Winter has arrived but there’s no need to put away your walking gear. Instead, make the most of the changing seasons and stay active all year round. The cold is the most obvious factor when considering winter walking but there are many other factors that come into sharper focus – wet, wind, slippery ground, shorter daylight hours, for instance. It means that planning a winter walk needs more planning than going out for a summer stroll and your gear needs to be reconsidered as well.
Most obvious is the warmth factor. So wrap up well, don’t overheat but make sure there’s an extra layer, warm hat and gloves packed in your rucksack along with food and drink. As you will definitely need to take waterproofs as well, it might be that you need a larger capacity rucksack – try to avoid jamming everything in if you can. Looking for a particular item in the rain will usually mean getting most contents wet! As usual in the outdoors, it’s the combination of wind and wet that saps energy and warmth so it pays to be prepared to avoid discomfort or worse.
As well as clothing, you may need to consider ice axe and, possibly, crampons if you’re planning on going higher into the mountains. Even where there’s no snow, ice can transform paths that were safe and easy in the summer. Of course, carrying them is only part of the equation and you need to be able to use them competently for them to be any real use. Not knowing what to do but carrying them can allow a false sense of confidence to creep in – potentially disastrous. Such skills are best learned rather than ‘acquired’ and the same goes for navigation in winter hills. Mist, snow, rain, wind and cold can all impair navigation so your skills need to be up to the task of whiteouts, blizzards, driving rain and fierce winds. Navigation errors lie at the root of many ‘accidents’ and exhaustion is far more likely if navigation errors add miles/hours to your route.
Having said that, walking under clear blue skies with crisp snow crunching underfoot can be a marvellous experience. Be prepared, though, as those conditions can change in a matter of minutes. Learn the skills, take care and enjoy the winter walking world.
See our 'Winter Walking Tips' post earlier this month and check out the mountain safety advice in the Public Zone at www.outdoorindustriesassociation.co.uk.