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Nothing beats the sheer freedom of walking in the hills and breathing in the fresh air whilst taking in the views of the magnificent scenery surrounding you. Many hill walkers gravitate towards hill walking from walking 'on the flat' as a way of getting fitter much faster as hill walking however gentle, tends to be a more rigorous form of cardiovascular exercise.
Benefits of Hill Walking
In addition to improving your cardiovascular fitness levels and reducing your body fat through aerobic exercise, hill walking offers many additional benefits which, to many, far outweigh those which you can achieve simply by pounding away on the treadmill at your local gym. Firstly, unlike the gym, if you live close to hilly areas, it's free, plus the fact that you're surrounded by nature can often be more motivating than being stuck inside the confines of a gym. It's also a great stress reliever. Walking amidst the natural environment can often give you some breathing space to think and to release tension naturally and if you set yourself challenges each time you go out into the hills, it can build your self-confidence too.
Building up Fitness Gradually
The great thing about hill walking is that you can make it as easy or as difficult as you like and for whatever length of time you want. You might only want to walk for an hour or so or there are also National Trails such as the Pennine Way which can take up to around 4 weeks to complete from start to finish. Whatever your level of fitness, you can build up your fitness regime gradually starting with shorter and easier routes. Then, as your fitness levels improve along with your navigational skills, you might wish to go on to tackle more challenging, longer routes.
Do I Need to go on a Course or have Specialist Knowledge?
If you're just out strolling the hills near to where you live for a short amount of time each day, you don't need to have any specialist training - just get out there and enjoy yourself! However, if you intend to take on a hill walk that's a bit more challenging and you're not familiar with either the terrain or the prevailing weather patterns in the area, it's recommended that you have a basic knowledge of map reading and navigation. You can teach yourself these skills but there are courses available where you can pick up these skills and even pick up some additional useful tips. It's also important to have a basic understanding of these skills even if you're walking as part of a more experienced group as it's better to be prepared for all eventualities. For example, your trip leader might have an accident or sudden inclement weather might descend and you might find yourself unduly separated from the rest of the group.
Planning a Trip and Staying Safe
If you're venturing out into the hills, it's important to plan your trip and have some contingency plans just in case things go wrong. Unlike a less complicated 'flat' walk from point A to B, it's very easy to underestimate the time it's going to take you to get to your destination and back when out hill walking which could make things difficult if you're unable to reach a camp site or to get down the hill again after sunset. There's some useful advice called 'Naismith's Rule' which can help you to calculate the approximate time it will take to complete your route, even taking ascents and descents into account. Once you've calculated the time your walk is likely to take, leave a note with someone telling them what time you intend getting back and check in with them upon your safe return. This way, they can summon help if you do not arrive back within a reasonable period after the time you told them you'd return.
You should also carry emergency rations of food and water just in case. High energy food bars are useful and are light to carry if you're walking with a backpack. A mobile phone can also be useful as you'll be able to contact the emergency services and summon help if there's a major problem. That said, depending on your location, if you're at high altitude and/or in a remote area, you might not always be able to get a signal. But taking a phone anyway might just come in handy. Be sure to keep it in a waterproof bag and either carry a spare battery or only use it for emergencies.
Taking a first aid kit and having a basic knowledge of how to use it is also important. Or, why not enrol on a first aid course?
You should always treat the weather with respect. Find out what the forecast is both before you go and on the morning of your trip. However, up in the hills and, despite any weather forecast, the weather can be unpredictable and can change dramatically so you should try to learn some telltale signs such as what cloud formations and changes in wind direction indicate. The bottom line though is if you're in doubt about the weather, postpone your walk until another time. Making contingency plans for an emergency whenever you're venturing out into the hills means that you'll be able to react to most eventualities without having to think, and this, in the worst case scenarios, could even save your life.