Top 15 safety tips for hiking

By: Andrew Forrest - December 2022

Top 15 safety tips for hiking

Whether you are new to walking or an experienced hiker, safety out on your walk is paramount. These essential safety tips are for beginners and experts alike.

Table of contents 

This page contains affiliate links. If you buy products or services via these links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

1 - Plan your route

Plan your route in advance. If you use a mapping app, such as the Ordnance Survey app, you can plot out your route and it will tell you the distance, height to be climbed and estimated time for that route. Over time, you can adjust your walking speed in the preferences in the app, and this will give you more accurate time estimates based on your own abilities.

If you are new to walking, start with short easier walks and build up gradually to full days out in the hills.


Explore further and sign up for the OS Mapping App

2 - Plan with others in mind

If there is more than just you going on the walk, you need to plan for the slowest, least capable member of the group, to ensure everyone enjoys the walk.

3 - Plan according to the weather

Always check the forecast before setting out on your walk and if the weather forecast is bad, have shorter, lower-level alternative walks planned as a backup. The higher mountains and ridges will always be there to climb on a good weather day. General forecasts such as those on the BBC weather website or app give a good overview of general conditions such as temperatures, winds etc.

For a more detailed forecast of 10 mountain regions in the UK, check out the Met Office Mountain Weather Forecast.

The Mountain Weather Information Service also provide detailed forecasts to aid mountain safety across 10 regions in England, Scotland and Wales and provide essential details like: how windy on the summits (this can be completely different to lower down); the effect of wind on you; how wet; cloud on hills; the chance of cloud free summits; sunshine and air clarity; how cold at 750m and freezing level.

If the weather is going to be particularly wet, it's essential you keep your gear dry. To do this check out our How to Keep Your Walking Gear Dry in Wet Conditions (tips for hiking in the rain) post.

4 - Plan according to the local conditions

Besides planning for the weather, if your walk is dependent upon anything else, tide times etc. then look them up in advance.

5 - Tell a friend

If you plan to walk alone, let someone know your walk plans before you set off. Tell them the start point of the walk, start time, route of the walk, endpoint of the walk, estimated end time and colour/make/license plate of your car. If things don't go to plan during your walk and you change your plans, let that person know. If no one knows you are missing, no one knows to look for you!

Always carry a map of the area you are walking in and a compass. I always take a 1:25,000 OS map. You do need to know how to read and use them though. It's useful to either take a laminated map or a clear waterproof map case.

1 to 25,000 map and compass

1 to 25,000 map and compass

A GPS device or mapping app on your mobile phone can be very useful, but a paper map cannot run out of battery and will always be there for you.

Ordnance Survey mapping app

Ordnance Survey mapping app

7 - Wear suitable clothing

What you need to wear on a walk or hike depends upon the type or length of the walk, the time of year and the expected weather, but being prepared and wearing the right hiking kit is essential for your comfort and safety.

There's an old well-known adage... "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing", so make sure you dress sensibly to enjoy your walk without worrying about what nature can throw at you.

Footwear

What you wear on your feet depends upon the type of terrain being walked over, length of walk and time of year. In summer you may prefer lighter walking shoes or even trail running shoes to keep your feet cooler and dry. Many people do prefer walking boots though for the additional stability given by their ankle protection.

If you are out walking in the hills in winter, you should buy an additional dedicated pair of winter walking boots, which will keep your feet warmer, they have a much stiffer sole, more heavy-duty and are generally crampon compatible.

Whilst comfortable, stable walking boots do make for a happier walk, hiking boots are only one element of how comfy and stable your feet feel on a walk. An average person takes about 2,000 steps for each mile walked, so a lot of friction is created between your hiking boot and your foot, which is why it's important to choose the best hiking insoles and best hiking socks for your feet to ensure that your hike is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. If you still have any issues with your feet, how you tie your laces can also help alleviate many foot issues.

Waterproof Jacket

The waterproof jacket is 'the' all-year-round essential for your walks and hikes. I have two main waterproof jackets, a lightweight one I take on summer and lower-level shorter walks and a more durable jacket that can cope with all 4 seasons and whatever the weather cares to throw at it.

The key things with any outer shell clothing are being waterproof (not just water-resistant) and breathable. They need to block the elements (rain, wind, snow etc.) but need to let you sweat and 'breathe' from the inside, so you can stay dry from the inside as well as out.

This applies to waterproof trousers as well as jackets.

Clothing

Walking socks, hiking shorts or trousers, base layer, fleeces, insulated jackets (down etc.) and waterproof jackets - dress according to conditions and ideally in layers, so you can remove layers when putting in more effort and add layers when stopping on hills or summits. Summits can be cold even in summer, so leave your hat and gloves in your rucksack all year round.

8 - Take the right equipment

What you need to take on a walk or hike depends upon the type or length of the walk, the time of year and the expected weather, but being prepared and wearing the right hiking kit is essential for your comfort and safety.

Remember though, don't pack more gear than you can safely carry for the whole day. There is a trade-off between what you can carry and what you need for comfort and safety.

Items to take on your walk:

  • Rucksack or backpack - a 20-35 litre rucksack should be large enough to carry your gear for the day.
  • Drybag - needed if your pack isn't waterproof or comes with a rain cover.
  • Spare clothing - pack your spare items (extra layers/spare dry socks, etc.) into the rucksack.
  • Water bottle or hydration bladder.
  • Food and water - and spare emergency rations.
  • First Aid Kit - medicines, blisters, toilet paper, antiseptic wipes, insect repellent and any of your own personal medicines.
  • Map - of the area you are walking in.
  • Compass
  • Mobile phone (with mapping app) or GPS device (fully charge before setting out). Remember, in many places in the hills there may be no mobile signal, so if you are using mapping apps, better to download your maps onto it before you set off.
  • Watch - if no mobile phone for telling the time.
  • Power Pack
  • Hat and sunscreen
  • Cash
  • Sitting mat
  • Whistle
  • ID


In addition to the above, also consider taking:

  • Guidebook/route map - this is in addition to a map of the area where you are walking.
  • Walking poles - if you use them.
  • Gaiters
  • Head torch - I always carry a small head torch and spare battery whatever time of year. Head torches vary in quality, brightness, burn time and waterproofing, so getting the correct head torch for your needs is crucial. So, if you don't know your IPX values from your lumens, we explain all and set out the best head torches of 2024, in our ultimate guide to head torches.
  • Camera
  • Survival bag - I always carry a survival bag whatever time of year.
  • Water purifier/chemical treatment - I always carry water purification tablets... just in case. Very small and lightweight.
  • Multi-tool


If the walk/hike is in very cold/wet weather or involves walking in the snow/ice, then additional equipment may be needed such as crampons, ice axe, bivvy bag, etc. along with a larger backpack, which is not covered by the above list. These are more specialist equipment and you must know how to use them.

For a full list of items and recommendations check out our what to take in your hiking first aid kit blog.

9 - Eat and drink regularly on the walk

In order to keep up your energy levels, eat and drink little and often during the walk. Eat and drink well before you set off as well.

10 - Be vigilant on your walk

If the weather turns against you, be prepared to turn back, or cut your walk short. Always a good idea whilst planning a route, to have escape options if you need to get down to lower ground or need a shorter route back.

Always walk at the pace of the slowest person in your group and keep each other within sight, especially in lower visibility weather.

Take special care on any dangerous sections of your walk of the weakest, least knowledgeable and children in your group.

Watch for signs of hypothermia in your group, especially in children and older people.

Don't take on something that exceeds the experience or ability of yourself or anyone in your group.

11 - Dangers to avoid on your walk

There are certain things you may come across whilst out walking that need to be avoided. These include:

  • Very steep grass slopes, if the grass is frozen or wet.
  • Rivers, streams and becks in spate/overflowing/fast flowing.
  • Snow cornices on gully tops/ridges and steep ice or snow slopes.
  • Unstable rocks/boulders.
  • Very steep rock faces/cliffs.
  • Cattle - If possible avoid and try to go another way. If you do go through a field with cows in, avoid getting between cows and their calves. Keep a steady pace, remain calm and walk away from them. If you feel threatened by them and have a dog with you, let go of your dog's lead and let it run free, rather than trying to protect it and endangering yourself. The dog will outrun the cows. See also the Countryside Code below for further information on walking near livestock.
  • Ticks - they can carry the bacteria for Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by diseased or infected ticks. Bracken, long grass and heather are the ideal plants to harbour ticks, so be extra vigilant when you or your dog are walking through any and ideally cover all skin. It's important to know how to remove any ticks and to do that as soon as possible.

12 - Road walking

Ideally, plan your route to avoid roads. If you are walking along a road, use a pavement if possible. If not, then take great care and don't assume the driver can see you. If possible, wear bright or reflective clothing and use a head torch if it is dark. Face oncoming traffic when on a road without a pavement, except on blind bends.

13 - Know how to attract attention

A whistle takes up no room but can be very useful in emergencies. Six short blasts on your whistle followed by a minute pause is the UK standard signal for help. A torch or head torch can also signal for help. Continue using your whistle until someone reaches you, don't stop because you hear a reply. Your whistle blasts can help as a direction finder.

Whistle

Whistle

14 - Know how to call for help

If you, one of your party, or someone you come across out on the hills needs help, then call 999 and ask for Mountain Rescue. Don't put yourself at risk.

If you are on a coastal walk and get caught out at sea or see someone in trouble at sea, then call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

Make a note of all relevant details:

  • Location - map grid reference if you have it. Once you've given your position, unless you are in further danger by not moving, stay where you are until the Mountain Rescue team contacts you.
  • Name, age and gender of the person who needs help.
  • What the emergency is.
  • What the injuries are.
  • Number of people that are in your party.
  • Your mobile phone number. Consider using the person's phone with the most battery life, in case call-backs are needed.

15 - Follow the Countryside Code

Countryside Code logo

Countryside Code logo

The Countryside Code guide sets out advice for visitors to the countryside. It provides information on rights and permissions, signs and symbols used in the countryside, dogs, livestock and protecting the environment.

December 2022