5 Fell Walking Safety Tips
Cumbria, including the Lake District National Park, has a number of mountain rescue teams who are often called out to find inexperienced fell walkers who still insist on having a stroll up a mountain wearing sandals and carrying a cheese sandwich.
Call it what you like, fell walking, rambling, hiking or mountaineering, whether you plan an afternoon out strolling the Cumbrian hills or a week crossing the fells you need to be very aware of safety.
The weather in Cumbria can change in a matter of minutes, what can appear to be a low sunny hill for a Sunday amble can soon turn into a very high, very cold mountain if you are not prepared. I am not only talking about mountainous areas but Cumbria as a whole, simply going to the top field to feed the sheep can teach you how changeable our weather is and how quickly visibility can reach zero.
I know farmers that were born in Cumbria and have slept on a fell in their landrover because of weather changes. I don’t wish to put you off, just get you to see the need for preparation and planning.
Here are 5 essential tips for fell walkers, not only to keep yourselves safe but also to ensure our mountain rescue teams are only called upon in dire emergencies, please remember if they are rescuing you and your cheese sandwich because you were unprepared then you may be delaying help for someone that has fallen and needs urgent medical help.
Do not rely on the national weather saying it will be sunny for the next four days, on the morning of your walk check the local weather. While you are walking and enjoying the amazing views keep an eye on the weather, look for changes in the weather on higher ground.
This cannot be stressed enough, it may seem a pain having to carry a backpack but if you find yourself in difficulties on the fells this equipment can literally mean the difference between life and death.
- Correct clothing. Take waterproofs even if it’s a bright sunny day, spare socks, gloves, jumper and hat. Do not wear new walking boots, boots need to be broken in before you undertake long walks.
- Map and compass. Even if you have every gadget known to man (gps or mobile phone) these can fail to work and often do in this area but a map and compass never fails. Learn how to read a map and use a compass.
- Survival bag. This is a must, from around £3 they are an inexpensive orange heavy gauge polythene bag. They do cause condensation but are called a survival bag for a reason. If you are going to become a regular walker then invest in a bothy bag.
- Torch with new batteries. You may not plan on being out in the dark but if you do get lost and need to read a map then a torch is a must.
- First aid kit. Ensure you know some basic first aid and are carrying a basic first aid kit. Your fist aid kit should be adequate for the number of people in your walking party.
- Food and water. Take enough food and water for longer than you plan to be out walking, if you are caught on the fell in bad weather and have to stay overnight your body will require food and water to retain body warmth.
3. Route Planning
Plan a route, don’t decide to just go out and find a nice walk. If you are staying in a hotel, B&B, hostel or camping please inform someone of your route. If you are camping then find someone in a local shop, pub or police station to tell, not only your route but where you intend to leave your vehicle and an estimated time of return. Do not forget to report in to the person you have informed of your route when you return, you do not want people out searching for you while you are having a pint in a pub. This may seem a little tedious but if you do have an accident or are trapped on a fell by bad weather it will enable a rescue team to find you more quickly.
Take bearings regularly in good weather, this is great practice if the weather changes. In poor visibility it can be impossible to see any land features to take a bearing from so the more practice you have the better you can survive bad weather. Here is an excellent video on how to take a bearing and please practice before your walking holiday.
If you are new to fell walking then only use named paths and routes until you gain experience. This will ensure you are walking in safe areas and are easily found if you get into difficulty. If you are walking in a group then ensure you plan a route that the slowest/weakest member of your group can manage. If the weather begins to change then turn back, the higher you go the easier the weather will change. Do not be afraid to turn back, if you go into competition with nature you WILL lose.
Fell walking is relaxing, refreshing and a fabulous way to spend a day, weekend or week but trust me you will enjoy it more if you are well prepared. You may carry this equipment with you on 100 walks and never need it but if you ever do you will soon forget all the times you didn’t.
Live for the Outdoors is a fantastic website for fell walking information where regular walkers report on equipment they have used and tested, routes and paths they have taken and video’s for map reading and survival. It is well worth spending time reading the information and joining to ask any questions you have before venturing out on your fell walking holiday.