5 Helpful Tips to Improve Your Map Reading Skills

Map and compass

It’s National Map Reading Week! I was lucky enough to be taught basic navigation skills at an early age but I appreciate that for many people, maps designed for outdoor activities are about as comprehensible as the financial pages of The Sunday Times. But it’s never too late to learn. If you struggle to figure out which way’s north and whether the brown circles on the map represent a hill or a valley, here are some helpful tips to help you improve your map reading skills. Why not get outside this weekend and try them out?

Tip 1: Pick the Right Map

There are lots of different types of maps at varying scales which can make it confusing to know which one to choose. The scale will usually be expressed as a ratio, for example 1:50,000. The bigger the number after the colon the less detailed the map will be. Ordnance Survey provides a range of maps that cover the whole of UK at a range of scales.

Some people prefer the Harvey maps, particularly in mountainous areas. They look a bit different to the OS maps but are designed to provide a simpler view of the landscape (particularly where there are lots of contours) to help you navigate more easily. Harveys also sell specific maps for long distance walking and cycle trails. You can usually get the whole route printed on one map which can save a lot of space in your pack!

Here’s a quick guide to some common UK maps to help you work out which is best for you:

  • 1:50,000 OS Map – good for people who want a less detailed map that covers a large area. All roads and main footpaths will be marked, but they’ll be less detail to help you navigate off-road than other maps. Useful for cyclists who mainly stick to roads.
  • 1:25,000 OS Map – for many years the OS Explorer range has been the go-to map for outdoor activities. The maps show all rights of way and distinctive features and have a high level of rock and contour detail in the mountains. The only downside is that in mountainous terrain it can be tricky to read the map accurately because of the level of detail. The best map for all-around outdoor use.
  • 1:40,000 Harvey Mountain Map – Harvey focus mainly on mountainous areas of England, Scotland and Wales. Their maps look quite different to OS maps but are great for hiking, biking and running in the more remote, hillier parts of the country. The maps don’t contain all the detail of a 1:25,000 map but this makes them much easier to read. Unlike OS maps that cover the whole country, Harvey maps cover a specific area. This means that instead of having to buy multiple OS maps you can cover the same area with one Harvey map. Best map for general hiking and mountain biking in national parks and upland areas.
  • 1:25,000 Harvey Superwalker Maps – focused on popular upland areas of the UK, these provide a higher level of detail than the Mountain Maps but still focus on readability. If you’re navigating in complex mountain terrain, this is the best map for you.

A lot of people prefer paper maps but if you enjoy getting outdoors in a lot of different places then the OS Maps app is a great low-cost way of accessing all the maps in the country on your phone. However, for learning basic navigation skills a paper map is much easier to use. Plus, it never runs out of battery!

Tip 2: Get Used to Using a Compass

A compass is the second important tool in your navigation toolkit. With a map, compass and some basic skills, you should be able to navigate your way through most parts of the country with ease. Even if you use a GPS device it’s worth carrying a map and compass as a backup. (And know how to use them!). If you get into the habit of taking your compass out with you on walks, runs or bike rides then you’ll keep up your skills and over time they’ll become second nature.

Your compass has a base plate and a rotating bezel with angles marking the 360 degrees of a circle. Inside is the compass needle which will rotate as you move around. The important thing to remember is that the red end of the arrow will always point north – even if it’s not lined up to the north marker on the bezel. (There are actually three different ‘norths’ but this can be quite confusing for people who are new to navigation so for the time being just remember that red equals north.)

The simplest compass skill is to orientate your map to north. Even if you can’t remember how to take a compass bearing, by orientating your map in the right direction, you can pick out features around you to pinpoint your location.

Whichever map you use there’ll be a grid of squares marked over it. The top of the map will be north so the vertical lines that run up the map are on a north-south line. To orientate your map, hold the compass flat on top of the map and turn the map until the red north arrow is pointing along the vertical grid lines to the top of the map. Remember you need to turn the map and not the compass! If you’re facing south this will mean that the map feels upside down, but don’t worry, you’ll soon get used to navigating by the features on the map and this won’t be a problem.

Once you’ve orientated your map have a look at the landscape around you and see how features appear on the map. Can you spot that big hill over to your right? How about the river on your left? If you’re using footpaths or bridleways then most of the time by orientating your map correctly you can follow your planned route without the need for more complex compass skills. In the mountains, it can be a different story and you’ll want to know how to take compass bearings and learn more advanced skills so you can navigate effectively in poor weather.

Tip 3: Understand Basic Topographical Features

Maps can be confusing things full of brown squiggly lines and coloured symbols. It’s no wonder people get confused! But it’s worth taking a bit of time to understand the different features a map represents. Roads, footpaths and water features such as lakes and big rivers are usually quite obvious and easy to see. What most people struggle with are contours. Unfortunately, if you want to go walking in the mountains you’re going to come across a lot of contours and you’re going to have to use them to navigate.

Contour lines show changes in height. On a 1:25,000 map there is one contour line for every five metres of vertical height. Some contour lines have a height marked on them. If you have a GPS device that measures altitude you can use these to help you work out how far up or down a hill you are. Contours are continuous and follow the shape of the land. If you walk along a contour line you’ll always be at the same height.

Contours also tell you how steep a slope is. The closer together the brown lines, the steeper the hill. This makes hills and mountains quite easy to spot on maps as you have concentric circles that get smaller and smaller as you get towards the top of the hill.

Next time you go out walking or running try and match the typographical features you see on the ground to your map. A great way of getting better at using contours to navigate by is to try orienteering. Orienteering maps are much more detailed than OS maps and show almost every feature on the ground. You can learn how different landforms are represented and scale this up to the big mountains when you go hiking.

Tip 4: Trust the Map

Sometimes if you’re lost it can feel as if the map doesn’t match what’s on the ground. Your brain tricks you into thinking that you’re right and the map is wrong. Believe me, from bitter experience I know that the map is always right! If you can’t match the features on the map to the features on the ground this probably means you’re not where you think you are.

If you end up in this situation you have a couple of options:

  • Walk back until you get to a point where you’re certain of your location and the map matches the features on the ground. For example, this could be a path junction or where a path crosses a river
  • Work out your current location using your map and compass.

If you choose the second option then your first step is to orientate your map (see tip 2). Then try and remember your last known location and pinpoint this on the map. Presuming you’ve been checking your map as you go, this shouldn’t be too far away and it’ll give you an indication of whereabouts on the map you might be. Once you’ve done this look for some distinctive features around you – for example, a large hill, a saddle between two hills or a church spire in the valley below. Ideally, you want to pick three or four very distinctive features. Find these on the map and using these points you should be able to narrow down your location. Then look for any small features nearby to help you pinpoint your exact spot.

Once you’re confident about where you are then you can carry on walking or retrace your steps if necessary. Just remember the map never lies!

Tip 5: Get Out and Practice

The only way you’ll get better at navigation is to practice it. Like everything, this takes time and can be frustrating. But you don’t need to go on a full day out in the hills to get some practice in. Get outside in the evening with your local map and walk on the footpaths around your home. Look at what features you pass and how they’re marked on the map. How does the vegetation change and what colours signify this on the map? What buildings are recorded and what buildings aren’t? Can you predict when you’ll pass each five-metre contour line?

As you know the area you’re unlikely to get lost so you can perfect your map reading skills without worrying about whether you’ll make it home in time for dinner.

Happy navigating!

How to Start Orienteering and Learn to Love It

Female orienteer running from control

I’ve written before on why I believe orienteering is the best sport ever. But I will admit that it’s not necessarily the easiest sport to get into, particularly as an adult. It takes a bit of perseverance and a willingness to get lost (a lot). But as someone who has spent a good hundred or so hours of her life wandering lost around forests, moorlands and country parks, let me tell you this: it is worth it. So for those of you who are keen to try this awesome sport (and who wouldn’t be?), here are some practical tips on how to start orienteering and learn to love it.

Ditch Your Ego and Start Small

If you start orienteering as an adult, you’re likely to already be a runner. (You don’t have to be a runner, but most orienteers are.) Which means that orienteering can be frustrating because the best thing you can do to improve when you’re starting out is NOT RUN.

I know, it’s counter-intuitive, right? Orienteering is a race, which means you want to get around as fast as possible. My (now) husband made this mistake on one of his first events and ran 1 km past his control before he realized his error.

Think of it as an apprenticeship. If you take it slowly and learn some basic skills, your running ability will help you quickly improve. If you’re determined to run every step of the way, you’ll quickly get frustrated and probably quit.

Orienteering courses are typically colour-coded. If you’re a total beginner, I’d recommend starting with an orange course. Yes, you may be the only adult surrounded by kids, but swallow your pride, this is just your first small step into the world of orienteering. If you’re already confident with a map and compass then you may be fine starting with a light green course, particularly if it’s an ‘easy’ area (such as parkland or urban woods).

Try Urban Orienteering

Urban, or street, orienteering events are a great way to start orienteering. In fact, they’re becoming so popular that many orienteers are choosing to run at urban orienteering events instead of ‘proper’ events. Personally, one of the things I love about orienteering is the opportunity to get out of towns and cities and run on different terrains, but each to their own!

For newbies to orienteering, urban events are ideal because the navigation is straightforward and the map is usually simpler to understand. Although there won’t be any road names, roads and buildings are clearly marked, along with other distinctive features such as trees, hedges and walls. Street orienteering events used to be purely local training events run during winter evenings, but they’ve become so popular that there are urban events every weekend around the country. You can find a list of upcoming UK events on the British Orienteering Federation (BOF) website. (If you don’t live in the UK, check your own orienteering federation’s website.)

Get Free Training

I’ll let you in on a secret. Orienteers LOVE introducing other people to the sport. Which means there are tons of opportunities to get help with the basics, learn new skills and get tips from more experienced competitors.

One of the best ways to start is to go to a local event. Sometimes a club will put on an event specifically for people who are new to the sport and there will usually be someone around to show you the ropes. If you’re not sure whether an event is suitable for you, contact your local club in advance. You can also search for events near to you that are suitable for beginners using the BOF events search. (Tip: click the smiley-face icon to filter for events that are suitable for newcomers.)

If you join your local club, you may have access to more free training opportunities. Many clubs offer local coaching sessions or an annual club weekend away to test out your navigation on technical terrain.

Make Some Orienteering Friends

Orienteering is a deceptively social sport. Although you run around your course on your own, there is nothing a bunch of orienteers love more than analysing and comparing their experiences on the course, whether they were good or bad.

Joining your local club is the best way to make orienteering friends. Many clubs hold post-training socials (usually in a pub) where you can rehydrate (ahem) and get five different views on the optimum route choice to number eight. At the big events, each club has its own club tent where you can gather before or after your run, cheer on your fellow competitors and moan about the bramble patch you got caught in.

Another great way to make friends is to volunteer to help out. Orienteering events are all run by volunteers – you don’t need to be an experienced orienteer to help. Some jobs are more menial than others (I’ve done my fair share of marshalling in the rain and pushing cars out of muddy fields), but all are vital to delivering a successful event. It will also earn you a lot of brownie points (which you can trade in by asking for tips to improve your navigation) and often free entry to events.

Go to some of the bigger events

Once you’ve honed your skills and are reasonably confident about navigating in different types of terrain, it’s time to hit the big time. Unlike many sports, anyone of any ability can compete at regional and national events, including the British Championships. (Although for some of them you will need to join BOF – it costs a bargainous £10 a year and you can normally sign up when you join your local club.)

At larger competitions, courses are based on age classes. If you’re an adult, you’ll be competing at the highest technical difficulty possible in the terrain. If you’re not that confident about your abilities, then you may want to enter a colour-coded course instead. If your orienteering experience to date has been urban and local parks, then I’d suggest you may want to go for the light green rather than the green course as these events will be more technical than what you’re used to. You want to enjoy the experience after all!

There are two reasons why I love big orienteering events: the areas and the atmosphere. You get to run on some of the best orienteering areas in the country – places that you’d never normally be able to go. And the atmosphere of a big event, particularly where the finish is located in the main assembly area, is brilliant. Even when it rains.

Are you convinced? If you’re in the UK and are keen to find out more, the British Orienteering website has everything you need to know including a list of local clubs and events. If you live elsewhere, it’s likely your country will have its own orienteering federation with information on how you can get involved. And if you liked this post, don’t forget to share it with your friends and check out my article on 10 Reasons Why Orienteering is the Best Sport Ever.

How to Escape the Crowds by Hiking the Cinque Terre

The village of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre

The five tiny villages that make up the Cinque Terre are for many the crowning highlight of the Italian Riviera. Jumbles of coloured buildings cling to the rocky coastline that plunge into the clear blue sea, perfect for bathing. The breathtaking views and old-fashioned charm are enough to melt the hardest photographer’s heart. But the Cinque Terre is far from a secret destination and the solitude that once distinguished these villages is almost totally absent.

All is not lost. If you’re happy to do a bit of leg-work then there’s the opportunity to get stunning views of the villages and coastline and enjoy some solitude on the network of paths in the mountains behind the Cinque Terre. Even better, you’ll have every excuse for sampling the delicious Ligurian cuisine at every village you stop by. Here are some tips on hiking the Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre coastline

The beautiful coastline of the Cinque Terre

The Five Villages of the Cinque Terre

From west to east, the five villages are:


The largest of the towns and the only one with a proper beach, making it a great place to stay to get an early start to your hike.


A stunning village from every viewpoint, Vernazza is characterised by its small harbour and steep, winding streets.


The only one of the five without direct access to the sea, Corniglia is perched on the cliffs surrounded by vineyards.


Manarola doesn’t have much of a harbour, but the boats that line the main street down to the water would make you think otherwise. A beautiful village and a popular place for swimming.


The easternmost of the villages and often the most crowded, Riomaggiore is connected to Manarola by the well-known Lovers’ Lane.

Hiking Paths in the Cinque Terre

The most popular (i.e. busy) way to walk between the five villages is via the Sentiero Azzurro, also known as Trail #2 or the Blue Trail. This is about 12 kilometres in total, though it’s a full day trip if you want to stop in each village. At the time of writing (September 2017) the only part of this trail which is open is the section between Vernazza and Corniglia. Huge landslides devastated the area some years ago and the footpaths are still being repaired.

Running the Sentierro Azzurro path

Running the Sentierro Azzurro path between Vernazza and Corniglia

This does give you the excuse to go higher into the mountains and explore some of the hamlets and churches perched above the villages.

View from the Sanctuary of Soviore

Looking back down on Monterosso from the Sanctuary of Soviore

If you want to avoid the villages completely, the 35-kilometer High Path runs along the crest of the hills between Portovenere and Levanto.

Alternative Transport Options for Getting Around the Cinque Terre

If you’re short of time or don’t fancy hiking the full length of the coast, you can mix and match your transport options. If you only have a day and want to steer clear of the Sentiero Azzurro Trail, you’re best off picking a few sections of the higher paths to hike and using the train to get between the other villages.

Another option is to join one of the boat tours, giving you a very different view of the coastline from the sea.

When to Hike the Cinque Terre

The best time for hiking is spring and autumn. The months of April, May, September and October have pleasant temperatures and if you go towards the beginning or end of the season then you’ll miss the worst of the crowds in the villages. Winter is a lot quieter, but you risk bad weather which can close the trails.


The picturesque village of Manarola

Hiking in the Wider Ligurian Region

If you really want to escape the crowds, why not leave the Cinque Terre to the tourists and explore some of the other footpaths along the Italian Riviera? Beautiful scenery AND solitude. Bliss.

How to Pack for an Active Holiday in a Carry-on Bag

Man with rucksack on train station platform

One bag to rule them all?

If you’re travelling on a budget, you can still get your hands on low-cost flights. That is, until you look at the extras. If you’re wanting to check-in a suitcase for your holiday you could end up doubling the cost of your flight. Travelling with just a carry-on bag means you have extra cash for a nice meal out, expensive museum tickets or many, many ice creams. But can you really pack everything you need for an active holiday into your hand luggage?

In most cases, the answer is yes. If you’re planning a hiking, cycling, running or multi-sport holiday, a lot of the time you’ll be able to fit everything you need into a small carry-on bag. The main exception is rock climbing holidays. As you can’t hire climbing gear (most climbers wouldn’t want to even if you could) and there’s no way you can fit ropes, hardware, harnesses and shoes into a carry-on bag, you’re going to need to check-in at least one bag. But similar principles apply. My husband and I usually pack all of our climbing gear into one duffle bag that we check-in and take everything else in our hand luggage.

If you’re wanting to avoid being ripped-off by airline baggage fees, then check out these top tips for packing for an active holiday in a carry-on bag.

Plan What You’re Going to Do on Holiday

You don’t have to plan every day of your holiday in detail (though for some people this is part of the fun!) but knowing what activities you’re going to be doing will help you decide what to pack and what to leave behind.

If you’re going on a cycling holiday, or a hiking trip then this is pretty straightforward. But if you like to do a bit of everything then it’s worth considering what you’ll actually have time to do so you don’t end up packing a load of stuff you don’t need.

For example, I’m just about to come home from a trip to Genoa. We hadn’t planned exactly what we were going to do before heading out, but we were hoping to have a few days running along the coast, possibly a day hiking in the hills, some sightseeing time and a few trips to the beach. Add into the mix visiting various family and friends in the area and possibly a nice dinner out and that’s a lot of clothing combinations! I decided to take one pair of trail running shoes that could double as hiking shoes, so I could leave my walking boots at home. I chose layers that could be worn together if the weather was cooler and lots of vest tops (as they don’t take up much space and I was hoping it would be warm!).

Wear Your Bulkiest Clothes (and Shoes)

If you’re trying to make the most of your carry-on bag, then you may have to sacrifice style on the plane. It makes sense to wear your bulkiest shoes and clothes to fly in. So, if you’re going on a hiking trip, wear your walking boots on the plane. My bulkiest clothes are typically jeans and jumpers, so I usually wear or carry these on the flight over.

The exception to this is if you’re going on a cycling holiday. No one is going to advocate hobbling through the airport in a pair of SPDs…

Check the Weather Before You Travel

Let’s face it. Packing for travelling to southern Europe in summer is pretty easy. You can be sure that the weather will be hot and sunny and, as summer clothes take less space than winter clothes, you can fit more into your hand luggage. But if you’re travelling during the winter or to a country with a changeable climate (hello, Britain) then packing can be a bit trickier.

Weather forecasts are rarely a hundred percent accurate, but they will give you an indication of what to expect so you can pack accordingly. For example, if it’s looking cool and there’s a lot of rain forecast you may decide to take a rugged waterproof coat, whereas if the weather is likely to be mostly dry you can get away with a light packable jacket.

If you could be faced with all types of weather on your trip then opt for lightweight, warm clothing and layers that can be worn together or separately depending on the temperature.

Merino wool t-shirts are great as many are smart enough to wear around town or even for going out for dinner. Buffs are a packable option if you want something to keep your neck or head warm without packing a woolly hat. A light scarf can have many uses, from keeping you warm in cooler weather to covering your head and shoulders in summer (particularly if you’re visiting religious sites or are in a Muslim country).

Check What’s Available at Your Accommodation

Towels are necessary but bulky. If you get them included with your accommodation, this is ideal. If you don’t then trek towels pack up reasonably small and are definitely a better option than filling half your carry-on bag with a beach towel.

Depending on where you’re staying, you may also have toiletries provided and hair dryers, umbrellas and other useful, but bulky, items. If you’re not sure, it’s always worth asking in advance.

Cut Down on Liquids

One of the challenges of travelling with just hand luggage is fitting all your liquids into that tiny one-litre plastic bag. A set of reusable travel bottles means you can take your favourite toiletries with you without having to buy the expensive travel-sized versions.

If you’re travelling for longer than a few days, it’s often worth buying bulky items such as shower gel, shampoo and toothpaste from the supermarket when you land. If you’re travelling with friends or family, club together to buy large bottles you can share which you will either use up or can leave behind when you go home.

Carrying makeup can be a nightmare when you’re trying to fit everything into your little plastic bag. I know a lot of outdoorsy people would scoff at the idea of carrying makeup on an active holiday, but I’m not one to judge. Whilst I personally wouldn’t take makeup on a six-week hiking expedition, I’ve suffered from bad skin for years and typically take some makeup on a mixed, multi-activity holiday.

My main tips for this would be to try and rationalise what makeup you take, and to travel with men! Often male companions will have a bit extra space in their plastic bags and may agree (if you ask nicely) to carry your deodorant or shampoo so you have a bit more space. Look for products that take up less space; for example, a stick foundation is much more packable than a glass bottle of liquid foundation. There’s a great guide to travel makeup here.

Coconut oil is a super useful multi-purpose product. You can use it as a makeup remover (pack a small face cloth), moisturiser, a replacement for shaving cream and a hair conditioner.

Choose the Right Carry-On Bag

Your choice of carry-on bag will depend on what you’re planning to do on holiday. If you’re on a hiking trip, then you’re likely to take your hiking pack as your hand luggage (make sure it meets airline requirements!). If you’re a keen photographer, then you may opt for a plastic suitcase to protect your camera gear in transit.

My husband and I both have Osprey Quasar packs, which we love! They have a padded laptop sleeve (useful for me as I take my laptop everywhere), lots of pockets for organising gear, a fair bit of space and are comfortable to carry. Hubby usually carries a rolled-up 15-litre running pack in his bag which we use for day runs or hikes.

There’s a great article from Outsider Online which discussed the pros and cons of different types of carry-on bag. Always check to make sure your bag meets the airline’s size requirements – an expensive mistake if you get it wrong.

10 Tips For Your First Mountain Marathon

Mountain marathon

I had originally planned for this week’s post to be my lessons learned from trying to plan a sustainable wedding. And that will be coming up, but it’s going to be a big post and I’ve been struggling with RSI in my wrists and forearms this week, so it was really a no-go.

As the rain lashed across my window this morning it struck me that we’re really into autumn now. And I always associate autumn and winter with mountain marathon season. That’s not to say all mountain marathons take place in the winter – there are many summer events, which I would definitely recommend to mountain marathon newbies. But I seem to be a glutton for punishment, so have always chosen events which, based on the time of year, are almost guaranteed to bring you the worst of British weather.

The ‘big one’ is the OMM. Now in its 50th year, it’s always held the weekend the clocks go back, ostensibly because it gives you an extra hour of daylight on the Sunday, but really because it always rains. Always. (At least, every time I did it.) If this year’s OMM is your first foray into mountain marathons, congratulations! You’ve jumped in with both feet to the waist-deep bog. But to make your experience a little more pleasant, here are a few tips from the wise…

Tip 1: Prepare for the worst

This is both a general comment and a weather-specific one. Lightweight is all and good but the number one priority is survival. If this is your first mountain marathon and you haven’t yet tested your comfort vs safety limits when it comes to warmth, then don’t strip your pack right back. Besides, you want to enjoy this right? And there’s nothing like a dry change of clothes and a hot chocolate at the overnight camp to instantly make you feel a hundred times better.

Tip 2: Bubble wrap does not a good night’s sleep make

You may hear it said that you can skip carrying a heavy blow-up mat by shoving a square of bubble wrap into your pack and sleeping on that. After all, nowhere on the mandatory OMM kit list does it say ‘sleeping mat’. Now you could do this, and you would probably survive the night (presuming you have a decent sleeping bag), but you’re not going to get any sleep.

Do yourself and your tent mate a favour. If you can’t afford a super-light blow-up mat then at least get a length of lightweight roll mat or a balloon bed. Of course, these come with their own set of problems …

Tip 3: Don’t leave your balloon bed pump behind

“What’s a balloon bed?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s very simple. It’s a bed made from balloons. Not the big round ones you blow up for your kid’s birthday party, but the strong, long, thin ones magicians use to make giraffes and dogs. The ‘bed’ is a thin piece of fabric with sewn ‘tubes’ down which you stuff your blow-up balloons to make an airbed.

If you think this all sounds like a big faff, then you would be right. But do you really have anything better to do with your sixteen-odd hours at the overnight camp? And packed down, the balloon bed is about the size of your fist and weighs 100g. Perfect for mountain marathons.

There is one potential downside. You have to be one of those people who can tie balloon ends. I have never mastered this feat, but fortunately, my past tent mates have all been experts. You may be tempted to save five grams and leave behind the little pump that comes with the balloon bed. Many people have been stupid cunning enough to do this in the past and only realised too late that the balloons are impossible bloomin’ tough to blow up without it. Oh, and take a couple of spares in case of popping (and to make giraffes).

Tip 4: Take plastic bags to put your feet in

You can spot the mountain marathon newbies at the overnight camp as they’re the only ones walking around without plastic bags sticking out of the top of their shoes. This tip is tried and tested.

However much you try and bog-hop, by the time you get to the overnight camp your feet will be sopping wet. And it’s not great for your feet to sit stewing all night in wet socks. So, once you’ve got your tent up, get changed into your spare layers and put on your nice dry socks (you have got dry socks, haven’t you?).

Presuming you’re rehydrating like a pro, at some point you’re going to need to visit the portaloos. (Guys, just opening the tent flap and pissing out is really not on.) That’s where you have the wet shoe dilemma. And where the plastic bags come in. One for each foot. Just don’t bring cheap supermarket ones with holes in, as they’re kind of pointless.

Tip 5: You don’t need a toothbrush

Really. It’s ONE night. Your teeth will survive. Acceptable alternatives are a piece of chewing gum (mmmm, minty) or those little chewable toothbrush things you get in capsules in service stations (which do no good but may make you feel better).

Tip 6:… Or a hairbrush

All you people out there with no hair, SHUT IT. Have you ever tried to get a brush through a tangled head of long hair? No? My point exactly. It’s hell. Worse than tangled climbing ropes. Anyway, despite all this, there is still no need to take a hairbrush on your mountain marathons. If you have long hair, plaits/braids are the way forward. And buy a Tangle Teezer – you’ll never look back.

Tip 7: Tie your compass to your wrist

Loose compasses are another newbie error. You do not want to lose your compass. Particularly if you have ten-metre visibility on a mountain plateau surrounded by big cliffs. A simple piece of string and a wrist loop mean you never have to worry about losing your compass to a man-eating bog or forgetting to pick it up when you stop to tie your shoelace.

Incidentally the same goes for your dibber. Especially when it comes to man-eating bogs. (I nearly lost my husband to one, but that’s another story. He survived. The dibber didn’t.)

Tip 8: Look at the map before you set off

This is perhaps more pertinent to those competing in the score classes than the linear classes. When it comes to score events, tactics are key and spending five minutes planning your route is time well spent.

And make sure you look very carefully at the final section up to the finish. That way you won’t miss the four miles of dead running between the last control and the finish. And you won’t forget to take that into account in your timing assessment. Which means you’ll get in on time and won’t lose out on a prize as a result of misinterpreting a load of red squiggles. (I’m still bitter, alright?!)

Tip 9: Look after your partner

There are solo mountain marathon events, but for most classes, you’ll be in a team. Which means you need to look after you buddy as much as yourself, particularly if it’s their first time and they’re starting to wonder exactly what you talked them into after five pints in the pub that night.

Use each other’s strengths. If your partner ends up doing most of the navigating, why not offer to take the lion’s share of the tent? Or blow up their balloon bed. But remember this, there are times to be kind and sympathetic and times when you have to be tough. And you will each have your ups and downs.

The last OMM I did, I ran with my sister. On the first day, she was striding out ahead of me and I struggled to keep up. But nearing the end of day two, just after we’d spotted those soddin’ red squiggles mentioned above, she was starting to feel it. At one point she tripped over a tussock and refused to get up. Fortunately, by that point, the quickest way back was to follow the rest of the (over-long) trudge to the finish. So I gave her a hug and told her that she’d forget the pain in a couple of years. Tough love is sometimes necessary.

Tip 10: If it’s windy, stash one of the maps

What’s worse than losing a map? Losing BOTH your maps. Without them, you’re screwed (unless you have exceptional map memory skills). It can get pretty windy in the hills, and it’s surprisingly easy for a map to be whisked out of your hand and blown over a cliff. When the winds pick up, have one person stash their map safely in a jacket pocket or rucksack and navigate using the other one.

If the wind takes both of them? Well, that’s just careless …

And, there you go! I have many more tips whizzing around my head, so perhaps they’ll be a follow-up, ‘Part 2’ post. Feel free to share your best mountain marathon tips in the comments below! And best of luck to everyone competing in the OMM or other mountain marathons this winter. May the (navigational) force be with you.