The reports today that after hours of searching the five walkers missing in the Cairngorm National Park were found safe and sound unaware that they had been the cause of any panic. While the group acknowledged that conditions had been tough they were all experienced walkers and were prepared in the event of an emergency.
At this time of year it is even more important to be prepared for everything, having the right clothing and equipment, is literally the difference between life and death.
If you are heading out in changeable weather there are a few things you need to be aware of to help keep you safe. The most obvious, but easily overlooked is your clothing. If for any reason you have to stop walking you will get cold. Make sure you have adequate layers and extra items of warm clothing in your rucksack just in case. Layering your clothing is the most effective way to stay warm and comfortable as several thin layers offer more insulation and are easily adjusted to suit the weather conditions and varying terrain. Make sure you choose high quality base layers and fleece mid layers. Your outer layer must be waterproof and windproof for maximum protection and comfort.
Your footwear is needs to offer support for both your feet and your ankles and a hard wearing pair of hiking boots is the only way option, do not think that you will be ok with a pair of trainers or walking shoes. Make sure your boots have deep tread for good grip to help prevent slipping.
You don’t want to carry too much, but when hiking in the winter the following items need to be in your rucksack; hat and gloves, extra clothing, a torch, whistle, first aid kit, map, compass and a survival bag. A survival bag is an essential piece of equipment and really should not be overlooked. Incredibly lightweight, a survival bag will provide warmth and shelter and includes the international distress signals printed on the side.
Even if you are not planning to be out for long, you should always have some high energy food with you. Trail mix, a mixture of seeds, nuts, raisins, sultanas and chocolate, is a great choice to keep you going. Finally, take plenty of water, chances are you will drink far more than you expect and running out cannot be a risk you take.
The winter days are very short and it gets dark very quickly, before heading out make sure you know your route. Plan in advance how long it should take you and how the conditions may slow you down, include rest stops in your planning. Check the conditions before you leave, if they look to be changing you may need to rethink your trip. Ensure you have left your travel details, including your estimated time of return with somebody who can raise the alarm if necessary. It is important that at least one person in your group has some first aid skills and knows how to call for help in an emergency. In the winter you should always hike in a group of at least three, never alone.
To remain safe and warm and to have a great time, it takes preparation and knowledge and a bit of common sense and you are good to go!