Mountain Skills and Safety
We've teamed up with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland to provide information on the key navigation skills for hillwalkers and mountaineers, together with advice on winter safety and avalanche awareness.
The MCofS recognises the importance of self-reliance in mountaineering and the right of mountaineers to participate in a risk sport.
MCofS Participation Statement:The MCofS recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.
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Enjoy the Scottish Hills in Safety
Set in some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe, Scotland's hills and mountains offer a host of different pleasures and experiences for walkers.
From a gentle walk amidst the rolling hills of the Borders region, to the awesome beauty of Glen Coe with its challenging walks (and climbs), there is something for everyone.
However, hazards do exist, despite the relatively low height of Scotland's mountains. This page gives some simple guidelines for your enjoyment and safety. It is designed to help both inexperienced and regular summer hillwalkers.
Before You Go
Before setting out on ANY trip, obtain a weather forecast from national and local radio, television, newspapers or online. Leaving word of where you are going can be a good idea. If you do, don't forget to advise them when you return.
Changeable is the best way to describe the weather in Scotland - and it can change at an alarming speed. Even on warm sunny days bad weather might be on the way. So, if the wind strengthens, clouds thicken, visibility decreases or the temperature falls, consider whether you need to revise your plans.
Choose a walk which is appropriate to you or your group's experience, fitness, navigation skills, knowledge of the area and for the prevailing weather conditions. As a general rule, take children only on routes which allow for a safe and easy retreat. Do not take children on long walks. Most areas of Scotland have walks to suit all levels of ability. Consider turning back if someone in your group is tiring or getting cold.
What to Take
- Clothing - Warm, wind and waterproof clothing is essential. This should include gloves, hat, fully waterproof and windproof jacket and trousers and spare clothing such as a warm sweater. Remember, it will get colder and windier the higher you climb.
- Equipment - Always carry a map and compass - but it is vitally important that you know how to use them (Ordnance Survey maps scale 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 are recommended).
- Carry equipment for use in an emergency such as a torch, whistle, First Aid Kit and emergency shelter. These items are inexpensive and readily available from all outdoor shops. The emergency signal is six blasts on the whistle or six flashes with the torch.
- Footwear - Your footwear should provide good ankle support and have a firm sole with a secure grip. Hillwalking boots are strongly recommended.
- Food and Drink - Take ample food and drink for each member of your group. Always take reserve supplies. Simple high energy foods are best (e.g. chocolate, dried fruits, cheese and biscuits), as are hot drinks in cold wet weather.
For a full kitlist click here
On Your Walk
Tracks and Paths
Part of Scotland's attraction is the wilderness of its countryside. Mountain paths are not signposted and even those marked on maps may sometimes be difficult to trace.
It's very easy to follow a sheep or deer track that leads to nowhere! Use your map and check your location at all times.
Scotland's Varied Terrain
The ground you cover - from heather and peat bog to rocky paths - makes walking in the Scottish hills exciting; however, it can make walking slow and exhausting. Rivers and burns can rise rapidly and become impassable. Consider these points when planning your walk, for it will affect the distance you can cover in the time available.
Do not assume you will find emergency shelter on the Scottish hills as even those marked on maps may not be suitable. Ensure that you are properly equipped.
During the summer months you may find patches of snow. You should avoid these areas unless you have the skills to cope with the extra hazard. Remember, many mountain accidents result from a simple slip. It can snow during any month of the year in the Scottish hills. Hillwalking in winter should be regarded as mountaineering and requires extra precautions. Daylight hours are shorter and weather conditions are more severe. Gain experience in summer conditions before venturing out in winter.
In an Emergency
If one of your party has an accident and cannot be moved:
- treat any injuries as best you can
- calculate your exact position on the map
- if possible, leave somebody to care for the casualty whilst others descend with a map to get help
- on reaching a telephone, dial 999 and ask for the police
- report the map grid reference where you left the casualty and details of the casualty's condition
Enjoy the Scottish Hills in Safety
Take note of the guidelines on this page and you will enjoy the beauty of Scotland's mountains and countryside and return to enjoy them again and again.
Setting the Map
Ticking off features
Taking & Following a Compass Bearing
Estimating Distance Travelled
Aiming Off, Attack Points, Handrails
Symbols and Grid References