Walking, rambling, hiking… Whatever you choose to call it, it is a popular leisure activity for many seeking to spend time outdoors in our scenic countryside. A pursuit that is accessible to all ages and abilities, it does not need specialist knowledge or requires masses of expensive equipment or clothing compared to other sports. While getting exercise outdoors should certainly be encouraged, inexperienced people heading for the hills or the coastline often are not aware of how quickly the changeable British climate can cause dangerous conditions.
Rescue services across the country are frequently called out to people who are not prepared for the conditions they find themselves in. The Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) incident statistics for 2016 shows perhaps surprising figures. Of 2074 callouts, 1812 resulted in a mountain rescue deployment and 1785 people were assisted. There were only 14 days in the whole year without a mountain rescue callout. And that’s just the figures for some of our mountain rescue teams, it doesn’t include Scotland and Northern Ireland or the work that our Coastguard rescue teams do on our ever popular coastline.
The common scenarios include getting lost and disoriented due to low cloud, fog or rain, injuries from falling (especially when lost,or visibility is poor) or hypothermia from being exposed to the elements for too long without appropriate clothing or equipment. Sometimes in the summer months, the sun even comes out and causes problems such as risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion, sunburn and sunstroke. So if you have a yearning to explore a bit further afield from the footpaths around your home, how should you be properly prepared?
Research. If you are not totally familiar with the area, plan your route first. Think about the type of terrain, how long it should take someone of a similar ability to complete and possible dangers or difficulties along the way to be aware of. Check, double-check and triple-check the weather conditions. In the age of the internet there is no excuse to not be informed.
Dress Appropriately. Appropriate footwear. If this needs to be explained, you probably should stay in your natural urban environment. As for the rest of your clothes – lots of lightweight layers is the best way of retaining body heat. Ideally you want fabrics that will help to direct sweat away from your body to prevent chills and the potential for hypothermia. A good, weather appropriate coat to protect your body from the elements is also essential. Even on a warm, dry day, a strong wind can chill you but you don’t want to be overheating in a winter waterproof either.
Water. Take plenty of water. The quantity you require may vary depending on how strenuous the route is, how fit you are, the weather temperatures (particularly in hot conditions) and the period of time you plan to be out for. While it is more important to have water with you than worry about the actual container, do try and choose a durable bottle that won’t split easily when you accidentally drop it or it gets squashed in your rucksack.
Navigation Tools. The emphasis is on the word: always. Always carry a detailed map like Ordnance Survey and a compass so you can find your way. Don’t forget a waterproof map case because rain will quickly destroy a paper map and you don’t want to lose it to the wind either. By map, we mean an actual paper map, not Google maps. While a mobile phone and apps can certainly be useful, it’s not if you don’t have signal or battery power. If you have only ever known Google maps then ask your grandad what a real map is.
Company. Plenty of people like to walk alone as they enjoy the time to themselves but if you are a hiking beginner and want to tackle more challenging or remote walks, it is definitely safer to go with other people, especially if they are more experienced. Take the opportunity to learn from them and build up your own experience. If you do choose to go alone, let someone know your intended route and expected finish time.
Of course, this is only intended as a starter’s guide, there is so much information and equipment that can help keep you safe as you take in the views. For more detailed advice see websites such as: http://www.mountainsafety.co.uk/Advice-Info_B3-3.aspx and https://coastguardsafety.campaign.gov.uk/#At the Coast
The benefits of exercise outside are huge for both physical and mental wellbeing so be prepared but not afraid, turn the telly off and get outdoors.