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Hiking for Beginners - Part 3 - Navigation and Emergencies



It's really important to know where you are going, navigation on the hills, and pre planning your route is a huge part of that. There are few places you can get route information from. The most popular is probably 'Walk Highlands’.


Have a look here for great information on hikes and hills Walkhighlands: Scotland walks and accommodation

On there you will find lots of route information and even gpx way points you can download onto apps or gps.


Apps are a really useful tool to use when hiking. The two main ones are View Ranger (now called Outdoor Active), and OsMaps. I prefer OsMaps as I can easily print to-scale maps from the desktop version.

I’m not going to tell you don’t use your phone – it is a brilliant tool – however it’s important to remember that it is only ONE of multiple tools you should be using.

Phones are sensitve and easily breakable and things can go very wrong very quickly.

  • GPS is not always accurate and unlike other GPS tools the phone apps do not tell you how far out it is

  • Phones will turn off when too cold

  •   Phones will turn off when to hot

  • Phones are easily breakable – you can drop them taking a photo and smash it – or it can disappear over an edge

  • When it is raining touch screens are not happy (a waterproof phone pouch is handy)

  • When the military are on exercise, they often scramble the gps signal (and this is not made public knowledge) and therefore your phone could be telling you that you are walking South when in fact you are heading West!

  • Sometimes they just don’t play ball – it's happened (and it’s not that uncommon) that your phone is telling you that you are somewhere (like the middle of Glasgow) when clearly you aren’t!

  • Battery life!!!!!

GPS Devices

GPS devices are brilliant, designed specifically for navigating means the battery life will last a lot longer. They are more user friendly in gloves and bad weather than phones and most will give you a percentage of accuracy of your position – but not without their problems. They can still run out of battery (changing batteries is a pain when its wet, windy and dark!)  You can still lose them, be affected by signal and they cost a fair amount (however they are worth the price and it's always good to check out second hand ones).



Ahhhh the good old ‘maps are to old school and too much hard work’ argument. Wrong! Maps are vitally important and a skill everyone who is hiking needs to learn! Please, please get yourselves onto a navigation course and learn the skills – and practice them! If more people knew how to navigate properly then the MRT would be most grateful, I’m sure!

Of course, I’ll have a little self-promotional plug here – I run beginner navigation courses Navigation Courses | Summit Else that I keep as cheap as I can in the hopes that it is affordable to most. I can also run an improves course where we plan and execute a hill route, practicing and honing our skills. I will say though – if it’s not me – find someone who is qualified to the standards set by the Mountain Training Association. A good place to start is their website ‘Find a leader’ or when you are searching for someone make sure they state that they have the relevant qualifications.

Scottish Mountain Rescue:

In 2022 there were 330 'mountaineering' call outs, 227 of these call outs where in the Summer season (69% of the total call outs). 56 of these call outs where to people who were lost and 43 where due to a navigational error. A total of 99 call outs.

There has been a massive increase of call outs over the last few years; in 2022 the Scottish Mountain Rescue gave a total of 29,804 voluntary hours.

For more information on the Scottish Mountain Rescue head over to Any Hour, Any Day, Any Weather - Scottish Mountain Rescue

Fun fact – it's more likely to get lost on the way back down - remember that once you’ve accomplished the summit it’s not over! Don’t switch off- the day isn't done until when you’re back safely at your car.


Emergency protection

In the event of things going wrong there are a couple of things I would recommend taking with you.

Firstly, an emergency blanket. For approximately £5 this bit of kit can save your life! There are other, more expensive options which I will discuss shortly but this is my go-to bit of kit in my guiding (and personal) rucksack.

foil blanket
survival bag

A foil blanket and a survival bag make the perfect combination.

How to make it:

1 - Get yourself a survival bag and a foil blanket.

  2 – Cut down one long side and the bottom of the bag so you can open it up fully. Lay it on the floor.

3 – Unfold the foil blanket and lay it on top of the now opened bag

4 – Tape them together all the way around the edges.

5 – Fold it up and slide it down the back of your rucksack (better than rolling it up)

The reason this is better than an actual bag is because it is easier to wrap someone (or yourself) in it if injured. You can also spread it on the ground (I’ve done this for clients like a picnic blanket!), or over the top of you and your friends like a blanket.

It is easy to store in your bag too - I fold it (not roll it) and slide it down the back of my rucksack.

If you are a solo hiker, you may consider a thermal bag like this one by Ortovox.

ortovox bivy bag

There are many types of single bivy bags but this one from Ortovox can be found on Snow and Rock.

An emergency shelter is also important to carry. You can get various brands depending on your budget. These are also great for sheltering in cold/bad weather when it's time for lunch!

rab group shelter

This is a Rab 2 person shelter


How to call MRT

Sometimes things go wrong and we need to know how to call MRT

1.       Call 999

2.       Ask for the Police

3.       Ask for Mountain Rescue

It’s also a good idea to register for 999 text service (sometimes text message goes through when phone calls don’t). To do this text ‘register’ to 999, and then follow the instructions sent to you.

When learning to navigate you will learn how to take a grid reference to your location – this will help the MRT find you much more quickly. You can also download ‘OS locate’ onto your phone which will (again remember it may not always work) give you your grid reference.

os locate

Make sure when you download the app go to ‘about’ then ‘settings’ and then choose ‘national grid’ ‘6 figure’.

A wee note on ‘What Three Words’ -

What three words is a genius invention and the MRT will use it to find you if you give them your 'what three words'. However, they would much prefer a grid reference. A reason for this is a grid reference is much less likely to be misinterpreted. In bad signal, windy weather or even a strong accent can make it difficult to understand what words you are using – and who wants to be spelling them all out using the phonic alphabet?!


If you are new to hiking and unsure if you have the relevant skills to be heading out into the hills use a Mountain Guide.

Guides, myself included, have worked hard to get the level of skills and experience needed to pass Mountain Training qualifications and we do what we do because we love to share our passion for the mountains with other. Not only do we have the relevant skills but we also have a good level of local knowledge (whether it be Flora and Fauna or local history) to give you a fantastic hill experience.

In Conclusion

The hills are a magical place, so it's no wonder there has been a massive rise in the popularity of hiking past-times like ‘Munro Bagging’. Being outdoors has links to better mental health, we should all enjoy being outdoors as much as possible.

But we mustn't forget that despite their beauty we need to respect our mountains, both to preserve the environment and because they can be a dangerous place to be.

Even in summer conditions the weather can change dramatically, the temperature changes approximately 6.5 degrees Celsius per 1000 meters. So if it's 12 degrees at the bottom of Ben Nevis it could potentially be around 2 degrees on the summit of Ben Nevis (this is not taking into consideration of wind chill). Our kit, self care and skills are all really important.

I hope these blogs have helped with some tips, tricks and advice. But if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Happy hiking


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