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Be Ready For Winter #ThinkWINTER

Winter. A beautiful, rewarding, wild time of year. Heading out into a winter wonderland can be a stunning experience, but there's no escaping just how unforgiving conditions can be. At any time of the year, the weather can change in an instant, but in winter the margins for error can reduce dramatically so being well prepared is essential to maximising your enjoyment. #ThinkWINTER whilst out on the hill.

Where to start...

At any time of year, competent and confident navigational skills are a must. Weather changes and what was a glorious bluebird day quickly disappears in a maelstrom of unforgiving weather. When the weather is howling around you, blowing rain like needles into your eyes, no one wants to pull out their mobile phone and try to start navigating their way to somewhere warm and dry. It's not that technology doesn't play it's part - it definitely does. However, having sound, reliable map and compass skills is the best place to start, yet for many this feels like a mystery that few can decipher. That doesn't need to be the case! Take some time to know how to use these tools, as well as gps technology, and you'll be confident in most conditions Scotland and the UK can throw at you.

Weather!

Navigation and an understanding of the weather are also great friends. Know how to read the mountain forecast before you head out. Help yourself to avoid spending the day walking into a head wind, or getting buffeted on open ground. Not only will this all add to make your day a more enjoyable experience, it helps keep you that little bit safer.

What's Next...

You've figured out a route. You've checked the weather. You've got a plan agreed. Mountaineering Scotland have put this handy graphic together to keep in mind before and after you head out.

Not Feeling Confident you have the knowledge and experience?

Then, spend a couple of days getting answers to your questions and experience beforehand. Glenmore Lodge have a series of free youtube videos, full of winter skills how to advice, as well as providing 2 and 5 day Winter Skills training courses.

Mountaineering Scotland provide safety lectures.

What Kit to Pack

Think Pass-The-Parcel! Wrap yourself up in layers. Starting off is always the cold bit and it takes a little while for the body to warm up, which it inevitably will once you're striding out. Being prepared to shed a layer or two as you heat up, where appropriate, is the idea behind layering. Having a good set of thermal base layers (next to skin), both top and bottoms, is a great start point. These help to wick moisture away from the skin and to trap warm air around you.

When thinking about the mid/insulating layers, factor in the length of your day, the level of activity and the conditions you'll be facing. As people tend to 'run' to a certain temperature, there's no hard and fast rule for the mid layers; however whether you're someone who is always hot or constantly cold, having spares in your pack is wise. That's the joy of layering, it's always there if you need it!

Next come the outer layers. Wind proof and water proof are the order of the day, taking into account the conditions. However, it's fair to say heading out without a set of waterproofs, at least packed away, would be unwise in winter (arguably anytime of the year in Scotland!). Balancing temperature is tricky, but being prepared to take layers off and put them on when you need is key.

One trick of the trade is to have an oversized synthetic jacket that you're able to throw on, over every thing. That way, when you've got to stop for a while, you can stay warm without having to faff taking things off and on.

Fuel the Machine...

You've planned your route, you're dressed for the conditions, you've got your spares packed (don't forget to pack these additional layers in a dry bag - some might chose to have a pack liner and have coloured dry bags for specific items...more on this later!), so now it's about fuelling up!

Winter really can sap the energy from you; your body is having to work harder to keep you at the necessary temperature to function, in sub-optimal conditions! Be kind to it! There is a huge amount of research around food energy, and a lot of it comes down to a matter of taste and personal preference. That said, slow release energy is great to start your day with. Think whole grains, complex carbohydrates and protein. What does that look like? For breakfast that could be the Scottish choice of champions...porridge, or maybe an omelette, or perhaps whole grain toast with eggs and beans...the list goes on. Find something that you enjoy and you're likely to bother having, after all there's no point trying to gulp down a bowl of porridge if you just can't stand the stuff! This is all about fuelling yourself for the day ahead, as a great foundation to having an enjoyable day out.

One meal isn't likely to sustain you though, so think little and often. Having easy to reach snacks is great as you'll be more inclined to make the effort to eat if you don't have to faff around too much. Remember though, food freezes! It's not much fun reaching for that trusty treat bar* (*insert your favourite chocolate bar of choice!) only to find that it's frozen solid and inedible! It's also important to consider that the conditions on the hill aren't conducive to fiddly wrappers. Cold, gloved hands, wind, rain and annoying little wrappers can end in frustration and litter - neither of which anyone wants. Think ahead and bag up your own, personally concocted trail mix (combos of dried fruit, nuts, chocolate drops...whatever you want). Don't rely on sweets and chocolates to get you through the day though. Whilst these are undoubtedly a welcome treat and burst of energy, that enthusiasm is short lived with a little sugar crash chasing up behind. They're a great addition, but shouldn't be your sole source of food for the day. This is about solid nutrition and energy.

Keep hydrated. It's not always obvious how much we sweat so make a point of having an insulated, easily accessible water bottle to hand. It's also a huge boost to have a flask of hot drink with you.

Cairngorms

Packing Up...

Use dry bags to keep your kit as dry as possible. Consider using multiple coloured dry bags, it allows you to access things quickly with the minimum of fuss. It should also save that horrible moment, when you're trying to drag that spare top from the bottom of your bag, resulting in the entire contents of your pack exploding out, getting caught in the wind and scattering itself across the hillside, lost forever. We've all been there!

We've mentioned having spare layers packed, but we haven't covered things like hats and gloves. It's a wise idea to have more pairs of gloves packed than you think you'll need. They don't take up much room, or tip the scales, and having the reassurance that you always have a dry set of gloves and a hat/balaclava is worth it. Some people also like to have a pair of heavy duty, super warm, water proof mitts or gloves stashed away to help at the end of the day, particularly if it's been an especially cold, wet day.

Be Bothered...

Winter generally sees us moving constantly. Stops are short and efficient (always think, 'what else do I need to do now, or will need to do soon?') - layers on or off, a bite to eat, something to drink and a quick nav' check. Moving continually means that you're better able to keep your body temperature regulated. That doesn't mean racing around; slow and steady is the aim - keeping things as consistent as possible.

Get Real...

Let's be honest about this, Scottish winter days can be brutal, and utterly unforgiving. They demand a huge amount from us physically and mentally; the days tend to be long and we often find ourselves battling just to keep warm, stay moving and be alert. Even on those beautiful bluebird snowy days, careful thought and planning needs to go in to making sure everyone can have an enjoyable day.

When you're sitting down to plan your adventure, be realistic. What are the conditions like under foot - will you be better off trying to stick to wind scoured ridges? What is the weather forecast for the day?

Can you try and plan your route to ensure you either have the wind at your back or be sheltered for most of the day? Is it worth basing yourself from a bothy to try and shorten your day? What are the individual abilities of the group - how experienced and familiar are people with the conditions?

Take time to really think things through; time spent planning is rarely wasted and will lead to a more satisfying and enjoyable day. If you're not particularly confident with your planning skills, using the 'Be Avalanche Aware'* format is a good place to start and consider an Avalanche Awareness course to get a proper understanding.

Happy planning and #ThinkWINTER

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