How to plan a Hike?

Plan a hike???? Just put on your boots and get out there! Don’t you?

Planning a hike is instrumental to safely having a great day in the mountains and is covered within my Hill & Mountain Skills Courses. If you want to turn your days in the mountains to a great day in the mountains please read on!

Turning a day in the mountains to a great day in the mountains

For a great day in the mountains we need a plan which will include the following:

  • What will the weather be like
  • Decide who you will be going with
  • What kit will you need
  • Decide where to go and why
  • Plan the hiking route(s) for the day
  • Think of “what if scenarios”

Lets look at each in turn.


Weather can pretty much dictate your day so it is really important to get an accurate forecast – if heading to the UK mountains check out the Met Office Mountain Weather or Mountain Weather Information Services, these are dedicated forecasts for the mountainous areas of the UK.

The weather forecast will give you valuable information like wind speed, wind direction, cloud height, temperature on the mountains and of course will you experience some kind of precipitation or will it be a dry day. This information should inform you what can be safely achieved on the day for you and your friends.

Who are you going with?

Sometime who you will be heading out with may influence your plans, think about fitness, experience in the mountains, any phobias or fears and medical conditions.

The day should be inclusive and enjoyable for all, stay within your and your groups level of competence, fitness and comfort zone. It should not be an adrenaline fueled day for one with the rest of the group in tears and feeling thankful they got down alive!

What kit will You need

Kit will be dependent on the weather/season and activity, for example is your planned day a classic winter mountain day in the Cairngorms or is it a day in the Black Mountains in July?

What kit will you need for the day to keep you and the group comfortable and safe? If you are sharing kit who will be carrying what i.e. group shelter, group first aid kit.

Has the rest of the group got the right kit to keep them safe and comfortable in the mountains? Have a mandatory or essential kit list and an optional kit list and share it with your group.

Where to go and why?

Will it be a local walk to introduce friends to the joys of mountain hiking? Or a day with experienced friends to bag a particular peak? Or hike a famous route? Or complete a charity hike?

There are many reasons to head out in the UK mountains so make sure you are clear on the objective and what mountain range you will be visiting.

If travelling further afield other things to include will be transport and accommodation including availability and cost. Check if you need to book especially in popular areas in high season and what are peoples budget?

Planning the route for the day

We now have an idea of the weather, who we will be going with, the objective of the day, where we will be heading. Now it is time to plan the actual route.

There are plenty of resources out there to help you plan a suitable route ranging from guide books through to online. Just make sure that the route you plan is within the experience/competence of you and the group.

There is an extensive library of guide books which cover all mountain areas including all levels of difficulty. Often my starting point is a guide book of the area to give me ideas. Each route within a guide book is extensively researched so you can be confident on accuracy.

Outdoor magazines are also a popular resource to give you ideas for the day and perhaps inspire most to try new routes. Again these routes are compiled and submitted by experienced outdoor enthusiasts who have extensively researched these routes ready for publication. However, I have spotted mistakes in some routes so please review the route carefully.

Online resources can either be from dedicated hiking/walking websites like Walk Highlands or from your favorite phone app like All Trials, OS Maps, Fat Maps, Strava, Map My Walk etc.

A word of caution for the social media type apps; these routes are public generated and will not have undergone the same level of review compared to other resources. Therefore they may have inaccuracies including access rights, distances, time taken and difficulty.

Whatever resource you use to get your ideas plan the route on a suitable map, either an OS or Harvey Map. This can be done on a paper map or on online mapping software. Whilst doing this always double check the following:

  • Distance
  • Time taken to complete including breaks
  • Amount of daylight hours in the day
  • Amount of ascent/decent
  • Danger areas including ridges, steepness, river/stream/road crossings
  • Emergency escape routes
  • Access rights

An useful resource to plan a route is a route card which would contain the above items and the time for each leg including breaks. I still produce a rudimentary route card for my routes which will give me the essential information which I can share with my group.

What if scenarios

These are the plans that you put in place if things don’t go according to the original plan. The first and simplest example of this is you arrive at the car park to start the hike to find that it is either full or closed! Potentially the day has been spoiled before it even begins! Other scenarios include but are not limited to:

  • Weather forecast worse than expected
  • Footpaths not as visible as expected making navigation harder
  • Fitness of the group over estimated/fitness required for the day underestimated
  • Competence of the group overestimated/difficulty of route underestimated
  • Medical emergency within the group or other mountain user

There are countless other scenarios that can be added to the above!

On this basis have plans in place for some of the most common issues that you are likely to face, these could be alternative routes if the starting car park is full or escape routes which you can use to shorten the route if you have overestimated fitness of the group.

Be aware that whilst we are lucky to have a free Mountain Rescue Service that can be called on, they can take several hours to reach you in an emergency.

Be adventure smart

Adventure Smart UK is a roll out of the safety campaign Adventure Smart Wales which was launched in 2018.

The aim is to reduce the number of avoidable incidents which the rescue and emergency services deal with each year. The objective is to establish a comprehensive set of safety messages and to work with the outdoor sector to promote these far and wide.

Experts from leading safety and sporting organisations have developed these messages to provide all the essential information needed for people to get outdoors, confident that they have prepared for a great day.

For further information on being Adventure Smart please visit the dedicated website – AdventureSmartUK

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