Hiking is great for getting outside and appreciating the outdoors. Plus, there are many different hiking trails across the UK which will suit a range of abilities. Many of us might not think of hiking as a dangerous activity and generally, it’s not. However, sometimes conditions can suddenly take a turn for the worst and you need to be prepared for all eventualities. So, here are ten essential tips to ensure you stay safe and know how to hike safely.
It might sound like common sense but we’ve been amazed by the number of people who venture out on strenuous day hikes completely underdressed. Even if it’s a sunny summer day when you start, if you’re hiking up a fell or munro it might be very different conditions by the time you reach the top. Hypothermia is a risk that you should never underestimate as it has the potential to be fatal.
We recommend lots of lightweight layers so you can put them on or take them off easily throughout the day. It’s best to wear breathable, quick-drying clothing too (no jeans!). If you get caught out in the rain it can make the rest of the day unpleasant if you are stuck in soaking clothes which rub.
When you’re hiking it’s likely you’ll encounter a variety of terrain. From boggy lowlands to scree and steep inclines, it’s important you get your footwear right. Heading out in a pair of casual trainers might seem like a good idea, but you run the risk of sore and wet feet, or worse, a sprained ankle.
A pair of sturdy waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support is the kind of shoe you need, but your local outdoor shop should be able to give you more detailed advice. Additionally, it’s important you wear in your shoes before undertaking a long hiking adventure. Suffering from blisters is a sure way to ruin an otherwise good day. Don’t forget special hiking socks to protect your feet too!
Unless you know the local area like the back of your hand, we would always recommend mapping out your route before leaving the house. Important things to consider are your starting and endpoints, what kind of distance you are planning to cover, what the terrain is like and how long you are expecting it to take.
Be realistic with the distance you can cover and the time it will take you. Your hike may well end in a search and rescue mission if you find yourself miles from the endpoint, exhausted and with night approaching. If you are unsure, err on the side of caution. Take a shorter route and head out early in the day.
In order to plan your route, you’ll need an OS map. Make sure you don’t leave it at home! If you’ve got the route on your phone, it’s also a good idea to carry a paper map as well, just in case you run out of battery, signal or any other technical glitches happen. The mountains, national parks and countryside of the UK are notorious for having poor signal and limited data coverage so don’t rely on your phone to get you through.
Ideally, you should also bring a compass with you and know how to use it. UK weather has a tendency to be fairly wet, which doesn’t bode well for a paper map. To avoid your map disintegrating and the ink running from bad weather, you can get nifty plastic pouches which allow you to navigate even when the heavens open.
Food and water
A fairly essential part of any hike, by our reckoning, is plenty of fuel. Take as much food as you think you’ll need and then some emergency supplies on top of that. Whether you get hungrier than you expect, you drop a sarnie in the mud or your hike takes much longer than planned, it’s always good to have plenty of food with you.
In a similar vein, it’s also essential to carry a water bottle so you have a good supply of water with you. It’s really important to make sure you’re staying hydrated whilst exerting yourself. It’s also always good to have a little extra in case it’s needed. To pack these items as well as extra layers and anything else you need, make sure you have an adequately-sized, comfortable backpack.
Before embarking on your hike, be sure to tell someone where you’re going and roughly what time you expect to return. It’s most likely that you won’t need this safety net but it’s wise to let someone else know what you’re up to. If you get into difficulty and are unable to return at your specified time, the person you told will be able to raise the alarm.
Although we all hope this will never happen, it is still important especially if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot call for help yourself. The sooner the alarm is raised, the sooner you’re likely to be found and receive help.
A hiking buddy
Although not always feasible, we recommend that people hike with a friend where possible. Not only is it a lot more fun to have someone to share the experience with, but it is safer too. You can provide each other with motivation at low points and keep an eye out for anyone who might be starting to suffer from dehydration or hypothermia.
You can consult each other with navigational decisions and share the load when it comes to supplies. Additionally, if the worst were to happen and one of you were to get sick or injured, the other person will be able to physically go and get help if you’re unable to call for it.
There are a few extra bits that you should probably pop in your bag for safe measure. Despite mobile phones not being reliable, we would still recommend bringing a fully charged phone with you just in case. A whistle is also a good idea in case you need to attract attention. Similarly, in case of an emergency, don’t go hiking without a first aid kit with the essentials in it.
Some things we wouldn’t leave the house without are: antiseptic wipes, antihistamine, plasters, painkillers, tissues and hand sanitiser. If you get caught out and your hike takes longer than expected you’ll be thankful for a torch. In the summer, don’t forget your sunglasses and suncream. At any time of year packing some good rain gear is a great idea, as you can never be sure what the British weather might do.
Plants and animals
Although dangerous animals aren’t so much of an issue in the UK, it’s still worth noting that you’re stepping into a natural environment and need to act appropriately. Don’t try to approach or feed wild animals, instead observe them from a distance and be respectful of their environment. There are adders in the UK countryside which have a venomous bite. Although it’s extremely unlikely, if you do get bitten you need to treat it as a medical emergency and seek help right away.
Same goes for plants. The UK is home to a few species of poisonous plants and mushrooms, which can be deadly if eaten. So don’t be tempted to forage for a tasty supper whilst you’re out unless you really know what you’re looking for. In fact, it would be safest (and best for the environment) to generally avoid touching any of the flora and fauna you come across on your hike.
Some routes may require you to walk on stretches of streets or even busy roads. For these parts, you really need to pay attention to your own safety. Always walk in single file and try to face the oncoming traffic, unless of course, it’s a blind bend. For this, stick to the side where drivers will see you the best.
Try to wear brighter or even high visibility clothing on the roads and make sure that drivers can see you. It’s best not to have headphones in during these sections as you won’t be able to hear cars approaching.