I have grown up with an awareness of the outdoors and what should be included in essential kit lists for all eventualities. A daughter of a Mountain Rescue Volunteer and Countryside Ranger, from an early age I was helping with taught navigation sessions and guided walks. My experience also comes from spending a lot of time outdoors, hiking alone and leading groups. I don’t claim to be the most experienced mountaineer out there, but I have learnt a few things, so I thought I would share with you what I consider when preparing to get out in the hills.
It sounds cliché, but the primary consideration really is to be prepared for all eventualities and to keep safe.
To do this, I consider the following:
Distance and Duration
How far are you are planning to go? How long it will take you?
Always allow extra time so you don’t get caught out. Land topography and terrain can have a huge impact on the time it takes to travel a particular distance- do not underestimate it.
Also, allow time to stop and look at the view, rest after a steep incline, stop and eat your picnic lunch and allow for the fact that you may be carrying quite a bit of kit. Also, be aware of the abilities of the people you are walking with, particularly if you have children with you or people who are not regular walkers. We all know at least one person who has to stop to photograph everything!
It is tempting to have a look online and see how long it took other people. It may be a useful guide, but it only tells you how long it took them. You need to think about your own ability. If I am not sure, I look at other peoples times for a guide and then add a couple of hours just in case. I would rather overestimate and get back home early than underestimate and get caught out.
Terrain and Topography
Other than influencing duration, terrain and topography can have a huge influence on the kit I use and carry.
What is the ground like? Does the route include boggy areas, water crossings, rock, scree, ice, snow, grassland, moorland, or extensive tarmac routes?
This will really impact on my choice of footwear and the accessories I decide to take such as gaiters, over trousers, or crampons. Of course, duration can be an influential factor here too. For example: for a 1 hour long hike in muddy terrain on an obvious footpath my wellies will usually be fine. However, for longer distances with perhaps steep rocky/muddy terrain (and pretty much anything more), I look for ankle support and turn to my trusty hiking boots as my go to choice, maybe with a pair of gaiters. Whereas for dryer routes I may opt for my (waterproof) fell running trainers or even barefoot trainers.
But please make sure you have good grip, whatever you choose. I once decided to go for an impromptu fell run in road trainers in the Ogwen Valley and fell out with some pretty slippery rocks. Stupid idea, but it was too tempting- won’t do that again. Though I have seen worse. I have seen people attempting to hike Snowdon in flipflops and even met a woman walking the long route at Aber Falls in a pair of heeled boots. Needless to say, these people didn’t return to the car injury free either and my first aid kit came in rather handy!
Weather (both the current and possible forecast)
Here, I go beyond thinking about waterproofs and/or sun cream (although, these are a key consideration). The best advice I can offer anyone is whether you are on mountain bike, horseback, walking or running- always to layer up- even when it looks like a warm day. A spare pair of socks is never a bad idea (in case you do happen to get wet feet or blisters- especially when you are on foot), and don’t forget your hat and gloves.
Layering up is beneficial in that air acts as an insulator between layers. Also, you can always take a layer off. You might be tempted to take a minimalist approach to clothing (hopefully not too minimalist- I did read about a naked fell runner who didn’t expect to come across a family on the hillside one sunny day), pre-empting that you may get warm during a hike, but you would be surprised how cold you can get with wind-chill.
Even if you feel warm and have removed layers, it is a good move to put on a fleece or jumper when you stop or start to decline downhill. You can lose heat so quickly and this can lead to you developing a chill, and believe me, when you get a chill it is rather hard to shake off. In extreme circumstances, this can also result in our bodies burning energy to try and keep warm which can severely impact our ability to progress effectively and could potentially put us at risk.
Map(s) and Accessories
Always take a physical map of the area you plan to walk. They may seem big and bulky these days but they are so useful for seeing what is around the corner. The bigger picture is also good for looking for exit routes in case of emergency or if you decide to cut the walk short. Not to mention if you start to wonder if you are not where you thought you might be, or fear you may be lost.
What about map apps? I like them. They are good for back up- especially now the newer Ordnance Survey maps come with a digital edition. However, I personally only refer to them when essential or if I just want to quickly double check my GPS position. There are several reasons for this (other than a personal desire to have a break from technology when possible):
- Battery life- my phone battery would not last a long period of time tracking a route. I would rather keep it for emergencies. Remember also that battery life can quickly become reduced in colder or hotter climates. If you must use the app, take a charger pack.
- A map shows the bigger picture- far more than a screen can without the need to scroll.
- I can draw on a map and make notes (though with pencil so marks can be erased).
- Easier to maintain low light conditions if navigating at night or in poor light conditions (EG: fog). A torch (with spare batteries) may be useful here too.
- Bright light from backlit electronic devices can impact on vision during low light conditions. Hint: cover an eye if you need to use a torch or backlit device so one eye remains adjusted to the current light conditions.
A map forms a great team with a (reliable) compass. There are so many on the market. Whilst mirrored compasses are said to offer a greater degree of accuracy, I prefer to use mirrored compasses when I will be navigating against horizon lines and objects in the far distance. I tend to take bearings on landmarks within a relatively reasonable distance from each other so find a base plate compass does the job fine. A fairly handy addition to the market is a measuring lanyard- I have recently bought the Silva Ranger Compass and this comes with a lanyard marked to measure distance against a route on a map. Binoculars or a monocular may also be useful for looking into the distance, particularly when looking for landmarks and styles out of fields.
While some people like to mark their route on a map and take bearings as they go, I am a fan of pre-mapping a route against a route card. This means my map can stay packed away and I can just go off my route card and bearings. It is useful to have a notebook and pencil with you so you can make notes of any changes to the routes as you go.
Click here for a free copy of my route card template. The route card is free, so how about a donation to West Mercia Search and Rescue? Please click here to donate. Thank you.
Take enough food and water. This goes without saying. But make your choices suitable for your journey. In addition to lunch, consider if you need energy rich foods, particularly for longer distances. This is where Kendal Mint Cake comes in as a firm favourite as it is well known for providing a boost of energy in an easily transportable format and it tastes pretty good. Bananas are another good source of energy, but they don’t survive a long day in the fells particularly. Another firm favourite peanut brittle! My advice, a bottle of Wainwrights whilst sitting at the summit of Helvellyn may seem idyllic and symbolic, but save it for the pub. You will be more dehydrated than you perhaps realise and could suffer the consequences on your decent. In fact, I think all good hikes should be finished off with a good proper meal in a proper pub (you know, the ones that have homemade pies and proper gravy) with a decent drink- well earned.
Find yourself short on water? It is heavy to carry. Some hikers like to carry water purifying tablets just in case. But here is a little tip- if you run out of water and need a drink, look for a stream with moss growing in it- it is a good sign that water is clean as it’s acidic nature means that bacteria finds it hard to grow in it. Because of this, you can also use it to filter water. While we are on the subject of moss, I think it is worth a mention of some other little known facts. Because of its natural purification properties it is also good for dressing a wound, when dry it becomes flammable so it can help start a fire if you need heat, and because it holds so much water it can actually be good as a thermal yet semi-waterproof layer over a shelter (such as a self-built basher).
First Aid Kit & Survival Bag
This brings me to my last items. A decent first aid kit and survival bag. The one thing I recommend you do not skimp on, even though you hope to never use it. You can buy a standard first aid kit but my advice is to check its contents. Think about what you would actually use. Many standard kits do not include blister plasters or antihistamines. These are always a good addition to have. I also recommend some form of dehydration salts and a decent pair of scissors or a multitool and tweezers. A whistle is also advisable in case you should need to attract attention and call for help. I would also carry glow sticks in case you get caught out. Some people like to carry a lighter too in case they need to light a fire for warmth or to signal for help- if you plan on wild camping- take plenty of spares!
Survival bags are cheap (less than £4) and can come in handy. They are designed for an adult to be able to lay in, and can be used to manoeuvre an injured person (if it is safe and sensible to do so). Though I must admit I have only used mine for impromptu sledging when my father and I encountered unexpected snow. Many people shove survival bags in the bottom of a rucksack never to be seen again, but a really good tip is to use it to line your rucksack- especially if you are not sure how waterproof it is- but this is personal preference.
Think about what you are taking with you. You don’t want to be carrying a load of equipment you don’t need. Also, tell people where you are going and how long you expect to be. Download useful apps like what3words, Find My and Citizen Aid– you may not need it but someone else might. Look for alternative routes in case you need to cut your trip short. Make sure your phone is charged up when you set off and take heated hand warmers to stick on the back on your phone if you are in cold weather to help preserve the battery.
Please feel free to like and share this post. These are just my personal considerations based on my own knowledge, experience and what I have found useful. Is there something else you would add to your personal kit?