Top Walking/Hiking Mistakes to Avoid in the UK This Winter
Exploring the great outdoors during winter can be amazing, but mistakes can turn a nice day out into an unpleasant - and even dangerous - experience. Outdoor Experts at Khyam share their top tips to stay safe this season
From the Cotswolds and Yorkshire Moors to the stunning mountain ranges of Snowdonia, exploring the great outdoors across the UK can be a truly amazing experience. Despite the weather turning harsher and colder, for many it’s a great opportunity to get outside, enjoy some stunning scenery and get some much-needed exercise.
However, the change in weather conditions can pose significant challenges, even to the most seasoned walker or hiker. Despite treacherous conditions, the news is often populated by stories of people attempting walks/hikes without adequate understanding or equipment.
In February 2020, a group of 4 tourists were rescued by Lochaber Mountain Rescue after attempting to climb Ben Nevis in the middle of winter. The group did not have any climbing or navigational equipment and One member attempted to climb wearing just his trainers.
And earlier this year, a hiker was found attempting to climb Ben Nevis - the highest peak in the UK - wearing sandals and flip-flops.
In 2022, there was a significant increase in the amount of incidents reported by mountain rescue teams across the country. In May this year, Scottish Mountain Rescue reported its second busiest year on record so far, which involved 21 deaths, 11 of which were classed as mountaineering accidents.
Mountain Rescue (which covers England and Wales) received 2740 callouts between January and September 2023, a 10% increase in calls compared to the previous year.
Mountain Rescue’s figures from 2022 also show that 1 in 3 callouts in England and Wales were due to basic mistakes and poor planning, with 17% caused by human error, 9% by bad decision making and 9% by inexperience.
“Although it’s great to see that people want to continue to explore the great outdoors at this time of year, it’s vitally important to make sure they do so as safely and securely as possible,” says Nick Roberts, Brand Director at leading camping brand Khyam.
“Weather patterns shift dramatically between summer and winter. Walks, hikes and climbs that might be achievable in the warmer months can become incredibly difficult and dangerous in winter. These changing conditions regularly leave little room for error.”
“Exploring the great outdoors in the UK during winter can be a truly wonderful experience. However, it is essential to do so with the right level of awareness and preparation."
What are the key things to consider when walking or hiking in the UK during winter?
Nick shares some key tips on things to consider before setting off.
ALWAYS Check The Weather
Checking weather conditions should always be a must on any hike, especially during wintertime. Weather conditions can influence the style and difficulty of a hike - or could even lead to cancellations in extreme circumstances.
The Met Office provides up-to-date reports on weather conditions in local areas as well as urgent warnings if conditions are expected to turn. There is also an app available for phones. MountainForecast.com also has an app that provides key weather information. Weather conditions should be checked well in advance of any walk or hike. This includes several days before, the day before and the morning of. Apps may require an internet connection, so it is vital to be as informed as possible about conditions and potential changes before starting off.
Use Appropriate Gear
Poor gear preparation can be a huge issue because it can directly impact your safety, comfort, and overall enjoyment of the outdoor experience.
Summer gear is designed to be breathable and lightweight, making it a poor choice for winter trips. Specially designed winter gear provides insulation to help retain body heat and prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Insulated jackets, gloves, hats, and layered clothing should always be worn during winter walking/hiking activities.
Invest in high-quality, fitting, insulated equipment and regularly check them to make sure they are in good condition. Check weather conditions and use that to inform your equipment choices. If you don;t have the right gear, hold off until you're better prepared.
Build Key Navigation Skills
Winter conditions can often make navigating a difficult task. Pathways can become obscured and waypoints may become hard to see which can easily push walkers/hikers off planned or designated routes. If you’re planning a walk or hike, navigational skills and equipment are vital.
Many people continue to rely on map and compass apps to navigate. However, battery capacity and accuracy can become an issue. A physical OS map and compass, and the skills to use them, ensure you'll have a detailed understanding of the terrain which can help you stay/get back on track.
Know What To Do In An Emergency
Getting lost, dealing with adverse weather conditions and accident/medical emergencies are real possibilities when it comes to winter hiking. Knowing what to do in an emergency - and knowing how to request help - can be critical.
Inform someone about your hiking plans. Always carry a winter survival kit, including an emergency first aid kit, backup navigation equipment, a torch, a headlight, a whistle and tools.
Know who to contact if you get into difficulties. If you have a signal, contact the police who will alert mountain rescue teams to your situation. If you do not have a signal, use a torch or light and use the alpine signal - a short blast of sound or light emitted every 10 seconds (six times in 1 minute). Repeat after 1 minute to draw attention.
Plan For Shorter Days
Daylight hours are shorter in the winter, which can have an impact on hiking plans. Failing to account for an early sunset means that walkers/hikers may still be on the trailer after dark, which can create significant challenges.
Hiking in the dark increases the likelihood of getting lost. The lack of light can make it difficult to use navigational tools, and also increases the risk of slips, trips, and falls. Temperatures also drop after dark which can impact movement and wellbeing.
Planning activities around shorter daylight hours. Start your walk/hike sooner rather than later. Use hiking apps to find trail completion times and set checkpoints to hit to stay on schedule. Set a final turnaround time to make sure you will be able to get back before the sun fully sets.
Pack Adequate Provisions
Hiking in winter requires a lot of energy as your body works harder to maintain a good core temperature. Eating warm food and snacks at regular intervals ensures you have the necessary calories to fuel your body and sustain energy levels during periods of long walks or hikes.
Extended periods of physical activity in the cold can deplete glycogen stores in the body. Proper food intake helps prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can lead to fatigue, weakness, and impaired decision-making. It can also help support mental alertness and cognitive function which can be essential to maintain.
When packing, choose items that provide a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Also, consider adding snacks that are easy to eat in cold conditions and won't freeze. Trail mix, energy bars, dried meat, granola, MREs and dark chocolate are all good options to consider.
Staying hydrated during a winter hike is just as important as it is in warmer seasons. In cold weather, people may not feel as thirsty as they would in hot conditions, potentially leading to insufficient fluid intake.
It’s important to remember that your body is using a lot of energy, and hydration is essential for maintaining energy levels during periods of physical activity. Dehydration can impair physical and mental performance which can harm coordination, concentration, and decision-making.
Use an insulated water bottle to carry water Electrolyte tablets can be added where needed. Hot drinks like tea, coffee, or hot chocolate can also provide a much-needed boost when you need it. Schedule regular breaks to drink water, even if you don't feel thirsty to keep you feeling healthy, capable and alert.