Beginners Guide to Hiking

Beginners Guide to Hiking

To the inexperienced or uninitiated it may seem that planning a hike requires little thought or effort. Stuff a few items of clothing and food into a backpack, along with a tent, sleeping bag and route map, and you’re ready to go.

The truth is that, even on day hikes, this approach to hiking is fraught with danger. Hikers should always be prepared for every eventuality. Weather can change with alarming speed. Hikers can become lost on even the most seemingly simple trail. Injuries can occur whether you’re hiking for a few weeks or a few hours.

This article guides you to plan a hike that will keep you safe. It is geared predominantly for hikers in the USA but the broad principles apply to any location and terrain. The guide covers the essentials such as choosing the type of route to follow, how to best navigate the route, and calculating the time and distance to complete it.

Type of route

hiking route

In USA long-distance routes or short distance, routes are maintained by local authorities, these routes have been established because they pass through areas of outstanding national beauty or have a particular historical significance.

Recreational routes are often designated and maintained by local walking groups and are ‘waymarked’ with their own symbol. They vary greatly in distance and level of difficulty and are a good choice for those new to hiking. Be mindful of choosing a route that all persons in your hiking party are able to tackle.

Routes that are not managed in any way are referred to as ‘unwaymarked’. These tend to be the most challenging and invariably require the use of a map and compass to navigate the way.

Distance and time

Plan to walk a maximum of six hours a day. Add time for breaks to reach the total walking time for the day. Always aim to arrive at your destination well before sunset. Your pace should be set by the slowest walker in the group and the distance to be covered calculated accordingly.


Review your route map, making sure you understand all the map symbols and land features indicated. Identify areas of difficulty and plan the route to suit the group’s fitness level and ability. Plot your route to take terrain and natural barriers into account. Remember that these can change with the weather and seasons. Plan alternative routes in case of bad weather and always have a rescue plan should things go badly.

Steps to Planning a Hike

Beginners Guide to Hiking

1. Select start and finish points for your hike and set your goal for each day. Plan the return journey before you set out. For any hike lasting longer than four hours, plan breaks using the route map.

2. Calculate the estimated distance and duration for each day’s hike. For the shorter and more popular hikes, these details will be given on published route maps. However, if you choose a route that is less trodden, be sure to complete this step. Remember you want to arrive at your destination well before sunset. If you miscalculate walking time but have allowed no margin for error, you may struggle to find your destination once night has fallen.

3. Check the route for difficult terrain and land features that may be subject to conditions that change with the season. Check access along the route, particularly if it is an unwaymarked route.

4. Check whether permits are required to hike the route and whether you need to book a pitch for your tent in advance. You should also be aware of rules and restrictions for hiking in your chosen area.

5. Pack gear and food supplies specifically suited to the hike you have in mind. Check the weather forecast and prevalent conditions, level of difficulty of the route, terrain and exposure. As you plan, draw up a checklist of the equipment you’ll need. As you become more experienced, you’ll develop an essential items list that you always start with.

As with all outdoor pursuits, the experience will make you a better hiker. Begin with day hikes, progress to overnight hikes and gradually move on to longer treks and expeditions. The variations are endless but all require equal vigilance in planning.

In this section, I will look in more detail at a few points that will make every hike more enjoyable and rewarding. We’ll cover what you should be aware of concerning weather conditions and terrain, important personal safety precautions you should take and how to pick the right gear for the hike you have in mind. Lastly, I will explain how to calculate your daily walking time when you begin to venture off the beaten track.

Weather and Seasons

weather and season

Check the weather forecast up until the morning of the hike. Forecasts from two days before are not an accurate indication of the weather you’ll encounter.

If the forecast changes suddenly and the prospect of bad weather is high, postpone your hike.

Hiking in adverse weather puts you and your fellow hikers in danger. Do not take unnecessary risks.

In areas where unexpected turns in the weather could affect your safety, it is advisable to contact the local ranger. Check sunrise and sunset hours for the time of year you choose to hike.

Remember to take into account the longer daylight hours during the British summer but, more importantly, the shorter winter days.

Once the sun is gone it gets cold very quickly and navigating in the dark is a different proposition altogether.

Be aware that land features may also be subject to seasonal changes. Rivers may swell during winter months, for example, affecting the route.

Personal safety

Plan or the worst-case scenario. Always carry a survival blanket to protect against hypothermia in severe weather. Always hike with at least one other person. Wear suitable clothing to suit the environment. Most important of all is choosing the right footwear. A broken ankle in a remote location could put you in a life-threatening situation. Always have respect for the natural environment. Don’t underestimate the outdoors.


The gear you pack for a hike should be determined by these factors: duration of the hike, terrain, weather conditions, season, accommodation options, and the availability of water and supplies. Always carry an emergency card with any essential medical information such as blood group, medication and conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Always check your equipment is functioning correctly before setting out. If you’ve bought new gear for the hike, check that you know how to use it.

Calculating time over distance

Finally,, as you begin to plan your own hiking routes, you’ll find the following method of calculating time according to distance invaluable.

Known as Naismith’s Rule, it allows you to estimate how long it will take to walk a given distance taking into consideration the increase or decrease in the height of land. Naismith’s Rule states that: ‘on flat ground, a fit person can walk five km an hour. Plus for every 300 metres’ ascent or descent, add half an hour to your total journey time.

It’s important to note that the rule does not make allowance for individual fitness or pack weight so should be thought of as the best estimate. In reality you should add a safe margin to the journey time. Ultimately walking pace will be set by the slowest member of the party. It may be better to assume a walking speed three km an hour until you are able to assess your party’s actual speed. It’s better to have too much time on your hands than to fall short of time when daylight is deteriorating and the temperature is dropping.

The following is an example of how Naismith’s Rule work:

The distance of a day’s hike is 19 km from A to B. The increase in land height over this distance is 760 metres. Estimated walking time according to Naismith’s Rule would be roughly four hours at five km an hour, plus one hour 15 minutes for the increase in land height (30 mins x 2 plus 15 mins). Total walking time would then be estimated at five and a quarter hours.

Assuming a walking speed of three km and hour, however, this same journey would take roughly six and half hours plus one hour 15 mins for the ascent, making a total of seven and three-quarter hours – a difference of two and a half hours! This shows you how important accurate estimates of journey time can be.

Hiking Guide to Natural Navigation

Being able to navigate without a map and compass is a skill every hiker should have. You can never be certain what might befall you when hiking in remote regions. Knowing how to determine direction using astral bodies is quite straightforward and could get you out of trouble.


Navigating by the sun

As the earth rotates on its axis during the course of each day, the sun appears to rise in the east and set in the west. The earth also rotates once around the sun each year, causing seasonal variation in both its elevation above the horizon and its path across the sky.

navigation by sun

The sun’s position also varies by hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere, it will appear due south at its highest point in the sky (midday). In the southern hemisphere, it appears due north. Due to these variations, attempting to navigate purely by observing the sun’s position can be misleading. Instead, there are methods that make use of shadows to more accurately determine direction:


Shadow-tip method

1. Find a straight stick roughly a metre in length and plant it upright in the ground in an open area clear of vegetation and debris, so that it casts a defined shadow. Mark the tip of shadow on the ground.

2. Wait 15 minutes while the shadow gradually moves to another position to get your second marker. The first marker indicates west, the second points east.

3. Draw a straight line on the ground through the two marks.

4. Stand with your left foot beside the first or ‘west’ mark and your right foot beside the second or ‘east’ mark. Hold out your arms perpendicular to your body and parallel to the ground. Your hand is now pointing due north.


This method is consistent at every location on earth, regardless of longitude or hemisphere. However, it is worth noting that shadows move clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere.


Watch Method

You can also determine direction using the hands of an analogue watch, set to the local time for your location and without any adjustment for daylight savings time. Hold the watch horizontal and, in the northern hemisphere, point the hour hand at the sun. Then bisect the angle between this and the 12 o’clock mark to get a north-south line.

Check which end of the line points north by observing the east-west position of the sun, remembering that at noon in the northern hemisphere the sun is due south. In the southern hemisphere, point the 12 o’clock mark at the sun and bisect the angle between this and the hour hand to find the north-south line.

Navigating by the Moon

Since the moon orbits the earth on a consistent 28-day cycle, its position relative to the sun follows a reliable pattern from which we are able to determine direction. The lunar month begins with the moon being directly on the opposite of the earth to the sun so that it reflects no light. This is known as a new moon.

As the moon clears the earth and moves increasingly into the sun’s line of sight, we observe a waxing crescent beginning on the moon’s right side that eventually fills out to become a full moon.As the moon begins to move back around the earth, we see a waning crescent as the full moon recedes across to the left side of the moon.

Knowing this allows us to come up with certain laws that help us determine direction. Whenever the moon rises before the sun has set, its illuminated side will be due west. When the moon rises after midnight, its illuminated side will be east.

Navigating by the Stars

There are certain constellations of stars that are always visible and can be used for navigation. In the Northern Hemisphere, the most useful constellations are Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the Southern Cross.

navigation by stars
Navigation by Stars

Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper, and Cassiopeia can be used to locate Polaris, more commonly known as the North Star. Since Polaris forms part of the Little Dipper, using Ursa Major and Cassiopeia together avoids confusion. Ursa Major and Cassiopeia are directly opposite each other. When observed, Ursa Major is to the left, Cassiopeia to the right. Polaris is at the mid-point between them.

Ursa Major is a seven-star constellation which resembles a ladle or ‘dipper’ being suspended from the tip of its handle. Three stars form the handle, while the other four stars form the cup of the ladle. Cassiopeia has five stars roughly in the shape of a ‘W’ on its side. The North Star is horizontally left of Cassiopeia’s centre star.

To find the North Star, identify the lowest two stars that form the outermost edge of Ursa Major’s ladle. These are known as the pointer stars. Mentally extend a line right, towards Cassiopeia, that is roughly five times the distance between the two pointer stars. This should take you to the position of the North Star.

Once located, draw a mental line down from Polaris to earth to find north and align it with a landmark on the horizon so you can refer to it later.

Hiking Guide to Using a Compass

There are three basic skills to using a compass proficiently. These are setting the map, taking a bearing and walking on a bearing:

Setting the Map

Using a Compass

Correctly position your map to reflect what you can visibly see will help you walk on a bearing when you can’t sight your destination. Using a compass to do this can be done in four easy steps:

1. Turn the compass housing until the index pointer is aligned with the value for magnetic variation given on your map.

2. Position the ‘direction of travel’ arrow along a vertical grid line so that it points towards the top edge of the map.

3. Rotate the map and compass in this position until the compass needle points to the north.

4. Double-check the alignment is correct by identifying and matching actual land features to their representations on the map.

Taking a Bearing

Finding the angle from north to the direction of your destination so that you have a fixed reference. This is the method to use if you can’t sight your destination.

1. Hold the compass flat in your hand with the direction of travel arrow pointing towards your destination for the current leg of your journey.

2. Turn the compass housing until the compass needle lines up over the orienting arrow. Make sure you are using the needle’s north pole (usually marked red). Check your compass instructions if you’re unsure.

3. Read the value in degrees from the index pointer mark on the compass housing so the orienting arrow. This is your bearing. Keep the housing in this position.

4. Check your bearing regularly by aligning the compass needle with the orienting arrow to make sure you’re following the direction of travel arrow.

Practice this procedure repeatedly at home until you’re completely familiar with it. Mistakes when hiking can cost you valuable time and energy.

Walking on a Bearing

Setting your compass to a known bearing to determine the direction of travel. Use this method if you can sight your destination when taking your bearing.

1. Turn the housing of the compass until the index pointer aligns with your bearing.

2. Turn the compass until the needle is positioned over the orienting arrow.

3. Choose a landmark along your line of travel and head towards it.

4. Once you reach a landmark, choose another. Check your bearing regularly.

It’s important to always take a bearing before beginning your journey, even if you think you’ll be able to see your destination the whole time. Despite a seemingly favourable lie of the land, the terrain can change unexpectedly, as can weather conditions. You may take longer to reach your destination for the day than anticipated and need to walk after dark. Having a compass bearing greatly reduces the risk of disorientation under these circumstances.

Combining a map and compass when walking on a bearing increases the accuracy of navigation but involves converting bearings from map to field. To do this add the magnetic variation to your grid bearing by turning the compass housing anti-clockwise. For example, if your grid bearing is 136 degrees and magnetic variation is 5 degrees, you would turn your compass housing to the left to set it to an adjusted bearing of 141 degrees. Converting a magnetic bearing to grid bearing is the reverse process.

However, the procedure as described here is only true for locations where the magnetic variation is west of true north, as in the UK. For location east of true north, you would need to subtract the variation value by turning the compass housing to the right.

Finally, here are a few important tips to bear in mind when navigating using a map and compass:

1. Remember to allow for the magnetic variation at your location. For every kilometre you travel without having adjusted your bearing according to the magnetic variation, you could be 100 metres or more off course. After a 20 km hike, that’s a fair distance and you could be arriving at your destination in the dark.

2. Be aware of objects around you that may magnetically interfere with your compass. Wire fences, railway lines, rocks (yes, rocks!) and even personal items like watches and belt buckles can cause your compass to give inaccurate readings.

3. Make sure the orienting arrow is pointing to the top of the map. If it’s the wrong way round, so will you be?

4. Make sure the direction of travel arrow is pointing from start to finish, otherwise you’ll be walking the wrong way. This is a surprisingly common mistake.

Hiking Guide to Compass Basics

Using a compass requires an understanding of the theory. It is not enough to identify positions on a map and then follow the compass needle. This could confuse your sense of direction and lead you into trouble on a hike. You need to know how a compass work and exactly what it is telling you.

First of all, a compass does not point north. It points to ‘magnetic’ north, which is quite different from ‘true’ north. You need to understand the difference between the two and how they relate to ‘grid’ north.

The true north and south poles are the endpoints of the axis about which the earth rotates, while the magnetic north pole is currently located near Baffin Island in Canada. Grid north refers to the direction northwards that grid lines on a map used as north. Ordnance Survey uses a point in the Atlantic Ocean west of Cornwall as grid north and divides its maps of the British Isles into 100-kilometre map sections, further subdivided into one-kilometre squares. Gridlines are just 1.5 degrees west of true north, making them good for taking bearings directly.

The difference between grid north and magnetic north is known as the ‘magnetic variation’. It is caused by the north and south magnetic poles not being directly opposite each other, which creates irregularities in the earth’s magnetic field. It is important to be aware that different maps use a different grid north and you need to know what the variation is from true north. Most maps will give the variation value, along with the magnetic variation, in the orientation panel.

Having said that, magnetic variation varies both by location and overtime as the magnetic poles are not static. For this reason, it is vital you use recent maps when hiking. Using a map that is fifteen years old could give you bearings that are two or three degrees out, which over distance can lead you a long way from your destination. Magnetic variation in the UK today, for example, is two degrees less than it was in 1991, having reduced by half a degree roughly every three years.

As for the compass itself, not all are made the same way and some are more accurate than others. There are three different types of the compass: air-damped, liquid-damped and prismatic. Air-damped compasses are the cheapest and least accurate. They are only good for approximating magnetic north since the needle takes a long time to stabilise and is affected by the slightest movement. Liquid-damped compasses stabilise much more quickly than air-damped and make the best all-round choice for map reading. Prismatic compasses allow you to sight a destination point while taking a bearing but are more complex to use and usually more expensive despite being the most accurate.

When choosing a liquid-damped compass for hiking, find one with a housing etched with orienting lines and a baseplate marked with map scales. The most popular manufacturer of these is Silva, which uses alcohol as the needle damping fluid.

Once you have determined your direction, the compass can be used to work out a ‘bearing’. This tells you the angle between north and your destination, measured in a clockwise direction. North is 0, east is 90 degrees, south-east is 135 degrees and so on. The compass points alone give just sixteen directions. Bearings bring greater accuracy to compass reading.

Hiking Guide to Map Reading

Being able to navigate using a map is fundamental to your safety outdoors, plus it will give you confidence and peace of mind when hiking.

Hiking Guide to Map Reading
Hiking Guide to Map Reading

The first principle of map reading to understand is ’scale’. All maps are drawn according to a defined ratio between a represented distance on the map and the real distance on the ground. For example, a scale of 1:10,000 would mean that every centimetre on the map represents 10,000 cm (or 100 m) on the ground.

The Explorer series uses a 1:25,000 scale, which shows every landmark, hill, valley, river, railway station and pub, making planning and navigation easy. These are generally better or hiking, although if you’re planning several hikes in the same area and want to use one map, the Landranger’s 1:50,000 scale might be better.

OS maps feature contour lines that indicate the height of the land above sea level. They appear as brown lines and reflect the shape of the land. Lines appearing close together indicate that the land rises or falls sharply. Those more spread apart show a gentler gradient. Each contour line is marked at intervals with a measurement in metres. If the numbers ascend then the land is rising; if they descend the land is falling.

Once you understand scale and contour lines, you’re able to roughly estimate distance and visualise lay of the land.

All maps including Ordnance Survey use a standard set of symbols to land features, landmarks, facilities and places of interest. Becoming familiar with these symbols will help you navigate your route more effectively, as you recognise features along the way.

Completing your basic map reading skills is knowing how to use grid references to locate places and land features. Maps superimpose a grid system over the area shown, dividing it into squares using horizontal and vertical lines. Vertical grid lines are known as ‘eastings’. Horizontal lines are ‘northings’. OS maps use a two-digit system to number each line so that a four-digit grid reference allows you to locate any square on the map. By further dividing each square mentally into ten on each axis, it becomes possible to pinpoint any location to within 100 m.

Use of grid references is commonplace in map reading. Six-digit OS references give the easting reading followed by the northing reading. To compose a grid reference, find the nearest easting line to your landmark observing numerical order. For example, if it lies between lines 71 and 72, your reference will be 71. Then find the position within the square between the two lines using mental subdivisions numbered 1 to 10. If we assume a reading of 3 for this example, the easting reading would then be 713. Similarly, the northing position might be between lines 05 and 06 at subdivision 9 so that the northing reading would be 059. This gives a grid reference of 713059 for your chosen location.

With a map and compass in hand, you’ll never be lost while hiking. That said, in the next Hiking Guide post I’ll cover the basics of compass theory.

Hiking Guide to Fire Craft

Fire is one of our most primitive survival tools, providing warmth and protection. Now that in our everyday lives we’ve mastered it, we take it for granted. But in the outdoors, away from modern convenience, after water and food, it is essential to our survival. Lighting a fire is not as easy as it may seem. There are rules for making a fire. It is a craft and takes time to perfect. This Hiking Guide post covers the basics of how to build a fire, ways to light a fire and what keeps a fire burning.

Three elements are needed to start a fire: fuel, heat and oxygen. Materials must be dry and arranged to allow air to be drawn up through the centre of the fire and you’ll need to generate enough heat for the heavier material to combust. Without all three elements, the fire will go out. Becoming familiar with this so-called ‘fire triangle’ is fundamental to good fire craft.

There are three types of materials needed to make a fire: tinder, kindling and fuel. Tinder is a fine material that ignites easily. Dry grass, leaves and pine needles will all catch the light with a spark. Kindling such twigs and brushwood raises the temperature of the fire to ignite the fuel, which is denser and slower burning. Once alight, fuel such as logs sustains the fire and produces embers that retain the fire’s heat.

Building a fire

There are many different formations for building a fire, depending on your circumstance and needs. I’ll cover the three most useful, namely the tepee, pyramid and trench fires.

The tepee fire starts with a twig in the ground against which you lean other twigs to construct a tepee shape. As you build, place tinder inside and leave an opening at the base through which to light the fire. Over and around the kindling lean together several larger pieces of wood. Tepees fires are the easiest to start and will even burn damp fuel.

The Pyramid fire is built from logs of different sizes. Lay two longish, thick logs parallel to each other. Place a layer of smaller logs across these spaced evenly along their length to form a platform. Place another layer of smaller logs on top at right angles. Continue to build half a dozen layers with progressively smaller logs to form a pyramid. Light a starter fire on the top layer using tinder and kindling. The fire will burn downwards as successive layers catch the light, concentrating the heat in the embers. This fire is perfect for overnight as it doesn’t need to be tended and will burn for a long time.

The third type is the trench fire. Useful in windy conditions and for cooking during hot weather when you don’t want radiated heat. Dig a square, shallow pit and line opposite edges with stones to retain radiated heat. Build a tepee or small pyramid inside the trench.

Lighting a fire

If you find yourself without a fire lighting kit, here are a few ways to produce a spark to ignite tinder:

1. Metal and stone: Strike a flint or other sharp-edged stone against iron or steel (not stainless) to produce a spark. Once the tinder has caught a spark, blow on it to produce a flame.

2. Metal match: It pays to always carry a metal match and some charred cloth (see ‘Hiking Guide to Survival’). A knife scraped down the match will produce sparks. Use a charred cloth to keep sparks burning for longer.

3. Convex lens: On sunny days, use the lens in binoculars, a camera or magnifying glass to concentrate the sun’s rays onto tinder. As the tinder begins to smoulder, fan it to produce a flame.

4. Battery: Attach wires to each terminal and touch the ends together to produce a spark. The success of this method will depend on the battery’s voltage and state of charge.

Finally, here are five quick tips to good fire craft:

1. Collect kindling and tinder before you reach camp.

2. Damp wood produces smoke and is harder to burn.

3. Dry damp fuel by the fire.

4. Spray tinder with insect repellent.

5. Dowse embers with water before leaving camp.

Hiking Guide to Cold Weather Injuries

If you get caught in extremely cold weather while hiking, there are several serious conditions that you could fall victim to. In this Hiking Guide post, I’ll look at two of most common cold injuries suffered by outdoor enthusiasts, what the symptoms are to look out for and how to treat them.


When the body’s core temperature drops significantly due to prolonged or sudden exposure to cold, it becomes ‘hypothermic’ meaning that the body is no longer able to generate heat faster than it is lost. It is a potentially life-threatening condition that is common among hikers, so it’s vital you are familiar with the early warning signs.

Wind and wetness often lead to the onset of hypothermia. Early symptoms include shivering, sluggishness. When body temperature falls below 35 degrees C, the affected person may slur speech and think irrationally. Below 32 degrees C, muscles start to become rigid and the victim may begin to lose consciousness. If core body temperature drops as low as 25 degrees C, death is almost certain.

In treating hypothermia, there is the risk of cardiac arrest if the body is rewarmed too quickly. It is important to pay attention to the early signs of hypothermia. If a person is shivering uncontrollably, wrap them in a sleeping bag and give them hot sweet tea to drink. Tea with honey is best as this is a good natural source of glucose and is soluble.

If the symptoms are more severe, it is vital that you raise the victim’s core body temperature by warming the torso. The quickest way is to get into a sleeping bag with the victim to transfer body heat. Removing clothing accelerates this process. Be careful that your own body temperature does not fall too far as a result. If you begin to shiver, have a hot drink before continuing treatment.

As a hypothermia victim’s core body temperature begins to rise, there is a risk of ‘after drop’. This occurs when cold blood from the limbs passes back into the torso. Rubbing arms and legs will help to stimulate circulation and reduce the likelihood of after drop.

The best way to prevent hypothermia is simply to stay warm, dry and well hydrated.


Freezing of skin and body tissue is known as frostbite. If your hands or feet start to go numb with cold, you may have superficial frostbite which is easy to treat. However deep frostbite goes below the skin, affecting blood vessels and deeper tissue.

In severe cases, it can lead to gangrene and result in amputation. Skin with superficial frostbite will have a waxy, pale look. Deep frostbite makes the skin turn yellow and purple in colour. If someone has deep frostbite, send for emergency assistance. Otherwise, get the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible. Under no circumstances try to thaw deep frostbite yourself as this can lead to serious complications.

Maintaining good circulation is the best way to prevent frostbite. Twitch your nose and wrinkle your face to ward off any numbness. If your ears aren’t covered, rub them with your hands. Wiggle your fingers and make fists with your hands and feet every so often.

If numbness persists, stop and take time to warm the affected area. Place your hands under your armpit or between your legs. If this doesn’t work, immerse your feet in warm water. Place them against your colleague’s stomach to absorb body warmth. Do not massage the affected areas or use fire to thaw them. If travelling in a group, team up in pairs and regularly check each other’s face for visible signs of frostbite.

Hiking Guide to Survival

With the extremely cold weather conditions currently affecting the USA, I thought a basic survival hiking guide seemed timely. There are a handful of everyday hiking items that could save your life if the unexpected happens. If you find yourself stranded and in a potentially life-threatening situation, there are a few crucial matters that you must pay close attention to.

Many hikers have perished because they failed to acknowledge the need for water, food, shelter, warmth and well being. Whatever your hiking plans, having the following items in your backpack will help you cope with almost every situation:

1. water purification tablets, drops or filter

2. snare wire, fishing line and hooks

3. firefighting kit

4. thermal clothing

5. first aid kit

If you plan to hike in colder regions, here are a few useful tips that will help you stay alive in extreme situations. Some of these may be familiar, or even sound obvious, but that in no way diminishes their importance. Even the most experienced hiker will follow these points of advice:

1. Cold climates usually involve freezing and thawing. Anything above an average of -10ºC in a day will lead to daytime melting. Staying warm and dry in a cold climate is vital to survival. Layer your clothing to retain body heat and be sure to regulate body temperature by unfastening and removing clothing items if you become too hot. If your clothes become damp with perspiration, remove and dry them. Dirty clothes are less able to insulate. Wash and dry dirty clothes. Personal hygiene is also vital to warmth and health.

2. Always carry a few items of clothing that have high thermal properties. Thermal underwear comprising a long sleeve t-shirt and long johns takes up little room. A thin pure woollen jumper is always handy to have on longer hikes. Wool is very effective at retaining body heat. Wear a wool hat, gloves and a scarf if you have one. Keeping the head, wrists and neck covered minimise heat loss as these areas have little body fat and radiate heatly effectively.

3. Your firelighting kit should contain waterproof matches, flint and a piece of charred cloth in a waterproof case. The charred cloth will keep sparks from the flint burning for longer. These items will ensure that you can start a fire in most conditions.

4. Fatty foods are vital in emergency situations. They supply energy when it’s urgently needed, so is a good way to sustain yourself in cold weather. Try to include a few high-fat content foods in your rations.

5. A down-filled sleeping bag can be a life saver. If you are hiking in a warm region and have a low tog sleeping bag, then also carry a solar survival bag. These are lightweight, pack very small and can double as a ground sheet. It is an essential survival item in cold weather and can save you from hypothermia.

6. Skin can be equally vulnerable in cold conditions as warm. Always carry a UV-protection cream and lip salve. Eyes can suffer snow blindness after prolonged exposure so a pair of dark UV-protective sunglasses are good to have at all times. You can reduce glare in bright, snowy conditions by spreading soot from the camp fire under your eyes.

7. Carrying a first aid kit is a must for every hiking trip. Yet many hikers neglect to pack one, dangerously assuming the weather conditions will be good and that nothing will go wrong. This breaks one of the most fundamental rules of good hiking practice: always expect the unexpected.

8. No survival kit would be complete without a means of navigation and signalling. Every hiker should carry a map and compass, and know how to use them. A signalling mirror is particularly useful if stranded in a snow-covered landscape, as glare can often make it difficult for rescue teams to spot hikers from the air.

Hiking Guide to Eating Well

Packing the right food can be overlooked when preparing for a hike and is often left to the last minute. What and how much you take will depend on several factors, including duration of the hike, environment and climate at the hiking location and nutritional requirements. There’s also taste, convenience and supplies available on route to bear in mind.

This hiking guide to eating well sets out three packing lists that you could use to tailor your own. When choosing food for a hike, you should take weight, volume and packaging into account. The lists are designed to apply to a wide range of hiking situations, so you’ll want to customise them according to the particular conditions of your proposed hike. All the lists contain similar items but there are notable differences.

Food Packing List: Day Hike

1. Water: 2 litres

2. Dried fruit: apricots, apple slices, dates (1 serving), and/or

3. Fresh fruit: apple, banana, orange (1/2 pieces)

4. Nuts: almonds, macadamias, brazil nuts (1 serving)

5. Seeds: sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (1 serving)

6. Sandwich or filled bagel: combined choice of ham/cheese/chicken/avocado/tomato/salad, or

7. Packed tuna (1 tin or sachet)

8. Boiled egg

9. Bean or pasta salad

10. Wholegrain cereal bars (2 pieces)

11. Sugar: Mint cake (1 block) or chocolate (1 bar) and fruit gums (1 packet)

12. Tea, coffee or herbal tea in a flask

You may want to take everything on this list with you or just a selection of items. Whatever you decide, you’ll need plenty of water (two litres is a minimum), snacks you can graze on that will drip feed energy to sustain you and a more substantial meal for lunch. Your choice will be determined by preference, body type and demands of the planned hike.

Food Packing List: Two-Day Hike

This list assumes that you will have a camping stove and basic utensils with you

1. Water (2 litres)

2. Electrolyte drink (600ml)

3. Dried fruit: apricots, apple slices, dates (3-4 servings)

4. Fresh fruit: apple, banana, orange (1/2 pieces)

5. Nuts: almonds, macadamias, brazil nuts (1-2 serving)

6. Seeds: sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (1-2 serving)

7. Packed tuna (2 tins or sachets)

8. Instant noodles or freeze-dried meal

9. Oats with water, milk powder and honey (1 serving for breakfast)

10. Wholegrain cereal bars (4 pieces)

11. Mint cake (1 block) or chocolate (1 bar) and fruit gums (1 packet)

12. Tea, coffee, herbal tea: bags/sachets

Food Packing List: Multi-day Hike

If you’re planning a four-day hike, it shouldn’t be difficult to take most of the food you’ll need with you. But if you’re going on a two-week hike, you’ll need to think about picking up food along the way. The following list is based on this assumption:

1. Water (2 litres), plus water purifying kit

2. Electrolyte drink powder (allow 600ml per day, depending on level of activity)

3. Dried fruit: apricots, apple slices, dates (2 servings per day)

4. Fresh fruit: as available

5. Nuts: almonds, macadamias, brazil nuts (1 servings per day)

6. Seeds: sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (1 serving per day)

7. Packed tuna (1 tin or sachet per day)

8. Powdered soup (allow 1 serving per day)

9. Freeze dried meals, or

10. Dried ingredients for cooking: add local produce where available

11. Oats with water, milk powder and honey (1 serving for breakfast per day)

12. Wholegrain cereal bars (2 per day) and/or energy bars (1-2 per day)

13. Mint cake or chocolate and fruit gums (as required when an energy boost is needed)

14. Tea, coffee, herbal tea: bags/sachets

These lists are nutritionally balanced, combining low GI foods with high energy foods. If your tastes vary greatly from those represented here, think about nutrition and observe these simple guidelines when making your choices.

Avoid wet foods as they weigh more and come in containers that take up space (you still have to carry them when they’re empty). Apart from weighing more, fresh fruit and vegetables can make a mess and are prone to spoiling. Think about the packaging that your food comes in or you choose to carry it in as once they’re empty, you still have to carry them.

Ultimately the point here is to have a pre-prepared hiking food list that will save you time when packing and ensure you stay happy and healthy on your hike. If you have any ideas on food for hiking, please post a comment. These lists have served me well but I’m always looking for alternatives.

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