5 safety tips for walkers
1. Plan ahead
Before you even leave the house, investigate the route thoroughly. Take into account the experience and capabilities of anyone joining you on the walk to help you plan your route in advance. You should also think about the kind of kit you will need to take with you, potential weather conditions and have a contingency plan in mind in case the walk needs to be cut short. Weather can change dramatically over the course of a walk, especially in hilly areas.
As Heather Morning from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland said, ‘Unless you have already used your navigational abilities to programme in an exact route, it won’t direct you away from cliffs or show you the best place to cross a river – or offer an alternative if a bridge is down or the river is in flood.’
2. Practice your navigation skills
You need to have at least the basic navigation skills in place to help keep you safe. There are a huge range of ways to do this from simple guides and videos on our website to map reading classes and mountain navigation courses. Make sure that you feel confident in interpreting a map and using a compass to navigate – it really could save your life. Especially if an accident happens, being able to give the emergency services an accurate grid reference for your location could save valuable time.
John Stevenson from Lochaber Mountain Rescue team noted said that as well as the usual issues of bad weather and ‘slips and trips’ which the team deal with, smartphones were causing navigation problems. He said: ‘Navigation has been a big issue this year. People should know how to use a map and compass and not be relying on mobile phones.”
3. Carry (and wear) the right kit
For the basics, warm and waterproof clothing (multiple thin layers are always better than one thick jumper), walking boots, a map, compass and navigation skills are essential, as are a decent supply of food and water.
If you’re heading into the mountains or for longer walks, you really should be thinking about a survival bag, a torch (or head-torch), spare batteries, a whistle, spare clothes, hat and gloves, a first aid kit, spare food and even an ice axe and crampons. We could go on – just make sure you have a good rucksack to carry everything in and that you’re comfortable carrying it.
4. Always have a back up
We’ve already mentioned spare batteries, clothes and food in point three, but don’t forget about back-up navigation options. If you prefer to navigate with a GPS device, do carry a paper map and compass as back-up. It would also be an idea to carry a spare battery too.
Navigating with your mobile can use up a lot of battery – so only ever use this as a back-up. And don’t think we’re anti-digital maps, all OS Explorer maps now come with a mobile download. The vast majority of the OS business comes from digital data and we have our own mobile apps – but they are designed to complement the paper map, not replace it. Keep your phone as a back-up, and preserve the battery in case you need it for an emergency.
The big ‘don’t’ is around relying solely on a smartphone to navigate. Paul Cook, from Wasdale Mountain Rescue team said: ‘The big area of growth has been in people phoning up on a mobile from Scafell Pike saying that they are lost and asking if we can help them. It’s vitally important that people who go into the mountains have a map and compass, and that they know how to use them correctly.’
5. Let people know where you are
Letting someone know where you are going and when you are likely to return is a good idea. Make sure you notify them when you return and agree a timeframe when they should contact the emergecy services if you don’t contact them. We’ve put together a handy route card for you to print and fill out – give a good description of your planned route, along with any grid references.