Essential Guide to Walking Safety
A guide to adequately preparing for walking activities with helpful techniques to help you stay on course and advice on what to do if you get into distress.
It might seem strange to some people that in this era of technology that it’s still possible to get lost when enjoying outdoor pursuits. The truth is that, regardless of what smart equipment you have at your disposal, batteries can run out, GPS apps can lose signal and even your trusty paper map could get lost.
The key to avoiding getting into serious difficulty is always preparation, but if worst comes to worst and your walking party loses their way, there are a few things you need to know. With this in mind OSi presents the ultimate preparation checklist to tick off before embarking, and some helpful tips to assist you to stay safe and find your way again if you stray from your route.
As the saying goes: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”, so for peace of mind, make this checklist part of your pre-walk planning before you set out for the day.
Tell someone where you are going: Let someone know exactly where you’re going and what time you expect to be back, especially if you’re setting out alone.
Look over the route in advance: Before you leave your house, or while still in the car park, look over the route you plan to take. Take note of any landmarks or natural formations that should appear along your trail. Know what direction you are heading: North, South, East or West.
Check the weather: Find out if it’s likely to rain, or if there could be a possible drop in temperature. As well as determining the difficulty of the activity, this will also help inform your clothing decisions.
Know what time the sun sets: To avoid walking in darkness, be aware of the time the sun sets. If you know both this and the expected duration of the walk, you’ll have an optimum start time to set off.
Learn the number for Mountain Rescue: 999/112.
Charge your phone: Make sure your battery is charged and consider buying a USB power stick to recharge it if it runs low while on the walk.
A suitable pair of shoes: Make sure your footwear is suitable for the terrain you’ll be walking on. Also ‘break the shoes in’ before your hike to ensure they’re comfortable. This will lower your risk of suffering a foot injury on the trail.
Clothing for the conditions: Your walking gear should be suitable for both the expected weather and the terrain, a waterproof layer is essential in the Irish climate.
Additional dry clothing: Always bring some additional dry clothes, (stored in a plastic bag in your daypack) in case your original gear suffers unexpectedly from the elements.
Be visible: Aim to wear at least one item of bright colour such as red, or orange so that you remain visible to the people into your party or rescue services if needs be.
Take a photo of your map: Take a photo with your phone of your map or marked-out route before you set out. This can act as backup copy if your map is lost or damaged.
A rucksack: Get a comfortable daypack that can contain the gear you need, but that its size doesn’t impair your walking ability.
Food and water: Bring enough food and water for your journey and some extra rations in case your excursion goes on for longer than expected.
A torch: Even if you plan to have your walk finished before sunset, bring a torch in case delays result in you walking in the dark.
A pen and paper: These can come in handy for writing down a compass bearing and jotting down notes of when on the trail you encountered certain landmarks.
A map: Keep your map in a clear and waterproof packet.
A whistle: Whistles can help attract attention if you are in distress or are separated from your party. Six blasts of a whistle and then a minute silence before starting the sequence again is regarded as a distress call.
A bivouac sack: This is a lightweight and waterproof plastic bag that can be used as a personal shelter to keep dry when staying stationary on extreme weather or waiting for rescue services to arrive.
Action Plan for Lost map
All things going well, even if you have lost your map you might still have enough battery in your phone to call for assistance or access the photo that you took of the map earlier. If this is the case, use your phone battery sparingly and check the photo of your map, or use the GPS function on your phone as infrequently as possible.
If you or one of your party are in serious danger, then use your phone to call Mountain Rescue on 999 or 112 immediately.
The following information should be to hand and is very useful to Mountain Rescue:
- The nature of the problem
- The number of people involved
- The exact location both with a 6-figure grid reference and a description of the surrounding terrain.
Follow any additional instructions you are given by Mountain Rescue. If you have to send people from the group to get help, make sure they have the location information and the status of the group written down on a piece of paper.
Use your dry gear, extra rations and bivouac sack if needed, to keep your group comfortable until help arrives.
If you have used your phone to contact Mountain Rescue, keep it nearby and avoid wasting the battery.
If you aren’t in distress but have no map or phone service and are a little turned around, here are some techniques that can assist you in your situation.
Pen and Paper
Because you went over the route before you set out on the walk, some specific elements may stick out in your mind. Take out your pen and paper and draw out one or two landmarks and their estimated position and your estimated start point.
If you can safely do so, try and stand on a risen surface, such as a hill that might be able to give you a vantage point of landmarks or natural features that you could help you determine your position.
Navigate Without a Compass
It can be a great help to your cause if you always know what direction your intended route was supposed to take you. Once you know this, you can determine which direction is north using a non-compass method and then get back on track.
One such method involves using an analogue watch and the position of the sun.
Get an analogue watch and set to the correct time.
If the time has been changed for Daylight Savings time set it to an hour earlier than the current time.
Move your arm so that the hour hand is pointing at the sun
Visualise a line running exactly down between the hour hand and the 12 o clock mark.
The line down the middle of the angle is pointing south therefore the opposite direction is north. If for example the time was 10 o’clock and the line was running between 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock, the notch marking 11 o’clock would be south and 5am would be North.
Locate the Coast
One of the best natural landmarks that can help you determine your position is the coast. If your trail is near the coastline try and see if you can see the water from a vantage point and try and determine how far in-land you might be. If you are in contact with someone in your party who is lost by phone you can use the shore as a meeting point. Practice caution near the water’s edge.
Stay Calm and Logical
Although, the navigation techniques and emergency advice in this article are essential pieces of information for anyone setting out on a walk, the best way to stay safe is