Hill Skills

We’ve asked our local expert, Ian, to guide you through running on the hills and fells. Learning to navigate is crucial and Ian goes through the basics below, but going on a course with a professional is a brilliant way to learn and there’s a special offer for Up & Running customers at the end of the article.

Running in the hills requires a few skills, particularly navigation.  Putting aside our reliance on technology to get us where we want to go (we’ll cover that in the next article), we need to be self-reliant, so learning to use a map and compass is critical.  For me, being able to navigate accurately is the real joy of moving confidently in the hills.

Navigation is not some mystic art but it does need a basic knowledge and a fair amount of practice.  With that comes the reward; remote places will open up to you and allow you to run off piste races such as mountain marathons.

First of all, the equipment; map and compass.

For maps, I personally prefer OS 1:25,000 (there’s a lot of detail on this size of map).  Harvey’s maps are also good and are 1:40,000; there is less detail on here so they have a less busy appearance. Then, you’ll need a compass.  The main brands are Silva and Rectar.  Don’t skimp on the price of your compass.  When you are out in the hills you need something reliable.

Learning how to use a compass properly takes practise, and will be covered in more detail in the future. Needless to say, there are many useful videos on YouTube that will talk you through it.

This one is from OS  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZd0RfsC-9I&feature=youtu.be

However, you need your map in your hand the whole time. Open at the area you are covering, and orientated to the ground. This means everything on the map will be relative to your position.

To orientate (set) the map, line up the red compass needle with the blue ‘northing’ line on the map and keep it that way as you move.

Remember a time before sat nav. Before setting off on a long journey, you needed to look at the map and work out your route: landmarks, key points of the journey, how long it would take on a particular section, how long until you reached a certain point. In the hills these old-school principles are still used and referred to as the 5Ds:

  • Distance; how far is it from where you are now to where you want to be? Use the roamer scale on the side of your compass to help work this out.
  • Direction; north, south, east, west or a more precise bearing.
  • Duration; how long do you expect it to take? Remember a kilometre travelled going up takes longer than the same distance on the flat or down hill.
  • Description; what will you see along your route? These are ticking features.  What will you go past?  Will you be going up or downhill?
  • Destination; Where are you heading? It is always a good idea to break a journey into a few shorter legs than a single long one.

To start with, try following linear features such as paths, walls and streams.  This is called handrailing.  With practice you should find yourself picking up more features as you go.  Choose a safe area to practise with boundaries on all sides, such as a valley or an area surrounded by roads.  This will provide you with an escape route in the event of you making an error.  Work out the direction you need to go to find safety.

This is a short, very basic outline of navigation.  It is a captivating subject and will unlock wild places.   If you are interested in learning more then there are a couple of links below:

Basic Navigation for fell runners: http://www.everythingoutdoors.co.uk/navigation-for-fell-runners/

Advanced techniques: http://www.everythingoutdoors.co.uk/navigation-for-fell-runners/

Why not join a 2-day MTA Hill Skills For Runners course. There’s a 2-day course in the Peak District on the 11th and 12th May and Up & Running customers can save on the course fee.

You can save 15% on the course fee which will be £84 instead of £99 + £20 MTA registration fee.

To book:


Back to Advice