Safety has been the main focus of week seven of my walking challenge.
Making sure that adequate safety measures are in place to prevent injury to you and others should be the primary concern of every walker.
Mountain rescue teams across Scotland have unfortunately had a very busy winter so far and I thought this week I would write a little about the precautions I take to secure my personal safety while out walking.
Preparation is key…
The first thing I always makes sure that I have with me is my emergency whistle. While relatively inexpensive, whistles are perhaps one of the most overlooked pieces of safety equipment but I would encourage all walkers to purchase one. When you are out walking through the countryside or in the hills the ability to signal for help when the day goes wrong is important. My whistle is accompanied in my pocket by a small torch which is another thing often missed out by walkers but shouldn’t be as it can be a life saver by itself.
Stowed in my pack there are a few key pieces of safety kit I always take with me and the first of these are an emergency survival bag and a foil blanket. The survival bag helps to keep you warm and sheltered from the wind and rain when trapped by the elements. The blanket can be deployed in cases of emergency and can be wrapped around the body to help prevent your core body temperature from dropping down to a dangerous level.
The bag and blanket are both windproof and waterproof as well as being highly reflective which is ideal in an emergency. Both these additions take up little space in your pack and are again pretty inexpensive to purchase. If heading to the hills and mountains I back these up with the addition of a bothy bag which is a light weight emergency shelter that can provide temporary shelter for 2-3 people when in poor conditions.
Next up is a basic First Aid kit which is one of the pieces of equipment that is never missing from my pack. I always recommend that walkers attend a certified first aid course as it can really be beneficial to you and others when you find yourself in an emergency situation.
Food and water also have a space in my pack. Depending on the route and conditions this can vary quite a bit. I always carry a full water bottle as staying hydrated is key to keeping your mind alert and your body functioning. I also pack some snacks and fresh fruit in addition to my lunch just in case I find that my walk is taking longer than I expected/planned or I am unexpectedly delayed (e.g. taking shelter from the rain or snow). Again, if heading to the hills I tend to add a small gas stove to my pack so I can get hot food/drinks should I find myself stranded in an emergency situation.
An additional piece equipment is my reflective safety vest. This is the kind of thing you would expect to be found in the workplace but it serves walkers equally as well. When walking along roads in low-light and dark conditions this piece of clothing can really make you stand out to passing traffic. It can be worn as it normally would or wrapped about your pack. A good addition to every walkers pack.
The final must have I always take with me is my mobile phone. Having a method of communication in an emergency can save lives. I always ensure that my phone is fully charged and if I am heading out for a few days I make sure that I have some form of power source to recharge it from.
Obviously having your phone will let you call for help but when your signal strength is too low you can also text for help. This uses less power and also requires less of a signal in order to function. Before you can text the UK emergency services you will need to have had registered your phone number with them and you can find out how to do this by visiting – www.emergencysms.org.uk
Location, location, location…
I have often talked in our podcast about the importance of a map and compass to the walker. Knowing where you are and where you are going is essential if you are going to have a good day out. It is important that you learn too use these together and that is why Walk Fife are running free walking workshops to help encourage people to learn basic navigational skills.
When leaving for a walk, even a short one, I always leave a copy of my route with my family along with a estimated time of when I should return. I use the online OS Maps service to plan my routes. This service allows you save your route to you smartphone and also allows you to print off an Ordnance Survey map for you to use with your compass while walking the route and as an added bonus you can also print out a copy to leave at home.
If heading out for a particularly complicated walk or one that is going to cover a few days I often back up the map with a full route card. A route card is a document that is used by hillwalkers as an aid to navigation and route planning and includes several different pieces of information that will aid others in ascertaining your location at a given time.
Week seven lessons
After hearing of the sad loss of life on the Scottish mountains so far this year, I think that this week has seen me reflect a bit more on what I can do to encourage others to adopting a safer approach to the outdoors.
While the above may be seen by some readers of this post as being rather excessive for a simple day out walking, I think that packing for safety in this way is a good method of getting into the right mindset for more adventurous and safe outings into the Scottish hills and mountains.
There are obviously other pieces of equipment and actions that could be included in this overview and will better match the particular conditions and environment that you are heading out into (e.g. crampons, ice axe etc) but I see these as the basics in terms of personal safety for the walker.
If you have any further suggestions or would like to share some advice on improving your personal safety when out walking then please drop a comment in the box below.
As my body continues to adapt to my daily routine, this week has been tiring which has slowed my pace but this hopefully will pass soon and I will be back on track. Week eight will be more interesting as I will be getting to meet some more Walk Fifers while attending one of our workshops.
If you have any questions about this challenge or anything Walk Fife related, then please drop me a email at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message me through my twitter account @SDMakin.
Catch up with you again next week.