Learners on our navigation courses often want to know ‘how do I plan a route?’ There’s no one simple answer to that, but it should usually start with your aim for the walk.

Where should I walk today?

Some common aims for a walking route might include:

Strolls with a view – finding a high point or ridgeline with far-reaching views

Challenge routes – plenty of mileage and plenty of hills!

Routes to practice navigation – work on your feature recognition, compass bearings and distance measurement

Pub walks – Well-earned pints in front of a roaring fire at the end of the day

Take a look at the map for your chosen area and start to pick out the high points, steep climbs and points of interest to get a rough idea for a few options.

Am I hill fit?

Be honest with yourself about your current fitness levels. If you haven’t walked further than the coffee machine at work over the past year, that epic 30 miler might not be the right route for next week! If you’re carrying any knocks, aches, pains or illnesses it’s worth setting your sights on something less challenging as a warm-up, perhaps with the option of extending your route if you’re up to it.

Weather forecasts for walkers

Once you know roughly where you want to go, take a look at the weather forecast. There are a range of decent weather forecasts for walkers.

The Met Office produce a useful mountain weather forecast for the upland areas of the UK. Up in Scotland, the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) provides a similar forecast. Both of these are great for picking out the details of expected wind speed, temperature at altitude and the ‘feels like’ temperature (taking account of the wind). The MWIS forecast even includes an estimate of the chance of cloud-free summits, great if your aim is to seek out the best views.

Another good option is YR.no, a Norwegian-based forecasting service that seems to do freakishly well in terms of accuracy for a good portion of the UK.

The more visually-minded will love Windy.com. This website provides colourful moving images of both predicted wind and temperature among other factors.

How long will my walk take?

Lots of factors affect your journey time when hiking, but a good starting point for estimating duration is ‘Naismith’s Rule’. If you measure the distance you’ll travel, an average walking pace is around 4 kilometres per hour. Once you start going steeply uphill, add on an extra 1 minute for every 10 metres of height gained.

Plan B for hillwalkers

Even the best-planned day out in the hills can come unstuck at some point. Changes in weather, a twisted ankle, spending too long enjoying the view; all of these things could delay you and throw plans out. With that in mind, make sure that you allow for delays when planning. If things change significantly, ensure you have a ‘plan B’: a shorter, perhaps more sheltered, route that you’ll follow if you need to cut your journey short.

Safety in the hills

When you’re planning a route, pay close attention to the detail on your map. If your route crosses steep terrain, streams and rivers or rocky ground you may need extra care at those points or you may even decide to change plan altogether. Plan for emergencies and make sure that as a minimum you have a suitable first aid kit, some form of shelter such as a ‘bothy bag’ and a means of calling for help (phone, whistle). Walking poles are a great idea to help you get down safely following a minor incident such as a sprain or strain and spare food and water are a must. I always have a lightweight headtorch in my pack year-round and add a second one if I’m planning to be out close to dark.

What should I pack for a hill walk?

As well as the emergency equipment listed here, it’s usually a good idea to carry:

  • Map, compass and the knowledge of how to use them!
  • a spare warm layer to put on when you stop
  • a decent waterproof jacket
  • 1-2 litres of water
  • plenty of quick and tasty snacks

Depending on the time of year and where you’re walking, either a sun hat and sun cream or a warm hat and a pair of gloves should be carried as well. In poorer weather forecasts it’s well worth carrying waterproof trousers too. Footwear should be comfortable and supportive with a good tread. There are plenty of options out there but if you’re not used to walking on awkward, uneven terrain it’s worth considering walking boots with ankle support. I find that boots can be particularly helpful if I’m carrying a heavy pack.

Skills for the hills

The UK hills and mountains can be a serious environment to venture into. Make sure that as a minimum you know how to navigate in the environment you’re in and have the skills and tools to deal with a first aid incident. Navigation in the mountains requires different skills and techniques to finding your way in low lying farmland and, likewise, first aid several hours from help is different to in the middle of the city. If you need to improve your navigation or first aid knowledge, we can help. Get in touch for more details or take a look at our basic navigation videos on youtube.