This weekend I went on a winter walk in the Peak District with friends. We had an awesome day with peals of laughter and shared enjoyment. For all the fun and laughter we also hiked through some slightly tougher than average conditions.
Snow was already on the ground and more fell as we walked. The terrain was mostly peat moor and this had turned into bog after a winter of wet weather. To add to this a bitter wind frequently blasted us. We slipped, slid, squelched and even sank!
For us the overall day was one of enjoyment and achievement but it did get me thinking; it could have ended differently. In the winter it doesn’t take much for a fun walk to turn into something a little more dangerous. So I wanted to put together a few tips to keep everyone confident about going out on that winter walk.
1. Have a ‘just in case’ kit
Most walks end as ours do – happy and tired back at the car. But we did have with us our ‘just in case’ kit. In my backpack I always carry a small first aid kit and a small bag containing a foil blanket, whistle, glow stick and torch .
The first aid kit is one I have put together, consisting of items I have needed when out running, cycling or hiking. You can easily pick up a small kit from any outdoor store. You can get a foil blanket there too, or just go and run a marathon and get a free one at the end!
I also always take a back up charger for my phone. Modern phone batteries are notorious for not coping well in the cold. Having that extra charge could make all the difference in an emergency.
One of the other ladies in our group had an emergency shelter in her pack. This may sound big and heavy but they are actually quite light. This and the blanket could save someone from hypothermia if injured in the open. The shelter is also a useful orange colour – all the better for you to be spotted!
2. Plan a route but have a get out
Our winter walk was meant to be almost 13 miles; in the end we did 8.5. I had plotted the route in the Ordnance Survey maps app on my phone. I love this app for ease of plotting and following routes. It gives you the option to download area maps, so that you can see your plan even when off line. But it does not replace paper maps. I always have those with me too.
This time I knew that 13 miles could be ambitious so I chose a route with cut off points. Having stopped for a freezing lunch, badly sheltered behind a stone wall, we were all pretty cold. It had taken us 2.5 hours to cover less than half of the walk. Another 3 hours would see us getting towards dusk. It just wasn’t a great idea. So I knocked a few miles off and became instantly more popular with my friends.
Another important tip is to tell someone where you are going and when you will be expected back. This especially applies if you are heading out alone. When I am doing a long run alone I usually drop the gpx of my route to a delighted friend and tell them they are in charge of rescuing me if I don’t return!
3. Look after your extremities!
Your fingers and toes are the first things to get cold and the last things to get warm. It really can make you feel miserable when they are freezing and sore. It is worth remembering that it’s easiest to keep your extremities warm if the rest of your body is warm too. Warm layers, with a colourful water and wind proof outer will be your friend. My new Berghaus Ridgemaster jacket was pretty awesome at protecting me.
Everyone is different but I usually wear liner socks and good hiking socks (I love the funky designs that Stanceproduce). My two problems this walk were that my boots are old and were letting water in and I had to keep taking my gloves off to check the route on my phone. Lesson learned; new boots and touch screen friendly gloves needed!
Even new boots would not have protected my feet when I went up to my ankles in the peat bog. I wasn’t wearing gaiters (another mistake). Luckily my friend was wearing them when she went up to her knees seconds later!
A spare, dry pair of socks ready to be put on when you finish, is always a godsend.
4. Pack your lunch
One of my favourite parts of a day out walking is lunchtime. I usually want lunch by 11am and have to hold out to a sensible time!
It’s even more important to have food on a cold day. You may not want to stop for long but high energy treats, such as energy bars and fig rolls will give your body a boost as it fights the chill.
The cold can also make you forget to drink as much as you should. You may not realise it but you will still be sweating and need to replace fluids. Make your water bottle easy to access (or use a hydration bladder). A good tip is to choose a friend to pass your drink from your pack as you reciprocate the favour. That way you remind each other to sip throughout the day.
Don’t forget that little flask of hot drink too! Great for warming hands and stomachs.
5. Check the weather
Yes, we headed out into snow and wind but we knew we were doing it. That is why we were reasonably prepared for the day.
Our decision to walk was taken on the day. Had persistent rain been forecast we would not have gone. It’s always tempting to seek out the best forecast and go with that (we’ve all done it, right?) but be prepared to choose an alternative plan for your day.
6. Enjoy your winter walk!!!
However tough it gets out there don’t forget to laugh and enjoy! Our David Attenborough impressions as we crossed the ‘arctic tundra’ kept our spirits high. We scrambled up rocks for photo opps, made snow angels, laughed at each others misfortune (the video of Jenny stuck in the peat bog kept us amused all the way home) and encouraged each other.
Whilst out we were lucky enough to spot a stag in the woods below us. We kept making time to stop and admire the view, knowing how lucky we were to be in such stunning surroundings. And don’t forget; there is always time for a selfie with a snowman!
You can find many more tips and advice form any of the Mountain Rescue websites or here: mountainsafety.co.uk/