Five steps to starting hill walking

Posted by Carey Davies on 16/06/2014

With outdoor kit cheaper than ever, information accessible at a click and thousands of clubs and groups all over the country, there’s really no excuse not to take that first step on to the hills. Here are five tips to get you started.

1. Get kitted out

You need much less clothing and equipment for hill walking than you do for many other outdoor activities, but there are some basics.

Appropriate footwear – walking boots or walking shoes – is a must. Insulating layers like fleeces are important to keep you warm. It is better to wear several relatively thin layers than a single thick one so you can adjust your temperature. Wet is the enemy of warmth, so decent waterproofs are vital for safety. Cotton is not good and jeans are particularly cold when wet – it is best to avoid both.

Buying all the above can be costly, but the good news is that outdoor clothing has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and even budget gear today is loads better than it used to be. Outdoor gear also tends to be durable and if taken care of will last a long time.

The initial outlay may sting but the benefits when you’re on that rainy, wind-lashed hillside will be well worth it. The retail discounts you get from becoming a BMC member can also help with the cost of clothing.

2. Know how to find your way around

Navigation on the moors, mountains and wild places can be challenging, especially in bad weather. Learning how to read a map and use a compass is essential to being able to find your way. To find out more about how to do this as well as other fundamental skills like route planning, timing, weather and hazard identification, check out the links below or consider taking a course.

Remember that GPS devices and smartphones can only ever be a supplement to a map and compass, not a replacement. What happens when your phone runs out of battery or your GPS malfunctions? Planning a route and taking into account factors like weather, terrain and experience is an essential skill which devices can only ever assist with, not replace entirely. There is no technological substitute for good judgement.

The BMC publishes a range of resources to help beginner hill walkers. Our New Hill Walkers booklet is a comprehensive introduction to the skills you need for hill walking and is available to order free from the BMC shop or can be read online here.

Our Hill Walking Essentials DVD follows Fredelina and Ben as they learn essential skills and techniques for the British mountains. It is also available to buy from the BMC shop.

3. Find some hill buddies

Everybody is different when it comes to the hills; some prefer to walk alone with their thoughts, others prefer company. But whatever your temperament, it can really benefit you to find some like-minded people with whom you can share the experience, at least initially.

You might have friends who, like you, are just starting out but share your aims and ambitions. Or you may know someone more experienced who can show you the ropes. In either case, the best lessons are often learned with others, so don’t be afraid to draw on the knowledge, experience or just the confidence boost it gives to be with other folk. Many are happy to introduce others to the outdoors and share their expertise.

Joining a club can be a great way to meet like-minded people, improve your skills by learning from others and sharing the cost of getting into the outdoors. The BMC has a network of hundreds of affiliated clubs all over the UK.

Social hiking websites like Meetup.com are also enjoying huge popularity at the moment and can be a great way to dip your toe in to the outdoors with friendly people, but check out our advice on using Meetup before you do.

4. Get out there – but don’t forget your backyard

So you’ve got the kit, the crew and a bit of know-how – but how do you actually get to the hills? Most people live at least a few hours' drive from ‘headline’ hill walking areas like the Lake District, Snowdonia or the endless possibilities of Scotland, and getting to these places can be costly.

Luckily, there are ways to keep costs down. Joining a club or simply going with others can be a great way sharing the financial burden of private transport, and public transport is often more convenient than you might imagine. For example, a train runs direct from Manchester to Windermere on Friday evenings, and Oxenholme train station near Kendal is under three hours from London.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to go to these ‘famous’ places to have a worthwhile experience, however. Many people aren’t aware of the wonderful hill walking possibilities all around them. Bradford’s back garden is Ilkley Moor; a bus runs from Leeds directly into the heart of the Yorkshire Dales; the rolling hills of Shropshire are only an hour’s drive from Birmingham; Sheffield has the Peak District literally on its doorstep.

A bit of creativity, enthusiasm to explore and a willingness to examine a map and a bus timetable can open up whole worlds of adventure right in front of you.

5. Take it one step at a time

We’ve all been there; excited to get out on the hills after a week in the office or at work, we push it too far, overriding the sensible part of our brains that tells us attempting a scramble beyond our ability or thinking we can get to the top of this or that summit in spite of deteriorating weather is a bad idea.

Biting off more than you can chew is a common error among beginner hill walkers. The mountains are exciting places to be and it’s easy to make rash choices which are often the cause of accidents.

But after a few close shaves you’ll soon discover that rushing often gets you nowhere in the hills; a gradual, patient approach to gaining new skills and experience, combined with a willingness to be flexible, will see you through a lifetime in the high places. Remember the summit will always be there another day and there is always more to learn. That’s the joy of it.

If you do have an incident requiring outside assistance then know who to call for help.


JOIN THE BMC: 5 reasons hill walkers should join the BMC

Join online today by Direct Debit and save 50% on your first year's membership.

WATCH: What does the BMC do for hill walkers? on BMC TV

GET THE KNOWLEDGE: BMC resources for hill walkers

  • Hill Walking Essentials DVD: Follow Fredelina and Ben as they learn essential skills and techniques for the British mountains. Buy it now in the BMC shop.

Follow the BMC's hill walking Twitter feed: @BMC_Walk


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