By Jake Thompsett
When spending time in the hills in poor weather, self preservation is the key. Keeping your hands warm, staying dry, keeping moving (where appropriate), and preparing for the worst. All key things to prevent you getting stuck out unnecessarily and succumbing to hypothermia.
You need to keep your extremities warm and preferably dry. This not only prevents you loosing excess heat through them (especially your head) but it preserves your ability for fine motor skills such as doing up a zip on your insulated jacket, adjusting your compass to take a bearing and opening a wrapper to get at your snacks. Don’t wait for them to get cold either, it’s then very difficult to warm them up again, especially if you have bad circulation. I regularly head out in just a thin pair of liner gloves just to keep the edge off, then if I feel my hands starting to get colder I throw on a pair of thick gloves. A thin liner glove will also help you to get your larger gloves on if your hands are wet as this can sometimes be a very difficult task!
It is incredibly important to keep eating high energy foods and drinking water to ensure that your body stays energised and is capable of metabolising effectively and efficiently. Good food also gives you that “happy” feeling so make sure that you choose foods that are good for your morale! Try to avoid meals or foods that require you to stop/cook, instead opt for snacks that you can eat on the go and throughout the day.
Also take a small flask with a hot drink in, try to stay away from caffeinated drinks though (although that is better than nothing) and instead opt for a warm and calorific hot chocolate where possible!
How ever frustrating it is taking waterproof layers on and off, it is essential that you stay dry.
- Delayer when you’re too warm
- Add layers if you are cold
- Put on your waterproofs when it rains
‘Toughing out’ the rain and not putting the effort into layering up with waterproofs will lead to your layers becoming wet, once this happens they will stay wet all day. It is perfectly feasible to spend a day with wet clothes and come down off the hills safely, I spend many a days in soaked trail running clothing, but if something were to happen such as a common lower leg injury, then you are now in wet layers, exposed to poor weather. If you had kept your base and mid layers dry by using waterproofs appropriately, then your body would lose heat a lot less rapidly.
Good mountain skills include all of the above but being able to navigate accurately is extremely important. Not only will good navigation mean you will likely spend less time wandering around the hills trying to relocate and find your route, but if you were to end up in a ‘bad place’ with potential hypothermia then being able to give an accurate grid reference of your location to Rescue Services will drastically reduce the time it takes for you to be rescued and ultimately you’re exposure to the weather.
Make sure you plan for the worst, think about:
- Taking a spare fleece and preferably an insulated jacket
- Carrying plenty of food, water and a hot drink
- Taking a map and compass and make sure you are competent in using them!
- Taking a charged and waterproofed phone
- Taking a group shelter or emergency bivvy bag (not a foil blanket!)
- Plan a suitable route for the weather and conditions
- Let someone know of your plans!