Image supplied by The North Face.
As the days grow longer, and the saturated countryside begins to dry out after months of punishing precipitation, many people are turning their thoughts towards venturing outdoors. Fell walking is among the most varied and enjoyable experiences you can have in the fresh air, yet its appeal also lies in its simplicity.
Where to walk
Your first decision is going to be where to get started. Consider your own fitness and how adventurous you feel and be careful not to be too ambitious until you have a firm idea of your own capabilities. Terrain varies from relatively flat and well-trodden coastal paths to sheep tracks on remote moorland, and there are options in every area of the country. For walks from A to B, have a look at the National Trails in England and Wales, or at Scotland’s Great Trails. Although some of these comprise weeks of walking, many can be split into pleasant day walks beginning and ending in hospitable villages with welcoming local pubs. These would be an ideal introduction and if all goes well, you might find yourself coming back to complete the rest of the trail later in the year.
Of course, there’s no need to stick to the major marked trails. Almost every hill in the country has a path of some sort leading up it, so if you’re in the mood for bagging a few peaks just buy a good map and start thinking about routes you could attempt. The most challenging hills are in Scotland, but there is dramatic scenery to be enjoyed in many corners of the country.
What to wear
Simple though fell walking may be, it is also remarkably easy to make basic mistakes that can ruin your well-planned day. Most of these relate to what you bring with you and what you choose to wear.
Most experienced walkers will agree that footwear should have pride of place atop your priorities. Even major, well-marked trails can have poor underfoot conditions and a good pair of walking boots is essential. These should provide you with ankle support and be at least somewhat waterproof. Be sure to break them in before going for a lengthy walk because trying them on for a few minutes in the shop is no substitute for a proper test to make sure they fit well.
You will also certainly appreciate a good thick pair of socks. They’re a vital protection against blisters and should help to keep sweat away from your skin. Remember when you’re trying on new boots that you’re likely to be wearing thicker socks on your walks and to bear this in mind when choosing your size.
As for the rest of your clothing, you should consider:
- Lightweight, durable trousers. Ideally these should be flexible, comfortable and they should dry quickly if they get wet. Look for a pair with plenty of pockets for handy storage.
- A fleece to keep in your body heat if you get a bit chilly
- A waterproof jacket, and perhaps also waterproof trousers. If you walk often you’re bound to get caught in the rain. If you’re properly prepared, you can still finish your walk in comfort.
What to bring
Now that you’re suitably dressed, what are you going to take with you? The golden rule is to pack for the occasion. Whereas a 60 litre rucksack replete with tent and camping stove might be an essential piece of kit in the remote Scottish Highlands, you’re more likely to benefit from a ‘less is more’ attitude on shorter and less arduous walks.
Consider a pair of walking poles. Not everybody likes them, but if you’re concerned about impact pain, especially in your knees or back, then think about investing in a pair. There are various types, some which are especially good at shock absorption, and others come with telescopic poles which allow you to adjust the length of the poles on ascents and descents. They’re not cheap so think carefully about whether you need them and what you’d like from them before making a commitment.
The other major piece of equipment you’ll want to make sure you get the most from your day out is a good daysack, big enough for what you need, but not overly large. If you need to buy a larger rucksack make sure it has waist straps to allow you to distribute the weight safely. Whatever bag you buy, ensure it has a waterproof cover.
You should also think about bringing with you:
- A map covering your entire route, ideally a detailed Ordnance Survey with a waterproof cover
- More food and water than you think you’ll need
- A basic first aid kit
- Spare clothes, especially socks if your main pair get wet
- A little cash for emergencies.
Finally don’t forget to tell someone where you’re going, especially if you’ll be walking alone. So long as you plan properly and tackle your walk with the right attitude there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience in almost any conditions. You’ll probably find you’re soon planning to walk farther and higher on your next trip.