Navigation tips and advice from Mountain Rescue

Mountain Rescue offer some tips and advice as part of National Map Reading Week to keep walkers safe when venturing out on hilltops and mountains

4 minute read
With call-outs for Mountain Rescue teams in England and Wales on the rise, there is a need for better navigation skills to avoid a repeat this summer.

National Map Reading Week: Learn to use the gear you’ve got

Mike Park, Senior Executive Officer for Mountain Rescue England & Wales, offers some tips and advice as part of National Map Reading Week to keep walkers safe when venturing out on hilltops and mountains.

Top tip – keep checking your map

Navigation should always be something at the front of your mind. Refer to your map on a regular basis, otherwise it is easy to go off the path you want to take, particularly if it is tricky and keeps changing direction. Keep an eye on your map at least every half hour, or set markers every mile, so if you do come a cropper you can tell someone exactly where you are.

Also look out for landmarks to check against your map.

Have a great time – but prepare for the worst

Remember to understand what it is you are about to do before you set off. Carry the right clothes, equipment, food, drinks, and make sure you can navigate.

Go out and have a great time, but bear in mind going into the great outdoors isn’t as benign as you might expect.

It could be lovely hot weather, but if somebody slips and busts a leg then things change. You have got to be prepared for that change, be it the weather or someone’s inability to move.

Plan your route or follow an approved route – OS Maps is free to download and has over one million routes in it. It comes with a 3D fly through option to help you visualise the terrain and environment.

Trends in mountain rescue

Rescue figures went up dramatically last year and I think most teams would say their overall figures were attributable to people new to the outdoors. Mainly this was caused by new walkers, many of whom have spent money on new kit but don’t necessarily have the skills and experience to use them, or didn’t account for changes in the weather or circumstance when they get to the top.

Walkers today are more likely to use electronic devices rather than go out and buy a paper map. The problem we find is they haven’t got the analogue back-up when their phone battery goes. Our advice is to make sure your battery is charged and don’t use your phone unless you have to, or carry a spare device.

Also people need to remember to download proper maps for the environment and the go to must be Ordnance Survey mapping. Some digital maps just aren't suitable when it comes to navigating outdoors. They don’t give any indications of height. You could find yourself climbing up a cliff to get to where you want to go because you didn’t realise it was there.

What technology do Mountain Rescue teams use for rescues?

We use smartphone apps called SARLOC and PhoneFind. When someone calls to report they are lost, SARLOC messages them, ask them to hit a link, and then that link then sends that information to our rescue team with OS grid references to locate them. It doesn’t tell the person who is lost where they are, but it tells us where they are.

Any final recommendations?

OS Locate is a useful phone app we recommend walkers download. The app converts GPS location readings from your mobile phone to OS national grid references, so you know where you are on an Ordnance Survey map. It works without a mobile phone signal as well.

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