The BMC's Winter Walking Advice
If you love to spend all summer walking the hills and mountains, then you are in for a real seasonal treat. As the days shorten and the air begins to cool, the peaks and rolling hills take on a new and exciting appearance. Going out into the hills in winter is an absolute must, and with a sprinkling of snow, even the modest peaks of the UK can suddenly take on a dramatic appearance. But with the excitement comes a few extra things to consider. So read these top tips from our partners at the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) to help you enjoy the hills in safety this winter.
1. The Light
Think carefully about the amount of daylight you will get when out in winter. As the days get shorter, you get less time out on the hill. Get an early start and consider shorter routes, taking into account the extra time needed for more challenging conditions.
Top Tip: Set the alarm and get up early. It is much better to be back home before dark with a warm drink and your feet up, than having a long lie-in and getting stuck out at night. Also, bring a torch and don’t forget to check the batteries!
2. Getting Lost
Navigational mistakes happen all year round, and if handled correctly, they needn’t be a problem. However, in winter, the consequences of an error can be a bit more serious, and they are also much easier to make. Poor visibility and the white, frozen landscape can remove the visual clues you rely on in the summer.
Top Tip: If the weather looks set to be really bad, you need to ask yourself if it’s safe to go out. It’s also good to familiarise yourself with winter conditions by doing a route you know from summer experience, rather than attempting an unknown epic in a white-out. BMC approved winter skills courses can also help you gain the skills and confidence to help you explore safely in winter and more. Check out these Top Winter Navigation tips for an overview of the essentials.
When planning your route, you need to have plans in place for multiple eventualities because things can catch you out quicker in winter. Bad weather, navigational error, low visibility, poor concentration, forgotten kit; the list of potential problems is long, but none have to be a disaster if a plan is in place.
Top Tip: Everybody loves a well-executed plan B, but when out on the hills in winter, you need a plan C and maybe even D with alternative exit routes and new objectives. It’s also essential that everybody knows of these plans. That way, if something happens, everybody knows what's going on.
4. Footwear And Crampons
In winter, the correct footwear is vital. You need to consider whether they will keep your feet warm and dry? And if they have enough grip? And, you need to make sure you’ve got sturdy boots that are crampon compatible if you’re going on to hard snow and ice.
Crampons are spikey attachments that strap onto the boot. These provide vital grip and stability when walking on steep and icy terrain. The boot and crampon must be compatible with each other, and this largely comes down to having similar levels of rigidity.
Top Tip: Get expert advice when buying boots and crampons. At Cotswold Outdoor, their in-store experts can advise on fitting crampons for snow and ice to your exisiting boots and can help you buy new boots if you need them. For further information, check out these Essential Mountaineering Kit and 12 Must-Pack Items for Mountaineering guides.
Hats and gloves are crucial in winter, so it is a good idea to bring a spare pair just in case. Walking poles are also useful for winter hillwalking as they provide support when the ground is concealed by a layer of snow. An ice axe, however, is something that may seem less familiar. Unlike climbing axes, a walking axe is mainly used for support and for stopping yourself from sliding downhill if you fall (a self-arrest).
Top Tip: Walking axes are at their most useful when you have left the path and are attempting to navigate up and across slopes of snow and ice. If you would like to know more about technical, winter specific equipment, you can visit BMC’s essential winter know-how page.
6. Avalanche Awareness
If you're heading to the hills during winter, being able to assess the risk of an avalanche is a useful skill to have. The good news is, the basics are relatively simple to grasp as there are many avalanche forecasts available. However, this doesn't mean you can just check the forecast and avoid danger, as avalanche risk assessment is a constantly changing and reactive process.
Top Tip: A great starting place is the Scottish Avalanche Information Service. As well as providing avalanche forecasts, they have a Be Avalanche Aware leaflet and app available to download, which is essential reading, or there is further information available here.
7. Flawed Kit
Summer can be forgiving on old, worn-out or ‘slightly’ broken kit. The winter, however, will expose any flaws in your equipment. Make sure you check your kit thoroughly before heading out. This way, you'll have time to repair or replace anything that isn’t up to scratch.
Top Tip: Wash and re-proof all your waterproofs. You want them to be working at their best when the weather closes in. For more information on caring for your kit, visit this waterproof care guide.
8. Have Fun
This list is not designed to put you off, scare you away or keep you indoors. It simply wishes to point out that to enjoy the hills in winter, you need to be responsible for your safety. Nothing on this list is particularly difficult or technically demanding, it just requires you to put in some respectful planning and consideration.
So whether it’s a gentle stroll or a multi-day trek, make sure you have fun and explore in one of the most rewarding and exciting times of the year.
Produced in partnership with the BMC.
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