I have had a few emails now asking me how I plan my walks, so I thought I’d post up a blog as to how I go about it.
Planning a walk is a very personal thing, everyone has their own way of doing it, as such there is really no right or wrong way. The fact that you are even thinking about planning is a sure sign you are headed the right way!
The very first thing I do when putting a plan together is to decide on a rough destination. For example, North Wales, or the Lakes. At this point I don’t really have a clue as to how the plan will turn out. The only exception to this is where the plan is made with a specific goal in mind – for example a need to climb a particular Mountain.
Once the general destination is determined, the next thing I do is look for nearby railway stations. I always use public transport to get to and from my hikes. The reasons for this are two fold:
- I don’t want to drive back in a potentially fatigued state.
- Private transport isn’t really suitable for linear routes from A to B.
So how do I find a railway station?
I do all my planning using Ordnance Survey’s excellent online application called GetAMap (http://www.getamap.ordnancesurveyleisure.co.uk). This application has a relatively cheap annual subscription and gives me access to all of Ordnance Survey’s excellent UK maps. The more observant readers will have noticed that the first image of this blog is from GetAMap 🙂
GetAMap has a map view called ‘Zoom Map’ as shown below:
In this view the rail network stands out with it’s narrow black lines and red spots marking the stations. It is simply a case of finding a red spot by the chosen hiking destination.
Occasionally, there will be no rail network nearby, in which case I will use a combination of trains and buses. This doesn’t happen too often though, as the length of my walks mean that I can cover a fair bit of ground. As a result I will sometimes allocate the first day to simply hiking from the train station to my chosen start point.
The number of train stations that I find in the chosen area will then affect my next decision:
Linear or Circular Walk?
Linear walks are hikes from A to B, whereas Circular walks travel from point A and then ultimately return to point A.
If there are a lack of stations, I tend to go for circular walks. An abundance of stations will provide a choice of going either linear or circular.
Everyone has their own preference, but I personally prefer linear walks as one gets to see much more varied scenery.
Once the start and end points are determined from their railway stations, I then start to plan the route itself. During route planning I try to adhere to the following three principles:
1. Be in camp before sunset
To do this one has to know when sunrise and sunset are and have a grasp as to one’s own pace.
For the former I tend use various internet sources; Whatever comes up first in Google.
The latter requires a little explanation…
When most people plan their walks they base their timings on Naismith’s Rules (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naismith’s_rule).
I don’t use these time honoured rules, as I find they don’t really work for me and are simply too much hassle!
Instead, I use personal experience based on the knowledge that I can comfortably hike around 22 km a day (a personal preference). I also know that for me, my average speed on a hike, per day, is around 3 kph.
For those that know me, they are probably thinking 3 kph!!! No way – that’s way too slow! But this is a figure that is derived directly from GPS measurements over numerous walks and has proved to be a very consistent value.
It is an average for a whole day and takes into account such things as rest stops, the lunch stop, photo stops plus all the other things that I usually get up to on a walk.
So using my target preference of 22km a day with an average speed of 3 kph, I can calculate the time required. In my case, this results in a duration of around 7.3 hours of walking per day, which for me is perfect!
Although 22km is my daily aim point, this value will be tweaked up or down by the planned camp locations (See below) and by my rough evaluation of the terrain.
If I know things are going to be steep and rocky, I tend to aim for a shorter distance of around 16km a day, which does seem to work out most of the time.
Before we move on to the next principle, I’d like to discuss the first day of a walk…
The first day is usually a little different due to the time it takes to travel to the area in question.
If it is reasonably local, then this is not an issue. However, for more distant places, such as Scotland, I need to decide how far I’m going to walk on the first day.
To do this I note down the time the train will get me there, this also includes any potential delays incurred through connections that are likely to be missed. It is better to have time in hand than not enough time!
Next I find out what time sunset is for that particular day. This combined with my known average speed of 3 kph allows me to calculate how far I should walk on the first day.
For example, if I arrive at the planned start at 1400 and sunset is at 1700, the calculated distance for day 1 will be (1700 – 1400) = 3 hrs multiplied by 3kph = 9 km! So in this case I will target 9 km for day 1 – simples!
2. Pick an interesting and varied route!
Everyone finds different things interesting and appealing.
I personally like to be high on the hills and ridges, so will always try and plan the route so that it stays high for as long as possible.
I also prefer to walk along routes that I haven’t travelled before, so will try and avoid areas that I have already visited.
During this phase of route planning I’m only really concerned with making it interesting, conserving hill elevation and ensuring that water will be on hand.
The latter requires some further elaboration…
Water is a very important resource during a walk, especially if you are carrying heavy loads over large distances. As such, I always try and plan the routes to take me near water sources.
Unfortunately, hill walking is usually mutually exclusive of water sources. I know that I can mitigate this to a certain extent by carrying a lot of water. At a push I could carry just under 3 litres with me, though I do try to avoid this as that equates to an extra 3 kilos of weight!
Instead, I aim to carry around 1.8 litres. 800mL in the Travel Tap for ready use and a further 1 Litre on standby in the rucksack. I find that I can usually hike for a few hours with just the 800ml in the Travel Tap, which equates to around 6-9 km of distance.
I’m not limited to the 800ml over that 6-9 km as it is very likely that I will find other places to top up the Travel Tap (even puddles will do! 🙂 ). However, if water consumption is high or water is scarce, I always have the option to raid the 1 Litre water supply in the rucksack.
It is this 1.8 litre water target that will determine my time on the ridges – that is unless I can find a water source on them.
It should be noted that water consumption is tempered by such things as climbing (for me, climbs consume a lot of water) and weather. With regard to the latter, hot sunny days drastically increase water consumption!
3. Camp near water!
Wherever possible I try to camp near water. The primary reason for this is that the freeze dried meals that I use require water, as does my standard breakfast.
I find that on average I will use just under 2 litres of water for an overnight camp, including the breakfast.
As a result I have two choices. Either I top up all my bottles at the last water source prior to the planned camp spot or camp near a water source.
I prefer the latter option as this means that I don’t have to carry the additional weight associated with 3 litres of water and that I need not be too concerned about water consumption once in camp.
Not having to worry about water consumption in camp is a luxury that should not be underestimated! 🙂
I place such a high priority on camping near a water source, that I will frequently go under or over the daily target distance of 22km by quite a large margin simply to secure such a location.
In terms of overall plan duration I will try to aim for walks of around 3 to 6 days in total. This includes what I call the spare day.
Every one of my recent walks has included a spare day.
What is it? I hear you ask!
The spare day is the last day and is a day where I plan to walk only 5 – 10 km max.
This provides additional time should it be required to take into account any delays that have been incurred during the walk.
Once upon a time I never used to plan these spare days until I ended up doing an epic 44km in one day during a walk in the Black Mountains (https://ukbackpacker.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/november-2012-88-km-3-day-solo-walk-black-mountains-day-3/).
I vowed never to get into this situation again, so from that point onward, I have always made the last day a short distanced spare day.
Spare days also serve two other purposes, even where everything goes to plan…
Firstly they take the pressure off of the last day, which makes it far more pleasant experience than it would be otherwise.
Secondly, they allow me to plan the potential option of getting on public transport very early, which for far away destinations like Scotland is essential to ensure that I get home at a reasonable time.
It is a rare plan indeed that comes together all at once. Many of my plans go through numerous revisions until I’m finally happy with them. As a result most of the above principles are achieved in an iterative fashion.
Some plans can be produced in around an hour, whilst others can take days of hammering away until I can get them to fit all of my principles above.
Hopefully readers will have found this blog post useful!