By: Blonde Two

Winter walking advice

Anyone who has taken part in DofE or Ten Tors expeditions will be very familiar with the concept of a route card. These are a great planning tool and can really contribute to the safety of your winter walks. If you have enjoyed walking during the summer months, you will almost certainly enjoy winter walks as well. Our advice for winter walking would be to wrap up warm, take an emergency kit, check the weather (and possibly avalanche) forecast and ask for local advice if you don’t know the area. We would also suggest that you plan your route carefully, and a route card is a great tool for doing this.

Walking in the dark

One thing that sometimes catches winter walkers out is the early onset of darkness. If you do find yourself walking unintentionally at night the most important thing is not to panic. Good navigation skills are just as effective in the darkness as they are in the daytime (the same applies for mist). One way to make sure you avoid being out after dark is to write a route card. There are lots of excellent electronic ways to plan a route but writing a route card out the ‘old-fashioned’ way can really help you to think carefully about your route and also enhance your enjoyment of your winter walk.

How to write a route card

Hand-written route cards do take a bit of time to fill in (we Blondes know… we must have written hundreds) but writing them is one of those lovely rainy Sunday evening jobs. After all, the next best thing to having an outdoor adventure is to be planning one.  We have attached a route card template below (click on the link) and here are a few helpful hints on how to fill it in…


2BW Blank Route Card


Walking speed

Naismith’s rule suggests four kilometres an hour (or 15 minutes for one kilometre) for hill walking, and this makes a good starting point. If you know your walking speed is faster, up this to five kilometres an hour (12 minutes for one kilometre). If your speed is slower, for example of you are practising your navigation, opt for three kilometres an hour (20 minutes for one kilometre. Remember that on an Ordnance Survey map, one blue grid square denotes one kilometre (this is on both 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 maps).

Grid reference and description

Route card writing gives you a great opportunity to speed up your grid reference reading but giving a location descriptions is also important. In an emergency situation (or in the case of grid reference typos), a location description can be really useful. A six-figure grid reference will locate your destination within a 100-metre square. This is usually enough detail for a route card.


This is the direction in which you will be walking during this leg. Again good navigation practice, this time with your compass. Even if you are planning to follow a wall or path, it is a good idea to put a bearing in because most walls and paths go in two directions! If you don’t know how to take a bearing with your compass, you are missing out on lots of exploration fun. How about joining us on one of our Dartmoor navigation courses?

Distance and leg time

The leg time referred to in this column is the time you would expect to take without taking into account any slowing down caused by walking uphill. It is a simple calculation based on your chosen speed. For example…

3 kilometres at 4 kmph will take you 45 minutes (3 x 15 minutes)

Height gain and timings

Most people walk more slowly uphill. Naismith’s rule states that, walking at 4 kmph, you need to add one minute for every ten metres of height gain. This is usually one minute for each contour line your route crosses but you need to check your map for this as this can differ. If you know that you are slow downhill you can opt to add time for this in the ‘Time for Height Gain’ column.

Escape routes

In an emergency situation there are lots of decisions to be made. Having a pre-planned route off the hills that will take you closer to civilisation can give you more time to concentrate on other matters. Escape routes often follow handrails (walls, roads, rivers etc) to safety and planning for them helps you consider the over all safety of your route.

How to use your route card

You need two copies of your route card. One to take with you and one to leave with someone sensible. If you can get your route card laminated you will be able to use it in bad weather without a map case but most map cases have room for one behind your map. Before you set off tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Give them your route card so that if you don’t return as expected they will have information to pass on to the emergency services.

Have fun and stay safe this winter! If you fancy a few new winter outdoor skills, how about joining us on our winter wild camping (backpack camping) course in February? We Blondes camp out all year round and really love our winter trips!

Dartmoor Navigation Courses