes – I think they are great. Personally, I prefer the ankle support of a full or high boot, rather than shoes, but many people swear by them for long approaches. They are certainly lighter on your feet and potentially more comfortable too.

High top walking boot
One type of walking boot

Always try and get boots/shoes that fit well. If you are going to spend big money on your hiking gear, then a good pair of boots is the place to splash the cash. Boots that rub can lead to blisters and hot spots which are uncomfortable at best and can be quite serious if they become infected. I plan to do more posts on foot care in future as it is so important.

It is essential that whatever combination you choose, provides you with the right support, confidence as well as protection from sharp rocks and good grip on slippery surfaces. Most boot manufacturers go overboard on the amount of grip that is offered by their product, but do ensure that there is good deep tread for muddy sections as well as the ability to combine with gaiters or crampons if you walk in winter. I’ve reviewed a couple of the cheaper options on the boot front should you be looking for that sort of thing.

In-Pack Clothing

On top of the items of clothing described above, I always also carry a set of spare socks, which I will keep in a waterproof bag. So that I can always either change my socks on the hill should mine become soaked (on a river crossing for example) or at the end of the walk. There is no finer feeling than changing into cool dry socks at the end of a walk in my opinion.

I will also always carry a sun cap and a woolly hat as well as a pair of gloves. The hats are because, unfortunately, I am starting to loose my hair (which sucks) and a cool breeze is enough to make me feel the chill. You also lose a larger percentage of your body heat through your head, so if I need to stop for any length of time, I will pop that on. Equally, I am not great with sunglasses, I lose them all the time, so a cap is better to keep any sun out of my eyes – should I be so lucky to actually walk on a sunny day.

Lastly, a thin pair of gloves is a constant in my bag, as with the woolly hat, if I need to stop for any length of time, I tend to get cold hands and fingers, so its useful for me to have a way to combat that, especially if I am map reading and need to use my compass. I have reviewed the current pair of gloves that I use in all but the worst weathers in a previous post, in case you are interested.

Summary

I hope you can see that your clothing choice is a very personal one, but an important one to get right. The layering flexibility offers is definitely the way to go and allows you to deal with and be properly equipped for many of the types of weather and terrain that you will face during a typical hill day. As always, these are my opinions, please feel free to let me know what I missed or whether you agree with my assessment.

This page contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. However, I have not been paid to promote any product above any other, so opinions are my own and un-biased.

How to Hike Solo in Scotland

Hill walking in Scotland is an amazing experience, either in a group or on your own. There is a stark difference between the two though. When walking in a group, you can rely on each other, your skills and awareness to share the burden. There is a sense of security when walking in a group, that means you are more likely to tackle things you may shy away from on your own. In many cases, this is a false sense of security, making you think you are safe, when in fact you are just as responsible for your own safety as when walking alone.

Walking solo means you need to become entirely self sufficient, have a plan and the skills to back that plan up should things go awry. It will give you a wonderful sense of accomplishment and competence, giving you access to the remotest parts of the country, all with nothing more than the kit on your back and the brains in your head to keep you safe. Here, I share my key learnings to think about when considering going solo. I’ve included my top tip for walking solo at the end, so read on and see what I think is the number one thing to do when walking solo.

Planning

Learn to love the planning phase of a solo trip. So often group plans consist of “who fancies mountain x this weekend?” This simply won’t cut the mustard if you’re planning to go solo. The planning phase is incredibly important to any trip or hill day, I’ve covered it before in another post, but without it, you’ll find yourself struggling or even enduring a day in the hills rather than enjoying it. All of the other sections of this post start in the planning phase, you can consider the equipment you’ll need, the route, your own skills and fitness and plan for the likely conditions all from the comfort of home.

When considering a solo trip, the planning phase is as important, if not more important, than when walking with others. Without anyone else to rely on, you need to know everything about your trip. You need to know the route and escape routes should something go wrong, you need to have all the equipment you need and you need to know that your skills are up to the challenge you are setting yourself. Your first solo over night camp is not the time to test out your new tent. In my opinion, even when walking in a group you should still know all of this – it is no good to rely on others in these situations – however, there will not be anyone to bail you out should you forget something or get lost along the way.

Skills and Navigation

The list of technical skills you need to hike in the UK is pretty low. You need to be a competent navigator and you need winter skills if you are out in winter weather. There are very few places that require full on rock climbing (but you can find them if you want to) and apart from that, there aren’t many other skills that everyone needs to have. Many people chose to pay a professional guide for this, some go with experienced friends to learn from. Some go out without these basic skills (the less said about that the better). However, if you are planning to go out on your own, you need to have the ability to navigate and operate in the conditions you are facing.

As of right now, I would not feel comfortable in full winter conditions out on my own. I therefore don’t plan any trips for that time of year. I will walk with others in the snow, as I know how to use an ice axe for self- arrest and crampons and I can navigate reasonably well. I would not be taking on pitched winter climbing and I certainly would not be doing any of that if there were winter storms in the forecast. I would, and do, feel comfortable in the spring, summer and autumn navigating in challenging terrain, fog and poor weather. Which is why much of my walking is done in these months.

If you are considering going out on the hills solo, make sure you can navigate without an electronic device (should the battery fail) and that you have any additional skills needed to tackle your choice of route. You can pick up maps and compasses from a wide variety of places, here are a couple of links to the ones that I use.

Silva Expedition Compass

OS Maps

Equipment

Linked to your planning phase, you will need to make sure you are carrying everything that you might need for your trip. I have been part of groups in the past where we have split up heavier equipment between us, so that the load was shared. There will be no such niceties on your solo walk. If you are camping for a night or two, you are the only person who can carry everything that you need for your trip.

My advice here is to travel light, but not at the expense of your safety or comfort. I have seen full sets of pyjamas carried to a one night camp; large heavy frying pans and crates of beer carried out too. During your planning phase, put together a kit list of all the equipment that you think you will need. You’ll probably be surprised how much is on the list. Carefully consider each item and its uses. Do you really need that crate of beer? If you think you do, be prepared to carry it all yourself!

If you do start camping on your own, it may be worth investing in new lighter equipment. There are loads of different ways to save weight whilst camping, and I certainly don’t profess to be an expert in this side of lightweight or ultra-lightweight camping. If you look online there are lots of professionals, experts and enthusiasts that can offer better advice than me on ways to save weight in your pack. I have however written previously about the sorts of things that should go in a rucksack when planning for a day out in the hills.

Mental and Physical Fitness

This section of the post refers to both mental and physical fitness. Being physically fit enough to carry out the route you have planned is a given. Lots of people use hillwalking or the outdoors in general to lose or maintain their weight – in my opinion there is no better way. However, the difference to this walk is that you don’t have the support of others to help push you through when the going gets tough. Are you physically able to handle the situation without that support? Most people will answer that question in the affirmative – which is fair enough – however it is worth considering that you will not have the others pushing you on.

Mentally, hiking solo can be challenging. Having the mental strength to push on when you are already tired is one thing, but in many instances, lots of people haven’t had the experience of being properly alone. The mental strength I am talking about here is being comfortable in your own company, knowing how to deal with lengths of solitude and loneliness or being able to continue assessing the situation ahead whilst dealing with things in the present.

Many people say they crave the solitude and peace and quiet of the mountains. Personally, I love being out alone, with only my own breathing for company. However, until you really experience it, you wont know how it will make you feel to be that far from others, or help should you need it. It can be a humbling experience, but you’ll need to be prepared for it.

And there you have it, my thoughts on walking solo. There is no doubt in my mind that going out in to the hills alone has lots of benefits. It is an empowering experience to survive and accomplish the goals you set yourself. Being self sufficient, even for a day, is a real confidence booster for me. I plan to do more solo walking in the weeks and years ahead, it gives me the time and space away from the rush of daily life that I need. There is always space in my diary for a walk with friends or family though, the camaraderie and banter on the hill is hard to beat. For those reasons, I will continue to do both as much as life allows.

Oh I did promise…

Dave’s Top Tip

As advertised, I said I would give you my top tip for walking solo. Well here goes…my number one thing that I encourage everyone to do when I speak to them about walking solo is to take the time during your walk to enjoy the solitude that the mountains can provide. Take the time to sit, relax, enjoy the views (if you get them) and just be. Just exist for a while. Up in the hills, when there is no one else around, the breeze can be loud, the dripping ice melting can be a drum beat and the views can be appreciated to their fullest; but only if you take the time to do so.

I like to lay back for a short while and just listen to the sounds of the wilderness, but I cannot achieve that if I am on a busy hill or walking with others, I need to be on my own to give my brain the chance to slow down and just be.

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How to Check the Weather in the UK Mountains – Beginners Series, Part 4

Checking the weather should be a key part of your preparation for walking in mountainous areas in the UK. It is so simple to do and will make a huge difference to your enjoyment of the day out and potentially even save your life. We are going to look at why a good knowledge of the weather is so important, what types of weather to look out for and where you can access this sort of information before you go hiking.

Why is weather forecasting so important?

As anyone that lives or has travelled in the UK will tell you, the weather here is changeable all year. This is especially true in the hills and mountains in all areas. The weather in these areas is just as changeable, but more extreme. The weather forecast could affect your choice of clothing, what you pack, which hill you choose to attempt and even whether you even attempt the hill in the first place. It will allow you to assess whether your skills are up to the task. Can you navigate along a ridge line with snow lying and low level cloud? If not, the weather forecast showing low cloud and freezing temperatures on your target hill should make you reconsider.

Knowing what the weather is likely to do (as the forecasters sometimes get it wrong) might be the difference between taking an ice axe and not. If you don’t check and don’t take one, what happens if you find yourself in a situation where you need it? Things start becoming dangerous quite quickly. Let’s say the weather at home is beautiful, sunny and cool. You pack loads of water, sun cream and a hat expecting it to be a calm day; anticipating getting warm whilst you climb, you even put shorts on. The weather on the hills could conceivably be 15 degrees colder, windy and wet. You will quickly get cold, wet, miserable and possibly even hypothermic. I speak a bit more about preparing for your days in the hills in a previous post, which you can go back and read.

Checking the weather during your planning phase is incredibly important. Along with my route selection, checking the weather is what I spend the most time worrying over whilst planning a day out in the hills. It will also help you prepare mentally for what is to come, a 2 hour hike into the wind just to get back to the car would be good to know about in advance, for example.

What sort of information should I look at on a forecast?

Depending on where you get your forecast, it will contain different types and pieces of information. There are however several different pieces of key information that I want to know whilst planning my trip.

  • Rain – I am looking for the amount of rain (usually given in mm) due for the time I expect to the on the hill, any estimated start and finish times and how frequent any showers might be
  • Snow – similar to the above, but if I see snow in the forecast, I am going to look further into how much snow is lying and what the weather has been doing in my target area over the past couple of weeks. I will also check the avalanche forecast for the area if I see snow in the area forecast.
  • Daylight hours – pretty self explanatory. Even if you are planning a sunrise summit, or summit camp, I still want to know what the sun up/down times are.
  • Wind – the two factors that I am looking at here are direction and strength. Will I be walking into the wind on the way up the hill? Is the wind going to buffet me and gust so I find it hard to stand up? If so, should I look at a lower level walk that’s a bit safer?
  • Temperature – a key part of planning what to pack and bring with me, knowing the general temperature will help you adjust your packing and water strategy accordingly. I am also going to look for the freezing level, so that I know when to roughly expect to reach frozen ground and when I might need to consider spikes/crampons/ice axe.
  • Cloud Cover – most importantly I want to know if I am going to get a view! I want to know the level of the cloud so that I know if I am going to walking in clouds, might I be faced with a whiteout, can I handle several hours in the mist and murk?

Taking all of this into account will help me understand and prepare for a day on the hills, so that as little as possible will surprise me.

What sorts of weather are dangerous or should I avoid as a beginner?

Any type of weather can be dangerous if you are not prepared properly. That’s why I keep going back to the planning and preparation of hill walking. Its so important. An autumn day when you are unprepared is just as dangerous as deep midwinter if you don’t have the right equipment or haven’t planned properly. For me, the one type of weather that I will not walk in is a lightening storm. It usually comes with rain and a lack of views anyway, but add on the fact that if the clouds are low, you are essentially walking into a charged cloud. Not high on my list of things to do.

Lightning Strike

Whiteout conditions are also incredibly dangerous. This occurs when there is ice or snow lying on the floor and the falling snow and clouds are of a similar colour. It can be very easy to become disorientated and lose you way. It is also incredibly difficult to re-orientate yourself as there are so few reference points in a whiteout. People regularly get lost in whiteouts every year in the UK, so whilst it might sound like a rare thing, it happens all too often.

Mountain White Out

The other conditions I try to avoid are heavy snow fall, particularly if it is not really cold or there is a high risk of avalanche in the area that I am considering. Now, snow in and of itself wont put me off, but it would probably make me reconsider the hill I was targeting. With so many hills and places to explore, why would I choose one with a high chance of avalanche when I can go to another place with a much lower risk?

Where will I find this information?

Here are 5 resources that I use when planning a trip out to the hills. I use them interchangeably or concurrently, depending on what information I need at the time.

  1. General Weather App
    • These are good for understanding the weather in the general vicinity of the hills you are planning to bag.
    • Remember though that they are weather forecasts for the base of the hill, not the hill, summit or any valleys or glens you pass through.
    • Personally I would never base a trip on these forecasts alone, always in conjunction with other sources as there is not enough detail for the weather you are likely to face in the hills.
  2. Met Office
    • A useful tool looking at the various mountain areas across the UK, its located in the specialist forecast section of the website.
    • Includes loads of really useful details, and even has a hazard warning section notifying you of anything that you need to be aware of in the area.
    • You can access this service on the Met Office website.
  3. MWIS (Mountain Weather Information Service)
    • This is a great resource that I check every time I head out. It gives a detailed forecast for the next three days by mountain area in the UK.
    • You can access this service on the MWIS website.
    • The mountain area can sometimes be a little hard to figure out exactly where you are or if your plan is on the edge of the forecast area. However, the forecasts are based on researchers and on the ground stations, rather than solely weather maps, so is a little more reliable in my opinion.
  4. Mountain-forecast.com
    • This is an incredibly detailed site, that allows you specify the actual hill you are looking to bag and find out the forecast weather. You can really get into a lot of detail here, looking at the weather in 8 hour blocks, temperature graphs and freezing points. Its a brilliant tool.
    • You can access this service on the Mountain Forecast website.
    • There is sometimes an information overload with this site, but generally all the information contained within its pages is useful in some capacity.
  5. SAIS (Scottish Avalanche Information Service)
    • If there is snow lying, I’ll always be sure to check SAIS. Avalanche forecasts are available for other countries in the UK from the met office.
    • SAIS publish regular (daily) avalanche forecasts throughout the winter months, usually until about May time when the worst of the snow has gone from the high peaks.
    • You can access this service here.
    • SAIS only covers the main avalanche areas in Scotland, no use if you are going to Wales/England/NI or anywhere that is not covered by the forecast!

As always, prepare well, stay safe and check the weather forecast!

What is the best food for hiking and hillwalking?

Foods that are high in carbohydrates and contain protein are good for hiking. Things like pasta, fruit and nuts are perfect. Avoid any food that might cause GI distress like heavily spiced foods, curry or fried food.

Lets take a look at some good foods that will give you what you need during a day on the hills, and not take up too much space in the pack.

Trail Mix

Happy Belly Raisin & Nut Mix

Tail mix is a mixture of nuts, seeds and fruit that can be bought pre-made or you can make your own. When making your own, you will need to source dried fruit that you like, such as apricots, raisins or dates. I have also tried a pre-made mix that I bought on Amazon for a reasonable price of about £10 for 1kg.

The one that I tried was made by Happy Belly and contains a combo of hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews and raisins. I think if I was to make my own I would include a slightly higher raisin to nut ratio, but that’s just personal preference. I really enjoyed my Happy Belly Nut and Raisin Mix, it certainly helped me keep going on some of the longer days. I even used it as a bit of an incentive, allowing myself a small handful every hour or so.

You will only need a few handfuls to keep you going for a day, so 1kg of trail mix will last you a while. I tended to split the bag into about 4 or 5 smaller bags and take them on different day walks. So for a £10 investment, you can get a few days worth of trail mix. Not bad value at all!

Cereal Bars

Nature Valley Variety Pack

A cereal bar is usually made of things like oats and other cereals, nuts, fruit and chocolate. The oats are great for energy, fibre and iron and when coupled with fruit/chocolate the carbohydrate levels shoot right up. Bars are much easier to carry than a bag off oat mix, so I tend to opt for a relatively solid bar (that can handle been thrown around in your rucksack) that consists of oats and cereals with a sweeter element like honey or chocolate on top.

My favourite that I have tried so far are the Nature Valley bars. They come in a variety of flavours, in fact you can get a pack that has Canadian Maple Syrup, Oats & Dark Chocolate and Oats & Honey bars all in the same box. The reason I like this option is that not only are the bars quite hard and don’t get squashed, but they are really tasty! A great little pick me up that can be eaten at a lunch stop or equally on the move when you are hiking along a trail. Each packet (consisting of 2 biscuits) comes in at around 200 calories which is a nice little boost during a hike. As they are mainly wholegrain rolled oats, they will also fill you up for longer too.

I would normally take 2-3 bars for a day out on the hills, so the pack that I have linked to above will last you 4/5 outings. For the small fee of £2.50, they are a bargain. This is also way cheaper than buying them from the supermarket.

Flapjacks

There are loads of different flapjack recipes out there if you are into making your own. You can also buy flapjacks on the go if that’s not your thing. Many a time I have been known to buy a few flapjacks on the route to the hills. Not only are they delicious, but you’re supporting the local economy in a small way.

Flapjacks are typically a combination of oats, golden syrup, sugar and butter. You can also find recipes for ones that add dried fruits like raisins, cranberries or nuts. They are similar in this respect to cereal bars, except cereal bars are not just limited to oats. They contain a good amount of carbohydrates from the syrup and sugar, as well as fats from the butter. They can be quite heavy too, so they will fill you up for not a lot of space in the pack.

I personally have never made my own flapjacks, although several of my walking buddies have made their own with all manner of additional ingredients. My favourite so far was one made with chocolate pieces and dried apricots.

Here are some great flapjack recipes:

Sandwiches/Bagels

Personally I think there is some debate about including sandwiches on the “best” foods for hiking. Some people swear by them others avoid them like the plague. Normally, I quite like a sandwich for lunch, but a couple of sandwiches are not the first things on my list.

The reason for this is that in my experience, they crush and damage easily meaning after a few hours walking, all you are left with is a mess of bread, butter and filling. If you don’t put the sandwiches is some sort of hard container you’ll be left with a mess in your pack. Usually all over your spare clothes or something equally important.

Imagine pulling out your map and having butter all over it. Navigation is difficult enough, so don’t want to be trying to use your map through a film of butter. Saying all of that, if you do decide to go with sandwiches – and they are a popular option – what fillings should you choose for maximum benefit out in the hills?

First off, go with things you like. If you are a fan of something, you are more likely to want to eat it. If you are looking forward to your lunch break, it can be a motivator during difficult parts of the walk. Also, if you are used to having certain foods, you are less likely to have GI issues after eating it.

I would go for fillings that are high in protein that will give you longer lasting energy, foods like meat and cheese. They will survive well form the movement inside your pack, taste good, are not overly spicy and provide a good level of longer lasting energy.

Conversely I would avoid sticky, runny fillings like jam as they will not travel as well and are full of sugar that, whilst good for a short term energy boost, will leave you running on empty after a while.

It’s up to you if you look to sandwiches for your hillwalking food, it is up to each person preference after all. They don’t often find their way into my pack, but if you want them take them! Just be sure to choose your fillings wisely to reduce the risk of a mess in your pack.

Chocolate and Sweets

Having an easily digestible, quick and easy sugary snack is an important part of my nutrition plan whilst I’m out walking. Not only do they provide me with fast energy returns, I sometimes also use them as a motivator and a pick me up if I am feeling a little down or tired. Couple a handful of sweets with a few cereal bars and some trail mix and I can go for a day on this. As long as I plan on having a hearty meal (coupled with a pint) afterwards, this is plenty for me.

Personally I tend to avoid chocolate as in warmer weather it will melt, making a mess. In cold weather is will freeze and will go so hard as to break your teeth! I would usually go for things like jelly sweets (Haribo) or jelly beans as they won’t melt and are super tasty.

One thing to be cautious of though is overusing sweets might cause a repeating cycle of sugar highs and lows making it difficult to maintain a consistent effort when walking. Just be aware that piling through a whole bag of Haribo at 10 in the morning is unlikely to do you any favours for enjoying you day out.

Fruit

Another key item I put in my bag are tough fruits like apples or pears. They are tasty, can stand up to being thrown around in your pack and provide good levels of energy during your walk. If protected/packed well I would also add oranges and bananas to this list too.

Things to watch out for though are over ripe fruits as they will get squashed and make a mess. Similarly softer fruits like strawberries or raspberries as probably best avoided.

Water and other Drinks

Probably even more important than the food you take is the fluid that you drink. You won’t last long on hot summer days without drinking a lot of fluids. Even in winter, the physical demands of walking in those conditions will mean that you will still need to drink plenty.

The first and most obvious option here is water. It is easy on the digestive system and readily available throughout most of Scotland. Even in the hills there are generally water sources at hand should you need to top up supplies. So how much should you drink?

A good general recommendation is about a half litre of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise. For example, strenuous hiking in high heat may require that you drink 1 litre of water or more per hour.

If you are out walking for 8 hours, are you going to try and carry 8 litres of water or are you going to fill up along the way? I have never had an issue with refilling along the way, however be sure to follow all the usual water safety guidelines and purify the water where you can. Generally though water in the hills in Scotland is safe to drink from the stream.

Other drinks are also worth considering. A flask of hot tea or coffee can be an amazing pick me up on a cold winters day. Just be aware of the diuretic nature of these options. Its a good way to fight off the chill and the caffeine can help if you are feeling a little deflated or tired.

Isotonic sports drinks too are a good option to boost your carbohydrate intake. You will need to replace electrolytes and salts that you lose when you sweat so these drinks, which are specially formulated to do just that, can be really useful. You can manage this electrolyte loss with salty snacks (like peanuts or crisps) and water, but an isotonic sports drink is sometimes a bit easier. Just be sure not to over do it as you may find you are entering that sugar high/low cycle.

I tend to have a small stash of snacks and drinks in the car for when I have finished walking and it is in this stash that I keep an isotonic drink. I will drink water during the day and then top up any lost electrolytes with a sports drink afterwards.

Some swear by a wee dram of something a bit stronger whilst out hill walking. It’s quite iconic to have a hip flask of a lovely Scottish single malt whilst enjoying the Scottish countryside. It certainly helps keep the chill off on long winter walks. Just be careful not to enjoy it too much!!

Can I hike with children?

Yes! Absolutely. Taking children out into nature is a key part of their personal development as they grow up. Picking the right route and day to get the best weather is important. Make sure to keep it interesting and take plenty of breaks. Sometimes a little bit of bribery for the picnic at the top might be required.

In this post, I am going to look at hill walking with children of various ages. As a dad of three, I have a little experience when it comes to this. Now my kids are not mountain goats, they haven’t done 20 Munro’s by age 9, but they all have been out in the hills with me at some point. I know that many people wonder “what is the right age to take them out?” or whether it is too early or not, so here is my opinion from my experience.

Hill Walking with a baby (0-1 years)

Climbing hills with a baby can be thoroughly enjoyable and a great day out for you and baby. However, there are several pitfalls and things to consider when planning a day out with the little one.

First off babies are unpredictable. They might all of a sudden in the middle of the walk decide that they no longer want to be in the carrier and start screaming until you take them out. Now you are left with a crying baby in your arms, half way up a hill miles from anywhere, not ideal. To combat this, I have always started with small walks using the carrier (we use an Osprey carrier, which is great) around the local area. Once we have managed half an hour without a melt-down, I would then maybe try a visit to a local country park or something for up to an hour. If there are no issues, I would then go a bit further and a bit longer until they are completely happy in the carrier.

Babies also need to be fed often. This can add time onto your carefully crafted route card and proposed start/end time. As with everything to so with children, things take longer. Make your peace with this fact and move on. Babies also cannot regulate their body temperature particularly well and you will need to be sure to check them regularly to make sure they are not too hot or too cold.

In summary, hill walking with a baby is possible, but in my experience, detracts from the possible enjoyment of the day. Having a small baby at home is hard enough, but couple that with the outdoor environment and it can be too much for some. I would suggest keeping things local so you can bail out and get home easily for at least the first 6 months.

Hill Walking with a toddler (1-3 years)

In much the same way as babies, toddlers take a lot of looking after outside. Whether that is on uneven ground, or racing off too far ahead or even the fact that they have no fear, you’ll need eagle eyes if you are heading out with a toddler. I’ve seen reports of kids as young as 3 years old climbing some pretty serious hills (the Cobbler is the one that surprised me the most) but in my experience, you are still introducing them to the wonders of the outdoors at this stage.

As the child get more comfortable on their feet, small walks to the shops or walking the dog etc is going to be enough for most. My daughter (now 3) can handle relatively hills walks of up to an hour. Any more than that though and she starts to moan. So for me, this stage is more about woodland walks, exploring, adventuring and generally building confidence in the outdoors, rather than peak bagging. I am fortunate enough that where we live, there are hills ranging from 100m up to 450m or so easily reachable. That gives a nice level of progression up the heights and severity to the higher hills a the top end of this bracket.

Hill Walking with small children (3-7 years)

If you like mountains, then this is the stage where things get interesting. We took our son walking in the borders at this age and he loved it. The hills we selected were small enough to be manageable, but challenging enough that it was an achievement to reach the top. The focus here was on picnics at the summit, lots of laughing and playing games on the way. As they get quicker up hill, you will be able to focus more on the act of hill walking rather than distracting them from it!

We also started giving our children a rucksack to carry at this point too. Nothing too heavy, but maybe a light jacket and a bottle of water. We also gave him the map, so he felt fully invovled in the day and could start appreciating the navigational aspects of hill walking and decision making. Our son really got into the responsibility of carrying the map and would force us to stop for regular map checks. I remember one forced stop when we could see the trig point!

But the one thing I do remember, was that these breaks were important. Without them a couple of hours walking could have been boring. But we used the regular stops to top up on snacks, take layers on/off and generally keep things light hearted through out the day.

Hill Walking with children (7-13 years)

This is the top age bracket that I will talk about here as this is where my oldest currently is. Our walks now are all about discovery and adventure. The question is not now do you want to go for a walk, but do you want to go on an adventure. Who doesn’t want to do that!

We try to choose routes that have interesting features on them. A ruined building, cool rock formations, Roman ruins (where I live, there are some of these to be found) canals/rivers to try and find different wildlife etc. We will always try and set ourselves a mini treasure hunt type thing to find 5 different types of birds or similar. The other option is to go Geocaching, which is great fun too.

I’m writing this in February, and there is quite a lot of snow around, but this summer I plan on taking our eldest our for his first Munro or Corbett. We will see how we get on, but one thing I do know is that we will have a lot of fun trying. I’ll probably look to one of the hills I have written about in my post on hills for beginners.

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5 Biggest Mistakes Beginner Hillwalkers Make

We have all been there, be honest. You had to have started your hiking exploits somewhere. Some of you will have been lucky enough to be born and raised near the hills, others won’t have discovered them until later in life, but everyone is a beginner at some point in time. And beginners make mistakes, no-one is perfect! Here are the top 5 mistakes to avoid doing if you are just getting into hill walking.

1) Underestimating the Weather

The weather in all mountainous places and change very quickly. Like in 5 minutes, sometimes less. I’ve had it rain, snow and be sunny all at the same time. Everyone gets caught out once in a while. Mountainous areas are actually scientifically wetter than lowland areas, because the air temperature is generally cooler and the air pressure is lower, increasing the chances of rain or snow. It can make quite a marked difference, as much as. 6.5 degrees Celsius per 1,000 meters in elevation.

The times you get caught out though, at least in my experience, are the ones where the weather at home or at the foot of the hill is quiet, calm, warm, sunny (insert other innocuous weather type here). As you climb however, the weather gets harsher, wilder and before you know it, you are walking into sideways rain and 40mph gusts of wind. All the while, the people at the foot of the hill are basking away in relative comfort.

Beginners Tip:

Always be prepared for any weather. There is no need to carry crampons or an ice axe in the middle of summer, but there will always be a need to carry warm and waterproof clothing on any visit to bag a Munro or lower hill, especially in Scotland.

2) Don’t know how to use a map

Some people that I have met on the hill don’t even carry a map. To me that’s crazy. Now it’s my opinion, so I’m not saying that this is the correct thing to do, but I believe that everyone that goes walking at altitude here in the UK should have some rudimentary map skills. The ability to find yourself and a safe route off the hill in an emergency should be the minimum requirements. In my opinion.

Navigation in Scotland, or any mountainous region can be really tricky in really bad weather. When the fog is down, or there is snow on the floor (or god forbid, both) good navigation is not only tricky, but can save your life. Keeping away from cornices or high risk avalanche areas and avoiding cliffs in the fog are just two examples of how good navigation skills have helped me personally when out hill walking.

A beginner hill walker is likely to be heading out with more experienced climbers as they start off (not everyone though) so this is a great way to learn ‘on the job’. If you are a lone walker, I would really suggest heading out with friends or joining a walking group or something so you have people to learn from. I was lucky enough to be trained in navigation by the army, so I was able to hold my own from the beginning, but for many, making sense of all the lines, squiggles and colours can be daunting. Even then, I will try and walk with others where I can to share the load of navigation and decision making.

There are loads of courses out there to help you with this, and some really good books. I like this one, as it is simple and clear and covers all the basic skills to help keep you safe on the hill. Investing in a good map cover and a good compass will pay you back over time and help you if you ever get into bother.

Beginners Tip:

Try and learn navigation in the hills form more experienced people. Its far better than trying to learn online or in a classroom!

3) Wearing the wrong footwear

I have, hand on heart, seen someone climbing Snowden in high heels. No lies, I actually saw a lady, wearing high heeled shoes, climbing the highest mountain in Wales. Unbelievable. That is an extreme example, but your choice of footwear is not only going to help you climb and descend the hill safely, but also make you more comfortable. Breaking in your boots before you go climbing is also critical, boots can cause big blisters and other issues if your feet and boots don’t get on.

Footwear is a personal choice, I will always choose a boot when out walking. Some friends of mine prefer what I would call approach shoes on long walk-ins or on softer terrain. What is important here is that the correct footwear is worn, taking into account the persons preference and the terrain that you are going to be walking on. I would not want to be wearing anything that did not protect my ankles on the boulder fields at the top of Schiehallion, for example.

Beginners Tip:

Break your boots in before a long walk. Take them around the block a few times at home, or wear them around the house for a few days before your walk.

4) Start walking too late in the day

Inexperience can lead to mis-judging the length of time it will take you to climb your target hills and complete your planned route. This means that you may start a little late and end up coming down the hill in the dark. In itself, this is not an issue, but if you have not prepared for this, not carrying a headtorch for example, you might run into trouble. Secondly, if you are running late, you may rush back, not taking the time required and make a navigational mistake or something, compounding the error.

When planning my walks, I use Naismith’s Rule to work our roughly how long it will take me. Naismith’s Rule states that you should allow 1 hour for every 5km walked plus an additional hour for every 600m in vertical ascent you gain whilst walking. For example, a 5km route, climbing 600m would take you 2 hours to complete.  It does not account for delays, such as extended breaks for rest or sightseeing, or for navigational obstacles though, so remember to build those into your plan.

I know that on the flat, on good terrain, without a heavy pack, my natural walking speed is about 6km/hr (slightly quicker with no pack at all) but using Naismith’s Rule allows me to build in a greater tolerance for error, taking pictures and generally taking my time.

Beginners Tip:

Remember to leave more than enough time to complete your chosen route. If you are not sure how long it will take, use Naismith’s Rule to give you a guide.

5) Being over-ambitious

Choosing your route and adequately preparing for your visit to the hills is really important. Without the right preparation, you run the risk of ruining your day out with something preventable. Check out my post on pre-walk preparation. One of those points is to choose a route and target hill that is within the abilities of you and those in your group.

There is nothing wrong with challenging yourself and other through the hills and routes you take; it is a challenging past time after all. However, if you choose a route that has those challenges and then the weather gets worse, you go of course or one of the many other things that can go wrong does goes wrong, you will quickly find yourself in a bit of a situation.

My suggestion is to be conservative in your route choice, allow enough time to complete your chose route and make sure that you and your group is properly prepared for the day. That way, if things do start to go wrong, it will be within your capacity to deal with it and make sure that everyone gets off the hill safely.

Beginners Tip:

Take the time to prepare properly and understand your limits when selecting the hills or routes you will tackle. Consider teaming up with more experienced climbers or hiring a guide for those really tricky climbs.

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10 Best Munros for Beginners

I have selected these hills from the ones I have climbed. I don’t think it would be fair of me to recommend hills for beginners that I didn’t have personal experience of. Whilst these might not be the easiest hills in the whole of Scotland, they are the easiest I have climbed and will all provide a fun, challenging day out to those that are tackling some of their first Munro’s.

You can use a scratch map to keep track of your Munro journey, I have this one and its great to keep track of where I have been and where is still left to go. Its not too pricey, either which is nice. I have a list of other ways to track your progress, but the map I have linked to above is my preferred option.

Anyway, on with the top 10 Munros for Beginners, in my opinion!

Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond

This is probably the most walked Munro. Its proximity to Glasgow (only about 30 miles or so) makes it one of the easiest hills to get to quickly. This proximity and the fact that it has a path the whole way up, makes it many people’s first choice to start their bagging round. I walked Ben Lomond with my wife, brother and a couple of friends, we all had various degrees of mountain experience and it really didn’t pose too many issues at all.

We ascended the Ptarmigan ridge route, which I would recommend if you are looking for something that avoids the super-highway that has been eroded into the ‘tourist route’ that comes up from Rowardennan. This is however a guide for beginners, and the route from Rowardennan heading north east and then swinging northwards towards the summit is a great day out, its relatively easy to navigate, especially in good weather, and there are several great pubs on the way home. A perfect place to start.

Schiehallion

Schiehallion

One of the most famous Scottish hills, having a fantastic conical face when viewed from Loch Rannoch. It is also famous as the birthplace of contour lines – who knew?! When walked from the west, Schiehallion looks like a broad ridge that narrows and steepens as you climb.

The initial going is relatively easy underfoot, and you will make good time following the well trodden path towards the real foot of the mountain. As you move eastwards, perhaps about 2.5km from the summit, things start getting a little more interesting. It will happen so slowly so you might miss it, but you will end up on a fantastic ridge with fantastic views in all directions (if you are lucky with the weather). As you ascend, the ridge becomes narrower and narrower. I wouldn’t say that you are going to be scrambling at any point, but there are significant boulder fields near the top, so be prepared for a change in terrain as you get higher.

I walked Schiehallion with a friend a few years ago in autumn and the air was lovely and crisp. We were not lucky with views, but it was a great walk. I do remember being surprised by the size and length of the boulder fields at the top, it certainly made things interesting with our footing and extra care was needed.

Ben Narnain

Beinn Narnain

This was my second ever Munro, climbed in the late spring in perfect conditions. It was the walk where I fell in love with the Scottish hills, hillwalking and Munro bagging. It has a special place in my walking highlight reel. Climbed from the car park on the shores of Loch Long, climb steeply up a zig zagging path towards the Narnain boulders. These things are genuinely massive. Huge lumps of stone sitting in the relatively flat valley between Ben Narnain and the Cobbler. There are amazing views of the Cobbler as you progress forwards and upwards, its like a horned beast rising to the left as you climb.

We then veered to the right, northwards, up broken slopes onto the summit ridge. After a bit of huffing and puffing, we attained the summit and I was absolutely floored with the view and the scenery.

I would suggest that this is maybe not the best route for beginners our naivety led us this way, we could have walked further up the glen and come onto the summit from the north. Equally, we could have ascended up the southern nose of the ridge which would have avoided the broken and difficult ground. Either of these routes looks better for beginners.

Ben Vorlich, Loch Earn

Ben Vorlich

My very first Munro. Tackled with an inexperienced friend, in the winter, with no crampons, axes or clue as to what we were letting ourselves in for. It was extreme. Our navigation was sorely tested and we many many mistakes, some nearly quite serious. It goes to show that even the ‘easier’ Munro’s can pack a punch in the right conditions.

However, with good planning, a realistic outlook on the conditions and more suitable equipment, this hill is perfect for someone looking to start bagging Munro’s. It is easily accessible, being one of the most southerly Munro’s, as well as not massively steep (although it is still steep in places) and has a clear track to follow. The views into Southern Scotland are brilliant too.

To make into a longer, bigger day, this hill can be climbed with Stuc a’Chroin as well. This a different kettle of fish entirely, and is a lot more scrambling and steep across broken ground.

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

I tackled the highest point in the UK as part of the three peaks challenge, so my visit to the summit of the UK was brief to say the least. However, I have good and fond memories of the hike up. There are two main routes up ‘The Ben’, the first (and not one that should be suggested to beginners) comes in from the north and swings westwards across the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. Not for the faint of heart that route – it is however on my bucket list ;).

The more usual and less mountaineering route is up what is known as the Mountain path. It is this route that I would say is much more for beginners, although not an easy feat in itself. It starts in the outskirts of Fort William, just to the east. The path climbs steeply, pretty much the whole way up to the lochan before it flattens out ever so slightly. The climb then resumes as steep as before (if not steeper) all the way to the summit plateau.

In good weather, the path is easy to follow and there are usually other people around too. However, the weather at the top can change in an instant. I have friends that have arrived on the walk in rain gear, reached the summit plateau in a t-shirt and then got snowed on. Any time you tackle this hill, from whatever direction, you should always be fully prepared for whatever the hill can through at you. In fog, the navigation can be really tricky, people have died falling from the cliffs here.

Ben Vane, Loch Lomond

Ben Vane

This is one of the smallest Munro’s, at 914m, it barely scrapes past the minimum height requirement. It is however a tricky little hill if you get it wrong. Being located in the Loch Lomond area, it sees quite a lot of foot traffic in comparison to some harder to reach places. That has lead to a well worn and eroded path up most of the route. Combine this location and lack of minute by minute navigation and this hill is shaping up to be good for beginners.

My visit here was a quick trip out for the afternoon and I was working at a fast pace in good weather. In fact, once I had climbed up the tarmac road, which is good easy going, past the power station, I didn’t need to get my map out again. It was a case of see the hill, climb the hill. The ground is steep on the ascent, really steep. If you are a bit wary of heights there are certain places where turning around to look at the view can be a bit disconcerting. However they are few and far between and overall it’s a short sharp climb. My full walk report can be found here.

I had a clear summit on my ascent, even though I passed a few people on the way up, you get some great views eastwards and into the hills around you. The weather was also in my favour as it was clear and sunny. It was a little chilly on top, but I genuinely enjoyed it. I came down the exact reverse route passing those ahead of me at speed. And enjoyable easy-ish hill in clear weather and as long as there is not snow lying there shouldn’t be any issues with navigation either.

Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas

Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas

The car park at the visitor centre is at 400m altitude, chopping about 30% out of the total height of these hills. Perfect. This makes each hill a little easier than their position in the altitude chart would suggest. You might think that suggesting a walk with 2 Munro summits on it for a beginner is a little odd, but this is a lovely ridge walk in some of the highest land outside of the large massifs of the Cairngorms and the west coast. In fact Ben Lawers is the highest Munro not in either of these areas and is the 10th highest mountain in Scotland.

At 1103m, Bheinn Glas is the first summit that you would reach on this walk. I remember this walk through the nature reserve being pretty non descriptive and a smooth ascent. As the ridge steepens and narrows, you remember you are heading to unusually high ground. I tackled these hills in the snow, and the weather was on our side from just before the summit. Bheinn Ghlas dominates your views forward, so much so that you cannot actually see Ben Lawers even though it is higher. The ground gets rockier towards the summit but if you’re going for the big prize on this walk, then you barely notice it.

As you crest the summit, you get your first view on Ben Lawers, it looks big, imposing and darn right intimidating. With drops to the southern side, it looks every bit a top ten mountain. The route from the summit of Beinn Ghlas is easy and there is a good path down to the col. A steep pull up from here is only broken by a slightly flatter section which then becomes another steep section over rocky ground to the summit of Ben Lawers. And what a summit. High, airy and exposed it’s a wonderful place.

The return from here (I would not advise heading on to the three other summits on the ridge for beginners) is to retrace your steps back to the col and then veer right along the flank of Bein Ghlas back towards the Nature Reserve and the car park. When I visited these hills, we actually camped in the snow a little way down the road from here. Made for an interesting night out…

These hills are great for those finding their feet as the path is good the whole way, and the height you gain from the car park being so high makes them easily attainable for those that want to climb them.

Ben Chonzie

Ben Chonzie

Another small hill, at 931m, Ben Chonzie is the highest point just north of Crieff. It’s quite featureless, so you’ll need to take care with your navigation both on the way up and down. The path starts out as a land rover track and reduces in size as you progress upward. To the point where in places it can be easy to lose, particularly in bad weather.

I recall slogging up here following the path just head down and getting on with it. There are few other notable hills around to maintain interest, although I do remember thinking that there was a definite sense of solitude and remoteness to it. Perhaps that is due to the lack of other hills around.

The summit it relatively easily attained, without any major drama or cliffs/slopes to be aware of, but as I say, without those features to orientate yourself with, it can be easy to lose yourself here. The return leg is back the way you have come following the narrow path as it widens into the Land Rover track back to your start point.

A good safe bet to include in your first few Munro’s as is is easily reachable from the central belt and there are less hazards around, the normal caveats apply though.

Buachaille Etive Beag

Buachaille Etive Beag

Glen Coe. Have you really climbed in Scotland if you haven’t climbed in Glen Coe? Probably the most famous glen in all of Scotland, surrounded by some of the best summits you will find anywhere. This hill consists of two Munro summits, Stob Coire Raineach and Stob Dubh. Nestled between two monstrous ranges either side, these two relatively small summits make up for their lack of height with their positioning and the views they offer. They make for an incredible day out.

This is a great ridge walk. Most people climb the higher peak Stob Dubh first, which is further from the road. A relatively straightforward walk up the glen between our target and Bidean nam Bian is steep, but there is a good path the whole way up. The ground flattens before a fork in the path, where most will head right towards the further, higher top. That’s the way I climbed these hills at least. Climb to the col and head along the narrow but not too narrow ridge to the summit. Looking south from here is spectacular, into Glen Etive and towards Ben Starav.

A return to the col and then a short rocky scramble/walk up to the summit of our second top on the walk Stob Coire Raineach. Personally, apart from the hills right next to this one, I have not seen a better viewpoint in Scotland. The views up Glen Coe taking in the three sisters and Aonach Eagach as well as more easterly to Rannoch Moor are breath-taking. Well worth the effort and a great walk for a beginner that is cutting their teeth on multi-top days out. Good paths, nothing too insane in the terrain and views that are hard to beat. Kind of makes me want to go back again!

Carn Liath on Beinn a’Ghlo

Carn Liath

I’ll be honest, I remember this hill as a slog fest. Nothing more nothing less. I did it a few days before Christmas one year and it was brutal. There was quite a lot of snow about and the winds we ferocious. We had originally planned to tackle the whole ridge, but we quickly decided to admit defeat and head back to the car after the first summit.

The path here is quite clear and easy to follow, it has been repaired recently too, which makes it a bit easier. The approach is quite gentle, until you get on the hill proper. As the lowest point on the ridge, it is a relatively easy climb up following the path and a few grouse butts to the summit. The return leg is the same in reverse. A good day out, but I will be visiting again to tackle the whole ridge, probably in the summer.

And there you have it. My top 10 Munro’s for those looking to begin their bagging career. I’ve had a lot of fun climbing these hills over the years, I hope you do too!

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