Hike.Mountain.Trail’s Phil Whyman offers some common sense hiking advice for the great outdoors.
Making sure you are properly equipped – with information as well as kit – is essential when it comes to hiking. Whether it’s a gentle stroll in the countryside or a more spirited hike-cum-climb up to a mountain summit, if you do not have proper advice or kit you stand the risk of putting the life of yourself, and those who may be with you, in danger.
As far as I am concerned the following bits of kit are indispensable if you intend to spend time in the great outdoors hiking, mountain walking, etc.
You can’t just sling a Tesco bag over your shoulder and head out in to the open (although I have seen very similar scenes, believe me), so having a backpack is essential; backpacks are so versatile as they are made for such purposes. Look for one that is relatively light, offers good storage options and, most of all, is a comfortable fit; don’t forget, you may be wearing it for a long time.
Always ask a member of store staff to show you how to properly wear and adjust your backpack prior to making the purchase, and if they cannot show you (because they do not know how) then go to another store to get your purchase. Try to get one that comes with a rain cover; internal rain covers are best, but a separate one will be fine. Some packs come with a little emergency whistle for attracting help should the need arise. Decent backpacks vary in price, but it is worth spending a little extra for a good one. Top of the range backpacks offer such things as ventilated back support systems, lighter construction, storage for hydration packs, etc.
Do yourself a favour and ditch the trainers and dress shoes when it comes to hiking; you may have a pair of £200 top-of-the-range trainers, or a £400 pair of going around town boots, but believe me they are next to useless when tackling rough hiking terrain. Get a pair of proper boots designed for the rough outdoor use that they will encounter whilst up a mountainside, or traversing over scree and boulders. You can get a good pair of boots for not too much money, and they will be of real benefit to you. Look for features such as good grip, a sturdy soul, good outsole, toe bumper/guard, and good lacing system.
Some boots are constructed using Gore-Tex® technology, which provides excellent waterproofing abilities. If you are going to be tackling particularly rough, rocky terrain then I advise a pair of boots with a good level of ankle support. Again, store staff will be more than willing to assist you in purchasing the correct choice of boot, and I do advise you to speak to them as they are usually very knowledgeable (Go Outdoors stores have some excellent staff in their footwear section, who are always willing to offer good advice). If you can, try your potential new boots with a good pair of hiking socks; this will help you get a better idea of fit. And make sure you leave plenty of time to break in your new boots prior to taking on any hiking.
A good pair of socks can help go a long way in preventing blisters caused by friction during your hiking. Various technologies exist in the manufacturing of socks, enabling the material to be breathable as well as being able to wick away moisture from your feet.
If you can help it do not wear jeans; if they get wet they become sodden, very heavy, very restrictive, and will start to zap away heat from your legs…and they do not dry very quickly. Instead get a pair of hiking trousers. These often offer a good level of water repellence, offer quick drying times, and most of them stretch to a good extent; this is great for when you need to take large strides over boulders, or lift your leg high to find a foothold.
A warm jacket is advisable to take with you always, in case the weather turns; and it can do so very quickly when up high on a mountain, or in the middle of a moor. Stow it in your backpack if you are not immediately wearing it.
These are becoming more and more affordable, and there are plenty to be had for little outlay via such places as eBay, etc. See Hike.Mountain.Trail’s review of the Garmin Oregon 650T GPS unit.
MAP and COMPASS
Don’t ever think that a map and compass are a thing of the past in this day and age of digital technology; they are not. Always carry a map of the area where you are exploring, and of course a compass. Take the time to learn how to use them too; it may just save your life.
Not just useful for helping you read your map, but for signalling help if needed in the dark. Learn the sequence for signalling S.O.S with torch flashes:
short flash – short flash – short flash / long flash – long flash – long flash / short flash – short flash – short flash
FIRST AID KIT
Common sense really if you are away from civilisation for a few hours. A decent first aid kit is relatively inexpensive and is a must. If it does not already contain them, get a couple of bandages to add to the kit, and some painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
FOOD AND WATER
Make sure you have packed enough food for your trip and – even more importantly – enough fluids. Remember you can live without food for a good while, but water is a different kettle of fish; in a relatively short time you will be in masses of trouble if you run out of water in an emergency situation.
If you require regular medication then you need to do two things:
- Speak to your GP prior to undertaking any outdoor trips / excursions.
- Ensure you take your medication with you.
Perhaps one of the single most important pieces of kit, and nearly everyone has one today. Essential for contacting emergency services / mountain rescue if you need them. Always ensure you or one of your part has a mobile phone, and PLEASE make sure it is fully charged. Regardless of whether your phone network has a signal or not, you can still call the emergency services; emergency calls to 999 / 112 are routed via whichever mobile network has a signal for that area.
Dial 999 or 112 and ask for the police / coastguard (if you are on the coast), then ask for Mountain Rescue. Give as much detail as possible during the call, and remain calm.
Common sense rules the day when it comes to being out and about in the great outdoors.
Before you set out:
- Make sure you have packed everything essential that you need in your backpack.
- Tell someone where you are going and what time you are expected back.
- Ensure all your devices are charged up (mobile/GPS unit, etc.).
- If you are feeling unwell at all before your trip then DO NOT
- Take any medication with you if you need it regularly.
- Check the weather for the area you are going and prepare accordingly.