Preparation for hill walking
One of the great pleasures of hill-walking is that it can so easily take the form of an impromptu clamber to an easy lookout point, or be a spontaneous outing to a convenient viewpoint prompted by a day of settled weather. You might reach your objective by way of a well-defined path but nonetheless you still need to be adequately clad as the calm of the valley is often replaced by wind or cooler air on the summit. The bare essentials are: sturdy footwear with good a grip, an outer garment which is windproof, and a rudimentary map of the path, or route.
On the higher and remoter hills more consideration must be given to the vagaries of the weather, with protection against wind and rain assuming a greater importance. The type of terrain will almost certainly be rougher and will, therefore, call for more preparation.
Your rucksack is an essential piece of equipment
Your rucksack is an essential piece of equipment and can help you focus on the items you need to take with you. It is important to carry sufficient equipment without becoming overloaded. A suggested checklist would include: jacket, spare warm layer, a map, compass, a survival bag, a whistle, a torch and spare batteries.
The food you carry should be sufficiently appetising to encourage you to eat regularly and often and it is useful to carry chocolate or glucose sweets as a supplement or for emergency. Apart from the clothing you wear, map, whistle and compass are the recognised safety aids.
Studying the map adds to the fun of planning your day's outing and you should familiarise yourself with all the basic symbols used. Often a walk can be enlivened by a short detour to a landmark or natural feature of interest. Try to envisage the terrain and compare it with what you see out on the hill. A simple thing, like the distance between contours indicates the steepness of the ground and provides clues to the easier ascents and descents, which may later prove useful foreknowledge in an emergency.
Routes and guides
Thus armed how do you decide where to go and what to do? Most libraries and bookshops have a walking or mountaineering section and it is as well to browse the shelves before making a selection. The magazine section of most major newsagents will carry the regular monthly specialist outdoor publications which feature a variety of walks. Look also for locally produced walking publications, or visit the local tourist offices, which often carry publications describing walks in the area. See if you can identify the features shown in photographs against the map as a simple aid to better map interpretation and route familiarisation.
There is an old saying that 'the mountain is always there another day' and this is sage advice. You don't have to get to the top come-what-may, and it is as well to allow for the possibility of taking an alternative route should the weather prove too inclement or visibility too poor. Safety should be a paramount consideration and if you are unsure, be prepared to adjust to changing circumstances. Often this can lead to visits to odd corners in the hills, which have their own surprises. Be flexible - it is all part of the fun.
Be flexible - it is all part of the fun
Many walks described in books, magazines, CDs and websites are circular. Look at the text and map for shorter alternative routes, to use as 'escape routes' in an emergency. On cross-country walks this may require an off route diversion to the nearest road. Good guidebooks usually contain a short dissertation on mountain safety and the code for emergency - this is the internationally recognised six blasts on a whistle, or flashes of a torch, followed by a pause of one minute before repeating the signal.
Your basic first aid kit should contain several elastoplasts, a small tin of antiseptic ointment, a length of bandage, a few safety pins, needle and thread, and string. This kept permanently in a convenient rucksack pocket will provide treatment of most minor cuts and bruises, and simple repairs to damaged equipment.
There is a very dangerous assumption that the use of a mobile phone for an emergency 999 call does much to ensure immediate rescue and bring helicopter assistance. This is a false security and quite at odds with the self-sufficiency which hill walking and mountaineering should be teaching you. GPS systems are another modern aid but are not an essential, and suggest a degree of unnecessary logistics (plus added weight, reliance on batteries, picking up a signal and possibly even erroneous route choice).
Travel light, travel fast
Concentrate on the essentials. Remember, the more weight you carry, the slower your pace. Careful planning will help you gauge the most appropriate load for you, commensurate with your own safety. 'Travel light, travel fast' is a useful dictum but on the really long days there is no substitute for stamina. Hill walking is all about self-reliance and finding your own way - let's keep it that way.