Looking to plan your first walk but are unsure where to start?

Look no further – this post will give you a detailed list of things to remember to do, and when to do them too!

Watch the weather

The weather plays a significant part in planning a walk. In fact it could be said to play the biggest part in it all.

Whenever you start to plan a trip out I would always start by looking at the weather.

Sun and Rain cloud over Mountain Diagram

If the weather is looking “fair” or above about 1 to 2 weeks before the trip then I’ll take a chance and start to plan further. If the weather looks really bad everywhere then the first question I would ask is “Do I really want to be out in that?” I’ve had enough days out walking in a cloud to know the answer is usually “No”.

In this second instance I would then take a look to see if there is anywhere where the weather is better – the difference between the East and West coasts of Scotland is significant on all sorts of levels – including the weather. If the bad weather is moving in from the East then it might be possible to get a good day in the West before it moves across, or vice-versa.

Keep an eye on it

Having established that the weather is good enough to plan further, I would keep an eye on it in the lead up to the trip too – it’s a fickle beast and is happy enough to change at the last minute, leaving you high and dry (or completely the opposite most likely!!)

Good places to check out weather forecasts?

For me the three go to’s for checking the weather are:

  • Mountain Weather Information Service
  • Yr.No
  • Met Office
  • (and in winter there is a 4th – the Scottish Avalanche Information Service is also essential)

To find out more about these three, you can read a blog about it here: Weather Forecasts for the Hills.

Route Choice

Achievement for all

Having decided the weather is good in a location, I’ll then start to thing about a good aim for the trip. What would I  really like to achieve this time around?

Maybe it’s bagging a summit or getting to a secluded wild-camp spot in time to watch the sunset. Whatever it is make sure it’s achievable in terms of distance and logistics such as travel time.

Spot Heights in the Pentland Hills as shown on a 1:25,000 map (C) Ordnance Survey (2018)

What are my goals for this trip. What is achievable in the time I’ve got available? (C) Ordnance Survey (2018)

I’ll always have a back-up option too (my Plan B, and possibly a Plan C, D, and E too). Maybe there’s a second hill in the area I wouldn’t mind climbing up, just in case something changes my mind when I get closer to the start such as an unforeseen delay because of traffic meaning I arrive at the start 2 hours later than planned.

If you’re heading out with a group, make sure everyone is comfortable with the proposed route, and give everyone equal opportunity to voice any concerns before you start out. It might be that there has been a news article you missed about a bridge that has been closed or a storm that is approaching that could make or break your trip.

Useful Resources

There are plenty of resources available to help plan a route. I prefer reading from books such as the SMC Munro Book or the Cicerone “Backpacker’s Britain” series, but online resources such as Walkhighlands are also useful to find alternative routes to places.

For mapping it’s worth noting that Bing Maps has an Ordnance Survey overlay available (at 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scales), so you can take a look to see if the route you want to complete is viable. To access this, just click on the drop down menu on the far right hand side of the screen.

Always think about your own limits when planning a route. Just because someone shows you a route they’ve completed, or you read something in a book that sound lovely, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Think about how long it’s going to take you, are you physically fit enough to complete the route and, most importantly, will you enjoy it?


Another key question when planning a route is “Do I have the equipment I need to stay safe?

What’s Normal Anyway?

You may normally put the same items in your bag year-round, but do you need to? Keep in mind the weather and the route you’re looking to complete.

If it’s -5 at the summit, do you have warm enough clothing with you to stay safe? Have you lent out your only compass to a friend for a couple of weeks? Do your boots still leak if you step into deep puddles?

The opposite is true too. If it’s looking like wall-to-wall sunshine, do you need to pack your extra gloves, or should you prioritise strong sunscreen and sunglasses instead?

Check your kit

Whatever equipment you’re taking, make sure it works before you go – there’s little worse than tightening your laces halfway through a walk to hear a snap as they break in two. You did bring spare laces didn’t you?

Keeping equipment in good condition not only makes it last longer, but also means you are more comfortable while taking part in the activity too – especially so when it comes to walking boots and clothing. This mantra also holds true for other pieces of equipment too. What if your rucksack strap starts to tear?

Spare Kit

Bringing spares of certain items is good practice. Some really useful spare items to carry include:

  • Boot laces (not just useful for fixing boots either!)
  • Compass
  • Gloves
  • Head torch / batteries
  • Portable phone charger and cable
  • Snacks!

Alongside all of this, bringing a small roll of duct tape can save the day too! There is little that duct tape cannot fix, or at least enough to help get you back to somewhere safe.

Food and Drink

Whatever you’re currently doing, you’re using energy. When you go walking, you’ll be using more than you might expect.

Refueling is key

Don’t skip breakfast before you head out, and take plenty of high energy foods with you as you go.

As your energy levels drop, so does your concentration and, most likely, so will your enjoyment. Eating little and often is a good way to go, so you’re always topping up rather than letting your energy drop too low.

Eating a mixture of simple sugars and complex carbohydrates throughout the day will give you plenty of energy, just make sure you time it right.

Exercise = sweat

A simple equation to look at, but not one we necessarily think about when out walking. you might not be dripping with sweat throughout a walk (if you are then maybe take it a bit slower!) but you do lose water through your pores when you start doing more exercise.

The easiest way to stop becoming a prune is to drink water. Again little and often are key to this. Your body can only absorb so much fluid from the stomach at any one time so taking big gulps of water sporadically means most of the liquid goes to waste.

If you’re not one to stop to on a walk often, then try out the hydration systems that come with a tube. You can then sip your drink as you go rather than stopping to get out a bottle.

In terms of what to drink, the only advice I will give is make sure it’s not fizzy (so no Cola or Irn-Bru). I like to put a bit of orange squash in mine just to give it a bit of taste, or the rehydration tablets are also good (they can help replenish the salts that have been lost from the body through the sweat). Whatever you chose, make sure you like the taste before you head out, otherwise you’ll not drink it and be very worse for wears!

Last Minute

Now you’ve got everything planned, it’s worth keeping an eye on the weather. If it changes in the days or hours leading up to the trip, make sure your plans still work. If not then don’t force them, have a think to see if you can adapt it or can look at alternatives (remember your Plan B from earlier).

Be Prepared

Pack your rucksack the night before, making sure to do so in a logical way. Keep things you might need, such as food, drink, waterproofs, and maps and compasses more accessible.

If you have a tick-list for your kit then go through it to make sure you’ve not overlooked anything. I like to work from my feet up, so thinking through every item I should have with me to make sure it’s packed, or that I’ll be wearing it the next morning.

Get your head down

Now to get an early night to make sure you’re fresh, ready, and eager to go walking the next day. It’s amazing what a difference a good nights sleep can make to how motivated you are to start walking.

Final Thoughts

Just remember that sometimes it all comes together, and sometimes it’s better to turn around. If you’ve planned it all then it’s a lot easier to make the correct decision as you’ll have known in advanced if the weather was a bit iffy or if you just were not “feeling it” this time around.

These are my recommendations for steps to complete when planning a trip. What would you add in?

Categories: Outdoor Learning


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