The beginner's guide to hillwalking
To get the best out of a day’s walk on the hills, there is a lot of sensible planning to be done before you get into your stride, especially if you're new to hiking. Follow our tips to get yourself properly prepared
- Make a list of essentials to always carry with you
- Use websites to gain the latest information about where and when you can go – for example, your intended route might be compromised in a forested area due to tree felling
- If you are in a new town or area, visit the Tourist Information Centre and ask their opinion of your intended route
- Read up on the signs and symbols used in the countryside
- Check the weather before you leave, and keep an eye on it during the day
- If you are uncertain about the conditions, then do not be afraid to turn back
- Carry up-to-date maps or guidebooks
- Follow advice and local signs
- Never deviate off your intended route
- Be prepared for the unexpected
- Always advise friends of your intended route
- Plan your route and follow signs where appropriate
- Never choose a route that is beyond your navigation skills or experience
- Tell family and friends your intended route and estimated time of return
- Follow the Countryside Code for England and Wales. Outdoor access in Scotland is different
- Always take home what you bring with you, including banana skins, apple cores and waste bags
GENTLY DOES IT
When it comes to planning your day out, decide on what sort of route you fancy, but never be too adventurous to begin with. Common sense dictates that you should start with short, easy walks of no more than two or three miles over a well-marked route. The last thing you need is to be put off by being too adventurous, and then finding yourself in difficulty – or lost! As your body becomes more attuned, you will find that you want to tackle increasing lengths. Make sure this is still over gentle terrain, such as along towpaths or bridleways. You will then gain experience – and greater fitness.
GET FIT FOR THE TASK
Before heading out, make sure that you are fit and in good health. Plan a walk in your neighbourhood. Of course, if you live in a truly urban environment, then the scenery might not be up to much, but at least you will have a good feel for the geography of the area, and the walking will help increase your fitness level without too much worry.
- Take daily walks of 30 minutes
- Walk at around the same time each day
- Cover a set distance each day and monitor how long it takes
- Start each walk at a gentle pace to allow muscles to warm up, and pick up the speed gradually
- Find a walking partner, to make the time more interesting
- Do not push yourself so hard that you become breathless
- Increase your speed gradually by including periods of quick walking
- Walk within your target heart rate (your doctor should help you with this)
- Vary your route and take the odd incline
- Increase the intensity as the weeks progress and as you find your fitness level improves
- Wear a hat and sun cream
- Drink plenty of fluids before and after exercise
- Gently stretch leg muscles after each walk
Once you are ready to progress, it is worth signing up for a map and compass course, as you will need that kind of skill base if you are planning on going off the beaten track. Many walkers will happily take a map with them, but do not know how to read one properly. Always remember to take a map with you, as it will detail the given wider area of your walk, help in finding alternative routes and even short-cuts if the need arises, and, most importantly, be your best friend should you get lost. A map will also help you plan your route, linking the local footpath network. Most walkers prefer to use the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer series, which cover the whole of Britain. The maps detail paths and open access areas, and tourist information. Harvey Maps offer a range of alternative walkers’ maps, with detail of popular walking areas and long distance paths. Also check Tourist Information Centres for guidebooks and route maps in the area.
MAKE A NOTE
Before setting out on a hike, particularly if you have gone somewhere for the day, always write a note and tell a relative or friend the location of your vehicle, your intended route, and your expected arrival time. They can alert the relevant authorities, should the need arise. Carry your mobile phone. It might not always work on a hill or in a wooded environment, but it could well prove to be a vital link in times of emergency.
Remember how fickle the British weather can be, so always be prepared for the worst by carrying appropriate wet weather gear. Add this to your list of essentials that you should prepare before leaving home. Check the weather forecast before you leave home, and if it looks like turning out to be desperately inclement, then stay indoors. There is nothing worse than feeling cold, wet and miserable, and finding yourself miles from the car.
Dress appropriately for the conditions. Warm and waterproof clothes are esential if its wet and cold and if it is a lovely summer’s day, wear sun protection clothing, a hat and suncream.
- Waterproof jacket and trousers
- Hat and gloves
- Food and drink
- Map and compass
- Head torch (plus spare batteries)
- First Aid Kit (including blister pack)
- Spare laces
- Trekking poles
Want more great tent information? Our "Hillwalking, hiking and trekking: the camping guide" is full of great information and camping advice.
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