Safe walking in Scotland

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Walk in Scotland  ››

Download the official guide to walking in Scotland

  • A group of walkers walking across the snow in the Cairngorms National Park
    Cairngorms National Park
  • Close up shot of a map and compass being used
    Find your bearings
  • A couple study a map on Fairlie Moor
    Fairlie Moor
  • Close up shot of a hiker's hiking boots with the Arran coast in the background
    Hike from the summit of Goat Fell on Arran

Make sure you are well prepared when walking in Scotland by using these simple guidelines to enjoy a walk in the beautiful Scottish countryside safely.

Planning your walk

Many walks in Scotland, particularly those on lower ground, follow built and well-marked trails where little or no specialist equipment or experience is required.

For longer routes and walks on the Scottish hills and mountains, preparation is essential and adequate precautions should be taken whilst on your walk.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland provides useful information on mountain safety which is designed to help both inexperienced and regular hillwalkers get the most out of their walk.

If you're planning to head for Scotland's wintery hills, you can also take a look at the winter safety information.  

The weather

Before setting out on any trip, check the weather forecast. The weather in Scotland tends to be changeable and it can change quickly. If the weather does change for the worse, you should consider revising your plans. The Mountain Weather Information Service provides detailed Scottish mountain forecasts.

Planning

Choose a walk with a grade which is appropriate to you or your group's abilities and the prevailing weather conditions. Leave word of where you are going with someone and remember to tell them when you return. It is strongly advised that you leave specific details of your walk behind once you have decided on your route, particularly if you are intending to walk alone or in case of adverse weather. You can do this in one of two ways:

  • Filling out a 'Clive' form with your personal details, intended and alternative routes and expected time of completion can help co-ordinate mountain rescue services should they be needed.
  • Alternatively, you could fill out a Route Card which briefly outlines your intended route, again to enable a swift response from emergency services should anything go wrong on your walk.

What to take

Clothing  

Warm, wind and waterproof clothing is essential depending on the time of year. Remember, it will get colder and windier the higher up you go during your walk.

Footwear - your footwear should provide good ankle support and have a firm sole with a secure grip. For rough terrain, hillwalking boots are strongly recommended.

Equipment 

For hillwalking, always carry a map and compass and make sure you know how to use them (Ordnance Survey maps scale 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 are recommended). Carry equipment for use in an emergency, such as a torch, whistle, First Aid Kit and emergency shelter. The emergency signal is six blasts on a whistle or six flashes with a torch.

Food and drink

Take ample food and drink for your group and always take reserve supplies. Simple high energy foods are best as are hot drinks in cold, wet weather.

First Aid Kit

The first aid kit that you carry on the hill should be capable of dealing with a variety of situations. Remember that in most incidents where first aid is required the need is for simple and relatively straight forward treatment. 

On your walk

Tracks and paths

Part of Scotland's attraction is the wild nature of the countryside. Mountain paths are not signposted and even those marked on maps can be difficult to trace. Use your map and check your location at all times.

Scotland's varied terrain

The varied terrain you cover makes walking in the Scottish hills exciting but it can make walking slow and exhausting. Rivers and burns can rise rapidly and become impassable. Make sure and consider the terrain when planning your walk.

Navigation

Every year, tourists, walkers and climbers get into trouble in the Scottish hills due to errors of navigation. If you intend to go into the Scottish hills, it is essential that you plan the walk using appropriate maps of the area.

Get instruction and learn how to use a map and your compass before you go walking, starting in easy situations in good weather and practising until you are competent in poor weather.

If you become unsure of your position, either retrace your tracks to the last known position, or, after working out roughly where you are and if the terrain is safe, head in the direction that will take you back on course.

Shelter

Do not assume you will find emergency shelter on the Scottish hills. Ensure that you are properly equipped.

Snow

You should avoid patches of snow unless you have the skills to cope with them as many accidents result from a simple slip.

Hillwalking in winter should be regarded as mountaineering. Daylight hours are shorter and weather conditions more severe.

Gain experience in summer before venturing out in winter and if you do go out, refer to the Mountaineering Council of Scotland's Winter Safety pages before you go.

In an emergency

If there is an emergency and one of your party has an accident and cannot be moved:

  • Treat any injuries as best you can
  • Calculate your exact position on the map
  • If possible, leave somebody to care for the casualty whilst others safely get help
  • On reaching a telephone, dial 999 and ask for the police
  • Report the map grid reference where you left the casualty and details of their condition
  • All those who are injured and immobile are at risk from hypothermia. As a priority, add any extra layers of clothing you have available to the casualty and ensure they are insulated from the ground. If you have a group shelter, ensure the casualty and the rest of the group are under the shelter.
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