Five Steps To Start Hillwalking

Hillwalking is one of the best ways to explore Britain's varied terrain, and can be anything from a day's hiking in the Brecon Beacons to taking on Ben Nevis. Our partners at the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) have shared their five steps to getting into hillwalking to have you exploring the high ground in no time.

1. Get kitted out

You need much less clothing and equipment for hillwalking than you do for many other outdoor activities, but there are some key essentials.


Appropriate footwear – walking boots or walking shoes – are a must. Insulating layers like fleeces are important to keep you warm. It is better to wear several relatively thin layers than a single thick one so you can adjust your temperature. Wet is the enemy of warmth, so decent waterproofs are vital for safety keeping your other layers dry. Cotton and jeans aren't suitable choices for hillwalking and get particularly cold when wet – it is best to avoid both.


Buying all the above can be costly, but the good news is that outdoor clothing has come on leaps and bounds and even budget gear today is much better than it used to be. Outdoor kit also tends to be durable and, if taken care of, will last you a long time. When it comes to the outdoors and the environment, it's worth making the right choice once, investing in quality and making it last.


Check out our full hillwalking kit list here.

2. Know how to find your way

Navigation on the moors, mountains and wild places can be challenging, especially in bad weather. Learning how to read a map and use a compass is essential to being able to find your way. To find out more about how to do this as well as other fundamental skills like route planning, timing, weather and hazard identification, you might want to consider taking a course.


Remember that GPS devices and smartphones can only ever be a supplement to a map and compass, not a replacement. What happens when your phone runs out of battery or your GPS malfunctions? Planning a route and taking into account factors like weather, terrain and experience is an essential skill which devices can only ever assist with, not replace entirely. There is no technological substitute for good judgement.

3. Find some hill buddies

Everybody is different when it comes to the hills; some prefer to walk alone with their thoughts, others prefer company. But whatever your temperament, it can really benefit you to find some like-minded people with whom you can share the experience, at least initially.


You might have friends who, like you, are just starting out but share your aims and ambitions. Or you may know someone more experienced who can show you the ropes. In either case, the best lessons are often learned with others, so don’t be afraid to draw on the knowledge, experience or just the confidence boost it gives to be with other folk. Many are happy to introduce others to the outdoors and share their expertise.


Joining a club can be a great way to meet like-minded people, improve your skills by learning from others and sharing the cost of getting into the outdoors. The BMC has a network of hundreds of affiliated clubs all over the UK.


4. Get out there – but don’t forget your backyard

So you’ve got the kit, the crew and a bit of know-how – but how do you actually get to the hills? Most people live at least a few hours' drive from ‘headline’ hill walking areas like the Lake District, Snowdonia or the endless possibilities of Scotland, and getting to these places can be costly.


Luckily, there are ways to keep costs down. Joining a club or simply going with others can be a great way sharing the financial burden of private transport, and public transport is often more convenient than you might imagine. For example, a train runs direct from Manchester to Windermere on Friday evenings, and Oxenholme train station near Kendal is under three hours from London.


Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to go to these ‘famous’ places to have a worthwhile experience, however. Many people aren’t aware of the wonderful hill walking possibilities all around them. Bradford’s back garden is Ilkley Moor; a bus runs from Leeds directly into the heart of the Yorkshire Dales; the rolling hills of Shropshire are only an hour’s drive from Birmingham; Sheffield has the Peak District literally on its doorstep.


A bit of creativity, enthusiasm to explore and a willingness to examine a map and a bus timetable can open up whole worlds of adventure right in front of you.

5. Take it one step at a time

We’ve all been there; excited to get out on the hills after a week at work, we push it too far, overriding the sensible part of our brains that tells us attempting a scramble beyond our ability or thinking we can get to the top of this or that summit in spite of deteriorating weather is a bad idea.


Biting off more than you can chew is a common error among beginner hillwalkers. The mountains are exciting places to be and it’s easy to make rash choices which are often the cause of accidents. But after a few close shaves you’ll soon discover that rushing often gets you nowhere in the hills; a gradual, patient approach to gaining new skills and experience, combined with a willingness to be flexible, will see you through a lifetime in the high places. Remember the summit will always be there another day and there is always more to learn. That’s the joy of it.


You should also always know who to call for help in case you do get into trouble.


Thanks to our partners at the BMC. Cotswold Outdoor are proud to offer BMC members 15% off in-store and online. 

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