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Survival 101: What to do in an Emergency on the Mountains

Rugged hills and mountains provide some of the most breathtaking and challenging terrains for outdoor lovers in the UK. From the high peaks of the Scottish Highlands to the rolling hills of the Lake District, the call of the mountains is undeniable. However, these beautiful areas can be unforgiving, as can hill and moorland areas. Each year, mountain rescue teams across the UK are called out to assist those who find themselves in trouble.

As the days get longer and warmer, more and more people will be heading out on adventures into the great outdoors. This will increase the number of call outs to local mountain rescue teams. In 2021 there were a total of 3629 call outs!

To help ensure your mountain adventures are safe and enjoyable, here are some crucial pieces of advice directly from the experts on the front lines of mountain rescue.

Mountain Rescue team in action
Mountain Rescue

1. Preperation Is Key

Preparation is the key to avoiding most outdoor mishaps:

  • Charge Your Phone: Ensure your phone is fully charged and carry a spare power bank and cable to charge it up if needed.

Man with mobile outdoors
Keep your phone charged

  • Plan Your Route: Account for the time of year, weather conditions, and yours or your group’s ability. Always have a backup plan and escape routes you can take to get off the mountain if needed.

  • Leave a Route Plan: Tell someone else where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Include alternative routes and contact information. This is especially important for solo hikers. Mountain rescue teams often stress the importance of having a flexible plan and being willing to turn back if conditions become too dangerous.

3. Dress Appropriately

The weather in the UK’s mountains can be highly unpredictable.

  • Dress in layers that can be easily adjusted, and avoid cotton as it retains moisture. Think- base layer, fleece, soft shell, down or synthetic jacket.

  • Waterproof jackets and trousers are essential, even if the weather forecast looks clear. They are great as a wind proof layer even if it's not raining.

  • Good quality, well-fitting boots will help prevent injuries and increase comfort on uneven terrains.

4. What to Pack

Ensure you carry:

  • Appropriate Clothing: Weather on the hills can be unpredictable. Include spare clothes, hats, and gloves in winter and sunglasses, cap and sun cream in summer.

  • Navigation Aids: Always carry a map, compass or GPS device and a charged mobile phone to help locate where you are.

  • Signal Aids: A whistle and a torch can be lifesavers in attracting attention, especially should you get stuck outside in the dark.

  • Essentials: Water, food, a first aid kit, and if applicable, any sport specific equipment such as climbing helmets or biking gear.

4. Know Your Limits

It's important to be realistic about your physical capabilities and experience. Mountain rescue teams often respond to calls from people who have overestimated their stamina or technical skills. If you're new to mountain hiking, consider easier routes and gradually build up to more challenging hikes. Book yourself a qualified Mountain Leader should you want to explore more adventurous terrain that you're not confident about doing alone. Find a guide HERE.

5. Learn Basic First Aid

Knowing basic first aid can be crucial while waiting for rescue. Many mountain rescue teams recommend taking a basic first aid course that includes how to deal with common injuries like sprains, fractures, and hypothermia. If you're looking for something more specific do a 16 hour outdoor first aid course.

Hiker with first aid kit
Always carry a first aid kit!

6. Be Weather Wise

Weather in mountainous areas can change rapidly. Check the forecast on the day of your hike and be prepared for all conditions. High winds, fog, heavy rain, and sudden drops in temperature can occur unexpectedly. Understanding how to read the sky and identifying changing weather patterns can significantly enhance your safety.

Here are a few forecasts to check:

Here are some weather scenarios where it would be wise to reconsider your original plan, make an alternative plan or not go at all:

  1. Strong Winds: When planning your route, account for the increasing strength of winds at higher elevations and over ridges. Strong winds can compromise safety, making it difficult to walk or even causing falls on steep terrain. Avoid exposed areas during high winds, and adjust your route to lower levels when winds are predicted to be strongest. Avoid ridges in winds over 30mph and consider it dangerous to walk in winds of 50mph or more. Choose lower ground areas as an alternative.

  2. Poor Visibility: Frequent low clouds in mountainous areas can reduce visibility dramatically, making navigation challenging. Always carry a reliable map and compass, and understand basic navigation techniques. During snowfall or in foggy conditions, visibility can drop to nearly zero, increasing the risk of disorientation. Do not attempt to walk in these conditions if you are not confident at navigating in them.

  3. Snow and Ice: If there is settled snow and ice, particularly during winter in Scotland you will likely need specialist equipment such as an ice axe and crampons (or micro spikes) plus the skills to use them. You may not get out of the car park on icy days without! Stay updated on avalanche forecasts and ground condition reports, and do not venture into winter terrain if you are not confident to do so. Chose an area without snow and ice.

  4. Rain: Mountainous areas often experience sudden and intense weather changes, including heavy rain or snow. Wear the right gear to stay dry and warm, and be cautious of waterways that can swell quickly, potentially cutting off your return path.

  5. Heatwave: During mountain adventures in hot weather, it's crucial to manage exposure to heat to prevent dehydration and heat-related illnesses. Start your hike early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the peak temperatures of midday. Wear lightweight, breathable, and light-coloured clothing to reflect sunlight and promote air circulation. Always carry and consume plenty of water, and consider electrolyte supplements to replace salts lost through sweating. Don't forget to apply and regularly reapply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF to protect against sunburn. Additionally, wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to shield your face and eyes from the sun. Take frequent breaks in shaded areas to allow your body to cool down, and always be alert to the signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

winter mountain rescue
Winter mountain rescue

Other things to consider:

Temperature Variations: Temperatures typically drop as you ascend, with wind chill making it feel even colder. Ensure you wear appropriate windproof and waterproof clothing to protect against potential hypothermia, especially under wet or windy conditions.

Ground Conditions: Boggy or marshy terrains are common in many mountainous, hill and moorland areas, especially in the UK's wetter regions. These areas can be treacherous, as the soft ground can unexpectedly give way, potentially leading to twisted ankles or worse if not navigated carefully. Carry trekking poles as these can help you test the firmness of the ground ahead of you, and act as an aid if you do become injured by helping to get you off the mountain. Also be wary of hidden roots and uneven rocks that can pose a tripping hazard. Most accidents in the outdoors occur on the way down and more often than not involve a slip, trip or fall. In areas where the trail isn't well-defined, slow down and assess your steps to maintain stability. It's essential to wear sturdy, waterproof boots that provide both ankle support and grip to navigate through these challenging sections safely. Be mindful of where you step and move cautiously to help avoid injuries.

injured woman on hiking trail
Slips, trips and falls are the most common type of accident on the mountains.

7. Use Common Sense

Mountain rescue teams often remind hikers to use common sense:

  • Stick to marked trails: especially in poor visibility conditions or if you are unfamiliar with the area. Avoid taking shortcuts and be cautious of unstable or slippery ground.

  • Monitor the Weather: Conditions can change rapidly; be prepared to turn back if necessary.

  • Keep Together: Maintain a pace suitable for the slowest member, and ensure no one is left behind. Marching off ahead when you are out in a group isn't kind or respectful.

  • Stay Energised: Drink water and eat regularly to maintain your energy levels throughout the day.

  • Look for Danger Signs: Be vigilant for symptoms of hypothermia or exhaustion, particularly in vulnerable group members. Avoid getting close to cliff edges.

8. Act Quickly if Things Go Wrong

If you or someone in your group gets into difficulty, don’t hesitate to call for help. Here’s what to do in an emergency on the mountains:

  • Keep Calm and Assess the Situation: If someone gets injured, prioritise the safety of yourself and your entire group first then begin to address the casualty's immediate needs. Make every effort to keep the injured person warm and protected, without moving them unnecessarily. Ascertain your location and assess whether it's feasible to guide the group down, send someone for help or find shelter.

  • Call for Help: Don't hesitate to call for help if needed. Dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Police. Then ask for Mountain Rescue and the Police will call them out. You will need to provide your location and a grid reference if possible. WhatThreeWords or the OS Locate are great tools for this if you don't have a paper map. If you're unsure where you are, don't worry! They can use your phone to locate you.

emergency phone call on the mountain
Call 999 and ask for the police, then mountain rescue

  • No Signal: If you find yourself without mobile coverage, try walking uphill to locate a stronger signal. Should this prove unsuccessful, dispatch one or more members of your group who are fully informed about the incident to seek the nearest phone. Ensure that at least one person remains with the injured party at all times.

  • Stay Put: Once you’ve contacted Mountain Rescue, do not change your location unless absolutely necessary. Staying put helps rescuers find you more quickly.

  • Make yourself comfortable: Sit on a Therm-a-Rest, a portable sleeping pad that provides essential insulation from the cold ground. If you or the injured person starts to feel cold setting in, wrapping yourself in a Blizzard Bag can be life-saving. These specially designed bags act as a personal emergency shelter that retains body heat and offers protection from the wind and rain. Keep both items in your hiking gear as part of your emergency kit. Additionally, carrying a group shelter can be a God-send if you're out with a group and will enhance your safety and comfort if stuck on the hill for hours awaiting help. These shelters are lightweight and designed to accommodate multiple people, providing rapid warmth and protection from the elements.

Be Adventure Smart

Before you set out, ask yourself:

  • Do I have the necessary skills and knowledge?

  • Am I prepared for the weather conditions?

  • Do I have the right equipment?

For further guidance and to ensure you’re fully prepared for your outdoor adventures, visit Adventure Smart.

Hikers on mountain in Scotland
Be Adventure Smart

Support Mountain Rescue

Did you know that there are 47 dedicated mountain rescue teams across England and Wales, with around 3,500 volunteers ready to assist 24/7, every day of the year?

Mountain Rescue teams operate primarily on public donations and fundraising efforts, your support is crucial to their continued operation. Learn how you can help at the national Mountain Rescue website: Every contribution makes a significant difference!


These heroes provide a vital, lifesaving service to anyone in need on the hills—at no cost to the individual in distress. Mountain adventures can offer some of the most unfortgettable experiences, but they come with inherent risks. By following the advice from mountain rescue teams and preparing adequately, you can enjoy the beauty of the UK's landscapes while staying safe. Remember, no view is worth putting yourself or others at risk!

Safe hiking!

mountain rescue helicopter winch
Mountain Helicopter Rescue

I hope you have enjoyed my Survival 101: What to do in an Emergency on the Mountains blog. For more, check out my social media...

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May 03
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Really helpful thanks 👍🏻 😊


Apr 29
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

fab post! everyone who hikes should be reading this!


Apr 29
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

What great advise! I didn't know you could register you mobile to text emergency services or what to do to call mountain rescue! Thanks for sharing 😃

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