7 Tips To Stay Cool When Exercising in the Heat

Woman Exercising in the Heat

It’s been scorchio in the UK this week! Have you been making the most of the good weather? Or is exercising in the heat too much for you to deal with? (And sunbathing with an ice cream too tempting.)

I have to admit to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the heat. Sun is great. Warmth is lovely. But as the thermometer starts to rise, I begin to wilt. Much above twenty degrees (centigrade, for you non-Brits) and I’m scurrying for a patch of shade. Ironically, my better half is something of a sun lover. Which makes for a heated debate about optimum climbing conditions when we climb in hotter parts of the world.

Although exercising in the heat can have benefits, particularly if you’ve got a race in a hot country coming up, it also has dangers. Exercising raises your body temperature and, if you’re already hot from being in the sun, this could push it to dangerously high levels. Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are all things to watch out for.

Here are some tips for staying safe when exercising in the heat.

Exercise Early In the Morning

You can beat the heat by exercising first thing in the morning. Try and juggle your schedule so you can get out early, or get up an hour earlier in the morning to take advantage of the coolest part of the day.

If you’re really not a morning person then exercising late at night is another option. It’ll still be warm and muggy, but you won’t have the sun blazing down on you.

Keep Hydrated

Dehydrating is one of the main risks when exercising in the heat. Although you may want to carry water or an electrolyte solution when training, it’s just as important to make sure you’re hydrated before you start. This can be tricky if you’re exercising first thing in the morning, as you’ll dehydrate overnight. (Unless you’re one of those crazy people who doesn’t sleep.)

If you’re exercising in the evening, check the colour of your pee throughout the day. Pale yellow is good, dark yellow or brown means you need to drink more. Checking your pee is a good way of making sure you’re not drinking more than you need to.

Make Sure You’re Replacing Sodium

When you sweat, you’re not just sweating out water but also sodium. Our bodies need sodium to help keep a proper balance of water and for nerve and muscle function. You’re likely to get most of the sodium you require from your food, but your body may crave a little extra salt during hot weather.

An electrolyte solution can help rebalance your sodium levels after a hard workout (as opposed to energy drinks which tend to be full of sugar). Don’t overdo the electrolytes though as you could end up with too much sodium in your body.

Slap On the Sunscreen

As you’ll be sweating off sunscreen, you may want to opt for a higher factor sunscreen when exercising. You want something that’s water resistant, at least SPF 30 and protects from both UVA and UVB rays. If you’re doing a long run, hike or bike ride, you’ll probably need to reapply sunscreen part way through.

Take It Easy When Exercising In the Heat

If you’re used to training in cooler temperatures the heat can feel debilitating at first. You may feel slow and sluggish and be tempted to push harder as a result. But listen to your body. If it’s telling you to slow down, then slow down. You can start increasing the length and duration of your workout when your body begins to acclimatise to the heat.

Wear Loose, Light-Coloured Clothing

Light-coloured clothing will help reflect the heat and loose clothing allows air to reach your skin and cool you down. Save the dark, tight clothing for winter.

Go indoors

Now, we all know I’m a fan of the outdoors. The whole point of this blog is to promote and encourage you all to get outdoors! But, even I have to admit that sometimes gyms have their place. Not that being in a sweaty gym is the most pleasant experience. But at least most of them have air conditioning. So if the mercury in the thermometer continues to rise, going to the gym may be a safer option than exercising in the heat.

5 Tips To Improve Your Climbing Grade

Crag with climbers on hard routes

Watching climbers who are better than you can help improve your grade

When you first start climbing, you may progress rapidly through the grades. But whether you’re climbing indoors or outside, at some point you’re going to hit a plateau. If you want to make it to the next level, here are five tips to improve your climbing grade.

Get the Mileage In

As with anything, the more you do of something, the better you’ll get. This is particularly true with trad climbing. If I haven’t trad climbed for a while it takes me twice as long to pick the right piece of gear and I tend to be more cautious and place more gear than necessary. The slicker your gear placements, the more energy you save and the harder you’ll be able to climb.

Train Regularly

It’s sometimes said that climbing is the best training for climbing. This is partially true, but whatever level you’re climbing at, you should see an improvement in your climbing grade with a structured training programme. This needs to be specific to the level you’re climbing at; if you’re a beginner then jumping straight onto a fingerboard is a recipe for injured fingers!

Focus on Footwork

One of the key signs of a beginner climbing at the wall is shoddy footwork. It’s tempting to think you just need to get stronger to climb harder, but learning good technique is just as important as strength. By focusing on improving your footwork, not only will you be able to climb harder, you will become a better climber. Your strength may ebb and flow, but good footwork will stay with you for a lifetime.

If you find yourself kicking or scraping the wall when you climb, practice these seven drills to improve your footwork.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail (or Fall)

I’d hazard a guess that the fear of falling is one of the most common things that stops people climbing to their full potential. The times I have climbed my hardest routes on both trad and sport are when I have been able to control my fear to a certain extent. To put it bluntly, if you’re terrified of falling off, you won’t push yourself to your physical limit. This means you won’t get as strong as you could do or climb the grades you’re capable of climbing.

Fear of failure also holds us back. Many people have a mental barrier in their heads around a certain grade. For example, they may be super confident climbing VS, but the mention of an HVS is enough to send them into shakes halfway up the route. You can often climb a lot harder than you think you can. Though please don’t take that as an invitation to jump on an E7 when you’re only climbing VS! Part of becoming an experienced climber is knowing when it’s safe to fall, and when it isn’t.

Learn From Climbers Who Are Better Than You

Perhaps the best tip to improve your climbing grade is to climb with people who are better than you. Seconding harder routes allows you to push your body to the limit without having to worry about placing gear or falling off. But don’t just hold your partner’s rope – watch how they climb. Look at what holds they use, how they position their body and how they rest on the route. Then, try and emulate this when you climb.

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to get out with better climbers, you can still watch how they climb and learn from it. Bouldering walls are great for this. If you’re struggling to figure out a particular problem, take a break and watch how other people climb it. Do they climb it differently depending on their size and strength? Experienced climbers will often know the best sequence for a problem just by looking at it. Once you’re fully rested, try climbing it their way and you may be surprised how much easier you find it.

Everything You Need to Know About Wild Camping

Wild camping in front of mountains

One of the best things about wild camping is the view from your front door

Wild camping season is here! The days are drawing out, the sun is shining (sometimes) and the countryside is a million shades of green. If you haven’t already dusted off your tent or bivvy bag, now is the time.

Whether you’re new to wild camping, or just looking for a few new ideas, here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about wild camping.

What’s the Difference Between Wild Camping and Camping On a Site?

This may be a dumb question. (But there is no such thing as a dumb question, right?) It’s pretty obvious that camping in the wild is going to be a different experience to pitching up in a serviced campsite. There are no showers for one thing. Or toilets. Or other people. If any of these things are essential to your love of camping, then you may want to give wild camping a miss.

On a more serious note, whereas you may pitch your tent in a campsite for a weekend or week-long trip, this is not the done thing when wild camping. The unwritten rule is ‘dusk ‘til dawn’. Pitch up late in the day and move on early the next morning. You’re a wanderer. An explorer. If you pitch up twenty metres from your car and spend the weekend relaxing in your folding chair next to the barbeque, you’re kind of missing the point.

Is Wild Camping legal?

This depends on where you’re looking to camp. In Scotland, wild camping is permitted as long as you follow the Outdoor Access Code. Leave no trace, follow the ‘dawn ‘til’ dusk’ guidelines and don’t get in anyone’s way and you’re unlikely to have a problem.

In the majority of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you have no legal right to camp wild and technically you should ask the landowner’s permission (except for Dartmoor where you’re allowed to wild camp for one or two nights on open land). However, in many remote areas, wild camping is tolerated as long as you pitch up well away from roads and farmland.

Essential Kit for Wild Camping

Wild camping kit can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it. At one end of the scale, you can have a perfectly good night with a cheap plastic bivvy bag, a sleeping bag and a pack of sandwiches. But if you’re planning on making a regular habit of wild camping, or if you’re backpacking then you may want to invest in some specific gear.

Here are the main essentials you’ll need for Wild Camping:

  • Bivvy bag or tent – bivvy bags are perfect for microadventures and single nights out, but if you’re doing a long trip then a small tent can be worth its weight in gold. Particularly if it’s raining.
  • Sleeping bag – even in summer, you’ll have an uncomfortable night without your bag.
  • Sleeping mat – ideally a lightweight, blow up mat such as a Thermarest.
  • Warm jacket – always worth carrying a spare layer, especially if you’re likely to be sitting around in the evening.
  • Torch – to be fair, at this time of year, it’s light late into the evening. As long as you don’t need any night-time toilet stops you may get away without one.
  • Stove and pan – something small and light is ideal.
  • Lighter – you will regret forgetting this. Take two, in case one doesn’t work.
  • Water bottle – if you’re planning on filling up from streams, then one with a wide neck is ideal.
  • Mug – not your best china.
  • Spork – the only implement you need for eating.
  • Food – see below for ideas.
  • Insect repellent – you may consider this optional until you’ve been attacked by the dreaded midge. No one wants to wake up with a face full of itchy bites.
  • Fold up trowel – for your DIY toilet.

You should be able to fit these into a small rucksack, particularly if you’ve taking a bivvy bag rather than a tent. If you’re planning on camping in the woods, then a hammock and tarp is a great alternative to a tent.

Pick Your Perfect Wild Camping Spot

Perfect camping spots rarely appear just when you need them. It’s worth having a rough idea of where you want to camp before setting out.

A couple of things to bear in mind:

  • Popular spots tend to be, well, popular. If you head up to a classic wild camping spot with a beautiful view on a summer Saturday in the Lake District, then you’re unlikely to have it to yourself.
  • Look at the weather forecast before heading out. If it’s due to get windy overnight, you might want to avoid camping on an exposed mountaintop.
  • But if it’s looking calm, an exposed location may help keep the midges at bay!
  • If you need to collect water for cooking or drinking, then plan to camp near a reliable water source. If it’s been a dry summer, small streams may be more of a trickle near their source. If in doubt, fill up your bottles before heading to high ground.

Once you’ve found the area you’re going to spend the night it, spend ten minutes walking around to find a good spot. If the ‘perfect’ spot you picked on the map turns out to be a man-eating bog, then be prepared to look again. Sadly, maps can’t tell you everything.

Cook Up a Feast

Cooking over a campfire can be the epitome of wild camping. But you should only light a fire where it’s safe to do so and there’s no chance of you starting a wildfire. Seriously, wildfires are a big deal. Don’t be the idiot who accidentally starts one. If you do build a fire, make sure you clear it up afterwards. Leave no trace, remember?

Cooking on a stove may be less romantic, but it’s much more practical. And just because you’re wild camping, doesn’t mean you’re restricted to instant noodles. If you’re out for a single night, then pick up some sausages or cheese to include in your feast. Packing for longer trips requires a bit more thought, but there are lots of tasty meals you can cook up in a single pan. If you’re looking for inspiration, the Dirty Gourmet blog has some great recipes.

When Nature Calls

If you’ve grown up in the outdoors, then you can probably pass over this section. But if you’re new to wild camping and spending time away from ‘real’ toilets, then there are some things you need to know.

Firstly, choose a toilet spot well away from water – at least 30m.

Secondly, leaving toilet paper littered around is the ultimate no-no. I see this all the time when I’m out hiking and it really gets on my nerves. There’s no excuse for it. Ideally, bag up toilet paper and sanitary products and take them out with you. Alternatively, you can burn them VERY CAREFULLY (see point above about wildfires) and bury the ashes, or in a worst case scenario, bury them in a hole in the ground.

Finally, if you’re going for more than a wee, dig a hole. What if you’ve forgotten your trowel? Use a stick. Or a rock. Or your bare hands. Just bury it somehow. Got it?

Wild Camping is Supposed to Be Fun

Ok, so camping in the middle of nowhere with no pub or toilets isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. But I suspect if you’re reading this, you’re at least willing to give it a go. If you’re in need of a break from the hectic world of work, people and social media then I can recommend spending a couple of nights wild camping to recharge your batteries.

Of course, this being Britain, the weather is never guaranteed. And to be honest, if it’s lashing rain then camping in any situation isn’t that fun. So keep an eye on the forecast and if it’s looking bad be prepared to change your plans. If you’re determined to go ahead anyway, then check out my top tips for staying dry when camping in the rain.

So, is there anything I missed? Anything else you want to know about wild camping? Drop me a line, or come and hang out on Twitter and let me know. Until next time, amigos!

Why You Should Start Munro Bagging

Group of walkers on a hill

Anyone know what the collective noun for a group of Munro baggers is?

Have you ever heard of the term ‘Munro bagging’? I’d hazard a guess and say probably not, unless you frequent the Scottish mountains or enjoy spending time in the pub with geeky hikers. But if you like a challenge, love exploring wild places and aren’t afraid of the infamous Scottish midge, then Munro bagging may be for you.

Here’s your guide to Scotland’s ultimate ticklist.

What Is Munro Bagging?

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? A Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3,000ft (that’s 914m in new money). There are 282 of them, at the last count. (This does occasionally change, depending on if someone has built a particularly big cairn, or a mountain has sunk.*) They’re named after Sir Hugh Munro, who first listed the summits in his ‘Munros Tables’ in 1891.

When you touch the top of the hallowed summit cairn of a Munro, you can say you’ve ‘bagged’ it. A Munro bagger is someone who has, or is trying to, ‘bag’ all the Munros. The species can usually be identified by their insistence to reach the top of the mountain despite the full force of Scottish rain, wind or snow. (Possibly all three – this is Scotland after all.) Once you’ve successfully completed all 282 Munros, you gain the official title of ‘Munroist’, or ‘compleatist’ (yes, that is spelt correctly, thank you very much, Grammarly).

*More accurate surveying methods have led to the demotion of a few Munros, notably poor Sgùrr nan Ceannaichean, which was taken off the list in 2009 for being just one metre too short.

Where Are the Munros?

If you hadn’t already guessed, they’re in Scotland. More specifically, in the northern part of Scotland. All 282 Munros lie (stand?) north of the Central Belt (that’s the bit with Glasgow and Edinburgh). There’s a nice map of all the Munros here. And for those who like to have some handy facts at their fingertips, here are the cardinal Munros:

  • Northernmost Munro: Ben Hope, which stands alone in the Flow Country of Sutherland
  • Easternmost Munro: Mount Keen, in the far east of the Cairngorms National Park
  • Southernmost Munro: Ben Lomond, many people’s first Munro, stands sentinel over the bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond
  • Westernmost Munro: Sgurr na Banachdich, part of the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye

How to Bag Munros

Well, first you have to get a list of them! Steve Fallon has a handy spreadsheet that you can download from his website, or if you like sticking things on your wall, Harvey May Services do a chart of all the Munros and Corbetts. (I recommend plastering this on your toilet wall as a constant reminder of how many you have left to do.)

Then, it’s just a case of lacing up your boots and heading out into the hills. With appropriate maps, equipment and loyal companions of course. A tip from the wise: if you’re planning on this being a life-term venture, then you may want to look at the order in which you climb the Munros and not leave the longest walk-ins til last.

Speaking of final Munros, tradition has it that you invite all your Munro companions to join you for the walk up your final Munro. On the top of which, you celebrate with champagne, strawberries and chocolate brownies. (I can recommend this recipe as being tried and tested.) So, unless you really want your friends and family to suffer, I’d save a nice easy Munro to the end.

Why bother?

An excellent question. But humans have always loved a good ticklist. I bet even caveman came home to cavewoman and proudly scratched another line on their cave wall to tick off a new beastie he’d managed to kill with his bare hands.

Plus it gives Munro baggers (and their long-suffering families) plenty of excuses for holidays in Scotland. Not that you need an excuse to go to Scotland. (In my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful places on this planet.) But it’s always nice to have a reason to justify another long drive up north to your work colleagues who have just hopped off the plane from Majorca.

But perhaps the main reason is the encouragement to explore some of Scotland’s wildest and remote mountains. Mountains that, if they weren’t over the magic height of 3,000ft, your eyes would skim over on the map. Mountains which, in all likelihood, you’ll complete in solitude, perhaps with the odd mountain bird or deer for company. And on those (admittedly rare) days when the sky is clear, the views from the Scottish mountaintops are some of the most beautiful in the world.

But what if I’ve DONE all the Munros?

I hear your pain. You’ve reached the end of a hard-won race. (In the case of my Dad, a fifty-year project.) And as you gaze into the future, all you see is a vision of lazy days on sun-kissed beaches, a nice cold beer in hand. . .

But where there is a will, there’s always another challenge to be had. If you’re not totally sick of Scotland by now (and why would you be?) get your hands on a list of the Corbetts (that’s Scottish mountains between 2,500 and 3,000ft). There are 222 of them, though you’ve probably got a bit of a head start as you’ll have been up a fair few as part of your Munro marathon. And for the really keen, once you’ve ticked off the Corbetts, you can move on to the Grahams. If that’s not enough then there’s also the Donalds. Phew.

If you want to be really pedantic, you could also tick off the Munro Tops. These are mountains over 3,000ft that in another life would have been a Munro, but due to their overbearing brothers and sisters did not make the list. (Don’t you hate bigger siblings?) I feel quite sorry for these subsidiary summits — so close and yet so far. Perhaps we should start a fan club for the Munro tops. IS ANYONE WITH ME?

Then there are Murdos. These are summits over 3,000ft with at least a 30m (98ft) drop on all sides. (Why not make it 100ft for consistency of measurement? I DON’T KNOW.) So all Munros are Murdos, a Munro Top may or may not be a Murdo, and all Murdos are either Munros or Munro Tops. Are you confused yet? Good, because I am. Anyway, I’m a bit dubious about the Murdos and suspect they were just made up by a forlorn compleatist as an excuse to spend more time in the Scottish hills.

Some interesting facts about Munros

  • The Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye is the most technically difficult of the Munros, requiring the bagger to complete a rock climb to touch the top and an abseil to descend.
  • Various peaks vie for the title of ‘most remote’, but A’ Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor come out top of most lists. For most people ticking these peaks will require staying in a bothy or wild camping overnight.
  • The Revd A E Robertson was the first person to complete all the Munros in 1901. However, there is some dispute over his claim, as it’s not certain he reached the summit of Ben Wyvis and he definitely didn’t climb the Inaccessible Pinnacle. If the Rev isn’t allowed to take the number one spot, then he relinquishes it to another man of the church, the Revd Ronald Burn, who completed his round in 1923.
  • Hamish Brown completed the first continuous round of the Munros in 1974 which involved 1,639 miles of walking (and 150 miles on a bike).
  • The speed record for the Munros is held by Stephen Pike who set the record of 39 days and 9 hours in 2010, cycling and kayaking between peaks.
  • Perhaps equally impressive is the youngest Munroist, Daniel Smith, who finished his round at the tender age of nine. If you’re wanting your little ones to challenge his reign, you’d better get them training early!
  • Finally, if you love walking in torrential rain, howling gales and blizzards, you may be interested in the winter records. Martin Moran was the first to complete all the Munros in one winter season in 1983/5 and Steve Perry completed the first (and only?) continuous winter round entirely on foot (and ferry).

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me there’s a distinct lack of women on that list! Delving a bit deeper into the archives of Google, it appears the first woman to complete a continuous round was Kathy Murgatroyd in 1982. Kate Weyman and Lorraine McCall are also noted as having completed continuous rounds, in 113 days and 141 days respectively, but it looks like there’s potential for some fit ladies out there to make their mark on the Munro history books. Now there’s a thought. . .

Are You Ready to Take Up the Munro Challenge?

So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about Munro bagging and probably a fair bit more besides. Have I convinced you to take up the challenge yet? Yes? Great stuff. All together now, Sláinte!

Do You Know What’s in Your Backyard?

Photo of park with text - what's in your backyard

Is it just me or are the weeks flying by? And every day, we’re creeping closer to the longest day of the year. This is one of my favourite times of year. The weather’s getting warmer, flowers are popping their heads up and it really feels like the start of summer. Because we’ve been busy wedding planning recently, we haven’t been able to get away for as many weekend trips as usual. While I’m missing these, I’ve really been enjoying exploring our local area. This got me thinking about how often we overlook things that are right under our noses. That we travel in search of something different when there are often new and interesting places to explore that are literally just outside our backyards.

Last week I found a secret park. Of course, it wasn’t actually secret – it’s quite easy to find if you know it’s there. But when I came across it, after taking a small dirt path through the trees that looked ‘interesting’, it felt like I was discovering something new. Ok, so it’s not the Lost City of Teyuna, but it also didn’t cost me anything – other than half an hour of my time – to experience that feeling.

Human beings are creatures of habit. We like our nice, safe, boring routines. But this can lead us to think that the only way to break out of these routines is to go on a big adventure. To get away from home. It makes us stop exploring what we have on our doorsteps.

So, if you’re feeling like you’re stuck in a rut; that you go on the same walks, runs or bike rides, then here are some thoughts on how you can shake things up a bit. Even if you think you know your local area like the back of your hand, you may be surprised at what you find.

Take a different path

Do you walk the same route to the station/shop/office every day? Always take your dog on the same loop through the woods, or take your kids to the same park on a Sunday afternoon?

Rather than treading the same old tracks, next time, choose a different route. Take a more roundabout route to the station, or a detour off the road to the local shop. Instead of eating at your desk, take a lunch break and explore the area around your office. When I worked in London, I found hidden parks, peaceful churchyards and a host of blue-plaqued houses through doing just this.

Follow your curiosity

Do you ever see a road, or path and think, ‘I wonder what’s down there?’. Or spot a lake through the trees when driving that looks, well, interesting? Next time you see something that arouses your curiosity, rather than just thinking about it, go and take a look. Follow the road and see where it leads. Find a path that leads down to the lake (not if it’s on private land, obviously) and sit by it for a while.

As children, we are naturally curious and spontaneous. When we grow up, this may be trained out of us; we sometimes feel like we need to limit our curiousity. There are other more important things to be done, after all. But every once in a while, give yourself permission to be a child again and follow your nose down that path or road. You may be surprised at what you find.

Look at your local map

Even if you live in a town or city, there are often lots of small footpaths, linking different housing estates, leading through parks and woodlands or crossing fields. Often you may not even realise they’re there. We moved house about five months ago, to a different part of the same village. Even though I thought I knew the area quite well, when I had a look at the OS map I realised there were loads of paths and back roads that I’d never been down. I’ve been happily exploring them ever since.

You can often borrow Ordnance Survey maps from your local library. There’s also an option to view the OS map for an area on Bing maps. OS maps have a handy phone app where you can plan routes and view maps of different scales on your phone and if you subscribe to the fantastic Trail Running magazine, you get a whole year’s worth of premium access to OS maps for free (which is a bit of a bargain).

Go running without a map

This may sound a bit contrary to common advice, particularly coming from me. I mean, I’m an orienteer – I love maps! I also love knowing where I’m going. But sometimes it’s actually quite fun to lose yourself in a local patch of woodland or a large park and figure out where different paths may lead you.

There’s a wood near our house where we often go running. We’ve even done an orienteering event there and I thought we knew it pretty well. But the other week, when we headed out for an evening run, I chose a different path up the hill. That led to another path, and another and suddenly we found ourselves in a flat, open section of ancient woodland. A signpost informed us that this was the site of a neolithic settlement. If we hadn’t have chosen to lose ourselves in the wood, we may never have known of its existence.

So if you’re not able to get out into the wilds this weekend, don’t feel glum. Take an hour out of your day and discover something new about your local area.