Tips for QMDs

Tips for QMDs

A QMD publication

Bill Fear 2020

These views and opinions are my own and are not representative of, or linked to, any organization or group

The MT Handbook on the ML Training and Assessment can be accessed here

The tips are all from my own journey and experience. They are not any sort of formal guidance or advice. Anybody wanting to gain an ML certificate should refer to the MT guidance and handbooks and bear in mind that the ML Summer Award is the equivalent of a single ‘A’ Level/VRQ Level 3 and is regulated by OfQual.

I have based these tips on two things: 1) the core principle/s of a QMD; 2) my own experience and understanding. The core principle of a QMD is: a day out in mountain country that is a physical and mental challenge lasting at least five hours or more. I suggest including at least one summit, and preferably more, of at least 610m, covering a distance of at least 16km, having a minimum total height gain of 600m, and covering a variety of terrain (i.e. off paths and/or using minor paths over different terrain). Mitigating factors include the weather, having an inexperienced person/s with you, and/or deliberately staying on lower ground and/or doing a shorter distance for a specific reason. Noting also that on much of the UK’s slightly lower ground it is relatively straightforward to reach heights of around 500m and it doesn’t take much planning to get a total height gain of 600m.

When I attended my ML training at Glenmore Lodge I had close to 30 QMDs logged but had no idea of what made a real QMD. Some of those QMDs were excellent, and some were, quite frankly, embarrassing. After a serious conversation with the assessors during the debrief I began to realise what QMDs were all about and over the next six months I logged up close to 40 QMDs and at the same time downgraded around 20 of my QMDs to Mountain Days. Since qualifying I have continued to develop my understanding and appreciation of what is, and what is not, a QMD and why. I continue to log QMDs, Mountain Days, Hill Days, Low Level Walks, and so on and am working on developing a portfolio of Days Out which will include all of these.


  • Do some unplanned, unrecce’d days out. There is nothing like waking up in unfamiliar country, picking up the map, and taking five to ten minutes to say I’m going to do that summit, then that summit, then that summit…repeat…and heading out from your tent not knowing what you are going to face.
  • Do a partly planned day but only use a 1:50 map, or, even better, a Harvey 1:40, and don’t use your compass. (You should have your compass with you for emergencies or if things go pear shaped, but try and avoid using it and work only from the map.)
  • Keep your distance up. Except in exceptional circumstances it is difficult to see why a QMD would be less than 12-15 miles. Of course, there are situations where they might be a lot less than that, but as a general rule plan for 12-15 miles – you can always cut it short if you need to.
  • Make sure there is plenty of rough and/or rocky ground on your route. Even low level QMDs can be challenging if you stay mainly on rough ground, especially if it is in featureless terrain.
  • Plan, in detail, a long day, say 20 miles, taking a mostly unfamiliar route. Seek out small, unused, and ancient paths, features, landmarks, and so on. Plan using maps, mapping software, google earth, and so on. Write a Route Description from the maps and include key features, distances, and compass bearings. Do the same for a short but challenging day out.
  • Make the most of the weather. Find out what it is like to do long, tough, days when it is baking hot, freezing cold, windy, pouring with rain, &c&c. How will you react and respond?
  • Build in some scrambles. There are, for example, some excellent and highly challenging QMDs to be had in the Peak District by building in some of the listed mountain summits and incorporating a recognised scramble along the way.
  • Do a slow, ambling, day and don’t worry about distance or planning, or anything else. Just take your time and enjoy the day and work out the route as you go along. (Best for either a spring or warm autumn day.)
  • Do a long, fast, day where you push the pace all day (but keep safety as your number one priority). This could take place on a known route, for example the Welsh 3000s.
  • Do one of the Big Routes (e.g. one of the Big Three) as a two or three day QMD incorporating wild camping. (Which I haven’t done – yet. But we don’t yet know how our rescued Malamute X will take to the tent.)
  • Take out someone inexperienced and make sure you maintain good safety standards while at the same time incorporating meaningful challenges into the day.
  • Go out with someone more experienced/faster/whatever and try to keep up.
  • Go out with someone you don’t know. (Not advised, but I have done a number of challenging days with individuals I’ve never met before. Bears a remarkable similarity to going on an e-date or meeting someone in a bar.)
  • Spontaneously find an escape from your route while keeping to more than five hours at a realistic pace.
  • Do some night walks (they don’t have to be in the mountains, but even better if they are). This could include long walks that don’t finish until after dark.
  • Do a rope-work day on the rocks. Alternatively, build some rope-work practice into your day.
  • Abandon (cut short) a QMD part way through for a good reason – usually safety. For example, if you head out in questionable weather and it starts pouring with rain find an escape and abandon the walk. Log it as an abandoned QMD and give the reason.
  • Don’t be a drone/slave to any form of ‘list of mountain country’ (unless you are concerned primarily with getting an ML certificate). Think for yourself and utilise common sense combined with discipline, imagination, and reference to the core criteria. Any country that has mountains is mountain country, at least the part that has the mountains. The official UK definition of a mountain is clear – a distinct prominence above 610m – and all UK mountains are listed in the public domain (and on the Summits and Mountain Bothies page, which needs updating). All UK mountain country was listed up to 2017 in the MT handbooks and a full list can be found on the earlier blog post QMDs: ‘The List’ 2013 vs. post-2013.
  • Learn to make use of relevant and available information to plan and design QMDs – that is part of becoming a mountaineer. If you allow your activities to be constrained by hearsay, social media, and assumed well-intentioned advice you will only limit your own potential and capability, and being a mountaineer is about developing and growing your own potential and capability.

Perhaps the most important tip of all is always to think of how you can the most out of the day for your own development. How will the day challenge you? (You may only know this when you reflect on your experience of course.) This is, for me, all part of being both a mountaineer and someone with a love of ‘The Outdoors’.

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