Tag Archives: Hiking

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.

Cruach Ardrain & Beinn Tulaichean – WALK REPORT – July 2021

I had a week off earlier in July and the wife and I decided to try and take one of the days off to do a bit of Munro bagging. We spent a while going over a few different routes and tried to find the most suitable day trip for us. We settled on a pair of hills to the south of Crianlarich, Cruach Ardrain and Beinn Tulaichean. I’ve climbed hills either side of this pair before, so I was looking forward to seeing those hills from a different perspective. Our initial idea was to attempt these hills from the south from Inverlochlarig, however when we began to pack our kit the previous evening, we found out that the map that we had of that area actually doesn’t cover much of this approach. Back to the drawing board, we decided to keep the same targets, but approach from the north, on the A82 south of Crianlarich. It was a longer walk, but we both felt more comfortable walking a route that we have a map for.

Forest track in Scottish woodland
Rough path through the woodland

The morning of the ascent was spent wrangling the children to various grandparents and aunties and we were on the road north by about 8am. After a little faffing about, we were parked up in a layby off the A82 and booted up by 9.30. We struck out into the long grass towards a footbridge over the railway and veered right following a rough track through the woodland. After a time, this lead us to an access road that headed uphill towards our target.

Max and I posing for a photo on the access road
Max and I posing for a photo on the access road

We followed the access road, with Max the dog bounding along, taking a left and right turn at the following junctions. We even stopped for a short while for a photo! Eventually, after about 20 minutes or so we came across the walkers cairn, signalling our deviation from the road and the end of the easy terrain. To be honest, the cairn is quite small, we nearly missed it. Following the bent grass path through knee high grass, we toiled our way up the grassy hill and reached the tree line.

The next section will live long in the memory, and unfortunately not for a particularly good reason. I had assumed that with these hills being fairly far south, the amount of foot traffic would have eroded a fairly well worn path through the trees, coming out the other side to start the ascent of Grey Height, which is the first major obstacle on this route at 666m. However, this turned out not to be the case. What followed was about 20 minutes of boggy scrambling through low hanging branches of immature pine trees. The sort of branches that leave scratches on your arms, whilst trying to avoid losing a boot in the bog. It was a nightmare. Even looking back on it now, it wasn’t particularly fun although it was certainly adventurous.

After what felt like an age, we managed to escape the boggy tree line, and were out onto the hill proper. We began the ascent cursing the previous section, but still in decent spirits. These spirits were to be sorely tested from here on. With the temperatures heading north of 20 degrees and the time of year, we were almost immediately assaulted by clouds of midges and flies, which was certainly unpleasant. We had to stop multiple times on this initial climb to apply insect repellent, which we were sweating out due to the heat.

Making decent time on the initial climb (taking into account our midge repellent application breaks) we achieved the first part of the climb, reaching Grey Height and its lochan. Of course, Max thought this was great and jumped straight in for a swim.

We were now able to see ahead to the second challenge of this trip, Meall Dhamh. Sitting at 814m, this is not an insignificant bump in the road to cross. The path became somewhat clearer after this, easing the pressure on our navigation. We duly headed on and upwards starting to scale the hill ahead. As we were nearing the top of Meall Dhamh, we started to get glimpses of the first summit on the trip, Cruach Ardrain.

The path then veered westwards, taking us across the hillside, contouring along at a reasonable height. Note here, that if you are a little bit wobbly with exposure, you could find this a little difficult. Following the path and turning into the slope, it was about a 10 minute slog up to the top of the summit ridge. We met there the path running along the ridge, we turned left here towards the summit.

Summit of Cruach Ardrain

We quickly reached the false summit and then on to the true summit maybe 100m further along the ridge. This is a great spot, high, airy and with some great views in all directions. I was particularly taken by the view along the ridge to the next summit, Beinn Tulaichean. It really looked like a bump in the main ridge rather than a Munro in its own right, which is nice. I had figured that we would be doing a lot of descending and reclimbing for the second summit, but that didn’t look to be the case.

Max heading for Beinn Tulaichean

We didn’t stay long at the summit, the midge cloud descended on us and we made a hasty retreat back to the saddle where we joined the summit path. This is not the lowest point between the two hills, rather a depression in the descent to the true saddle. We pushed on down to the saddle and looked up to the next target – it didn’t seem far or too much higher than where we standing.

Summit of Beinn Tulaichean

Gathering ourselves, we set off once more to climb Beinn Tulaichean, and actually made it to the top in about 20 minutes. We were getting a little tired by this time, so I think we would usually do this climb a bit quicker, but as I say, we were getting a little tired by this point in the walk. Again, the midges descended whilst we were on the summit, meaning this too was a quick pitstop for the obligatory photo and then we retraced our steps, downhill back to the saddle. We had only left the saddle 30 minutes before, and were already back, having bagged another Munro!

We climbed back up to where our path met the ridge path and took the left turn off the ridge. The terrain here is steep and now we were facing the drop straight in front of us. If you’re a bit funny about that sort of thing, beware! Tracking back towards Meall Dhamh, we covered the ground pretty quickly, finishing the contouring part of the route.

Heading North to Crianlarich

Broadly following our route of ascent in reverse, we headed north back towards Crianlarich over Meall Dhamh and then Grey Height all the way to the tree line. We even bog-trotted down the hill back to the access road before using the easier going to relax and reflect on a great day out in the hills, with another two Munros in the bag!

Max the dog really dirty in the back of the car.
Max was exhausted and very dirty after our walk

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.

Devilla Forest – WALK REPORT – June 2021

The next instalment of our family adventures, we spent a day last weekend exploring the delights of the Devilla Forest in the Kingdom of Fife. There is a lot to see in the Devilla forest, but we decided on the smaller loop of the Red Squirrel Trail. Red Squirrels are known to inhabit the forest and seeing them in the wild is a big draw for many visitors. Clearly, you are not guaranteed to spot the squirrels, and taking a walk around the trail is a pleasant way to spend an hour or so even if they are not spotted on your walk.

The walk starts from the carpark just off the A985 to the east of Kincardine. There is space for about 30 cars or so here, which even on a hot June day seemed to be enough. It was busy, but not completely packed. Once we had got ourselves sorted out, the whole crew headed into the treeline to begin the walk. We had the baby in his carrier again on this walk – its certainly something that I would recommend having if you are thinking about taking small children into the countryside as it keeps your hands free to do other things, they are also comfortable for you and your child. Check out our family picture later in the post to see how comfortable. Here is a link to the one we use as I really like ours and it has given us the ability to get back out and away from the places that are pram friendly.

Walking path in the woods
Heading off on the start of our walk

There is a relatively large sign at the start of the walk, detailing not only the Red Squirrel Trail, but also the various other pathways, ponds, lochs and point of interest in the forest. There are about 8 or 9 things listed here, but we didn’t take a picture unfortunately. Plenty of things to keep us interested on this walk and potentially many others in the coming weeks/months. The walk is listed as a moderate walk online, but to be honest I think this is quite a harsh grading. The path is good and well maintained (as you can see in the picture) and relatively flat. It is also less than 2 miles from start to finish, which is not that far all told. I would grade it as an easy walk overall, and we thoroughly enjoyed it!

Well maintained path in the forest
Path threading through the trees

The path winds its way through the old pine trees and low bushes of the forest, crossing many small culverts and dry stream beds, using a short section of board walk at one point. The path was dry and a little dusty, Max loved it, bombing up and down and running all over the place. I am sure the smells of the wildlife, were fun for him.

Overall, we were heading in a westerly direction into the sun. However, the shade of the pine trees and the temperature of the air (the car was reading 24 degrees C when we left) made for pleasant and easy walking. Everyone was already feeling the calming influence of walking in the forest, its great when you can get to unwind like this.

Child hiding in a log shelter
Exploring the log shelters

After a few stops for pictures, we started coming across shelters that people had built, leaning logs and sticks up against the trees. The kids thought this was great and wanted to explore them all, which of course they did at high speed and volume – they probably scared off all the squirrels!

After a while, we happened upon the loch that you circumnavigate on the walk and found ourselves a picnic bench. I’ll be honest, even though our youngest is only 8 months old, he is bloody heavy! It was nice to sit by the loch side let Max take a dip whilst the kids played, ate and refuelled. We took the chance to feed the baby whilst keeping an eye on proceedings.

After our food stop, we followed the left hand branch of the walk, looping around the loch in a clockwise direction. Here, the path rises slowly to the top of the ridge line, giving you a view, through the trees, southwards towards the firth of Forth and across to Grangemouth and Falkirk. The kids decided they wanted to explore this view and went off track through the brush to the edge of the tree line to get the best view.

View of the Firth of Forth
View south towards the Forth, with Grangemouth in the distance.

After taking in the views, we returned to the track and followed it around the loch, meeting several other walkers, dogs and bikers on the way. If there was one thing that I were to complain about on this walk is that having walkers and bikers on the same path network could be potentially problematic. We didn’t have any issues, but I can foresee a time where children/dog and bikes collide due to the speed of the bikes and the lack of speed of the rest of the path users. I have nothing against mountain bikers, I think it is a cool hobby that I would enjoy if I ever get the time/chance, but I think that the pathway planners could consider segregating the two types of traffic. Clearly, this is my observation from one afternoon, but it must be worth considering?

Family by the carved totem pole
Even Max behaved for this one…

We looped around back towards the picnic bench, where there was a carved totem pole which had three local animals carved into it – an owl, a woodpecker and a squirrel, in case you were wondering – and we stopped for the obligatory family photo.

After the photo stop, it was a quick march back to the car to pack all of the stuff and the kids back in. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable walk for the kids (and the adults) with good weather, lovely countryside and fresh air. Devilla Forest is definitely on our list of places to visit again as there are loads of other paths and trails to explore, not to mention that list of 8 things that we saw at the start.

Thanks for a great visit – we will be back!

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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Meall Nan Tarmachan – WALK REPORT – May 2021

Hands up here, I had so much fun on this walk, that I forgot to take a lot of photos. Throughout the entire walk, I took a grand total of two photos. Apologies that there are not hundreds of beautiful pictures and panoramas of the Scottish countryside to go with this walk report. The weather was also pants, so even if I had, you wouldn’t have seen anything anyway, just a lot of clag.

We set off early from the central belt, Max and I, and headed north up to the small town of Killin, nestled nicely next to the River Dochart, at the western end of Loch Tay. It was quite a pleasant drive, without too much traffic or anything of note to get in the way. Heading along the north shore of the Loch, we eventually reached the junction for out destination, the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve.

We parked up and paid for the carpark before getting booted up, checking the kit for the last time and setting out roughly westwards onto the well made hill path towards our target for the day. This was to be Max’s first Munro, so I had tried to think of anything that he might need during the walk. I needn’t have worried, he was off like a shot, exploring all of the new smells and plants along the side of the path. He even had time for a quick dip in the river to cool off. He certainly put me to shame, continually coming back to check on me, to make sure I was alright. Similarly, it was also my first Munro in quite a while, so it was not much of a shock to have lost my hill legs and quite a bit of fitness – although it didn’t help my pride much.

After a few hundred meters of relatively flat, is undulating path, the way head got progressively steeper and more consistent. We headed on up into the clouds, which were hanging relatively low at around 700m.

This part of the walk was a bit of a slog, if I am honest. It was hard enough going, the views over Loch Tay were no more and we still had a fair bit of climbing to do. Eventually, the path meandered more northwards as we crested onto the shoulder of the ridge. I imagine that in good weather, this would be a great viewpoint looking westwards along the loch towards Killin, you could probably also see more of the tarmachan ridge from here – I shall have to go back…

We met another couple at this point, with their dogs, it was nice to see some others on the hill, even if we had caught them up. Thinking back , the car park was packed, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I had assumed that most people would be heading towards the Ben Lawers massif and the variety of climbing on that side of the nature reserve.

Max finally standing still for a photo
Max enjoying himself

We made short walk of this slope, encountering our first patch of snow, which Max thought was great. He certainly enjoyed watching me struggle up it anyway. We made our way to where the ground slightly flattens off and had a quick breather, before tackling the final steep ascent to the summit. The wind really started to pick up here, gusting quite strongly at times. We hung around for a couple of photos (THE couple of photos) and then headed back down the way we had come back to the car.

Cairn at the top of Meall nan Tarmachan
The top of Meall nan Tarmachan in the mist

Overall, it took us about 2 hours to get back to the car, which is not too bad at all. I will definitely be back to tackle the whole ridge in future, hopefully on a nice day so I can enjoy some of the views. I also still have a couple more of the Munros in this area to complete, so I will be back to Loch Tay before long.

This was the first outing at this height for a few new bits of equipment, you can read the reviews of them here:

Karrimor Boots

Rucksack

Roman Ruins: A Lockdown Walk – WALK REPORT – Feb 2021

After a few weeks of usual dog walks and not a lot else, Max and I started to get the itch to do something a little more adventurous. Unfortunately the current travel restrictions mean we cannot get anywhere close to some big hills, so we had to settle for more of an explore in our local area. After a bit of research and map searching, I settled on a walk from Auchinstarry quarry along the canal to Twechar and then climbing the hills behind the canal via the Roman road loosely following the Route of the Antonine Wall.

Crags at Auchinstarry Quarry

We left early and parked up in Auchinstarry Quarry, just under the crags. When we are allowed friends to cross the border, I’ll have to get some climbing in here as it looks epic. The grades didn’t look too hard and I’m not sure where else you would find good rock within 20 mins of my front door. I haven’t climbed in ages, so it would certainly be a good eye opener to see what level I am at.

Looking back towards Kilsyth

We set off roughly westwards along the canal. The path here is good and would probably take a pram if you are looking at doing this walk with small children. Max and I put the hammer down and made short work of this stretch of the walk.

It’s pretty nondescript and pretty flat all told, but it was a nice leg stretch and Max enjoyed gambolling about around the path. The canal is flanked on the south side (the right hand side following this route) by a steep embankment, which is largely tree covered and is home to quite a lot of different wildlife. In the short time we spent on the opposite bank, Max and I saw several different types of birds and a couple of deer too. Its was quite pleasant, quiet and there was no navigation to worry about! We came across one cyclist in this stretch, but I can imagine that on a summers day, this could be quite a busy area.

Max leading the way

After about 3km, we reached the bridge at Twechar and proceeded to cross over to the southern bank of the canal. We headed up hill into the village, where Max met his first Highland Cow. He is not a fan. A short walk of less than 1km along the road and you will get to the war memorial and signage for the Antonine Wall.

Views opening up

Turning hard left following the sign, the road starts to deteriorate as it climbs up past a couple of farms. Eventually the views start opening up to your left over the valley that contains the canal, looking onto the Campsie Fells on the other side. This is the first time I have really considered the landscape in this part of my local area, you can see why the Romans decided to stop the advance here, it certainly not much friendlier as you look north. Imagine marching all the way from Rome, over all the hills, rivers and hostile armies to be harried all the way north to be faced with the relatively “impenetrable” façade of the Campsie Fells. Actually, as I am typing this, it was probably laziness that made them stop… 😉

Looking across to Tomtain

You keep on ascending up the hill after the farms when you enter more open ground. At the top of the climb, near the water plant, you turn left off the tarmac and onto a grassier path. This takes you up towards the first tourist trap of the day, the Roman fort and earthworks at Bar Hill. I’ve lived in the area for about 8 years or so and never been up here. It’s be great for school kids to come and learn about the history or the area. With a bit of imagination, you can see what the hill top would have been like. I was surprised by the amount of remaining Roman stone there was around and the small signs helped me understand what I was looking at.

Trig on Castle Hill

As you move through the old Roman landscape to the left of the main path, the ground rises to Castle Hill with its trig point. There was no way that Max and I were missing this out, so up we headed to the trig and the best views on the walk so far.

The next part of the walk follows the route of the Antonine Wall through the woodland to rejoin the main path. It was quite cool for walk down the hill from Castle Hill along the clearing which follows the path of the ancient construction. It’s an odd thing to see something so clearly man made, and yet there is no sign of anything man made there. Either way, the going was good and Max and I shot down the hill to rejoin the main route through the woodland.

Looking back to the Route of the Antonine Wall

From here the path weaves its way through some scrub and farmland crossing the B802. Following the signs for the John Muir Way, we cut around a few corners and watched for signs of old mining activity, which used to be rife in this area. Eventually we set our sights on Croy Hill, the last significant hill on our route today.

There is another Roman Fort here, so I was looking forward to seeing if it was as well preserved as the one on Bar Hill. We entered a field through a gate that proclaimed that there were wild roaming highland cows in this area. Now, I’m not being funny but those things are huge and have rather large horns. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting one.

The haze and rain had started to drift in making it much more atmospheric, it also meant that a herd of highland cows could have been over the next hillock, but luckily I didn’t come across any today.

Start of the climb up to Croy Hill

After a short but surprisingly steep climb in places Max and reached the top of the hill and attained the roughly flat plateau like area just to the east of the true top. This a a great viewpoint looking across the valley again and also back towards Castle Hill to the west. In the image below, you can see the clearing for the route of the Antonine Wall just to the right of centre on the horizon.

It was starting to look like the rain was here to stay, so Max and I bore left and down hill passing a few other groups of walkers and a family here. After a short 10-15 minute descent the path curves back around to the west and popped out down by the canal at the bottom of the valley.

A quick point to note here. I did a bit of exploring a few years back around this area and actually walked through this area with the family. I enjoyed that walk at the time as it all felt quite tranquil. I mention that here as I got the same feeling on the same stretch of path this time around, before I really knew exactly where I was. I find it odd because I don’t often get this sense of peace whilst out walking. I’m usually concentrating on the navigation, how I’m feeling or something to do with work, trying to solve problems. A sense of peace is something I normally find atop high summits whilst sitting enjoying the view. It’s strange to me that I have found this feeling in a low woodland, twice, without any obvious sign or stop to allow me to reach that state of mind.

Anyway, once Max and I popped out on the tow path, it was a short hop skip and a jump back to Auchinstarry Marina, over the road bridge to the crags and car park of the quarry.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable walk with the dog taking in several small summits that I have never visited before in my local area. I really enjoyed the Roman ruins and the history of the area, I kind of wished I had a guide to take me through it all. The canal was nice and peaceful and the hillier sections whet my appetite for more climbing in the spring and summer when we are hopefully allowed to travel for exercise. A good walk that I would recommend if you are in the area.

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!!