If you are contemplating walking in high winds, read on. As ever, there is little rocket science involved in walking, but much common-sense: what is sometimes useful is a simple list of things to think about, compiled by those who have experience behind them.

Lying in bed early this morning listening to the wind hammering against our stone cottage I was sorely tempted to pull the covers up to my neck, turn over and go back to sleep. But you know what it’s like, your body starts to deliberately rebel and so my mind started to run through the considerations of walking in such conditions and my ears started to strain to hear other lesser sounds, muffled in the gusts. Within 15 minutes I had given up and decided to get up and write my first blog of the year!

So if you are thinking about walking in strong winds think about the following BEFORE you go and weigh up whether it is worth it or not.

Windy Facts

  • Walking in a 30 mph wind can be tricky, at 40 mph you could be blown off balance and at 60 mph it is almost impossible to walk.
  • The wind speed given by the BBC or local radio station will be at sea level. It increases as you increase in height. At 900m above sea level the wind could be blowing about three times stronger than at sea level.

Physical Impact on You and Your Group

  • As well as proving to be very difficult to walk upright in high winds on exposed hill areas, the wind will make your experience  far less comfortable or pleasurable. Your walk will become a physical challenge – you versus the wind – and with your head bent down you will not spend very much time enjoying the views. Decide if that achieves your aim for the walk or not.
  •  There will always be debris blowing about – grass, leaves, small twigs or even small pieces of grit, strap ends and most obviously, the rain. Any of these driving horizontally into your face at 30/40+ miles an hour will hurt, or worse cause injury. Standard sunglasses will not help: invest in some ski goggles. They could save you from considerable pain – and although you might feel (and look) like a plonker, you will be thankful for them.
  • Gusting winds will cause you to lurch and jerk as you are buffeted around. This is exhausting so remember to think about rest periods and the physical wearing impact on you and your group.

Clothing and Equipment

  • Tuck away the ends of your rucksack straps – they can really hurt if theywhip you in the face! And remember to tuck them away every time you put your rucksack back on!
  • Wear plenty of warm layers – a fleece in high winds will be a real comfort to you as will breathable base layers to wick the moisture away from your body. And when you stop for a rest, add another layer so that the warmth you have generated is maintained next to your body. If you get too hot during the walk, make the effort to remove a layer. This whole on-and-off of layers is called layer management and it is important that you do make the effort to do it properly. Not properly regulating your temperature is a sure way to spoil your day. Think about it throughout the walk.
  • Remember the wind chill factor, particularly in the driving rain. Cover up the extremities – hands and heads. ‘But real men don’t wear gloves!’ – rubbish. Hats, gloves and neck cowls/well tucked in scarfs are a godsend and will much reduce heat loss.
  • Take and use walking poles (one or two) according to preference: they bring great stability and anyone who knows about Nordic walking will tell you, they are great for driving you forward and reducing impact on the legs.

Route Planning

  • Check the weather in advance and again on the day of the intended walk.
  • Plan escape routes in case the weather is worse than forecast.
  • Plan safer routes that don’t involve complex navigation in potentially dangerous area. Keep well away from edges and ridges.
  • Use the contours of the land to advantage and plan to walk in the lee of the hills (i.e. on the opposite side of the hill to the wind direction). Pop up occasionally onto the top to have a quick squint at the view but then drop back down again.
  • Plan your more-frequent breaks where you can shelter from the wind.
  • Why not plan a walk in a valley or around a low lake and leave the hills for another day?
  • Plan for you to walk slower (Naismith etc) and so the walk to take longer, or, better still plan a shorter walk than usual.

 Navigation on the Day

  • You will spend more time with your head pointing down to hide your face from the stinging wind so avoid complex navigation involving standing up and looking around!
  • It will be harder to undertake any technical navigation if you are being buffeted around so set headings onto your compass from the map while is a sheltered spot, not while standing exposed to the wind.
  • Walking on a bearing will be more difficult so in your planning consider routes that allow you to see and follow obvious linear features.
  • Don’t try to fold your map onto a new section of the walk while on top of a hill! Fold it properly, to cover the whole walk before you set out – or use two maps in two map cases!

 Mental Impact

  • As well as the physical impact, walking in driving wind can have a mental impact, particularly on those who do not feel naturally comfortable in the outdoors. The mind will be continually racing, thinking about ‘how much more of this do we have to put up with?’, ‘I‘m starting to feel cold’, ‘I’m tired’, ‘I don’t want to be here’ etc etc. Mental exhaustion will soon set in.
  • And it can be compounded by a feeling of isolation – it’s more difficult to communicate in high winds and screaming into each other’s ears is not the best way to necessarily bring comfort to someone who is not happy. A day in a museum could be a better option!

To Go, Or Not to Go – That is the Question!

Only you can make the final call. The acceptable conditions for the young and strong adrenaline junkie may not be acceptable to all. Bottom line: will you and your group enjoy it and achieve what you want to achieve? If in doubt, find something else to do and look at the weather tomorrow!  

Call me on 01239 821631 or send me a message/query at my website.

Regards – Ian Pattinson.