Thursday, 23 October 2014

Blog: Winter Hillwalking - Tips & Tricks

It's that time of year again... The clocks are going back, there's definitely a winter chill in the air and days are deceptively short. Here's a list of tips & tricks which can help keep you safe over the winter period when out and about in the British hills.

1. Steal ideas from far more experienced people. Whether you're out walking, on Twitter or in Cotswold Outdoor there are people with years and years of experience ready to offer it. Always keep an ear out for handy ideas so you can develop your own tips & tricks for the British winter, this is an ongoing one, you can always learn from others and you should always keep an open mind when it comes to keeping safe - what might sound silly in theory may save your life one day. All the things on this list have been picked up off people who were on the hills before I had my first pair of boots.

2. Pack spares. Spares of everything: socks, batteries, hats, gloves, maps, torches, fleeces. It may add to your pack weight but what's more important - staying alive or going UL? You never know when a torch will decide to stop working, when a stray puddle will get your socks wet or when a sudden bit of rain will get your only hat wet. These things sound minor but major problems happen when loads of little things go wrong. Pack spares!

3. Survival bags. Clue's in the name, they help you survive! These are normally bright orange or silver, orange bags are a thick plastic material which will keep rain and wind off, silver bags are more for thermal insulation and are very lightweight. I always carry an orange bag with me even in summer conditions - you never know when something could go wrong!

4. A flask of something hot & tasty. I go for coffee but put in whatever you like, make sure it's something you like when out in the hills - part of hypothermia is an unwillingness to admit something's wrong so you need a good excuse to fill up with hot fluids. Even if you've got a fire going you still need to heat up your core, notice how as soon as you leave the fire you cool down? That's because your skin has been cooked but your core has been cooling.

5. Good waterproofs. Getting wet will dramatically cool you down, there's one way of stopping the rain and that's a solid set of waterproofs (jacket with hood, trousers, gaiters and waterproof boots). Find a set which works for you, there's more choice than ever before with different fabrics and cuts in all prices and styles. No excuse for leaving the house without them.

6. Know how to read a map. This one gets me every time I'm out and about, people who wander around Dartmoor with a GPS... 90% of the time it'll work but what do you when it fails? Always carry a map and compass in your pack, and know how to use it. Spend a few quid on a day out with an MIA so you have the skills to get off the hill and to safety. 

These are just a few ideas, remember rule no. 1 - keep your ear out! I'll be doing the same and adding to this list over the winter and years to come.

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