May is National Walking Month, the perfect excuse to venture into the great outdoors. To mark the occasion, we caught up with Sam Knight from Ramblers Scotland, to get his top 10 tips for starting out on walks and hikes.

Get inspired

There are plenty of inspiring routes out there if you know where to find them! If you’re not sure where to start, try the OS Maps app or the Ramblers’ app. They both have loads of features, including walking routes submitted by app users. Walking guidebooks can be great for finding trails too.

Join a group

You’ll meet plenty of like-minded people in a walking group. As well as the social element, you’ll be able to practise your navigation skills in a safe environment and pick up new skills from others in the group. There are loads of groups to choose from. The Ramblers alone has more than 500 across the UK, all run by experienced walk leaders.

Keep it cheap

Walking kit can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Charity shops and online auction sites are amazing for buying kit. You can also get hand me downs from others at walking groups. As you get into walking or hiking, you’ll start to learn more about what gear works for you and what you need for different routes.

Be flexible when planning

Remember to be flexible when it comes to your walk or hike. Before you set off ask yourself three questions: Do I know what the weather forecast is for the whole route? Do I have the right clothing and kit for the day? Do I have the knowledge, skills and ability to complete my planned walk? If you can answer yes to all three, then off you go. If you can’t, be open to changing your plans. E.g., look at doing a different route or walking your route another time.

Learn to navigate

Knowing how to navigate is like having superpowers! Start by learning to read a map, then bring a compass into it when you’re confident with your map reading skills. When you’re getting started, practise reading a map in an area you know, such as a local park, so you can do it safely. It’s important to learn navigation skills before you actually need them. The three questions above will help you with this. Learning to navigate is about making mistakes but in a safe environment. Try a skills course if you want extra guidance.

Use the five Ds

You can use the five Ds to help you effectively navigate from point A to point B:

  • What’s the distance from point A to B?
  • What’s the duration of the navigation leg?
  • What direction do you need to head off in? Your compass can help with this.
  • What’s the description of your navigation leg (e.g., the features you’ll see on the way)?
  • What’s your destination? What will you see when you get there?

You might not need all five Ds every time, but they’re a useful planning tool. Look out for your overshoot feature too, a landmark you’ll see if you’ve gone too far on your navigation leg.

Care for the countryside

Take care of the countryside when you’re on a walk or hike. Follow the code for the country you’re in – the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, or the Countryside Code for England and Wales. Leave no trace and, if you can, leave the area looking better than when you arrived. You could even have a two-minute litter pick on your walk.

Know how to get help in an emergency

Accidents can happen to anyone, however experienced they are. That’s why it’s important you know how to get help, should you need it. Have an emergency point of contact who knows your route and can raise the alarm if you’re not back from your walk when you should be. I’d recommend registering with emergencySMS before you head out as well. This means you might be able to text the emergency services if your phone signal is too poor to make a call. OS Locate is also great to have on your phone, to help rescue teams find you in the event of an emergency. Pack items you might need in an emergency too, like warm layers, an emergency shelter, a safety whistle and spare food.

Be part of the process

Modern technology is amazing but make sure you’re part of the process when navigating using smartphone apps and GPS units. You still need map reading skills to use these tools effectively and knowing the limits of these tools is vital. A spare battery pack is a good idea too. Keep relating what’s around to your map rather than following a pre-set route without thought, so you can keep track of your progress. Always keep yourself in the process, then if you need to deviate from the pre-set route, you can plan a new route on an app/GPS or get out your map and compass.

And don’t forget to enjoy it!

Get out there and give walking a go. Navigation is fun and knowing how to navigate a walk is a skill you’ll have forever.

Sam Knight

Sam Knight runs Ramblers Scotland’s Out There Award, a free two-day skills course that introduces young adults to the outdoors and like-minded people. In his free time, he’s a keen walker, runner and mountain biker.

National Walking Month

National Walking Month is an annual event organised by charity Living Streets. This year, they’re asking people to #Try20 and spend 20 minutes walking every day this May. Find out more on their website or follow the campaign on social media using #Try20, #NationalWalkingMonth and #WalkThisMay.

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