Planning is a vital part of any adventure whether it be for a few hours or a few days. We are going to go through what you need to think about when planning a route how to choose where to go.

Where to go

First up you need to decide where you are going to go. Think about your ability and the type of terrain you want to be on. If you are just starting out then you should try to go somewhere that has easy terrain, is not too far from civilisation should you get into trouble and that has lots of features to navigate from. Take a look at local maps, magazines and books to try and find an area or even a pre-planned route to get you started.

Route Choice

In every journey safety is the single most important factor to think about, regardless of anything else you should always think, is this safe in the current conditions for my(and the group’s) ability.


Start small is the motto here, you should consider your ability and anyone with you’s ability when planning a route. Think about map reading skills, how good are you at map reading? Have you been in the area before? Are you going to be following clearly marked paths or are you going to need to use more navigation skills to get around the route?

Also, think about fitness in your group, are you all going to be able to walk the terrain? how easy is the terrain to walk on? For instance, a well marked popular walking route will be much easier on the body than following a little track or fighting up a ridge.

Start easy, think about everyone with you and make sure you can complete the route easily and safely, after all, it’s a much more enjoyable day for everyone if you are within your comfort zone rather than taking on too much and potentially getting yourselves into a bad situation. When starting out play it safe and have an enjoyable journey.


The weather makes a huge difference to the journey you will embark. If the weather is bad then navigation is harder, progress will be slower and you may have to carry more equipment. When planning your route get the most up to date local weather forecast as you can to try and ascertain what type of day you will be in for. Keep checking the forecast the day before and on the day of your journey to keep up to date on the current conditions. If need be you may have to change your route in accordance to the weather, for example, if it is 100 miles an hour wind then you will not want to be on a mountain peak so you would want to change to route to stay in the shelter and out of the wind.

Keep informed and don’t mess with mother nature!


Distance is obviously a huge factor in choosing a route, it is something you have to judge for yourself depending on the walking speed of the group, terrain, weather and the amount of equipment you are carrying, therefore you should always add in some distance to the planning to allow for error.

Measure the distance of your proposed route and think about how fast you will be walking as a group, remember you can only walk as fast as the slowest member of your group. Try and then measure the distance during and after the route and you will build up a natural knowledge of map interpretation and be able to estimate distance easier and easier over time.

Think about the terrain you will be on and whether it will slow you down, walking up and down hills both slows you down and adds distance due to the foreshortening effect.

A handy rule of thumb is that for every contour line(10 meters elevation) you should add 1 minute to your time. So if you are travelling 1km on the ground at a speed of 4km every hour and you have an elevation increase of 100 meters then it will take you 15 minutes to cover the ground plus another 1o minutes for travelling up 100m so the actual time it should take is 25 minutes.  You can see how over a day with a bit of up and down in the route it can make a huge difference to the time it will take to get round the route. For more see our Timing section

The other major thing you will want to think about is the seasonal daylight. In the summer you may have until 10 in the evening when it starts to get dark whereas in the winter it may start to get dark at 4 or 5 o’clock. So take note of when it gets dark and whether you can get back before then (if intended) with a comfortable margin for error.

You will also want to include time for breaks along the route so you are not pressured to keep going.

For more have a look out Timing and distance in the course.

Escape Routes

There are many things that could happen during your journey that could give you the need to get back to your starting point or to a safe location as quickly as possible. This could be the weather getting worse, or an injury in the group or any number of things.

When planning your route think about where you can exit the route early and get back quickly, so if you were travelling along a ridge then where can you get off the ridge and descend down to safety.


Think about whether you all have the right equipment to do the route, this could be something as simple as having sturdy walking boots for rough terrain and having the right warm and dry clothing up to having ropes or other advanced equipment for more difficult terrain.

Planning the Route

There are a few rules that you should follow when planning a route:

  • Your route should be flexible so that you can change it in response to any factors like health of a group member or the weather changing.
  • You should have an image of the route in your head so you know what to expect along the route.
  • Plan to avoid any mistakes, so think about what could go wrong and how you can avoid it
  • Everyone in the group should have a basic knowledge of the route, how long it will take and what they will see whether they are navigating or not.
  • Build in time for rests for lunch, sightseeing and breaks while walking

When planning a route you should make a route card that you can carry with you and that you can give to an emergency contact. You can download an example route card that you can fill out here, or for more versions, log into your account page.  If you choose to make your own then make sure it has:

  • Your route divided into sections, exactly where you intend to go with grid references, bearings and timings
  • Your planned escape routes
  • When you expect to be back
  • What time to call for help if you are not back
  • Names and numbers of everyone in the group
  • Contact details of emergency contacts such as mountain rescue or the park rangers
  • Sunrise/sunset times
  • Weather forecast

Once you have made a Route card then you should carry one or two copies with you in a safe dry location(maybe with your map). Also give one to someone you trust so that if anything went wrong then they could give it to the emergency services giving them a much better idea on where to look, how to find you and what to expect. Try to keep in contact with your trusted person throughout the journey so they are kept up to date on progress and any changes made along the way.

Got a Question?

We are commited to bringing you the best tutorials we possibly can. If you have any questions or even contributions on our tutorial then we would love to here it.

Use the comments section below to let us know what your thinking and we'll get back to you as soon as were back from the mountain!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *