By: Blonde Two
The first thing to remember when you are packing your rucksack to go out walking is that the conditions and experience you are planning for (definitely do planning) might not be the ones you eventually find yourself in. Someone in your party might fall and break an ankle, the mist might come in and your compass fail, you might need to help a friend with hypothermia or you might find yourself soaked to the skin, shivering and in need of shelter. If these sound unlikely to you then please believe us, they are not. They are all situations that we Blondes have had to deal with out on the hills. Contingency plans and emergency equipment are your keys to a safe trip down off the hills or a safe overnight stop on the hills. We have a list below to answer the question, ‘What safety kit to I need for walking?’
Waterproof top and trousers
These are essentials for any walking trip, even in warm weather. Waterproofs keep water out and, even if saturated, protect you from the wind.
Map and Compass
A map (Ordnance Survey 1:25,000) and a compass and the skills to use them are essential to safe hill walking. Even if you know your route well, you never know when the weather or an incident are going to take you off it or leave you unable to check your direction. Knowing how to use a map and compass can make the difference between finding your way safely back to the car park and spending an uncomfortable night out in the open. A map case or one of Ordnance Survey’s laminated ‘Active Maps’ will keep your map readable in poor weather.
We say this with hesitation because, although a mobile phone can be a life saver in an emergency and great for planning, it is not a replacement for a map and a compass. Mobile phone batteries can fail and a signal is not always available so plan to rely on your skills and preparedness rather than your technology. Chris Lloyd from Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation recently said a very sensible thing to me. He suggested keeping your mobile phone at the bottom of your rucksack because having to rummage through the other safety kit in there might remind you to put a jumper on or get into a shelter before you call for help.
At the very least you should carry one of the orange, plastic survival bags that are sold in all good outdoor stores. These can keep you warm enough in poor conditions to make the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness. They also make you more visible to possible help. Another option (although not a replacement for the survival bag) is a bothy shelter which can warm a group or individual up surprisingly quickly.
A Torch (and a spare)
Believe it not it gets dark every day. There are all kinds of reasons that you might end up being out in the dark and without a torch, your only real option (unless you are on a clear path) is to stay out overnight. A torch also provides a means of signalling for help in the dark.
The international call for an emergency is six blasts of a whistle with a minute between each set of blasts. Whilst your cries and waves for help could be dismissed as over-friendliness, there are few serious walkers who would ignore a whistle call. If you hear a response to an emergency whistle, keep whistling until help is by your side. Many modern rucksacks include a whistle in the strap, make sure you know where yours is.
A Hot Drink (or the means to make one)
A drink in a flask won’t stay warm forever so if you are going out for a long time consider taking a stove, water and a drink sachet with you. A hot drink can help to stave off hypothermia and will also give you a moral boost and a moment to consider your options.
Snacks that are high in sugar and carbohydrates are an essential element of any emergency kit. Your body needs energy to move, make sensible decisions and survive, once you run out of that energy your chances of dealing successfully with an emergency are limited.
First Aid Kit
Good outdoor first aid kits are available in most outdoor shops. Consider taking an emergency first aid course (outdoor ones are available) and including blister plasters and a tick removal device in your first aid kit.
You should have a watch with you anyway but having one in an emergency is even more essential. A watch will allow you to judge how far you have walked (1km to 15 minutes on flat ground) and judge the progress of time. If you learn how you can even use an analogue watch to help you work out direction.
Always carry a dry set of clothes for emergencies. Wet clothes cool down your core temperature very quickly and will impact on your behaviour and physical state. Keep these clothes (socks, fleece and trousers) in a dry bag.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of possible emergency walking kit but it does include the essentials. If it sounds like a lot to be carrying then you are right, it is. Our Blonde day sacks weigh nearly as much as our wild camping ones. Carrying additional kit, however, won’t hurt you and you might only ever use it all once, but that once might be the time that you save your own or someone else’s life. Worth the effort we would say!