How to Plan the Perfect Day Hike

Words by Phoebe Smith

There’s no point beating about the bush – walking is a very simple activity. If the mood takes you, there’s nothing stopping you simply getting up and heading out the door and hey presto – you’re walking. But, if you want to enjoy your first proper day hike in comfort there are a few simple steps you can take. Want to know more? Walk this way…

 ...people get instantly more talkative and friendly about a mile from a car park.

Go local

If it’s your first proper full day’s hike, you’ll want to start somewhere that’s relatively familiar to remove the panic of getting lost. So grab yourself an OS map (an Explorer, 1:25,000 – is best for detail) of your local area and look for green spaces away from the built up areas.

Take the path well travelled

Going off-piste is part of the fun when walking, but if you’re just starting out you should save the pathless exploration for later, especially if you want to remember the experience for all the right reasons. It also means you’ll more likely encounter other walkers too who can help advise you of routes and sights to see – people get instantly more talkative and friendly about a mile from a car park*.

(*Ok that stat may be based purely on observation, but you will find people actually talk to each other when out walking in the countryside).

On the OS map look for broken green lines, which indicate public footpaths and bridleways. Then take a marker pen and try linking some together to form a loop – it can be a bit dull to just do a straight out and back, so a circuit will help vary it.

Enjoy not endure

Don’t plan to do an epic number of miles for your first day’s walk. Normally 8 miles (approx. 13km) is a good distance to aim for. The average person – on flat ground, without stops – walks at a rate of about 3-4km per hour. On hilly ground you will need to add an extra 10 minutes per 100m climbed (count the contours on the map, 10 contours = 100m = 10 minutes extra). Then you’ll want to add in about 30 minutes for lunch and even an extra 30 for photo stops. Aim for no longer than 6 hours for your first walk – bearing in mind that you may take longer than that depending on your fitness level.

Have a Plan B

Always plan in escape routes (that’s a shorter way back to your start) in case it’s taking too long/someone is getting too tired/the weather turns and have a time in your head by which you will turn back if you’ve not reached half way, so that you don’t end up walking in the dark – a bit unnerving if you’re not used to it.

Check the weather

You want to enjoy your walk so pick the best weather to do it, rather than subjecting yourself to hours in the rain. The most accurate forecasts can be found on the Met Office website and the Mountain Weather Information Service for upland areas.

Eat like a king

Heading out walking means you can snack guilt-free as you will definitely need the energy – and be burning it off. So take plenty with you. Slow-release foods like nuts, dried fruits and cereal bars are great. But don’t be afraid to also take food that you enjoy as a treat – be it chocolate bars, crisps or Haribo (other sweets available!).

Don’t panic

If the worst does happen and you get lost, try not to panic. If you can retrace your steps to your last known location do so and go from there. Otherwise, stop, have a drink and some food, put on a layer (if it’s cold) and take out your map and try to fit it to the landscape you are looking at. Obviously if there are other walkers around don't be too proud to ask for help. Remember that Mountain Rescue is a volunteer service and not a government funded one so make sure it is truly a last resort before you call. If someone is injured and you need help in the mountains, hills or moorland area, call 999. Ask for police and then when put through ask for Mountain Rescue – they will connect you or contact them for you. You can help by giving your location to as close a detail as possible.

Don’t forget your camera

Remember to take your camera or mobile for that summit shot and if using your phone be sure to charge it before you leave so you don’t run out of battery – it can go quickly in cold weather.

In the bag

You don’t need masses of gear to enjoy a day walk but here are the essentials to keep you comfortable.

Rucksack

For day walks a smaller pack will do – anything between 20 and 30L such as the AirZone Trail ND 24. It’s useful to try both the men (broader shoulders, narrower hips) and women specific (narrower shoulders, wider hips) packs to see which works best for you as they are cut with different shapes in mind. We've got an article on the differences between regular and women's fit packs here.

Look for a decent back system that holds the bag away from your body, allowing the air to circulate (so you don’t get too sweaty). You’ll also want padded and vented shoulder straps and a hipbelt to help distribute the weight and keep things comfortable.

Also useful are wand pockets (the pouches on the side) for carrying your water bottle or tripod. To keep your kit inside dry you’ll either need to invest in drybags (which you use internally) or a raincover, all Lowe Alpine hiking and backpacking packs come with this as standard.

Accessories

Essentials are gloves and a hat. A Buff® (fabric neck tube) is a good item to keep your neck warm. In winter, a headtorch is great in case you end up walking in the dark. And walking poles are useful – they take up to 30% of impact off your knees when descending slopes and help you walk faster on flat ground.

Warm layers

Take a fleece to wear as a mid-layer which keeps you warm (over your ‘baselayer’ i.e. T-shirt or top – non-cotton is best – look for fabric that ‘wicks’ or moves sweat away from your skin to keep you warm/cool). Also take an insulated jacket – down or synthetic down – to throw on over everything when you stop, as you will cool down, even in warmer weather, especially when on higher or exposed ground.

Waterproofs

Essential when walking in the UK – no matter what the weather looks like when you set off. Remember you’ll need waterproof trousers and a jacket to stay dry.

Map and compass

Of course you can use GPS on your phone or device, but a paper map as backup is vital – it won’t run out of batteries!

Food and drink

Absolutely vital - Take lunch with minimal packaging as you’ll need to carry your rubbish out with you (sandwich/pie/pasty), a water bottle (remember to fill before you leave) and more snacks than you think you’ll need.

First Aid Kit

You don’t need an all singing, all dancing number, but it’s worth at least carrying a few blister plasters (and regular plasters) just in case. Pop them in a handy dry bag like this one.

Footwear

Whether you prefer boots or multi-activity shoes is up to you. Shoes are normally fine on trails and flatter ground, boots are better if hill-walking and carrying a heavy pack as they offer good ankle support.

Finally… a sense of adventure

Vital – no matter where you go, go with an open mind, never be afraid to turn back, but remember to enjoy the experience!

About the Author

Phoebe Smith is an adventurer, author, presenter, and filmmaker. She has written seven books including the first ever guidebook to Britain's free-to-stay-in mountains shelters - Book of the Bothy.

If you want to keep up to date with Phoebe's latest adventures you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Perfect Packs for Day Hikes

AirZone Trail 25
Colour(s):

AirZone Trail 25

25lt | 63 x 34 x 28cm | 1.22kg

The Trail features our updated AirZone technology, a simple top-loading, single compartment design and a set of functional features. The perfect combination for trail hounds and hill walkers.

Ultralite Drysac
Colour:

Ultralite Drysac

2.5 - 20lt | N/A |

Ultralite, waterproof nylon stuffsac with roll top closure. In sizes XXS to XL.

AirZone Z 20
Colour(s):

AirZone Z 20

20lt | 50 x 30 x 23cm | 1.04kg

The Z is our flagship zip-entry AirZone. This popular design includes large stretch front and side pockets and all the features you've come to expect from our hiking range.

Boot Bag
Colour(s):

Boot Bag

N/A | 14 x 34 x 34cm | 0.17kg

For separating your dirty, damp footwear from the rest of your kit.

Eclipse 25
Colour(s):

Eclipse 25

25lt | 52 x 27 x 26cm | 0.90kg

Hike, bike, ski, run, never stop moving with this award-winning multi-function backpack. Featuring intuitive functionality, an adjustable back and a large zip entry.

Eclipse ND22
Colour(s):

AnthraciteOrchid / Royal Lilac#6600CCPeppermint / Persian

Eclipse ND22

22lt | 47 x 24 x 23cm | 0.87kg

Hike, bike, ski, run, never stop moving with this award-winning multi-function backpack. Featuring intuitive functionality, an adjustable back and a large zip entry.

Airzone Trail ND24
Colour(s):

Airzone Trail ND24

24lt | 61 x 30 x 26cm | 1.19kg

The Trail ND (Women's) features our updated AirZone technology, a simple top-loading, single compartment design and a set of functional features. The perfect combination for trail hounds and hill walkers.

Twin Seal Map Case
Colour(s):

Twin Seal Map Case

29.5 x 29.5cm | 0.12kg

The Twin Seal Map Case is a durable, fully waterproof map protector.

AirZone Z ND18
Colour(s):

AirZone Z ND18

18lt | 48 x 30 x 23cm | 1.02kg

The Z ND (Women's specific) is our flagship zip-entry AirZone. This popular design includes large stretch front and side pockets and all the features you've come to expect from our hiking range.

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