Hiking is fantastic form of exercise, enabling walkers to enjoy the outdoors, take in the fabulous scenery, and most importantly, get their heart rate up for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, mountains can be a dangerous environment, and should rarely be attempted alone, especially if in experienced.
Mountain conditions are notorious for changing very quickly; weather can go from clear skies to thick fog in a matter of minutes.
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So here are a few tips for staying safe in the mountains
1. Plan your route, stick to it, tell people
Having a well planned route is essential to mountain safety. You must have a very clear idea of where you're going. Make people who are not in your walking party aware of your plan also. If you are staying out for several days, make sure you check in when you can. Never deviate from your plan without first telling people.
2. Have the correct skills
As a minimum, everyone should be able to use a map and compass, and it is ideally worth having a first aider in your party. In most cases, you don't need to be an expert at everything, but having enough skills in map-reading and basic first aid is usually a good start.
3. Take the correct equipment, know how to use it.
Make sure you have the right equipment. Remember, it's always possible that you will be out overnight or need to be rescued. There is basic equipment and supplies you should never leave without:
- A topographical map of the area of sufficient detail (in the UK, an OS Explorer map, 1:25,000 scale is perfect)
- A compass (must know how to use it!)
- A torch
- A whistle
- Waterproof matches / firelighting equipment
- Knife or multi-tool
- Extra food
- Extra clothing
- Extra water
4. Have the correct clothing
It might be quite warm down in the valley, but when you get on a ridge, the weather can be dramatically different, cold, windy, wet. You should always carry waterproof and windproof layers with you, even if you don't expect to use the. It's always a good idea to carry a few extra layers in your pack anyway. Take spare gloves, and hats in your pack. There's often someone in the party who forgot theirs!
5. Take enough food and drink
Hiking in mountains is a strenuous endeavour; make sure you have plenty of food, a good mix of carbohydrates (such as rice or pasta) and high energy food such as nuts, or Kendal Mint Cake. Again, keep in mind that you might be out for longer than you expect, so take plenty.
6. Check the weather before you go
In the UK, the Met Office has a superb web site, the mountain area forecast (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/loutdoor/mountainsafety/index.html). This site offers advice on the conditions at varying altitudes, the likelihood of difficult weather. If the conditions look too difficult for your level of expertise, don't go. It's not worth the risk.
7. Never walk alone
Walking alone in the hills, especially for the very inexperienced is not big, and it's not clever. It's true not everyone enjoys hiking, but a lot of people do, it's a very common form of exercise or and popular hobby.