The wild places of Britain have something for everyone. Walking can benefit both your physical and mental health, it can provide a space for solitude or a place to connect with others, bringing people together.
You don’t need to spend thousands on specialist equipment, there are no entrance fees, no winners or losers – just yourself, your family and friends, enjoying the freedom and adventure that the hills and mountains provide.
Despite its simplicity, there are some things you need to know to get started. The upland areas can be hazardous places but a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. It is important to be prepared with some basic equipment to enjoy hill walking as safely as possible.
How to start hill walking?
There are many ways to get into hill walking. With no single or ‘right’ route in, the best way is the way that suits you! Here are a few pointers to get you started.
Ask a friend
Many hill walkers make their first adventures with an experienced friend or family member. If you know someone who walks regularly, why not ask to tag along on their next trip?
Join a club
Clubs are a great way to meet new people and learn some skills. With over 250 BMC affiliated clubs in England and Wales, there is something for everyone. Take a look on the BMC website to find your next adventure. Fast friends and fun-filled weekends guaranteed!
Join a group
There are hundreds of groups dedicated to getting people outside and enjoying the uplands. Have a search online to find a group you think you’ll like and don’t be afraid to mix and match.
Your day in the hills
Planning your route and getting familiar with it will help set you up for an enjoyable day in the uplands.
Before You Leave
Transport It is important to consider how you will get to and from the area you want to walk in, as well as factors such as the last bus or train home or parking arrangements. Using public transport is a great way to reduce emissions and can free you up to do point-to-point walks as well as circular ones. If you do prefer to drive, why not consider sharing lifts with friends and family, or even putting your ride on the BMC’s Liftshare page where you can share rides with other BMC members.
Weather Mountain weather can change very quickly with sunshine and blue skies giving way to torrential rain and mist. General weather apps often don’t account for changing conditions in the mountains. Forecasts designed specifically for hill and mountain users are available for popular areas and can be accessed online at the Mountain Weather Information Service and the Met Office. Some local shops and tourist information centres in the area you are visiting may also display the forecast for the day.
It is important to consider the length, elevation and terrain of your walk which will all contribute to the time it takes to complete. You can read our Map Basics advice for more information on relating distance on the map to the ground. Factor in time for breaks, and the walking pace of everyone in your group. Don’t be afraid to be generous with the amount of stops you make. You might consider stopping after a steep climb for example, or at a viewpoint. On beautiful days it can be amazing to have lunch at the top of the hill, but be aware that wind and rain at the summit can be a lot stronger than lower down, so you might want to choose a more sheltered spot when the weather isn’t so nice.
Planning Your Route
Lots of great routes can be found online and in guidebooks. Take a look at the area on your map and spot any places you might wish to incorporate into your walk; a pub or a café, for example, a wild swimming spot, a waterfall, stone circle or a viewpoint. Get creative and tailor the day to you! Guidebooks are a great way to plan your day, as they provide information on transport, route descriptions, difficulty levels, and a sense of what to expect. Good ranges to start with are Cicerone, Collins Ramblers or Trailblazer. There are also lots of websites providing route information but be aware that not all information online is reliable.
Once you know where you want to go you can plot your route onto the map. You might like to circle key spots on the map, draw a line along the paths you are taking with a pencil, or use an app like OS Maps which has a plotting tool built in. Apps also allow you to see elevation, and walking distance. Be aware however, that the time estimates for walks made through the app aren’t always accurate and it is good to have an idea of how long you and your group take to walk, especially along uphill stretches.
You don’t need much to start hill walking, but here’s a few essentials that will make the experience more enjoyable and safer: walking boots or shoes are a must, insulating layers like fleece or wool, and a good waterproof outer layer. Try and avoid cotton and denim as they get wet easily, dry very slowly, and are cold when wet. Find out more about clothing and equipment here.
Food and Drink
It’s always good to plan to stop at a café along the way, or finish your walk with a pub meal. In more remote locations, bear in mind that this won’t always be possible and you’ll need to take enough food and drink to keep your energy up for the whole time you’re out. Pack plenty of snacks and a bottle of water as a minimum, and in cooler weather a flask of something hot might be very welcome so you can make your own ‘brew with a view.’
On Your Walk
Map And Compass Skills
Assisting lost walkers is one of the most common reasons for mountain rescue call-outs. Whilst technology like GPS and phones can help you know where you are, they can’t make route choices for you. Being able to use a map and compass is a key skill, but as with all techniques it requires practice.
Get up to speed with key navigation skills.
If you are a complete beginner it is always a good idea to practice navigation in lowland areas first and move on to bigger challenges as you gain confidence. You may also choose to seek help from someone whether it be a friend, club member, group leader or training provider.
Being Prepared: Bad Weather and Nightfall
Remember that a forecast is only a prediction, so your clothing needs to be versatile, providing protection from the wind and rain. On hot days use sunscreen, long sleeves and a wide brimmed hat to protect from heatstroke. After the sun sets, far away from towns and streetlights, it will be very dark in the mountains. Mountain rescue teams are often called out to assist walkers stranded in the dark who would have been able to walk off themselves if they had remembered to pack a torch, so always bring one along.
If you feel you are getting tired or out of your depth, are encountering worse weather than expected, or simply running out of time, then it’s no failure to turn around or to find the quickest and easiest route down the mountain. Being flexible and using your judgement is a key skill and can help to keep you happy and safe in the hills.