Safety while out walking

These recommendations below apply to all walkers, but some particularly concern people who might be leading a walk. They provide suggestions regarding clothing and equipment for hill/mountain walking PLUS safety guidelines and procedures for dealing with accidents and emergencies including documents immediately below which you should download for your own reference.

Important documents relating to heath and safety.

Important documents you should download are as follows:

  • First Aid - click here to download
  • Emergency Information Form - click here to download
  • A Risk Assessment (specifically for leaders but good for walkers to be aware of) - click here to download
  • Take Care Out Walking - more of a checklist - click here to download

Clothing & Equipment

Hill walking will be both faster and more enjoyable if you carry a light load and are not overdressed however weather forecasts are not always 100% accurate and the party can be delayed if an accident occurs. So there are some items that should be carried at all times even if not actually being worn to allow for such possibilities.

  • waterproof jacket and overtrousers
  • warm hat, balaclava or cap
  • fleece, soft shell jacket or pullover
  • gloves or mitts

Strong mountain boots with a deep tread are recommended for all walks for ankle stability but trainers or lighter boots are OK for the more sociable walks around easy paths. Walking (or trekking) poles are quite popular but not obligatory! They can reduce the strain on your knees and provide support and stability when crossing streams or rough terrain. If poles are not in active use they should be carried with the points directed downwards or forwards to avoid injuring to other walkers. Snow and ice on the hills makes hill-walking challenging and potentially dangerous. Before deciding what to wear, consult a reliable weather forecast (eg. Met Office app on phone or computer).

A walk leader may decline to allow people to participate in any walk if they are not judged to be suitably equipped for the prevailing conditions (or sufficiently competent). This applies mainly to more challenging walks, the more sociable walks being less affected in this way.

The items listed below should always be taken on day outings:

  • food, including some for emergencies
  • drinks at least a litre (more in summer)
  • 1:25,000 map, preferably waterproof
  • compass, whistle and first aid kit
  • head torch, with spare batteries
  • money, incl. coins for public telephone

At least one person in the group should carry a fully charged mobile phone, a GPS (with spare batteries) and a first aid kit. Some kind of survival equipment is desirable but shelters and bothy bags tend to be heavy, bulky and expensive. Foil survival bags are very cheap (from Amazon) and are sufficiently light and compact to be kept in the rucksack at all times.

Safety Guidelines

Before looking at safety issues in detail we need to remind ourselves of some general points:

  • All individual walkers are responsible for their own actions and safety.
  • All walkers have differing levels of skill, and not many have received any formal mountain leadership training. Walkers can try to do their best to advise and help other walkers but you must not expect them to safeguard you from the hazards and difficulties associated with hill/mountain-walking.
  • These considerations make it vital that walkers should always co-operate fully with walk leaders and try to be helpful to fellow walkers. The following are important guidelines:
    • Don't race ahead try to stay in visual contact with the leader and the group. If you find yourself a long way in front of the rest, pause and let them catch up, and in any case halt for regrouping at prominent features such as summits, path junctions and stiles. This is a matter of both safety and good manners.
    • When you are leading a walk, aim to keep the group as compact as is practicable. Don't always be at the front, take care of the slower ones, and check at intervals that everybody in the initial headcount is still present. Unless the group is small (not more than six) you should designate an experienced member as the 'back marker'. These points are especially important in bad weather or when darkness is approaching.
    • Be very careful on rocky or icy terrain, where the consequences of a slip are likely to be serious.
    • If you see somebody in difficulty or being left behind, do something about it alert the leader or another member, and if you find yourself in the same position, shout! This is better than letting anyone in the group become anxious or exhausted and perhaps in need of help or rescue later.
    • Tell the leader or the back marker if for any reason you wish to leave the group or you need to stop for more than a short time.
    • Have a private word with the leader (for information only) if you have a medical condition that could affect you while out walking. It is up to you to bring any medication or remedies you may need.

Emergency Procedures

If someone in the group goes missing, especially in difficult or worsening conditions, it may be necessary for the walk leader to form a search party. The following procedures are recommended:

  • The party should if possible include at least four members in case the missing person turns out to be injured or immobile and has to be evacuated (see accident procedures below).
  • The equipment taken on the search should include mobile phone, torches, whistle, GPS, first aid kit, survival bag or shelter, spare clothing; food and hot drinks.
  • As carrying out anything more than a cursory search is likely to take a long time, all people not actively involved should be sent down as a group under a designated sub-leader, with an agreed route and action plan. Some members of the group may be cold, tired or distressed, so the sub-leader must take great care that everybody keeps close together and stays safe. A second injured or missing person is simply not an option.
  • It is seldom advisable for walkers in a group to undertake an extensive search in mist or darkness. This is best left to Mountain Search and Rescue Teams, who have the necessary skills, equipment and back-up. The leader of any club search party will be responsible for judging whether Mountain Rescue should be called in.
  • In the event of an accident the leader must decide if it is feasible simply to render first aid to the casualty and then help them down. This is usually the quickest and best course, provided it does not risk the welfare and safety of the casualty or of other walkers in the group. If this risk is felt to be too great, proceed as follows:
    • If there is mobile phone service, ring 999 or 112. With either number ask for Police and only when you are put through to them ask for Mountain Rescue. Report the facts and state your grid reference. Both numbers may be used to call emergency services even if your mobile has run out of credit. If there is no signal for your network a mobile will try to connect you to the number via any available network.
    • Some people must stay with the casualty to keep them warm and give any treatment that is considered advisable while the rest go down. Remember that it may take some hours for help to arrive.
    • If there is no mobile phone service, a team of at least two people must go to get help. Ensure that there is an agreed plan and that the grid reference of the incident is noted, plus an initial assessment of the casualty’s condition. The team should take a mobile phone and keep trying it to see if reception improves. In case it doesn’t they will need to have coins or a bank card for a public telephone.
    • After a serious incident or prolonged delay it may be best for the party to abandon any attempt to reach the intended finishing point but instead to head for the nearest road and then, if necessary, ring people likely to be sympathetic spouses, partners or friends for help with transport.

In Conclusion

Please don't let any of the above put you off going out walking.
Above all, the message of these notes is: Try to minimise danger by taking care and thinking ahead and always be supportive of your leader and your fellow walkers.
Walkers who want to improve their general mountain skills might like to consult Hill Walking by Steve Long (MLT UK, 2004). You can buy a copy by clicking here.