What do I need to start enjoying my hikes?
If you’ve found yourself on this site, the chances are you’re pretty fond of the great outdoors. However, even in our temperate climes on this small island we call Great Britain, it can be pretty daunting to really branch out and discover what’s out there.
When I’m out on the trail, I tend to come across 2 different types of people; The woefully underprepared and underequipped, often found scratching their heads 2 miles in while wondering just how cold you can get before being in trouble. And then the well-arranged, more likely to be seen hop, skipping and jumping up the side of a mountain with very little trepidation.
So, I thought I’d try to help you become the latter; you’ll have far more enjoyment when you know you have most bases covered, so here’s a quick ‘Getting started’ guide to hiking!
This is, without doubt, the most important starting point for me. You’re going to be pretty miserable if you try to take on anything worth shouting about in a pair of beat-up good-for-nothing trainers.
Footwear has come on leaps and bounds, especially of recent, so you’re thoroughly spoilt for choice. If your budget is slim, I’d recommend getting a pair of waterproof mid-to-high boots. You’ll be able to safely and comfortable tackle anything you want in these without much in the way of compromise!
If you can stretch to getting yourself a couple of different pairs for different magnitudes of hike, then trail-shoes will allow a little more freedom and comfort on lesser-demanding routes, while your ‘secondary’ boots will give you the confidence and protection when you take a little lairier route.
Being able to tell where you are and where you’d like to go next is the difference between thoroughly enjoying a successful hike and shamefully calling on friends/family/the emergency services because the sun has gone down and you have no idea where you are!
At a bare minimum, brush up on your map reading skills; Ordnance Survey have some amazing resources available here that will show you how to read a map properly and some techniques on pin-pointing where you are.
Map-reading skills are pretty pointless without a map though, so be sure to pick up the appropriate one before you travel. Not only do they give you a basis for your day/days out, but they can be brilliant for giving you a visual record of all the places you’ve been; I’ve got a nice arrangement of them starting to form in my gear room!
If you’re really going all-in, you could also get yourself a GPS device, like the Garmin GPSMAP 66s I recently reviewed. Although not a replacement for your paper map, having a unit like this takes the stress and time out of having to manually plot and track your route, taking care of all that for you. They’re pretty handy in a pinch too, giving you highly accurate readouts of your precise location should you need help, with some even communicating directly with rescue services via. satellites – pretty re-assuring for the lone wanderers amongst us!
Warm and Dry
Despite living in the pretty temperate climes of the British Isles, the temperature is a real day-wrecker when it wants to be; especially so if you aren’t prepared. At the extreme, it can be life threatening and unpredictable.
For example, if the temperature is a positively toasty (by British standards) 14oC in the valley, with a reduction of 1oC per 100 meters of elevation and significant wind chill, you can be looking at sub-zero temperatures within a few hours walk of where you parked your car.
So keep this in mind when you are considering your warm gear. Hats and gloves go a long way to keeping things comfortable without adding much weight to your pack. A reliable insulating layer is a must – I prefer a good down layer, but the technical man-made fibre layers that are being produced these days are worth their weight in gold!
In addition to staying warm, staying dry is on par. You don’t need an all singing all dancing membrane/hard shell layer, but you’ll be impeccably comfortable when the going gets tough. There are some brilliant deals to be had too; so even if your budget can be pushed, definitely shop around! I would personally recommend any coat using Gore-Tex or eVent membranes.
I also tend to carry a pair of very cheap, throw over everything waterproof shell pants for when the British weather is characteristically cruel to me – you’ll rarely where these over-pants for any longer than the longest downpour of the day, so they don’t need to be anything special.
Now, we can be pretty sure that even on the best days of the year, the British weather climate can, and will, throw surprises at us when we least expect it. Add to this the complexity of the valleys and summits that a lot of us enjoy conquering, and the weather can play a big part.
As a result, do your best to be as well-versed in the weather before your trip. The Met-Office have a brilliant and highly accurate App for your phone which can provide you with a general overview of the hours, days and weeks ahead.
In addition to this, I supplement it by reading the Mountain Weather Information Service report for the days I plan to hike – this organisation makes it their absolute purpose to know everything that will happen in the various ranges around the country, providing very detailed and seldom wrong reports for us to look through.
When I’m hiking, I’ve been described as pretty intense and determined, often forging ahead with purpose and little consideration for some of the more basic needs of the human body; like breathing, eating and drinking, for example.
As a result, I’ve found myself wondering why the sudden onset of a headache and a little dizziness has rudely attacked me on my final summit push. Eating is extremely important while hiking; from simple snacks on lesser demanding routes to full meals during your multi-day thru-hikes; it’s a simple matter of calories in – calories out.
I would recommend sticking to dried/dehydrated food to avoid the weight penalty of heavier wet food; especially so when you have the added weight of camping and cooking gear to contend with. In addition, having ‘emergency-rations’ on your person was always drilled into me as a cadet – these high energy, low weight foods should be stashed at the bottom of your bag and provide you with some extra calories in a pinch. They also provide pretty handy car snacks on the return journey should your day/days have gone as planned!
Don’t forget the sweets!
This one goes without saying but can catch people out time and time again.
No, your 500ml bottle of full-fat coke is not going to be enough fluids to tackle Carnedd Llewyn in the height of summer, so please, please don’t try it. Dehydration can lead to a world of issues for even the fittest of us and will always lead to a miserable ending.
The rule of thumb is to carry, or have access to, 1 litre of water for every 2 hours of hiking you have planned. I carry a 2.5l ‘hydration bladder’, which is literally the best thing ever for completely effortless hydration – these can be picked up super cheap, with more expensive, branded models with cool features also available. Be kinder to the environment by getting yourself a proper refillable bottle – you’ll thank yourself in years to come.
On longer hikes, use your new-found map reading skills to identify good sources of water. Any fast-flowing source is good enough to drink from, just be sure to use a purifying tablet and/or a filter to be completely safe. I tend to hike a few mins up-stream to be doubly sure there’s no nasties lurking in the water (think dead sheep or those lost yobbos relieving themselves).
A side note is something that I see all too much of – carry water for your pets. On the off chance you don’t come across any water sources that a dog/cat/iguana is happy to drink from, you can cause serious discomfort and danger to them if you cannot provide them with a drink, something I’ve seen all too often out of the trail.
Less of a necessity, more of a tip. In a world where our lives revolve around our phones and the instantaneous gratification, we get from endlessly scrolling social media, it’s good to get a clean break from them.
But what if you want to take pictures of your day? Carry a camera! By using a dedicated camera, not only are you guaranteeing that your pics will come out far better and far more rewarding in the long run, the risk of being distracted from your day ahead by a ridiculous and irrelevant notification on your phone while trying to take pictures is eradicated.
With that said, be sure to carry your phone on you and that it can be easily accessed in a moment of madness – it is your only connection to help, should you need it!
Routes, National Parks and The Tent Peg
So now you’ve got the essentials sorted, but where are you going to go?!
A safe bet I will always point to is to head to any one of the numerous National Parks around the country. These vast swathes of public access land give you the perfect opportunity to get something back from the great outdoors, while testing your stamina and newfound navigation skills to the limit.
I tend to just randomly pick one of these parks, and then do a little research into the lesser trodden areas of them. Once I’ve decided on a peak or particular place of interest, I work out where to best-place my mileage on a paper map and using the various apps that are available!
And last, but certainly not least, The Tent Peg will forever have route reports for you to ponder through looking for inspiration and information for your next hike. I’ve even done the hard work for you and provide a handy route link at the bottom of every route report, where you can view and download each and every route!
Hopefully this short guide has gone some way in inspiring the adventurer in you to attack their next hike that little more prepared than ever before; Stay safe and Tread well!