Late autumn and early winter can be fantastic times of year to don walking boots, wrap up warm and breathe in that frosty air. No midges, no sweltering heat, and maybe warm, cosy Wigwam® to relax in at the end of your ramble.
Yet winter walking is a different kettle of fish compared to a spring or summer stroll. Here’s our handy ten-point list to help you prepare for a walk on the cool side this season.
- Be sure to layer up – lots of thin layers, including a thermal one, are more effective than one thick layer. You can remove layers if you get too hot, and add them if you cool off.
- Check the weather - The UK’s weather is difficult to predict at the best of times. Winter weather can be treacherous. Not only is daylight limited, the onset of a winter storm can take anyone by surprise. If you are in any doubt as to weather conditions, err on the side of caution: there’ll be another opportunity to tackle that climb or walk when conditions improve.
- Have food, will travel – although it’s not an excuse to completely indulge, be sure to take lots of nutritious snacks and drinks. Your body uses energy to keep warm, yet it will also dehydrate, even in colder temperatures. Nuts, seeds, fruit, flapjack, water and a hot drink should be your staples. See where your nearest health food store is located.
- If you’re walking along the coast, know the tide times. Winter tides can be high and dangerous. You can check online or call the relevant tourism association. And likewise, if you are heading for the hills, be sure to know wind direction, fog forecasts and sunset time. Even if it’s a route you’re familiar with, be aware of your surroundings and the general conditions. Darkness falls quickly so be sure to have a torch and batteries in your backpack.
- Those boots are made for walking - have your boots seen better days? Given slippery surfaces are more likely during the autumn and winter months, a good tread is essential. If you have comfy boots that you don’t want to part with, a decent cobbler will be able to re-sole them. Or you could treat yourself to a brand new pair! If you look after your boots, they will look after you. Clean them thoroughly after a walk. If appropriate, regularly wax your boots to help maintain suppleness and waterproofing. You could also go for walking kit such as spats and gaiters, all of which help keep legs and feet warm and dry.
- Cover up! - With so many walking jackets on the market, it’s a mind-boggling choice for the avid walker. Given the increased rainfall we experience during most winters, a fully waterproof jacket with a warm lining is an essential purchase. Oh, and don’t forget the sun-cream! It is possible to sustain sunburn even at this time of year.
- Socks and walking trousers are essential bits of kit – a decent pair of walking trousers can transform a trail! Forget heavy fabrics like denim. Choose comfortable, performance-ready trousers. And you can never have too many walking socks! Some walkers wear two pairs for protection and comfort. It’s an idea to carry a spare pair of socks - just in case.
- How are you getting there? If you are driving to the location of the walk, be sure your car has enough oil, water, and the battery is functioning. Remember to turn off your lights, too! If you are using public transport, remember most bus and train routes operate winter timetables, therefore the service could be less frequent, and in some cases, not running at all! Always have a local taxi number to hand in case of an emergency.
- You shouldn’t even be walking – if you can’t read a map or don’t know how to use a compass! While this sounds harsh, autumn and winter walking can be transformed by a heavy fall of snow that covers a visible path; there might be footpath erosion due to frost or rain, so the route is diverted. While smart phones and tablets are very useful when it comes to navigation (providing there’s a signal!), nothing replaces good map reading skills and the ability to find ‘true north’ with a compass.
- And finally - and always let someone know when and where you’re walking to and from. That way if things go wrong, someone knows the raise the alarm.