Planning a walking route? 5 questions to ask yourself

Make the most of the Great British countryside.
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Planning a walking route? 5 questions you need to ask yourself

With summer just around the corner and lockdown restrictions easing; people are starting to make the most of the great outdoors this year. Be it a stroll around the park or a hiking adventure across the great British countryside. If you are thinking about heading out, consider these questions when planning a walking route.

How far do I want to walk?

It is important to consider all members of your group, just because you can easily handle a 15km walk in adverse conditions doesn’t mean everybody will be able to. It is also important to look at all ages, abilities and even injuries of the group. And remember that walking 10km on level ground and easy pathways will feel far shorter than 10km on a hilly route with uneven footing.

You may want to look at planning a walking route based on time instead of distance. Have 3 hours free and want to head out? How far should you plan for this? This is easy to calculate, though unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?) requires some maths. Depending on whether they are a fast walker or somebody who prefers a leisurely amble, the average person can take anywhere between 7 and 13 minutes to walk 1km.

Don’t forget to include extra time for getting over stiles, through streams or traversing tricky areas. You can also include planned elevation using Naismith’s rule which adds 10 minutes of walking per 100m of elevation gained. Bear in mind that all of these are on paper timings and will always be affected by real world delays.

Where should my start point be when planning a walking route?

A Byway sign in the countryside

If you aren’t planning a walking route starting from your front door, you will need to consider how you will be getting to the start point. If the answer to this is by car then you will need to consider the suitability of the parking around the start point. Of course the ideal is a car park or layby, though if the only parking available is on a verge, consider if the parking is suitable and considerate to others by:

  • Not parking in front of gates or field entrances
  • Not parking on the road near any corners or junctions
  • Not parking in front of a footpath/byway/bridleway in a way that obstructs access
  • Always checking that your parking is in line with the Highway Code

Whilst a circular route will bring you back to your start point, you may want to opt for a different end point. If so remember to consider how you will be getting back to your car, whether that be leaving a car at the end of the walk, organising a lift, or planning a walking route based around public transport. Plan ahead and allow some extra time because you don’t want to walk 15km to realise you have to go all the way back having missed the last bus!

What map should I use for walking?

There are two categories for this question, you can either use a digital map or you can go for a good old fashioned paper map.  Both options have pros and cons, and it is up to you as an individual on which you prefer.

Paper Maps

The classical method for planning a walking route would be to use a paper map, most commonly an Ordinance Survey (OS) map. These come in various options, so ensure that you have got the best map for purpose. Avoid using road maps as these are only at a scale of 1:250,000 and will not show many off-road paths, landmarks or markers, which will make navigating using them very difficult. Instead try to use Explorer maps which show far more detail with their 1:25,000 scale or, when walking on National trails or you want a map that can be suitable for both cycling and Driving all in one, the Landranger maps are also suitable.

The downside of paper mapping is that walking distance will not be calculated for you. But this is easy to do yourself! Check out this article by Ordinance Survey for how to measure distance on a map.

Digital maps

Digital Mobile Map For planning a Walking Route

If a digital alternative is more your style, there are lots of different apps and websites out there that will help you when planning a walking route. Many of these will provide a running total on distance for you as you plot your route which can save you time and effort over having to do this manually with a paper map.

Whilst this is a massive advantage to digital maps, keep in mind that in order to be useful, many digital maps require a good signal, and this is sometimes hard to come by in the middle of the countryside.  Download an offline version and, if you want to be extra careful, have a paper map with you as a backup. Remember that the digital map will only last as long as your battery life, so plan around this and avoid running your battery flat on navigation as this may be your lifeline if you get lost or any accidents occur.

What hazards should I consider when planning a walking route?

Everybody want to ensure when planning a walking route they will be safe, and there are a number of potential hazards in the countryside. By running through the main hazardous factors of a walk, you can help yourself be more prepared.

Weather Conditions

Before leaving on your walk, always check the local weather forecast for the day. Whilst wet, windy or cold conditions are not a cause to cancel a walk they do mean you should dress appropriately; make sure to wear warm and waterproof clothing with a focus on layers – you may be surprised how hot walking can make you and the ability to remove layers to cool down may come in handy.

Routes at high altitudes or along cliff edges will generally have a greater wind chill so check the route for these before deciding on what to wear. The opposite can be just as uncomfortable, a hot sunny day will mean an added importance on packing plenty of water and sun cream to avoid dehydration and heat or sun stroke.

Roads

Ideally, walks will avoid any roads, but the reality is you may find yourself with no other alternative than to cross or walk down a road. Check when planning a walking route if there is any road walking required and ensure that you have got the correct equipment and knowledge to do this safely. Always make sure that you are as visible as possible to drivers and keep close to the side of the road to ensure cars can pass you quickly and easily. When planning a walking route, avoid ‘A’ roads and dual carriageways. Instead, stick to ‘C’ or ‘B’ roads and remember it is illegal to walk on any motorway, even if you are only crossing it.

If you’re walking with a dog, make sure you are aware of nearby roads even if you are separated from it by a hedge or fence. It will only take a small gap or hole for your four legged to be on the wrong side exploring and potentially putting themselves and road users in danger.

Light Conditions

Lighting conditions can play a big role in ease on navigation. People often say that places look different in the dark, and it is true! Indicators and landmarks which are easily spotted in the daylight can be missed with just the light of a torch helping you see.

Person Walking at Dawn

Check the sunset and sunrise times on the day of your planned walk and adjust accordingly – setting off for a 10km walk at 3:00pm on December 21st will inevitably result in finishing your walk in the dark. If you are planning on walking for longer than daylight hours, it is better to start off in the dark and end in the light. Correcting any navigation errors will be far easier once the sun rises and darkness combined with fatigue are a recipe for mistakes.

Steep Drops

Paths near steep drops can be tricky to tackle, always check that the members of your walking group feel up to the task of completing these safely. Whist going around may be further to walk, it may be safer and, in the long run, quicker; Especially if the surface is tricky or weather conditions are poor. Whilst paths may look harmless, if not treated with care and safety they can soon become deadly. When walking with children ensure that you keep a close eye on them to make sure they are not going too close to the edge. Put a harness on your dog if walking them near a steep drop.

Livestock

Always be aware of the possibility of meeting livestock out on your walk. This will most likely in the form of sheep, cattle or even horses. It is important to be respectful of any animal when walking through their field, try not to disturb them and, if possible, give them a wide birth.

At all times ensure that any dogs are kept on the lead, being mindful of livestock signs. Always be aware of your surroundings, it is far better to assume that a grass field with poor visibility will have livestock in than cresting the top of a hill to find your dog chasing a pack of sheep on the other side. Livestock worrying is illegal and you can be fined heavily or, in some cases the farmer may have the right to shoot your dog. When it comes to livestock it is always better to err on the side of caution.

Plan B and Emergency Contacts

For all walks, though especially on longer ones, it is suggested that you identify escape routes. These are pre-planned routes that can get you quickly to an area easily accessible (e.g. a road or village). Keep in mind when identifying these routes that you may be taking them due to an injury, so wherever possible stick to easily traversable paths. Whilst out walking, check on the escape routes in relation to your current location remembering that these routes can also be used if anybody in the group is struggling to complete the walk or if you are behind schedule.

For longer or more remote walks, try to contact at least 1 person before you set out. Inform them of your rough walking route as well as your expected finish time. In critical situations and only if necessary, you may need to contact mountain rescue or an equivalent rescue service. Before leaving check what emergency numbers you may need and ensure you always have at least one phone with enough charge to call for aid if the situation requires it.

What should I take with me for walking?

Equipment to think of when Planning a walking route

The equipment required will vary greatly depending on the distance, time and even location of your walk. A quick 30-minute walk may require nothing more than yourself, some comfortable shoes and an idea of where you are going. Whereas a day long hike will require a backpack full of essentials. Look below at the most common equipment required for a walk:

  • Water – It is important to keep hydrated at all times and is recommended that you should take some water with you if you plan to be out for more than 30 minutes. This is particularly important on a hot day.
  • Food – Whether it be a cereal bar to keep you going, or a full-blown picnic. Consider how long you will be out for and plan your food intake accordingly. Consider if you will take your own food or if you will be planning pit stops at cafes or pubs.
  • Appropriate Clothing – Having an emergency waterproof, or extra layers of clothing spare is always a good idea. Weather forecasts may not always be accurate and even a quick shower can soak you through and make for a miserable walk.
  • Emergency Supplies – Planning a walking route in a remote area? Make sure to pack an emergency blanket, bivvy bag and first aid kit. These can also be useful on any walk, though are not as essential for walks where you can quickly get somewhere indoors. A torch is always a handy edition even when you are hoping to avoid the dark.

Remember when packing that you will need to carry everything for the whole walk, what may feel like a light load at the beginning can soon become cumbersome when fatigue sets in. Try to keep the essentials and avoid any unnecessary extras in your pack.

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