Until a few years ago, all my outdoor use had been with other people – partners, spouses, friends, groups & commercial companies. I now realise how valuable that time was as a learning experience. However a day came when I started to feel dissatisfied with being in a crocodile of people and relying totally on other people for navigation and information, and that encouraged me to try going solo. The info in this post is taken directly from my own action plan, which included advice from other outdoor people and rescue professionals.
Before you go
- Read and adhere to the Countryside Code or equivalent.
- Respect the law and regulations of the country or area in which you are hiking
- Empty out your rucksack and evaluate your kit to make sure that the essentials are there such as map, compass, power banks, relevant cables & some first aid items.
- Personally I would recommend using a map and compass in conjunction with digital navigation as there is nobody else to consult if your battery runs out, you get lost, the weather changes or it starts to get dark, but opinions differ about this.
- Do some research before you commit to buying items of kit.
- Look at ways to reduce your pack weight.
- Use reputable guidebooks or websites where the routes should have been tried and tested to start with.
- Make the most of wifi and download any maps, GPX and apps you might need to your devices
- Choose some day routes which you know and like, and do them in good weather to start with.
- Consider joining a group as many offer walks, rides, routes, online resources, member discounts and social opportunities.
- Try making lists of gear for day trips and multi day trips in different conditions.
- Introduce gradual increases in the degree and variety of challenge in your trips, such as a walk in snow, a multi day trip, a high level trip, a wild camp, as and when you feel confident.
- Consider a basic navigation course if you can afford it. In Britain the National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS) is a good website on which to find out about navigation courses
- It is worth knowing how to read your location coordinates on a map, although some apps give them. Rescue services in Britain can send you a text which, when you respond to it, reveals your location.
- Research wildlife and insect risks and ensure you have adequate protection.
- Seek out accommodation which advertises itself as walker / cyclist friendly.
While you’re hiking
- Leave no trace of your visit. Always carry out your rubbish, including organic waste like fruit peel, and bury your waste.
- Report any access problems like locked gates or fallen trees if you can. In parts of Britain the Rambler’s Pathwatch app enables you to do this as you hike.
- Keep checking the map to ensure you know where to find food and water if necessary and that you are prepared for potential hazards.
- Check the weather forecast in advance and continue to assess the weather situation as you go.
- Learn to listen to your instincts and your body about your personal goals, safety and wellbeing as there is no better judge.
- Consider switching your phone onto Airplane mode when not needed to save power
Personal safety suggestions.
- Under 18s should always discuss plans with their parents / carers first.
- In Britain the BMC, Mountaineering Scotland or Mountain Training NI are good starting points for advice and training.
- Do leave route information with someone, whether it is family or accommodation providers.
- Carry a map and compass, a mobile and spare batteries.
- If you press the sleep button 5 times on an iphone you can automatically contact emergency services and selected contacts. Alternatively there are a variety of satellite tracking devices available which send distress signals. When the emergency button is activated on these devices they will try to send details of your location via satellite to Emergency services.
- Consider changing route or hooking up with other people if you are feeling threatened. If you think you are being followed and there is nobody else around, activate your phone or emergency button.
- Delay sharing location details of your route or your plans online.
- On campsites it may be worth camping near the site office or a family area if there is one.
- The most important aim of any day out should be that there will be other days out.
Finally keep it in perspective and remember that you are usually safer anywhere in the countryside than in most cities.