There have been a number of articles in the press this summer noting an increase in call outs for rescue teams across Britain. The Mail Online reported that Lochaber Mountain Rescue in Scotland are usually called out between 70 and 100 times a year, but by mid-August had already dealt with 103 alerts in 2015. Meanwhile MSN and the Express spoke to volunteers with the Coniston Mountain Rescue Team in the Lake District who had already been sent into action 44 times this year – more than in the whole of 2014.
The common theme amongst the stories is an increasing reliance on electronic devices and lack of basic map-reading skills and preparation. So what can we all do to ease the load on the amazing teams that help keep us safe? We don’t want to put anyone off. Britain is a beautiful place and we should all do more to #GetOutside and explore our country, but it could pay to stop and think before you do it. If you’re off for a stroll in your local park, chances are that you’ll be fine without a map and wearing your shorts and T-shirt, but if you’re planning a longer walk, a hike into the hills or visiting a place for the first time, read these five safety tips for walkers.
1. Plan ahead
Before you even leave the house, investigate the route thoroughly. Take into account the experience and capabilities of anyone joining you on the walk to help you plan your route in advance. You should also think about the kind of kit you will need to take with you, potential weather conditions and have a contingency plan in mind in case the walk needs to be cut short. Weather can change dramatically over the course of a walk, especially in hilly areas.
As Heather Morning from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland said, ‘Unless you have already used your navigational abilities to programme in an exact route, it won’t direct you away from cliffs or show you the best place to cross a river – or offer an alternative if a bridge is down or the river is in flood.’
2. Practise your navigation skills
You need to have at least the basic navigation skills in place to help keep you safe. There are a huge range of ways to do this from simple guides and videos on our website to map reading classes and mountain navigation courses. Make sure that you feel confident in interpreting a map and using a compass to navigate – it really could save your life. Especially if an accident happens, being able to give the emergency services an accurate grid reference for your location could save valuable time.
John Stevenson from Lochaber Mountain Rescue team noted said that as well as the usual issues of bad weather and ‘slips and trips’ which the team deal with, smartphones were causing navigation problems. He said: ‘Navigation has been a big issue this year. People should know how to use a map and compass and not be relying on mobile phones.”
3. Carry (and wear) the right kit
4. Always have a back up
We’ve already mentioned spare batteries, clothes and food in point three, but don’t forget about back-up navigation options. If you prefer to navigate with a GPS device, do carry a paper map and compass as back-up. It would also be an idea to carry a spare battery too.
Navigating with your mobile can use up a lot of battery – so only ever use this as a back-up. And don’t think we’re anti-digital maps, all OS Explorer maps now come with a mobile download. The vast majority of the OS business comes from digital data and we have our own mobile apps – but they are designed to complement the paper map, not replace it. Keep your phone as a back-up, and preserve the battery in case you need it for an emergency.
The big ‘don’t’ is around relying solely on a smartphone to navigate. Paul Cook, from Wasdale Mountain Rescue team said: ‘The big area of growth has been in people phoning up on a mobile from Scafell Pike saying that they are lost and asking if we can help them. It’s vitally important that people who go into the mountains have a map and compass, and that they know how to use them correctly.’
5. Let people know where you are
Letting someone know where you are going and when you are likely to return is a good idea. Make sure you notify them when you return and agree a timeframe when they should contact the emergecy services if you don’t contact them. We’ve put together a handy route card for you to print and fill out – give a good description of your planned route, along with any grid references.
Find a full list of safety tips on the Mountain Rescue site.