Planning Your Day

Whatever type of day you have planned, probably the most important thing to consider is the route you’re going to take. Whether its a day spent in the mountains or a low level valley walk we have a number of questions we normally ask ourselves when condsidering the route.

What is your intended route?

Is the route new to you, have you walked it before or are you familiar with the area? This information intially helps when looking at the map and considering what terrain the route will take you through.

Are there similar routes in a guide book highlighting paths to take? This is made much easier with the internet. Doing some some research and looking at similar routes helps pick a path if you aren’t familiar with the area.

What type of route have you got planned? Is it a circular or linear route? Very important as it determines your start and end point. Subsequently does the start\end point have adequate parking (unless taking public transport) and easy access to the trail head? There is nothing worse than a long walk to the start.

If you have a different start and end point (linear walk) then you will need to think about how to get back to any parked cars at the start.

Is there right of way, is it open access land or are you on a recognised or permissive footpath? Make sure you are familiar with these and look at the map symbols if you are unsure.

Once you have a route ready then you’re ready to plot it on the map.

What is the distance of your route?

The OS map is measured in kilometres and one kilometre equals 0.6 miles (if that helps you envisage distance). Also, one grid equals one kilometre both horizontally and vertically.

If you’ve planned a route on a paper map then use a piece of string to measure it out and compare that length to the scale along the bottom of the map (see picture) If you’ve plotted on the OS Maps online digital service then this should be done automatically when you save the route.

Once you know the length then ask yourself if you’re fit enough to walk it comfortably. If you’re walking with a group then you also need to consider other members.

What is the elevation?

How much ascent do you have on your route? On standard 1:25000 OS Maps there will be 10 metres per contour line in mountaineous areas, with it being 5 metres on low level terrain.

Trace your route and count the number of contour lines you cross. Again, if you’re using OS Maps online digital service then this will be done automatically.

Bear in mind that what goes up must come down so remember that your return journey, while might be downhill, will still be hard work.

One thing to note is that as you climb higher the air pressure drops and it gets colder. The rule of thumb is that with dry air it drops 1 degree for every 100 metres and with saturated air its 1 degree for every 200 metres.

Any technical or steep terrain?

Look at the contour lines on your route, are there any steep sections you need to consider? The closer together the lines then the steeper the terrain, to the point its not a walk but a climb.

Are you traveling across scree slopes or boulder fields? Any craggy scrambles? Look for the relevant rock symbols that indicate these hazards. This will go hand in hand with both steep contour lines and rock symbols on the map.

Will you also be walking on a ridge line or arete? These are marked on a map with steep sections either side or in a V shape.

The above types or terrain will slow you down or should be avoided if you don’t have the skills and confidence to be move on them. They can leave you in exposed areas and if you’ve never done any scrambling or climbing then you might become crag fast and stuck needing assistance.

Are there other hazards to consider?

Consider boggy areas and streams running down slopes or across your route. If it’s been raining heavily then these areas could be sodden and best to avoid.

If theres been heavy rain then streams you think might be easy to cross could be in spate so look at alternative routes or a bridge to cross.
Do you have the right to travel on your route?

Are there escape routes?

If your day is cut short due to lack of progress or an emergency do you have a plan to get off the mountain and return? If the weather turns do you have bad weather options?

Look at ways to get off the mountain safely whether it be back the way you came or another way.

How long is your day going to be?

With the distance and elevation you can use Naismiths Rule to determine how long your route might take.

25m30 secs22 secs17 secs
50m60 secs45 secs35 secs
75m90 secs67 secs52 secs
100m2 mins90 secs70 sec
200m4 mins3 mins2.25 mins
250m5 mins3.45 mins3 mins
300m6 mins4.30 mins3.35 mins
400m8 mins6 mins4.45 mins
500m10 mins7.30 mins6 mins
750m15 mins11.15 mins9 mins
1000m20 mins15 mins12 mins

Bear in mind that you will only be moving as fast as the slowest person but if you are travelling at 3 KPH on flat even ground then it will take you 20 minutes to walk one kilometre.

As soon as ascend or descend then this timing will change. For an ascent add 1 minute for every 10 metres climbed and and descent add 20 seconds for every 10 metres going down.

If you have a heavy pack or the ground changes from anything other than flat and even then it could change you longer.

Other things to factor in to your time are a few 10 minute breaks as well as lunch. Also think how the weather could alter your times. A strong wind or heavy rain could make you walk slower or even mean you need to back off and go home.

Something very important to consider is sun rise and sun set, will you have enough light for your day? Taking the above into account will affect your start and expected end time so be sensible in your calculations.

Map or GPS?

ALWAYS take a map and compass and know how to use them. Do not rely on a phone or GPS device for navigation. Should you drop your device or the battery run out on your phone then you could lost.

Ordnance Survey do have an excellent digital service you can subsribe to. It allows you to map your route online and calculates distance, ascent and timing. You can also print out the tiles you need which saves you carrying a whole map. But remember that if you do then you will need to put the sheets in a map case in case it rains.

Do you have a route card?

If you’re going out on your own then it is best practice to let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Fill out a basic route card and include as much information as possible. It’s also handy to keep a copy on your as it can help keep you on the route you’re expecting.

Make a note of slopes, if you’re expecting to be going up or down and when, features to tick off as you go along, any linear features you might hand rail (follow along) and catching features which indicate you’ve overshot or gone off route.

You can find example route cards here.


As a summary we like the five Ds method of capturing what you need:

Distance (how far are you traveling)
Direction (what bearing)
Description (how many legs, what features passing etc)
Duration (how long will it take)
Dangers (any potential hazards)

We hope you found this informative. On the next post we’ll look at the weather and how it can affect your day.

If you want to know more about how to use a map and compass or plan a day out in the mountains then take a look at our calendar to see when we’re next running training days. If there arent any suitable dates then please contact us.

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