How To/Advice / Walking /
The BMC's Winter Walking Advice
If you love to spend all summer walking the hills and mountains then you are in for a real seasonal treat. As the days shorten and the air begins to cool, the peaks and rolling hills take on a new and exciting appearance.
Going out into the hills in winter is an absolute must, and with a sprinkling of snow, even the modest peaks of the UK can suddenly take on a dramatic appearance. But with the excitement comes a few extra things to consider. So read these top tips from our partners at the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) to help you enjoy the hills in safety this winter.
1. THE LIGHT
Think carefully about the amount of daylight you will get. As the days get shorter this obviously means there is less time out on the hill. Get an early start and consider shorter routes, taking into account the extra time needed for more challenging conditions.
Top Tip: Set the alarm and get up early. It is much better to be back home before dark with a warm drink and your feet up, than having a long lie-in and getting stuck out at night. Also, bring a torch and don’t forget to check the batteries!
2. GETTING LOST
Navigational mistakes happen all year round and if handled correctly they needn’t be a problem. However, in winter the consequences of an error can be a bit more serious and they are also much easier to make. Poor visibility and the white, frozen landscape can remove the visual clues you may rely on in the summer.
Top Tip: If the weather looks set to be really bad you need to ask yourself if it’s safe to go out. It’s also good to familiarise yourself with winter conditions by doing a route you know from summer experience, rather than attempting an unknown epic in a white-out. BMC approved winter skills courses can also help. These are run at Plas y Brenin in north Wales from December to March.
We also run BMC winter skills lectures at various venues around the country during November and December.
When planning your route it is important to have a few extra plans in place because things can catch us out much quicker in winter. Bad weather, navigational error, low visibility, poor concentration, forgotten kit; the list of potential problems is long, but none have to be a disaster if a plan is in place.
Top Tip: Everybody loves a well-executed plan B, but on the hills in winter you will need a plan C and maybe even D. This includes exit routes and new objectives. It’s also important that everybody knows of these plans. That way if something happens, everybody knows what is going on.
4. FOOTWEAR AND CRAMPONS
In winter the correct footwear is vital and you need to consider factors such as; are they going to keep your feet warm and dry? Do they have enough grip? Make sure you’ve got sturdy boots which are crampon compatible if you’re going on to hard snow and ice.
Crampons are spikey attachments that strap onto the boot. These provide vital grip and stability when walking on steep and icy terrain. It is important that the boot and crampon are compatible with each other which is dependent on the combined rigidity of both items.
Top Tip: Get expert advice when buying boots and crampons. For instance you can take your boots to your local Cotswold Outdoor, where all members of staff are trained to advise on boots and crampons for snow and ice.
Hats and gloves are crucial in winter, but it is also important to bring a spare pair just in case. Walking poles can also be very useful, especially when the ground is concealed by a layer of snow. An ice axe however is something that may seem less familiar. Unlike climbing axes, a walking axe is mainly used for support and if you fall, for stopping yourself from sliding downhill (a self-arrest).
Top Tip: Walking axes are at their most useful when you have left the path and are attempting to navigate up and across slopes of snow and ice. If you would like to know more about technical, winter specific equipment, you can visit BMC’s essential winter know-how page.
6. AVALANCHE AWARENESS
Being able to assess avalanche risk is a useful skill to have and the good news is that the basics are relatively simple to grasp thanks to the many avalanche forecasts available. This does not mean however, that by simply checking the forecast you have avoided the danger as avalanche risk assessment is a constantly changing and reactive process.
Top Tip: A great starting place is the SportScotland Avalanche Information Service. As well as providing avalanche forecasts they have a Be Avalanche Aware leaflet available to download which is essential reading.
7. FLAWED KIT
Summer can be forgiving on old, worn out or ‘slightly’ broken kit, the winter however will expose any flaws in your equipment. Make sure you check your kit well before heading out. This way you have time to repair or replace anything that isn’t up to scratch.
8. HAVE FUN
This list is not designed to put you off, scare you away or keep you indoors. It simply wishes to point out that in order to enjoy the hills in winter you need to be responsible for your own safety. Nothing in this list is particularly difficult or technically demanding, it just requires a bit of respectful planning and consideration.
So whether it’s a gentle stroll or a multi-day trek, make sure you have fun and explore one of the most rewarding and exciting times of the year.