Be prepared for the wonderful world of winter walking

Winter walks article
OIA, 30 November 2011
Winter has taken a while to show itself in the UK this year, but the temperature is now starting to drop and white tops are appearing on the higher peaks.  Just because the cold weather is going to set in doesn’t mean that your outdoor adventures have to be put on hold – far from it in fact.  The winter can bring a whole new aspect to a landscape, offering stunning views and exhilarating days out. 

Of course, at this time of year it is really important to be properly prepared and equipped, as conditions can change for the worse very quickly.  However, with a bit of common sense and some sound advice, you might just find that winter turns out to be your favourite walking season.

The basics

If you are contemplating a winter walk for the first time, below are a few handy tips that should help you on your way:

•    Time is of the essence.  When choosing a winter walk you need to bear in mind that you will be out there in fewer hours of daylight so pick a route that you are confident you can complete before it gets dark (and make sure you have a torch or head torch with you just in case).
•    Know your limitations.  If you are a relatively inexperienced walker or normally stay at low levels, it’s best to stick to what you know during winter, rather than experiment with more challenging routes.  If you don’t have much experience of using a map and compass, winter is probably not the best time to ‘stretch’ yourself, especially when there are plenty of excellent guidebooks (or even guided walks) for lower levels.
•    Getting there and back again.  It’s not only conditions on the walk that might be more challenging – the further you plan to venture into the hills, the more likely it is that access will be that bit more difficult.  So, if you’re going by car, make sure your vehicle is as prepared for winter conditions as you are.
•    Furry friends.  Your closest walking companion may well be your dog.  Don’t forget that a cold winter’s day outdoors presents he or she with some challenges too.  Make sure that your pet is comfortable in a snow covered landscape and be more cautious than usual about letting your dog off its lead in hilly or mountainous areas.  And dogs can get cold too, so take something to keep yours warm and dry before and after your walk.
•    Proper winter wear.  In the UK, it’s always important to be well equipped on the hills.  However, in the winter months, effective layering and protection from the elements is more vital than ever.  Make sure you wear gear that is fit for purpose, made by established outdoor companies and using genuine performance materials.
•    Keeping your footing.  Snow can be fun, but it also brings dangers underfoot with it.  Icy and cold conditions need to be respected.  Be sure to wear proper walking footwear (including socks), that protect from the elements, keep your feet stable and offer effective grip.  Additional protection and support can be provided by gaiters and walking poles and, if you climb higher into the hills and mountains, walking crampons and ice axes can also be very useful.
•    Packing the essentials.  Make sure that you take a rucksack packed with supplies that you might need for a winter’s day on the hill.  Items such as spare, warm clothing, a torch, food and drink, a first aid kit and a hot drink in a flask can make a big difference and even if you don’t use them all, you can be reassured by the fact that you have them.  As always, don’t forget your waterproofs.

•    Communication.  It’s important that someone knows where you are going, just in case something goes wrong.  So, let a relative or friend know what your intended route is going to be.  If your plans change, inform that same person, and take a (charged) mobile telephone with you for use in case of emergency (and only emergency), though don’t rely on being able to use that as there isn’t always great reception in the hills and mountains.
•    If in doubt, ask.  There is no reason why you can’t have a great day walking in winter, but if you are at all unsure about where to go, what to do or what to take with you, ask the experts.  There are plenty of them listed on TAG - individuals and companies able to offer you advice, products and services that can help you to make the most of your winter in the outdoors.

Most of all enjoy and don't forget to check out our winter walks for some inspiration provided by some of the leading brands in the outdoor industry.

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