All set for an early sunset? 9 ways to prepare

Posted by Tony Ryan on 26/10/2016
Stunning sunset over Dartmoor from Combestone Tor. Photo: Shutterstock / Helen Hotson

Since the clocks go back this weekend, suddenly the Sunday evening sunset will arrive significantly earlier. It's easy to be caught out. So to help, let's shine a light on some steps you should take to avoid being unexpectedly out in the dark on the hills.

In the UK, the clocks go back one hour at 2am on the last Sunday in October, which is 30 October this year. It's probably no coincidence that it’s also the time of year when many mountain rescue teams report an increase in callouts to ‘no torch’ incidents! Basically, people forget how early the sun goes down, forget to take a torch, then get caught out by darkness falling and can’t find their way off the hill or mountain.

It’s unfortunate because search operations cost hundreds of pounds and many hours of volunteers’ time. Careful planning, appropriate equipment, and knowledge of some basic but essential skills will help you avoid a night-time epic and the prospect of having to call for assistance. Here's nine ways to avoid it:

What you should do

1. Check sunset time and weather forecast

Even if you know what time sunset is, it may get dark much earlier than expected if there’s a lot of cloud cover, and unanticipated bad weather can delay you and catch you out!

2. Plan your route

Don’t know where you’re going? Then you probably won’t know how long it’ll take you to get off the hill. Make sure you have at least the bones of a plan before you set off.

WATCH: Route choice and what's different in winter on BMC TV

3. Pacing

Don’t overestimate how quickly you think you can walk over long distances, especially if you don’t have much experience. It’s always better to underestimate! Be realistic about your fitness levels, the terrain, and the amount of time your route will take you.

4. Lighten up!

You can never have enough torches; in fact, everyone in a group should have their own, even if you expect to be back before nightfall. And don’t forget to pack spare batteries!

5. Get kitted up

Make sure to carry other appropriate equipment, including spare warm clothing and a whistle for summoning help. Check our winter packing guide for more advice:

READ: Packing your rucksack: for the winter warriors

6. Know your navigation

Don’t get lost! Carry a map and compass, and know how to use them. It’s tempting to just leave it up to your phone, but try not to rely solely on smartphone apps for navigation.

WATCH: How to take a compass bearing on BMC TV

7. Always go full-bar

Before you leave, make sure your mobile phone is fully charged. And keep an eye on how much battery is left before you take too many photos and drain it dry. You can’t call for assistance with a dead phone.

8. Drop a pin

If you’re about to get benighted, check your surroundings and plot your exact position while you can still see landmarks. Then take a compass bearing and follow it to make sure you know where you’re going.

9. Who you gonna call?

Calling for assistance should be the last resort, but don’t leave it too late if you are in trouble; emergency services can’t help if they arrive too late.

Sending for help

If you are unlucky enough to require emergency assistance in the hills or on inland crags, call 999 and ask for Police – Mountain Rescue, even if you are at a roadside crag, as ambulance staff are not trained or equipped to go off road or scrambling up cliffs.

Further information and advice

If you need to brush up on your hill skills, check out the following sources of information and advice:

Essential hill walking know-how
A handy list of links to some of the most useful hill skills articles on the BMC website.

New Hill Walkers booklet
For those who are relatively or completely new to the activity of hill walking, New Hill Walkers highlights some essential skills you should learn and develop on your trips into the hills and mountains, and provides a reference base of resources for learning the required skills.
New Hill Walkers is free to download from the BMC website

Safety on Mountains
This book is full of advice to help you get the most out of your hill walking. Topics covered include: clothing and equipment; hazards; mountain weather; navigation and what to do if you get lost; walking in winter, including ice axe and crampon use; camping in the hills; access and conservation; emergency procedures; and first aid.
Safety on Mountains is available to purchase from the BMC online shop

Hill Walking Essentials DVD
This DVD shows the essential skills and techniques for hill walking, and follows two walkers on days out in the British mountains. See how they prepare for their walks, the challenges they face and the decisions they make. A series of technical chapters expand upon the messages in the film, providing comprehensive information on important topics including clothing and equipment, weather, and navigation.
Hill Walking Essentials is available to purchase from the BMC online shop

Mountain Info App
iPhone users can download a free App which provides essential planning tools for hill walkers. The Mountain Info App includes a series of five videos which demonstrate how to plan and prepare for a day in the hills: simple navigation tips; emergency procedures; dealing with winter conditions; and dealing with bad weather.
More about the Mountain Info App

BMC subsidised outdoor training courses at Plas y Brenin
The BMC and Plas y Brenin are working together to deliver a programme of subsidised training courses to help you to take your first steps in to the great outdoors.
More about BMC subsidised outdoor training courses

WATCH: the BMC Hill Walking Essentials DVD trailer on BMC TV

WATCH: a magical gaze at the joys of winter hillwalking on BMC TV

WATCH: Walking to escape the city and to find freedom on BMC TV


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Watch and learn: BMC TV's Winter Skills Videos

Become a winter warrior with BMC TV's skills channel. Watch the first in our series of educational winter videos:

Series one: The Basics

Series two: The Basics Part Deux

Series three: Climbing Grade I/II

How to find the right climb

READ: Essential winter know-how


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