One of the highlights of our camping weekend with VARTA (read about the very wet weekend here) was a presentation by Julian from the Bowland Pennine branch of Mountain Rescue England and Wales about the work they do as well as some important tips on staying safe outdoors.
Hiking in Yorkshire.
Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW for short) have been adopted by VARTA as their chosen charity for a couple of years now. The company provides financial and fundraising support, and supplies the volunteers with torches, batteries and portable power to help them when they are training and on exercise for the organisation. And with 3,500 volunteers that’s a lot of batteries!
It’s a good fit. Power and light are two very important things when it comes to keeping safe when enjoying the outdoors, and having a decent supply of both genuinely helps MREW do its work when it gets an emergency call.
So Much More than Mountains
You would be forgiven for thinking that MREW is all about search and rescue in the mountains. You know, the mountain version of the coastguard – a specialist emergency service you get when the traditional three can’t reach you. But their tagline is actually “so much more than mountains”, and they are available to help in all kinds of emergency and life-threatening incidents. The volunteers are indeed called out to help people who find themselves in difficulty high in the hills, but may also help look for vulnerable or missing people in difficult terrain, assist people during natural disasters such as flooding, in large scale accidents such as train crashers, or even when animals need rescuing. Their skills means that they are particularly well placed to assist in a whole host of situations.
What got to me was the level of commitment that MREW volunteers give. Julian explained that while they are all part of a large organisation, each of the 57 teams across the UK is a charity in its own right and must raise all the money they need to run the service themselves. Having been involved in fundraising, I know this is not an easy task. They must purchase their own safety and rescue equipment (many volunteers provide their own), run their own vehicles, and keep all training and qualifications up to date. The teams are on call 24 hours a day, every single day of the year – including Christmas Day. And knowing two or three people who are members of their local Mountain Rescue team, I know they do indeed get called out at all kinds of hours and for all kinds of reasons.
With the Bowland Pennine MREW ambulance.
Staying Safe Outdoors
It was wonderful to hear Julian counter some of the opinions I’ve heard expressed by professionals before and say very plainly that everyone should feel they are able to explore the outdoors regardless of fitness and experience. Absolutely! The outdoors is for everyone, it is ours to make the most of. But it is hugely important that, even if we’ve never done a particular activity before, we make sure we know how to stay safe.
When we are out walking or hiking or scrambling there are a few things we can do to help avoid an emergency situation. Here are a few tips MREW mentioned that we’d all do well to remember:
Know where you are going and make sure someone else knows too.
Okay, so I know I often talk about wandering and meandering through the countryside, but the fact is I always have an idea of where I’m heading and, most importantly, how long I’m going to be out. This is especially important when I’m going out alone, or when I’m planning to be out all day. I make sure that I tell someone (usually LincsGeek) where I’m going and what time I think I’ll be home, and they then know that if they don’t hear from me after a certain time (bearing in mind there is often no phone signal in the nicest places to walk), they need to raise the alarm. For some walks we are encouraged to sign in at a specific pub or café or information centre before we head off, and I would recommend that you do this. Preparing a route card may also be appropriate. But it can be as simple as “bye, I’m heading off to do my usual trail, be back in a couple of hours”, or “see you later, I’m driving to Edale and then going to walk up to Kinder Low via Jacob’s ladder, expect me back before dinner”. This quick conversation means that should things go wrong, someone has an idea of where to start looking.
Take a map and compass (and know how to use it!).
I am a huge advocate of using mobile technology in the outdoors (have you tried OS Maps yet?), but nothing should replace a paper map and compass. There are so many reasons your phone or GPS might fail; an old-fashioned backup tucked in your pack is so important. But there is no point taking one if you don’t know how to use it; get yourself familiar with working out where you are based on the features around you, and know how to use a compass to head in the right direction. Finally, before you tuck the map away out of sight, mark your start and end points on it, and make yourself aware of the things you’re expecting to see around you as you walk, which will make finding your location much quicker should you need to reach for it while you are out.
Have a fully charged phone. And take additional power for a re-charge.
I don’t know about you, but I use my phone for everything these days. It’s my electronic map and my GPS, my camera, my notepad, and my telephone. Half a day hiking in the Peak District, taking a few photos and using it to follow my route, and my iPhone battery is gone. If you choose to take a phone when hiking, and I would say it’s a good idea to do so, make sure you at least start with a fully charged battery. I also carry a portable power bank with me to top up as I need it. That way, should I need to get help I have the means to contact someone by phone or text, or someone back home can have a look and see my current location using Find Friends or a similar app. VARTA make some useful power products like this one, if you don’t already have one you should check them out.
Register with the 999 text service before you go.
We all know too well that some of the nicest places to walk in the UK don’t come with a decent mobile phone signal. When you have a teeny bit of signal you are often more likely to get a text through than a phone call, which is where Emergency SMS comes in.
Actually designed to allow deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired people in the UK send an SMS text message to the UK 999 service, it is also useful to walkers who may be exploring areas that are in and out of signal.
To register, text “register” to 999 and follow the instructions you receive by return. Remember that a text to the emergency services is the same as calling 999; only use it in a real emergency.
Go prepared with some basic gear.
Going for a walk for an hour from your home or car and know exactly where you are going? Fine. But anything longer or less well known and you should be carrying at least a small pack with a few important items. Take a snack and some water, a torch and batteries, a small first aid kit with a foil blanket, and a waterproof coat. Assuming you are dressed appropriately for the weather, and with the appropriate footwear, you’re good to go – go and enjoy! If you’d like some more on what to carry when you’re out all day, try these tips for your day hike pack.
When it Goes Wrong
We all know that accidents happen. Even if you are the most experienced and prepared hiker going, you may trip and injure yourself, become ill, come across someone who needs assistance, get caught out by some unexpected conditions, or end up in another situation that means you need help. Just like you would if you were at home or at work, and as we were taught as children, if you need emergency help, dial 999 (112 will also work from a mobile phone).
You will need to give the operator the usual details – your location (with grid reference if you can), your name and details, the nature of the situation and injuries, your mobile phone number (the emergency services can use this to track you). The operator will then contact the relevant team depending on where you are, which if you are in the hills or mountains will most likely be the local MREW team.
And remember, you must then stay where you were when you made the call – don’t be wandering off, this makes it much harder for someone to find you!
If you are struggling for a signal, text 999 from your mobile phone (assuming you registered ahead of time as suggested above) as this may go through easier.
Spending time outdoors is good for us for so many reasons. Mountain Rescue England & Wales do a great job and are an important emergency service, but it’s better if we do our best to not need them in the first place. If you have any more tips on staying safe outdoors please feel free to add them in the comments below.
Find our more about Mountain Rescue England and Wales.