Updated: Oct 23
Hiking is such an exhilarating outdoor activity! It allows you to reconnect with nature, challenge yourself, and experience breath taking landscapes. Planning your first solo hike can be daunting, but done right, it is likely to be a hugely empowering experience and one that you will want to repeat. Trust me, I've been there! However, to ensure a successful and safe experience, it's important to prepare thoroughly. In this blog post, I’ll guide you through the essential steps needed to plan your first solo hike in the UK.
1. Research Your Destination: The UK offers a great range of hiking trails, each with its own unique characteristics. Begin by researching different regions and trails that suit your preferences and fitness level. Consider factors such as trail distance, difficulty, terrain, weather patterns, and accessibility. Websites like The National Trails and Ordnance Survey provide valuable information to help you make an informed decision. Apps such as Alltrails and Komoot are also great for planning hiking routes. If you’d like some inspiration check out my ready made trails on Komoot.
2. Start Small: As a beginner, it's crucial to start with shorter and less challenging trails. This allows you to gain confidence, develop your skills, and understand your limits. I started hiking in the Shropshire Hills and slowly built my way up to the bigger mountains in the UK. Choose a trail that matches your fitness level and offers amenities like marked paths, campsites, and water sources. Some popular areas for beginners in the UK include the Malvern Hills, the Peak District, and the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons).
3. Plan Your Route: Once you've selected your destination, plan your route. Study maps, guidebooks, and online resources to familiarise yourself with the trail. Make sure you have access to the trail map on your hike by either taking a map with you or using an app that allows for offline navigation (internet access in the hills can be sketchy or non-existent depending on where you're hiking). I use Komoot or Ordnance Survey by downloading my map so i can access it offline. This doesn't always work though so be prepared with a physical map ideally. Determine the distance, elevation gain, and estimated time needed to complete each section. Divide your journey into manageable stages, considering shelter for lunch or toilet facilities along the way. Note any potential hazards or areas where navigation might be challenging.
4. Pack Wisely: Your gear selection is critical for a successful hike. Start by investing in a sturdy and comfortable backpack that fits well. I’ve had my 20L Osprey Tempest for years and highly recommend it. It's plenty big enough for day hiking. Make sure you have appropriate clothing for the weather, bearing in mind the weather can change very quickly up in the mountains. My go to hiking clothes for beginners are: Acai Outdoorwear who make great quality clothing for women. Technicals make some great outdoor clothing for men. Other important essentials needed for your hike include:
5. Check the Weather: The UK weather can be unpredictable, so stay updated on the forecast for your hiking dates. The night before or the morning of your hike, check the weather forecast for the area you plan on hiking. I recommend using sites such as the MET Office Mountain Weather Forecast or MWIS. Dress accordingly and be prepared for changing conditions. Carry additional layers to protect yourself from cold, wind, or rain. In case of severe weather warnings, consider postponing your hike for safety reasons e.g. strong wind, lightning or snow/fog.
6. Inform Others: Inform a friend or family member about your hiking plans. Share your itinerary, expected return date, and emergency contact details. If possible, check in with them periodically during your hike to keep them informed of your progress. This precaution ensures that someone is aware of your whereabouts and can alert authorities if necessary should something go wrong.
7. Safety First: While hiking solo can be a fulfilling experience, it's important to prioritise your safety. Familiarise yourself with basic first aid skills and carry a well-stocked first aid kit. Stay hydrated, take regular breaks, and listen to your body. If you encounter challenging terrain or adverse weather conditions beyond your comfort level, don't hesitate to turn back or seek assistance. If you become lost or injured and need help call 999 and ask for police then mountain rescue. It's helpful to know where you are so they can find you. What3Words can be helpful in this situation.
8. Leave No Trace: Whilst you are out, please respect the environment and follow the principles of Leave No Trace. There is nothing worse than coming across a beautiful hidden gem such as the Secret Log Cabin of Snowdonia (pictured below) and finding that people have left rubbish, engraved their insta handles into the wood and graffitied everywhere! Preserve the natural beauty of the trail and precious locations that you encounter by minimising your impact. Dispose of waste properly, avoid damaging vegetation, and respect wildlife. Leave the trail as you found it, ensuring future hikers can also enjoy its beauty. Or even better, leave it in a better condition than the one you found it! I often pick up litter whilst out walking.
9. Post Hike: Congratulations!! You've completed your first solo mountain hike!! How do you feel? Amazing, sore and inspired I bet?! After completing a hike, it's important to take care of your body and hiking kit to ensure your well-being and maintain the longevity of your gear. Drink plenty of water to rehydrate your body, this helps replenish lost fluids and prevents dehydration. Perform gentle stretches to cool down your muscles to prevent stiffness or soreness. Focus on your legs, back, and shoulders, as they tend to be the most engaged during hiking. Eat protein rich foods such as chicken, beans or cheese to help repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Other foods such as nuts and seeds, fruit and veg and complex carbs are important to replenish your body. Allow your body ample time to rest and recover. Get enough sleep to facilitate muscle repair. Also, don’t forget to take care of your hiking kit by cleaning it properly. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to clean your backpack, boots and other equipment. Remember to re-proof your waterproof gear using products such as NikWax or Grangers. Remember, taking care of your body and gear after a hike ensures your safety, comfort, and readiness for future adventures.
Important to Note
If you're uncertain about your skills or the challenges of the hiking trail, booking a Mountain Leader to accompany you on a mountain hike is a great way to ensure your safety and enhance your experience. Mountain Leaders are trained professionals who possess the necessary expertise and knowledge to navigate the mountains safely. By hiring a Mountain Leader, you can benefit from their experience, learn valuable skills, and gain confidence in tackling more challenging hikes. They can provide guidance on route planning, navigation, emergency procedures, and outdoor safety, allowing you to focus on enjoying the journey without worrying about potential risks.
Alternatively, if you're interested in developing your own mountain skills, enrolling in a mountain skills course is an excellent idea. These courses are designed to equip you with the necessary knowledge and abilities to hike safely in more demanding terrain. Mountain Training is the awarding body for qualifications in walking, climbing and mountaineering in the UK. They provide training courses for those who want to gain more skills or qualify in an outdoor profession. That is how I initially started out. I booked a mountain skills course through Plas Y Brenin, the UKs National Outdoor Centre and fell in love with the moutains! I am now a trainee mountain leader hoping to qualify summer 2024!
Embarking on your first solo hike is an incredible opportunity to challenge yourself and immerse yourself in nature. By conducting thorough research, planning your route, packing appropriately, and prioritising safety, you'll set the stage for a successful and memorable adventure. Remember, take it one step at a time, listen to your instincts, and enjoy the incredible beauty that the UK has to offer.
Thank you for reading and as always, if you have any questions, thoughts or feedback please leave these in the comments section below.
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