Winter is many walkers favourite time of year, when the landscape is magically transformed by frost-crisped mornings and colourful sunrises. However, long winter walks also hold dangers, especially for those who are less experienced in the great outdoors. Here are some tips to stay safe this winter.
Plan your route in advance
Don’t just rely on digital devices to help you navigate, as these are prone to running out of power, getting dropped, or being wrongly programmed in the first place. Get a paper Ordnance Survey map of the area you want to walk in, as a backup to carry with you.
They are good for helping you estimate the time of your walk too, because they show contour lines which will give you an idea of the steepness of the terrain. Look out for any interesting topographical or historic features which will be marked on the map, such as ancient burial mounds or stone circles.
Set out early
Winter days are short, so to avoid the danger of being still out walking as darkness falls, set out as early as you can. If you are a photographer, you will probably be in the habit of doing this anyway, to capture those wonderful late winter sunrises. It’s a perfect chance to discover those beautiful moments, such as the sun glittering off a frozen lake.
Make sure that you know the official sunset time for the day you are walking, which is usually listed on weather apps. Allow an extra 20 or 30 minutes for any delays on your route. If the weather is clear, you will have more flexibility, but on overcast days, darkness can fall very quickly.
Take note of the weather forecast
Winter isn’t all about magical shimmering snow scenes, of course. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and allow extra time if the conditions will be poor. If it is misty or foggy, consider postponing your walk, especially if you are heading up into the hills, because navigational errors could prove to be very costly.
Your backpack should contain an emergency kit, including a headtorch and spare batteries, a bivvy bag, and plenty of spare food and a thermos for warm drinks. Take spare warm layers of clothing, and spares of items which are easily lost, such as hats and gloves. If you are walking in snow, consider taking sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes from glare.
Wear the right gear
Boots with sturdy soles are a must-have for winter walking. If you are going to be using crampons (metal plates that fit onto the soles of your boots to help you get traction in snow and ice) try them on before you set out to check that they fit well.
Wear breathable layers of fabrics, which wick away sweat and dry quickly—avoid cotton because it soaks up moisture and stays clammy and uncomfortable for a long time. Neck gaiters, hats, and gloves, are also essential to protect against wind and chill.
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