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Wild Camping: What is it and what is the code of conduct?

Wild Camping: What is it and what is the code of conduct?

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Introductory note. It had been on mind for some time to write about the code, or principles, of wild camping. Recently I was shocked and saddened by what was mooted as ‘wild camping.’ I was also angered also at the level of disrespect shown to the countryside and landowners. There were pictures of trees cut down in conservation areas, open fires next to tents sporting plastic chairs, camping right next to a stream or river, and so on. Not only that, the countryside is increasingly scarred by the remains of open fires, litter from people ‘wild camping’, habitat destruction, and so on. I felt unable to write a ‘celebratory’ piece on wild camping in view of this but thought I might be able to share the basic principles of wild camping and the responsibilities that come with it.

Wild camping is simply camping away from a recognised and/or designated camping area. In England and Wales there is no legal right to wild camp except on Dartmoor. In Scotland the situation is different with access to the countryside enshrined in law. For the most part landowners in England and Wales tolerate wild camping as long as the appropriate code, or principles and rules, are respected and followed.

The code is sometimes referred to as ‘Leave No Trace’ (LNT). In simple terms, if you don’t respect the countryside you are not wild camping. You are simply damaging the countryside and creating problems for landowners and other people who use the countryside responsibly.  If you need to be advised on the sort of equipment and kit you need to wild camp responsibly then you are probably not yet ready to wild camp. There a number of introductory ‘wild camping’ campsites where you can start building experience and learning about what it takes to be comfortable outdoors without all the facilities. (See also, for example, National Trust, the RSPB, the British Mountaineering Council, the Ramblers, for relevant organizational advice on Wild Camping.)

At the heart of wild camping is respect for the countryside, its wildlife, the people who live and work there, and other visitors. The seven LNT principles or rules help ensure wild camping is responsible and does not cause lasting damage and minimises disruption. They are explained below.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare. Poorly prepared people have a high impact on the countryside and often damage the environment and put themselves and others at risk. Proper planning reduces the impact and the risk. Plan where you are going, find out about eh area, look at suitable campsites before you set off, work out what kit and equipment you need to take. For example, you will need some sort of portable stove, some sort of water purification, a bag to take your rubbish out with you, a trowel to bury your human waste, a sleeping mat and sleeping bag, and so on. On the other hand, you will not need a saw or axe to cut wood, any form of seating. And do not take your dog with you or if you do keep it on a leash at all times. You will also need to plan for water. Ideally you will want to camp close, but not too close, to a source of clean water that will need minimum treatment. Running water is usually more suitable than still water but all water should be filtered and boiled or purified. Read up about the area, the people who live there, it’s history, the sort of wildlife that lives there, and so on.
  • Always travel and camp on durable surfaces. Land is damaged by mass footfall and by extended periods of camping. Surface vegetation and organisms can be damaged beyond repair resulting in barren and eroded areas. Two nights is the maximum time you can camp on a site before damaging it and you should plan to avoid staying any longer than this. Also look for harder surfaces where you are least likely to cause damage.
  • Dispose of waste properly. Carry out what you carry in. You should leave nothing behind that you have taken in to the countryside, and especially so when you wild camp. Proper planning is essential here and you should not take disposal items with you. Toilet waste should be buried and be a minimum of 50m from any water source or footpath. Otherwise it will contaminate the water. Be aware that toilet paper, toilet wipes, sanitary products, and the like do not degrade and will need to be carried out. Urinating runs a far smaller risk of contamination but an appropriate distance of 50m from any water source should still be observed. Any plates, dishes, and cutlery should be washed at least 50m away from camp and well away from any water source. If any sort of soap is used it must be biodegradable to avoid negative impact on the environment. Dirty water should be disposed of quickly well away from any water source and spread over a wide area so that it evaporates quickly and does not attract wildlife. If you find other people’s rubbish carry out as much of it as you can rather than leaving it there and moaning about it.
  • Leave what you find. You should not alter the natural environment or countryside in any way. Do not dig trenches, cut branches from live trees, hammer nails into trees, clear areas of rocks or twigs, remove natural items, or build structures of any sort. There is no reason to either alter the environment, make some sort of mark to show you were there – no one cares other than about the damage you have caused – or to take ‘souvenirs’ home with you. All this does is create problems for the wildlife, landowners, and other people. And if the place you want to camp is not ‘comfortable’ don’t alter it to suit yourself, find a suitable place to camp instead
  • Minimize campfire impacts.  The natural environment gets degraded quickly by open fires, and unless you have carried a lot of wood in with you it is questionable how you are going to make a fire. Furthermore, open fires can create high levels of disturbance to the wildlife and pose a serious risk to the environment. If there is scope to light a small fire, using only dead wood that has already fallen, and cover the remains over in the morning. However, great care should be taken and you should never assume you will be able to light an open fire. Always have a suitable camping stove with you to cook food and boil water.
  • Respect wildlife and minimise your impact on wildlife, ecosystems, and the wider environment. You should not attempt to interact with the wildlife. Do not leave food out, or leave food waste assuming the animals will eat it – it is inevitably damaging to their health. If you discover a nesting ground for birds, or young animals or baby animals, move on quickly and find another spot. Parent animals can become aggressive when they have young and they may abandon them if the area has been disturbed or the young have been handled by humans. Any natural water source will likely be used by animals as well, especially at night, and you should camp well away from it and take care to be quiet in the evenings and early mornings. Noise should be kept to a minimum and there is no place for loud music, noisy radios, and loud talking and shouting in wild camping. The point is to get out into the countryside to experience the peace and tranquillity. Animals are also spooked by loud noise and excessive light.
  • Be considerate of other visitors and landowners. Following proper countryside etiquette and maintaining quiet minuses impact on the countryside and on other visitors and landowners. When wild camping you should always Arrive Late and Leave Early. Make camp just before the sun goes down and break camp as the sun comes up. This helps you be inconspicuous and cause minimum disturbance. When possible ‘camp high’. That is, camp on higher ground away from settlements and avoid disturbing the privacy of others. Only stay one night and then move on. This limits the damage to the environment and the disturbance to wildlife. It also limits the disruption and disturbance to other visitors and landowners. In some places it may be possible to stay for two nights but any more than this will damage the vegetation and other organisms. Keep group numbers small and keep the number of tents to a minimum. Again, this helps keep any disturbance and damage to a minimum. Don’t make a lot of noise or loud noise.

If you do want to wild camp, and want to continue doing so, you will need to contribute to conserving the places where wild camping is possible. You can do this by abiding by the LNT principles and by joining the relevant conservation bodies such as the National Trust, the RSPB, the British Mountaineering Council, the Ramblers, and so on, all of whom are involved in the conservation and protection of our countryside. They are always looking for volunteers to help with conservation programs. There are a good number of places where wild camping has been abused that you can visit to see just how big an impact it can have. A visit to Red Tarn, in the Lake District, will give you an idea of the sorts of difficulties wild camping can create. We often come across the scars of fire pits, trees with branches hacked off or even cut down completely, piles of rubbish, heavily eroded patches of land, and other similar signs of where people have disregarded the LNT principles. By adhering to the LNT principles it is possible to enjoy and appreciate the countryside for what it is and what it has to offer.

Mountain Leader Training: Some Notes

Mountain Leader Training: Some Notes

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‘If you want to spend time in the mountains then the only way to do that is to go and spend time in the mountains.’ Byron.


I completed my Mountain Leader Training at Glenmore Lodge in Scotland, where the ethos of Eric Langmuir is kept alive, in September 2017I went on to successfully complete my assessment in May 2018. During that time I bagged around 30 Quality Mountain Days mainly in the Lake District and Yr Eryri. Before doing my training, and between my training and assessment, I spoke to around 15 providers and discussed many aspects of the award. I learnt a lot about the history of the industry and the value of the award.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I was given was, in the words of Stephen King, dontdoitforthemoneyhoney – it isn’t worth it. Few people, if any, earn anything close to a living from a single Mountain Leader Award unless it is internationally recognised – the IML for example – and even then it’s tough going.

On the other hand, what you will gain as an individual from a good quality training course and a high quality assessment is worth the investment. As long as you do the work. A lot of people worry about the assessment unnecessarily. The process is driven by a set of objective criteria and the standard is set by Mountain Training and not by individual providers. There is also a full appeals process if you feel you have been treated unfairly. If you have bagged enough good quality QMDs at the right standard, and practiced your navigation and rope work, then the assessment is going to be little more than a formality and all you need to do is enjoy it. The only time you need to be concerned is if you are not out in the mountains clocking up QMDs and getting onto steep and rocky ground. And that is where most people fall short – they simply don’t go out into the mountains and rack up true QMDs.

At the end of the day the ML award is a starting point, not an end point. And if you aren’t out in the mountains then why do want a mountaineering award?

The following notes are completely my own and more or less as I made them in the order I made them. I’ve done a little bit of editing to tidy them up in places but otherwise they are as made at the time.


MLS requires the deployment of skills suitable to the terrain and conditions and the use of relevant technical equipment. It may require the unplanned use of ropes.  If the skills required exceed the skills of the training/syllabus then it is no longer within the remit of the qualification. The planned use of ropes exceeds the remit as do conditions that require the use of equipment beyond that of the equipment noted in the syllabus/training. You can lead a group during winter but if you encounter conditions that require the use of winter equipment then you exceed the remit. One of the key boundaries is safety (and duty of care) and another is use of equipment.

The quality of the event is an important consideration. The group needs to have a quality experience that both manages and meets their expectations within realistic and reasonable boundaries.

When managing the groups expectations and performance it is important to recognise that the quality of event is not, and should not be, set to the level of the ‘lowest common denominator’. That is, the event should not be managed according to the expectations and considerations of the lowest level of assumed capability and performance. It is important to assess the capabilities and abilities of the group as a whole. This will mean challenging some people to ‘up their game’ and managing other people to accept a reduced level of challenge/experience. You need to be able to make a good and accurate assessment of your own fitness and the fitness of the group as a whole.

Leadership is important for both safety and quality of the experience. A useful model for leadership is the GIT model:

  • Take account of the needs and expectations of the Group
  • Take account of the needs and expectations of the Individual
  • Take account of the Task
  • Leadership is the space where the Group, Individual, and Task overlap.
  • Leadership is managing a Group of Individuals to complete a Task.

Packing a Bag

  • Wear good quality kit including appropriate footwear (suitable boots) as a model for the group.
  • Leading a group is inevitably slower than your own pace so wear more clothing than you would usually wear.
  • A strong waterproof jacket is essential. That is, one that will not rip and tear easily on rocks and if you need to do rope work.
  • Take extra food – more than you would usually take. Take a flask.
  • Waterproof trousers. From my own experience these need to be tough. Rocks will lacerate good quality lightweight waterproof trousers like a werewolf toying with a group of drunken revellers.
  • Gloves and hat. Take spares (both gloves and hats). Again, you may as well put thinner gloves through a mincing machine as wear them on rocky ground.
  • First aid kit. This should include extras including a pencil (and an indestructible pen) and waterproof paper. ICE details. Interesting extras include cable ties, boot laces (or specialist cord), and the ubiquitous Duck Tape.
  • A bothy big enough for 6 people (?) at minimum suggest 4 but this needs to confirmed.
  • Check for super lightweight bothys at super expensive prices.
  • Extra warm layers. An extra warm jacket is essential.
  • Foil blanket or similar as long as it has foil layer.
  • A proper heavyweight survival bag.
  • Whistle
  • Walking pole. This is part of rescue equipment and can be helpful with a heavy pack.
  • A 30m rope. This needs to be a proper weight climbing rope.
  • Two headtorches. Check batteries and make sure that at least one torch has a new set of batteries in it.
  • Two maps of the area. If using paper maps then a proper waterproof map bag is essential. A waterproof map bag is part of equipment even if using waterproof maps.
  • Two good quality compasses.
  • A fully charged mobile phone.
  • A digital watch.
  • Extras according to the season include sun cream, a sun hat, and so on.
  • Water. There is no guidance on how much water to carry but you need some and a means to transport water. (For myself I also carry a small filter and chlorine tablets and I know some people always carry a UV steriliser pen. In areas with farmed animals – sheep especially – you need to check c. 150m upstream for any dead animals; don’t take water form a source that cattle have been using.)
  • Weight of the bag is important. A fully packed bag should be no more than 12-15kg for an overnight EXPED and less for a day trip. You need to be able to move over all ground steadily and securely with your bag fully packed.
  • You need to be able to know how to switch on a GPS and take a grid reference and relocate. (I tend to use OS Locate for this; it picks up on satellites so does not need a phone signal.)


You need to have a good knowledge and understanding of the environment. Knowledge of fauna and flora is essential. This doesn’t need to be more than a good quality general knowledge but you should be continually working on improving this. Knowledge of geology and geomorphology is also important as is the significance of place names that relate to the geomorphology. Knowledge of the relevant history of an area is also useful.

You need to have a full understanding of environmental considerations and enforce them. ‘What you take in you take out’. This may mean carrying a back for rubbish. Leave No Trace.

Human waste needs to be buried. You should be at least 30m from a water source when urinating and ideally a 100m from a water source when defecating and this should be buried (including any tissue).



While all navigation skills are important – from map reading to taking a bearing – there are specific skills relevant to the ML. These are particular micro-navigation skills and they come into their own in adverse conditions. Two key skills are:

  1. Being able to understand and use contours at a fine level of detail even in the dark/adverse conditions
  2. Moving on a bearing.

Contours are the most important feature of a map because:

  • They make up the majority of information available on a map
  • they don’t change
  • they are reliable.

Anything and everything else may be inaccurate, unmarked, open to interpretation, or may change or not be visible.

Skills for using contours as micro-navigation aids include:

  • Measuring the size of the contour feature;
  • Checking the aspect of the slope;
  • Assessing the shape of the contour feature on the ground in relation to the map;
  • Knowing index contours;
  • Being aware of distance between contours (varies between types of map);
  • Being aware of detail, aspect, gradient, and so on relative to scale.
  • Appreciating size and detail of feature relevant to scale;
  • When on the ground identifying catching features beyond the attack point/destination that can be used to relocate.

Relocation techniques

It is essential to know how to relocate. The most important relocation is from contour features but other features can be used if they are there. These are primarily water and rock features but it depends on map and scale of map.

Relocation techniques are the application of good micronavigation techniques to your location:

  • Is the ground flat or sloping;
  • What is the aspect of slope (take a bearing down the slope with the bearing at right angles to the contours)
  • What is the gradient
  • What is the shape of the land – especially any flat features or readily distinguishable features
  • How does the gradient and aspect change over time and in the immediate vicinity
  • How did the land – gradient, aspect, and so on, change while you were moving over it
  • What are the catching features nearby – e.g. there should be an X within Y metres in this direction; the slope should do X within Y metres in this direction. You need to know what happens if you that is not the case. E.g. if the slope goes up instead of down in Y metres then were not at point X but more likely to be at point X2; if at point X2 the slope should…and so on.

You also need to be able to apply search techniques such as stars and squares. RTFM.

Back bearings and triangulation are useful relocation techniques. Back bearings are also useful when travelling on a bearing. RTFM for triangulation.

Pacing and Timing

Pacing and timing are important navigation techniques. Pacing tends to be more accurate than timing.


  • Count every second step (usually on the left foot)
  • Know how many paces = 100m
  • Count in sets of 100m
  • Keep count of sets
  • Adjust for ground: terrain; going uphill; going downhill. Note that the count may or may not be affected by the slope, it will depend on a combination of factors such as gradient, tiredness, and the type of ground being covered. Only practice will improve pacing accuracy.
  • Have something you can use to keep count of sets of 100m (e.g. knots on cord and a movable fixable toggle).


You need to know the pace the group is moving at over the ground and how to adjust this for rough ground and for contours. Then you can predict how long it will take to reach a point and keep check of the time using the stopwatch feature on your watch.

The general guide for timing is Naismith’s rule (RTFM).

However, pacing is more accurate than timing.

When using timing it is important to use a stopwatch

Walking on a bearing

It is important to be able to walk on a bearing including over rough ground, on a slope, at night, and under adverse conditions.

Be aware of any tendency to drift.

Use front and/or back bearings to check accuracy of line of travel (taken against group members if suitable).

Also fix on features on bearing and take front and back bearings against features. In the dark or in limited visibility the distance between these features may be very short. In zero visibility (e.g. white out; driving rain at night) you need to be able to move at a pace that keeps you on the bearing and be aware of any tendency to drift.

When walking with the contours against the slope you need to be aware of drift up or down. This can be useful to manage staying on the bearing.

Covering ground

When you are covering ground you need to be effective and efficient. This means keeping the group moving at the appropriate pace with the appropriate boundaries. Don’t stop unnecessarily and make every stop functional and purposeful. When stopping make sure the group knows why you are stopping and what is expected of them. When stopping for lunch, snacks, and so on set time boundaries. You should have a good idea of how long each leg will take and how long the overall journey will take.

Pick good quality appropriate lines across the ground. They not within the groups capability and ability and the group should maintain momentum.

Be aware of how the group is managing rough ground, boulder fields, vegetation, scree, slope and gradient, climbing, descending, and so on.

Use paths when available and if appropriate both to keep momentum and for environmental reasons.

Bear in mind that too many stops and unnecessary stops will frustrate and demotivate the group. Equally, not stopping to allow for layering/delayering, snacks, toileting, and so on can lead to a build-up of problems.

Short stops at appropriate intervals to share knowledge of fauna, flora, and geomorphology can be used as disguised rest breaks for ‘slower’ group members  but should be neither too frequent nor too long. Be mindful also that rest breaks in cold weather can increase tiredness and coldness.

Route Planning

Route planning g is important but you need to be flexible and adaptable. A key skill is being able to change and adapt route according to the weather, the needs of the group, and unforseen situations and changes. Changing a route according to the weather forecast and changes in the weather on the day are core skills that need to be developed. This means being aware of the impact of the weather on the terrain. This applies to streams and rivers, bogs, rock, slope, etc. Also the impact of precipitation in terms of mist. Windspeed and the impact of windspeed X height and so on.

Route planning is also applicable to micro-navigation as every leg of micro-navigation is effectively a route. And a route is effectively a big leg.

All full routes should be broken down into legs but it is important to have a overview not only of the whole route but also of the general area as this allows for better planning and flexibility.

We need strategies and tools to plan routes (a route is applied to the whole journey and to a leg).

A core strategy is to storyboard the route. Identify features and objects you will see along the way and how the ground will feel. Anticipate and be aware of changes in gradient, aspect of slope, and contour features and any other stable features (features that are big enough and fixed enough to be there on the ground.

We need systems to ‘get it right’. These same systems can be used to relocate. We use of set of criteria and indicators to know where we are at all times. This does mean being familiar with the map. However, we also need to be able to pick up a map on spec and use it. That is, we should be able to navigate in an unfamiliar area from a map we have not used before.

Even small legs can be broken down into shorter steps so that we can move from point to point in order to reach the destination. The worse the conditions and visibility the more we can break down a leg. However, you need to be aware of the impact of this on the momentum and the implications of this for the group. Equally, breaking a leg down in adverse conditions may increase the sense of security for the group as they move from point to point.

Two sets of tools we can use are the 4Ds and the 4 Whats.


  • Description – what does the destination look like; size, shape, slope, aspect, and so on. Any other features.
  • Distance: how far is it to the destination; how far is it to catching features; how far is it to attack points leading up to the destination.
  • Direction: what is the bearing
  • Design: How are you going to get from A to B; are you going to go along a bearing; are you going to aim off; are you going to traverse a slope; and so on. How long is it going to take? Are you going to stop at checkpoints?

4 Whats

  • What are you going to use to get to destination: bearing, pacing, timing, catching features, attack points, handrails, etc.
  • What will you see along the way; micro-features, catching features, obvious changes in slope, and so on
  • What will you see when you get there: features, contour formations, aspect, gradient, and so on.
  • What happens if you go to far: How do the contours change, what other features will be there.

With all strategies and use of tools it is important to focus on micro-features because these are what you will use in poor visibility. You need features that are distinguishable and within sight and that can be found on the ground. Contour features are particularly important and it is important to know the distance to checking features and catching features. It is also important to be able to find catching features as a means of relocating.

There are many tools and techniques and strategies. RTFM.

Route Finding

You need to be able to find routes that the group will be able to manage. When going over rough ground you need to be able to take account of the groups ability to manage over the ground and find the safest route for them. This is particularly important across rocky ground and steep ground.

You need to be able to find good lines across the ground, up and down slopes, across rivers, and so on.

When paths are available they are usually the easiest and safest routes to follow. However, this is not always the case. Paths can disappear and can change direction and lead you off course. They are seductive in that they draw you along the path. However, paths may also wiggle around but continue to go in right direction. They can be boggy and slippery. Not all paths are marked on all maps and sometimes there are good quality unmarked paths.

Steep ground and rope work

Rope Work

When crossing steep ground it may be necessary to use a rope. However, any rope work should be unplanned. That is, ML does not include the use of planned rope work, only unplanned rope work.

There are three basic ML parts to rope work:

  • Lowering
  • Abseiling
  • Confidence roping

Lowering is when you set up an anchor and belay the person down a step. It is essential to find a fixed anchor that will not move. There should be a straight line between anchor-belay-contact. The knot for the belay should be on the same side as the rope.

When abseiling there are a number of forms but the main ones are the classic, the South African, and the angel wings. (ADDITIONAL NOTE: I would only ever use the South African to abseil without a harness. Both of the other methods require a high level of skill and can be both painful and dangerous.)

Confidence roping involves attaching the other person to the rope, keeping a short distance between yourself and the other person, and moving downhill with them. When they turn they need to turn towards you.

These techniques all require practice and are unplanned. They are uncomfortable and are for use in difficult situations.

Spotting and fielding

When going over steep ground and especially up and down boulder fields and steps and so on we may need to spot and field.

Look for the best line including footholds and handholds. Show the person where to put their feet and hands. Hold their feet in place if necessary. Stand to the side of them with one hand behind their rucksack. Do not push them but lightly support them if necessary. Be to one side so that if they fall they do not take you with them. The same applies to descending.

It is important to be able to find and test good lines with good holds and supports. Be aware of capabilities. Check handholds. Check for loose rocks. Make the sure the group in not in the line of a fall or loose rock.

Diagonal movement

When taking the group across broken ground and rocky ground you may need to work a traverse especially when there is loose rock. Make sure the group is in a line with no one above another. Stop at the turning point on the traverse. Make sure it is  a safe stopping point and gather everybody behind you before continuing on the next traverse.

River crossings

When crossing rivers look for shallow crossings – knee level at most. But this needs to be balanced against the strength of the flow, the ground underfoot, the width of the river. At the very most it should be mid-thigh deep in a gentle flow.

Always face upstream. Use a pole to test the strength of the water, the depth, and so on.

Lean slightly forward onto pole. Right hand on top, left hand below. Step sideways. Take small steps.

You can form a line, one behind the other. Don’t put the ‘weakest’ person at the back.

You can form an arrowhead. This is more stable in stronger, faster water.

Make sure you keep line or arrowhead.

Always check where you are crossing to and ensure you can get out. Check entry points as well to make sure it is straightforward to get into the water.

Emergencies and Hazards

You need to be confident to deal with emergencies and hazards.

You need an up to date first aid certificate of minimum 16 hours ideally coping with outdoor situations

You need to know how to use a bothy shelter

You need to know what to do in extreme weather conditions

You need to know what to do in the case of lightning

You need to know how to make a simple emergency stretcher

You need to know how to move a casualty if necessary

You need to know how to check if a casualty can move under their own volition

You need to know how to deal with hypothermia

You need to know how to contact mountain rescue and how long they are likely to take

You need to know what to do to aid a chopper

You need to know how to keep someone warm


A good knowledge of how the weather works, how to read the weather, where to find

relevant and accurate information, how to be prepared for different conditions, and how to manage weather conditions is essential and a core part of being an ML.

All planning at every level should take account of the weather conditions. However, you need to be flexible and adaptable and able to respond appropriately to changing weather conditions and modify or change the leg/route accordingly.

The weather needs to be understood as a combination of elements ranging from fronts through wind to rain and sun, mist, snow, and so on. Key elements:

  • Wind speed
  • Wind direction
  • Temperature
  • Impact of wind speed on temperature (wind chill; charts are available)
  • Precipitation
  • visibility

Weather forecasts are highly location specific and are increasingly inaccurate in terms of forecasting. The forecasts should be monitored for some time before a trip and checked again on the day. Forecasts can be checked online, through local knowledge, and there are often forecast sheets in major car parks. Be sure of the validity and accuracy of a forecast before using it.

An important part of the weather is being able to read and assess synoptic charts, especially over time in relation to planning. This takes practice. RTFM.

Sites such as the Met Office give good hourly information that is updated to specific locations.

It is important to have a longer term view if going on Exped. However, this view can only really be clarified and forecast immediately before leaving (i.e. in the hours before setting out). It is equally important to be able to assess the likely weather from the environment (clouds, temperature, windspeed) as when out you are unlikely to be able to get weather information that is up to date and it may be days before you can access any information. Notes of forecasts should be made on waterproof paper and taken on journey, especially Exped.

It is essential to understand the weather and the impact of the weather in order to stay safe. One of the most important factors is the windspeed, wind direction, and how the wind behaves on the mountains. RTFM.

Once the wind is in excess of 40mph it becomes unsafe to take a group onto high ground.

Weather sites and apps (check for apps in relation to these):


Met Office

MWUK [Mobile App]

Mountain weather forecasts



Hills-database (combination site)

Access rights

It is important to have an understanding of your access rights. These vary between Scotland and England and Wales and Ireland. Crucially, in Scotland there is a right of access to land.

In England and Wales there is no corresponding right although there are some access rights on Open Access Land. In Ireland there are no access rights per se. In Scotland, England and Wales there are similar access rights to Public Rights of Way. These rights do not apply in Ireland. It is also important to know what to do if access if challenged and this should always be managed professionally and in a non-confrontational way. As an ML leader you are the one who needs to manage this should it occur. These considerations are even more important when Wild or Valley camping.


Always check you kit before going out. Kit should be up to date and in good working order. Kit should be appropriate to the journey and should include additional and essential items.

Quality of kit is important both for safety and to set an example. Consideration needs to be given to how to manage should a party member not have appropriate kit, lose kit, and so on. Safety always comes first.

It is useful to have a wind layer to combat wind chill. A windproof layer will reduce the impact of windchill.

Legal Liability

Refer to notes, handouts, and other relevant sources for this. Key points are:

  • You have a duty of care in keeping with your level of training and qualification
  • Liability is related to reasonable responsibility
  • Negligence incurs liability. Negligence is linked to blatant neglect which in turn is linked to foreseeability.
  • Risk management is related to reasonable responsibility and neglect.
  • Designated leadership incurs a direct duty of care
  • Cannot disclaim risks for people under 18 years of age

A defence against liability rests on:

  • Foreseeability
  • Volenti non fit injura
  • Contributory negligence
  • A break in causation
  • Cost benefit

You should be familiar with these defences as that instils an understanding of how to manage risk as the defence takes account of those things that are in effect outside of your reasonable control. RTFM.


Assessment takes place over five days. Three days are out continuously and include two nights of wild camping. There are five parts (days) to the assessment:

1 Introduction

  • Assessment of log book (start each entry with a summary paragraph highlighting main elements)
  • Leadership
  • Navigation
  • Knowledge of weather
  • Emergency proceedures
  • Water Hazards
  • Packing a bag
  • Home paper

2 – Security on steep ground and personal movement

Exped preparation and route planning

Days 3-5 Exped

  • Leadership
  • Navigation (this includes navigation in adverse conditions with poor visibility; if there are no adverse conditions with poor visibility then there will be night navigation and this may take place on both nights)
  • Safe and efficient travel
  • Party management
  • Personal proficiency
  • Steep ground

Usual reasons for deferment/fail

  • Navigation
  • Leadership
  • Security on steep ground

Other considerations

Be professional at all times (safety first)

Make use of CPD workshops


Desk exercises (can be done at home)

  • Practice identifying small contour features on a map and working out what they are like. E.g. measure them, take a bearing on them, write down the shape, look at what other features are nearby.
  • Stick a pin in a map then work out how you would know if you got there
  • Draw a line between two random points. Work out how you would know if you were at point A, how you would get to point B in the safest and most effective way if you had no visibility, how you would know when you were at point B
  • Pick a point and work out the aspect of slope
  • Plot a route and look at attack points and catching features
  • Plot a route from A to B then imagine that part along you have an impassable barrier. What do you do.
  • Plot a route. Pick a random point on the route. You are at that point. There are adverse weather conditions and you need to modify your route. What do you do?
  • Do the same using an arial photograph
  • Rope work: practice on flat ground and progress to steep ground.


  • Do the same as above but include walking on a bearing, pacing, and timing.
  • Do the same as above at night.
  • Do all of the above with different scale maps and different maps.
  • Do the same using an arial photograph.

Some useful sights for maps

It is worth looking at this site and the free OS data

If you subscribe to OS maps you can get ariel views Dash4it does cut price maps

Basic safety in the mountains: An introduction

Basic safety in the mountains: An introduction

PDF of post Here

The two most commonly occurring incidents in the mountains are injuries due to slips, trips, stumbles, tumbles, and falls and getting lost. For those people who are unfortunate enough to be injured and unable to get off the mountain there is a risk of hypothermia. This not limited to winter months and the number of incidents of hypothermia is higher in summer than in winter.

From this it should be clear that having the right clothing and kit and being able to navigate are critical to mountain safety. In addition to this understanding something about the weather in the mountains plays a vital role in managing your safety.

When writing about clothing, navigation, and the weather the temptation is always to launch into technical ‘how to’ manual-type explanations without any real background. So what we’ve done here is focus on background understanding in the hope that when you get to the technical ‘How To’ stuff you’ll have some background or context for it. Wherever you choose to get it from.


Wearing the right sort of clothing, including footwear, will make all the difference to both comfort and safety in the mountains. The two most dangerous items of clothing you can wear are anything cotton, especially if in contact with the skin, and the wrong sort of footwear.

You will freeze to death faster in cotton clothing than you will naked. This is because cotton does not retain heat and retains moisture. It cools the body, even in low temperatures. Any cotton clothing should be avoided when going into the mountains, including socks. There are now a wide range of suitable materials available for mountaineering, including hiking and trekking, that will serve you well. Merino wool is a classic material that has excellent thermal properties even when wet. There are any number of man-made synthetic materials available as well.

The key is to layer appropriately, starting with an underlayer followed by a wicking layer then an insulating layer and finally a waterproof/windproof layer. This obviously varies between summer and winter and you may need to experiment to find the best number of layers for yourself depending on the time of year and how energetic you are going to be. It is important to take off/put on layers as you don’t/do need them. It is easy to wait until you are too cold before putting on an extra layer in winter, or even summer, and similarly to wait until you are too warm before taking off a layer. I’ve experienced mild hypothermia in the summer when the mountain tops were damp and cold, but the valleys warm and gentle, and hyperthermia in the middle of winter from wearing too many layers and sweating profusely.

Over time and with experience you will come to know how to work your layering system in conjunction with the weather, although you should always be prepared for adverse weather conditions in the mountains. There is a difference, also, in being able to get away with inadequate and inappropriate clothing for a couple of hours if you are moving quickly on reasonably well marked paths in popular areas. It is a different matter if you are somewhere remote and get caught in bad weather for several hours. And the point of good clothing, apart from the risk considerations, is that you are far less at the mercy of the conditions with limited possibilities.

When buying kit it is best to stick with reputable brands from reputable sources. Some kit such as insulting layers and waterproofs can sometimes be acquired second hand in good condition so it’s worth knowing your brands and keeping your eyes open. Bear in mind also that waterproof layers will need to be retreated regularly and should never be washed in normal washing powder/liquid. You will need either a specialist washing liquid such as Tekwash or pure soap flakes. And, of course, there is no such thing as ‘waterproof’ unless it is thick plastic. It is all about how much water your waterproof layer lets in, how warm it keeps you, and how quickly it dries. Most manufacturers will provide details on this in their specifications and descriptions. Having the proper clothing could, one day, save your life or the life of someone else so it’s something you should pay careful attention to.

The likelihood of being able to find clothing that is suitable for most, if not all, weathers and conditions is vanishingly small. If you do happen to find a manufacturer of traditional, hard wearing, multi-seasonal, multi-weather, clothing please do let me know.

Footwear is a poorly understood item of clothing for many and the choice can be bewildering. Again, it’s important to find out what works for you. You don’t want to develop painful blisters, of find that the balls of your feet are excruciatingly painful, or twist an ankle, and so on. Footwear varies both for type of terrain and time of year. For example, in the summer I tend to wear mountain running shoes most of the time, with thin socks (and I carry a couple of spare pairs in my backpack). I have three pairs of boots. One for easier walking, which I tend to wear in the cold, wet, months on the softer hills. One pair with a fairly hard sole that I use when up in the rocky mountains, and one heavy pair that I use in the snow on high, rocky, ground. I also have a pair of approach shoes I use for scrambling and high rocky ground in the summer. And so on. And I’m needing another pair of boots! It is possible to get away with just one, perhaps two, pairs of ‘all round’ boots but they will limit what you can do in the mountains not least because they will limit your speed of movement over different ground, unless you are very experienced, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this.

In the winter there is always a flurry of conversation about crampons. In three years I’ve walked every winter in the mountains, including in some difficult conditions. I don’t own a pair of crampons. I do have a set of micro-spikes. I’ve worn them three times. First of all, in the UK – Scotland aside – a pair of good winter boots will suit most conditions, especially if you use micro-spikes with them. For crampons not only to work effectively but also to be safe they need to match the boot and you need to know how to walk/climb in crampons. If you do wear them you will also spend a good amount of time taking them off and putting them on as the snow changes on your route.

Proper boots come with three gradings to their sole. B1, B2, and B3. These gradings refer to the flexibility and twist in the sole. B1 has some flexibility, B2 feels completely inflexible, and B3 even less so. Crampons match this level of flexibility with a C1, C2, and C3. You cannot, for example, fit a C2 crampon to a B1 boot, unless you want to risk your life. The ideal boot here is probably a good fitting B2 and this level of boot has served serious mountaineers for many years. It is said that there is nothing you can do in a B3 boot that you can’t do in a B2 boot, it is just that a B3 boot may make it a little less tiring (assuming you know how to move in a B3 boot).

A B2 boot can be used as a good all year round boot for the mountains but it is hard going on the feet if you travel long distances. On the other hand, there is something about knowing your feet are well protected on the rock.

If you do decide to walk in real winter conditions you will need crampons and you will need to learn how to use them and practice using them. Any good book on Alpinism should have a section on using crampons and there are numerous winter skills courses available in Scotland in the winter months.

Your footwear is a trade off between distance, pace, terrain, country, and time of year. Buying second hand is a bad idea unless they have hardly been used. And footwear has a short life span. Running shoes tend to last for 300-500 miles before, like a car tyre, they are worn out. The same applies to walking shoes and boots. They will wear out and when they do they will need replacing.

When I trained as a mountain leader I was told that as a group leader you should always were proper boots because, ‘if you need to walk out of somewhere to get help you have to know you are going to be able to do that.’ And good boots will protect your feet in all sorts of different terrain.

List of basic clothing for walking in the mountains

  • Good quality walking underwear
  • Base layer
  • Wicking layer
  • Insulating layer
  • Wind/waterproof layer (you may want separate windproof and waterproof layers but I typically have a ‘summer’ wind and waterproof layer and a ‘winter’ wind and waterproof layer)
  • Waterproof over-trousers
  • Walking trousers and shorts
  • Socks (‘waterproof’ socks are available and I have found they are good at keeping my feet warm in winter and while kayaking)
  • Gloves (usually at least two pairs)
  • Hat/s
  • Buff (scarves are not a good idea. They are clumsy and difficult to manage if you need to take them off/put them on)
  • Shoes and/or boots
  • (always carry at least one spare layer)


You will need to learn to use a map and compass to navigate if you really want to spend any time in the mountains. With any other form of navigation tool your are limiting both the time you can spend out and risking your safety and the safety of others.

Using a map and compass to navigate in the mountains means learning to read and interpret contour features. Until you can do this you cannot navigate in the mountains. If you are used to following paths marked on a map you are going to have to ‘unlearn’ this in order to focus on the contour features. You have to learn to ignore all other information. Why?

The reason we focus on contour features is because they are the only reliable feature on a map. Anything else may, or may not, be there and may, or may not, be marked and may, or may not, change position. Paths disappear and new ones appear. Rivers and streams change course, dry up, or may not be marked. Buildings get built and knocked down. Forestry and woodland gets cut down and gets planted. And so on. Contour features don’t change.

Once you learn to ignore the other information reading contour features is relatively straightforward and may even be easier than trying to read and rely on other features. We don’t have space to go into this aspect of map reading here but the Ordnance Survey site has good, free, online instructions and there are numerous courses available (with the NNAS courses fast becoming the standard – but make sure you go for a course that is suitable for mountaineering and does not rely on being able to follow footpaths).

The key contour features on any map are:

  • Ring contours
  • Spurs
  • Re-entrants and valleys
  • Summits
  • Ring contours
  • Flat places

These are all shown by contour lines which are set at particular intervals depending on the map. In the UK mountain maps tend to use one of three scales: 1:25000 (1:25); 1:50000 (1:50), and 1:40000 (1:40). You should be familiar with all three scales and the differences between them.

Ordnance Survey maps, OS maps, tend to be either 1:25 or 1:50. Harvey maps tend to be mostly 1:40 and sometimes 1:25. Harvey maps are specialist walking maps and in some ways are a better fit-for-purpose than OS maps. They use a different contour interval and different colouring to OS maps, are printed on lightweight ‘waterproof’ paper, and are simpler and easier to read. OS maps have some advantages such as marking out all the Open Access areas and having more detail, which is sometimes a disadvantage. It is a good idea to use all three types of map regularly so you don’t get over-reliant on one type.

A compass is used in two main ways. One, taking a bearing, and two, following a bearing. A bearing can be taken in two ways, either from the map or from a feature on the ground. The most frequent and useful way of taking a bearing is from the map.

When taking a bearing from a map when you are walking it is always good practice to set the map first. That is, get the north of the map pointing north. That way when you take a bearing the map will be oriented to the ground and the bearing on the map will match the bearing on the ground. For instructions on how to do this see the notes at.

When following a bearing you keep the needle of the compass pointing north and the housing matched to the needle and follow the arrow on the baseplate of the compass. The issue here is how to keep moving in the right direction as you cannot always go across country in a straight line. Not only that, we all tend to drift and it is possible to drift while seeming to stay on the line of the bearing.

I’m introducing the use of a compass here, rather than explaining how to do it as it’s important to be aware of these methods just as much as it is knowing how to use them.

Once you can use a map and compass competently you need to get used to using them under adverse conditions. That means when you are wet, cold, tired, hungry, and fatigued and when the weather is against you and visibility is poor. It is under these conditions, when you are stressed, that basic, simple, navigation skills are most important and may one day save your life. Relying on an electronic device under these conditions can incur additional risks, especially if they fail or you rely on them at the expense of proper navigational and route finding skills.

Once you have developed your map and compass skills they can be supplemented with a GPS device and this can add to the fun of exploring the mountains. Mobile phone apps are not advised as navigational tools. Out of all the mobile phone apps OS Locate is probably the most useful and reliable, and is free. It gives a quick location and can be used as an electronic compass. Downloadable maps on mobile phones can be useful but do not replace real maps and have various shortcomings (such as battery life).

Unfortunately, it is increasingly fashionable to decry the use of a map and compass in favour of blindly following an arrow on a GPS or a mobile phone. This approach severely limits both your understanding and appreciation of the mountains and the country and your ability to explore them and is ill-advised. As I said earlier, GPS devices are useful once you know how to use a map and compass. Then they can be a supplemental tool and can be fun to use. And if you can use a map and compass properly then you will have no problem using a GPS, button pushing sequences and overly-complex menu choices aside. The reverse is not the case.

In terms of kit, you should always carry two maps and two compasses. In case one gets lost and/or broken. I tend to carry a 1:25 and a 1:50 map or a 1:40 and a 1:25. When the 1:40 is available for the area I generally find it a better map to use. I will often explore an area at home at the table on a 1:25 map and match it back across to the 1:40 and/or 1:50 map. Maps do become water logged, tear, get blown away, and so on. And I’ve had a compass break a couple of times and know of cases when people have put their compass with their mobile phone and the polarity of needle has reversed. I’ve also found it useful when I’m tired and confused to check the reading of my compass against my spare compass if only to reassure myself that I have actually found the correct route and my compass isn’t playing tricks on me. The only electronic device I’ve taken seriously are location readings of OS Locate and my GPS.

At the end of the day navigation skills using a map and compass are a cornerstone of mountaineering and critical to your safety.


Sometimes when talking about mountain weather there’s a focus on types of clouds. This baffled me and still does. If we could predict the weather from the clouds, apart from the obvious, we wouldn’t need weather forecasts.

Mountain weather has certain characteristics that distinguish it from valley weather or lowland weather. It also has risks associated with it. The wind is stronger in the mountains and can be up to three times stronger on high ground, especially on summits and ridges, than it is at lower levels. That makes it important to understand what effect the wind will have on you as well as being able to judge windspeed.

Rain on low ground can be soggy and unpleasant. On high ground it can be dangerous with decreased visibility, increased risk of slips, trips, stumbles, and so on, and an increased risk of hypothermia. Temperature decreases by roughly 2 degrees centigrade for every 300m of height gain. So a temperature of 0 degrees C at sea level could be -7C at the top of Yr Wyddfa. With a strong damp wind you may have an additional windchill factor of, say, -10C, meaning it’s going to feel like -17C to your body unless you are protected from the wind. Add some light rain at sea level that could be heavy rain on the summit and suddenly you have a potentially dangerous situation if, say, you slip on wet rocks, are imobilised, and don’t have proper clothing. Hypothermia can set in very quickly and it can take a long time to recover.

The same applies to hot weather, of course, and I know from experience that being up on the high ground in the baking heat with no shade available can quickly lead to dehydration and the risk of hyperthermia. Not only that, on many of the rocky high tops there is no water if you run out and it can take a while to get back down.

When going into the mountains you need to take account of:

  • Temperature
  • ‘Feels Like’ temperature (what it feels like when wind chill is taken into account)
  • Moisture (rain, fog, drizzle, mist, snow)
  • Wind speed (including gusts)

Fortunately, if you have access to the internet, in the UK the Met Office now does mountain weather forecasts that are as good as you are going to get. They give the right amount of easy to digest detail and provide ‘summit specific’ forecasts which give a good idea of how the micro-climate is varying between summits. Other sites are available such as MWIS and but they use the same data for their forecasts and the Met Office has refined its predictions over the last couple of years.

If you don’t have access to the internet then you are going to have to rely on developing your weather sense and knowing what to do when things change. This is really little more than common sense and experience. South Westerly winds tend to bring in the frontal systems which usually means rain of some sort of another. Strong winds will be stronger higher up. It gets colder the higher you go. And so on.

To assess windspeed there is a useful method known as the ‘Pint Rule’. One pint (of beer) = 10 mph of windspeed. A 10mph wind feels like you’ve drunk one pint. There is little effect. Thirty mph has some effect. Sixty mph and you are in danger of stumbling badly and falling. 100mph and you cannot stand. This works both ways. If, for example, you are up on top and find yourself stumbling about in the wind then its probably gusting at around 60mph and you need to take account of the associated risks. On the other hand if you know the wind is going to be gusting at 70mph on top should you be going up there? (Answer: no).

Over time as you pay attention to the weather more and more you will get to understand it more and more and learn how to manage yourself and others in different weather conditions.

It is a good idea to learn how to read a synoptic chart at a glance, but unless you are an expert weather person it can only ever be used as an indicator or broad brush overview. It’s helpful, for example, to know that there is a set of low pressures coming across the Atlantic and have an overview of the frontal systems coming with it (overcast, mist, rain, winds). In the same way it’s helpful to know if a high pressure system is sitting over the UK (stable, clear, weather). In winter if we have early easterly or north easterly winds consistently they can keep out the low pressure systems resulting in long periods of exceptionally cold weather. And if the 528 isobar settles over the UK it will almost certainly be ‘arctic weather’ for a while.

A good appreciation of the sorts of weather we get in the mountains, how to understand and deal with it, and where to find relevant information is essential. If you are having to ‘play it by eye’ then be cautious about how high you go, the type of ground you are on, and be prepared to escape quickly and safely. And that is where you navigation skills are essential; you may need to find a safe way down a mountain in poor weather under difficult conditions and the option to retrace your steps may not be available.


We’ve provided a simple overview of three important elements of safety in the mountains and avoided the technical detail and jargon as much as we could. Our purpose was to provide some background context for the actual ‘How To’ knowledge, skills, and understandings you will develop with time and experience.

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