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Route planning

While you may find ideas for routes from published walking guides, some with quite detailed instructions, the chief tool for planning your route is the map. You should have a reasonably large scale map for the area in which you plan to walk; the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 scale Landranger and the 1:25,000 scale Explorer maps are the most commonly used in the UK, although there are others. You can read more about maps in the Navigation section.

The starting point for route planning is to identify a route you fancy doing and then to determine whether it is within the available timescale and the capabilities of your party. One of the fundamentals, therefore, is to estimate the length of the route and the time it is likely to take.

You can make this estimate using a paper map or more quickly using a digital mapping application. On a paper map you need to make a rough calculation of the route length. Some people do this by walking their fingers along the route in 2cm lengths, say, and then converting this to a total mileage (or kms if you are metrically minded) using the map scale. Slightly more accurate methods are to use a piece of string or, better still, a roller device which can be bought in most outdoor shops.

A basic estimate of the time that a route will take can be calculated by dividing the total mileage by the expected speed at which the group will walk. It is important not to overestimate this speed, particularly on hills where terrain can be much more difficult than simply walking along a pavement. Typical values are 4km/hr or 3 miles an hour, and even these are quite fast.

The basic duration obtained doesn't take into account stops for lunch or gazing at the view. Nor does it allow for the extra time taken when climbing, which inevitably slows people down. The standard additional time added for climbing is 10 minutes for every 100m of height gain (Naismith's Rule). It's important to count all the 'ups' encountered on the route, not just the difference between the start point and the summit; there may well be dips and climbs on the way, all of which should be taken into account.

The task of making a duration estimate is made considerably easier if you have a digital mapping application, such as those produced by Memory-Map, Quo, Anquet and TrackLogs. There is more information about these applications in our Navigation section. The advantage of these applications is that as you mark out your route the software calculates both the distance and the overall height gain. Most will calculate the route duration using an average speed that you enter and Naismith's Rule.

Escape routes
Having worked out your main route and decided that it can be completed within daylight, you should make a quick survey of potential 'escape routes'. These are alternative, short-cut, ways of getting back to your start point or at least to an easily accessible place for getting transport back to your start point. It is worth checking out the possibilities in advance, just in case the weather or problems with your party force you to abandon the original route. It is much easier to do this in the warm and dry, rather than trying to assess all the options in an emergency, on the hill.

If you have a GPS and have plotted your route using a digital mapping application you may want to transfer it, and any escape routes, to the GPS. If you have plotted a lot of waypoints in order to assess the duration of the walk, you may want to remove some before exporting the route to your GPS. There is more about this in the section on GPS.

Useful publications

Navigation for Walkers: The Definitive Guide to Map Reading
 is a very readable and clear introduction to all the important techniques for navigation in the outdoors. It focusses primarily on map reading and the use of the compass, although the 2nd edition now has sections on digital mapping and GPS.

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