What We Wish We Had Known Before We Started Hiking

What We Wish We Had Known Before We Started Hiking

During a group walk last week, I asked everyone what one thing they wish they had known before they started long distance walks and climbing mountains. Here are the answers…

1. Maps aren’t that scary

Learning the basics (setting the map by using a compass, understanding scales, bearings, grid references and using the landscape to match map features) are hugely helpful and will give you more confidence on walks. A lot of organisations run courses for beginners (I did a really useful day course by the Lake District Walker ) and OS have great resources and online tutorials.

2. What gear you really need

If you’re just starting out, don’t get too concerned about having all of the right gear. For short, flat walks in good weather, your trainers and a bottle of water will be fine. Once you start covering more distance and choosing higher routes, the right gear becomes far more important. Hiking Gear Checklist: Three Essentials

3. Check the weather forecast for the highest part of the walk, not the start

The weather at the summit of Scafell Pike in the Lake District is currently -1 degrees, with a wind speed of 45 mph. The weather forecast for the closest village is 8 degrees and wind speed of 11 mph. You get the point. The Met Office Mountain Forecast is a good site to use.

4. How much water to bring

This is a little dependent on the weather and the individual. I drink loads of water (around 4 litres a day) but I also exercise a lot so I think it’s necessary. Start by taking 3 litres for a full day hike and 2-2.5 litres for a 4-5 hour walk. See how much you have left and adjust how much water to take, bearing in mind you will drink different amounts based on the weather and how strenuous a walk is.

5. Some walking boots need to be broken in

Sturdier, leather boots can need 10-15 miles of walking to break them in. When you buy new boots, always ask the store for their advice. Tips on choosing the right gear.

What We Wish We’d Known Before We Starting Hiking

6. Backpacks aren’t waterproof

Even with a rain cover, backpacks aren’t 100% waterproof in heavy rain. It’s best to keep your gear in a dry bag inside your backpack. More info...

7. Always Take money with you

Almost everyone I asked had £8-£10 in small change for parking and toilet fees.

8. Trekking poles are actually really useful

If you’re doing a lot of hill walking, poles are hugely helpful, especially for balance and taking some of the pressure off your knees.

9. Check the Wind Speed

The wind on mountains and hilltops is often much stronger than in the valley. As a general rule, walking becomes difficult when wind speeds reach 30 mph. At 40 mph and above, the wind can knock you over. Wind speed conditions are based on the Beaufort Scale and the full scale can be found here.

10. what to do in a Thunderstorm

Hopefully it goes without saying that lightning can kill so don’t walk in thunderstorms. Luckily, in the UK, unpredicted thunderstorms are extremely rare but if you do get caught out, there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself, including getting to lower ground as soon as possible, moving all metal items away from you and sitting on top of your backpack. The British Mountain Council have put together a few great tips.

11. Don’t rely on a postcode and a Sat Nav to find the start of a route

For most walks, the postcode will get you to the right area, but not the exact location. Make sure you check the map before you go.

12. GPS devices are great for peace of mind

In poor weather and on remote walks, a faint footpath can be difficult to find. A GPS device can show you exactly where you are and where the path is, making a lot of routes significantly easier. I use a Garmin Montana GPS and it’s incredibly accurate; if I deviate from the path by half a metre, the device picks up the detour and shows the direction I need to go to meet the path again.

GPS devices can also have pre-programmed routes for you to follow. The vast majority of walking routes on this site have free GPS route downloads.

What We Wish We’d Known Before We Starting Hiking

13. OS Locate App

The free app, from OS maps, shows the six figure grid reference of exactly where you are. It’s a very quick and easy way to help you get your bearings if you get lost. Also, if there is ever an emergency, you will be able to tell someone your location.

14. Don't wear Cotton

I’ve written about this before; never wear cotton hiking.

15. What to do in an emergency

Hopefully, you’ll never need to use this information, but it’s always best to be prepared. To contact Mountain Rescue, call 999, ask for the police and then Mountain Rescue.

16. And one from me

...whether you’re walking in a group or going solo, always let someone know exactly where you’re going and what time you expect to be back.

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