Safety in the mountains

Guidance notes for members and potential members


Gwent Mountaineering Club endorses the British Mountaineering Council’s (BMC)
participation statement:

The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a
danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.

As noted in this article, rock climbing and hill/mountain walking are much safer than their portrayal in the mainstream media would suggest.  Most climbers, mountaineers and walkers will never face the risks of extreme high altitude and most will have a long and accident free lifetime in the hills. Climbing and hill walking are not only life-enhancing, they also protect against ill health associated with physical inactivity and stress.

The following notes have been compiled for the benefit of Club members and potential members to ensure they approach mountain activities in a safe manner with their eyes wide open. Reference should also be made to the numerous relevant books, videos, and web pages on the topic of safety in the mountains.

Careful personal preparation can make all the difference to the success of an outing, whether it is a short afternoon stroll or an extended expedition into the mountains. The amount of time spent in planning should be related to the nature and duration of the trip but the principle remains the same: The more thought and care you put into your planning, the more likely you are to enjoy a successful experience – and the less likely it is that you’ll need to call out mountain rescue.


Good navigation skills and route planning are paramount to ensuring safety when out in the hills and mountains. Leave details of your intended route and proposed time of return before setting out. When you finish, remember to inform your contact you are safe.

Take a map and compass with you and know the basic skills to use them. You can use technology assistance but be aware that it can fail. Battery lifetimes are noticeably shorter in the cold and you may not find a cellular signal in many mountain locations – but GPS satellite signals can usually always be received.

Carry an Emergency Identification Card in an accessible location, such as in the top outside pocket of your rucksack. This card should give your name and emergency contact details e.g., for next of kin. It should preferably be made of plastic or laminated to protect it from the weather. Although modern mobile phones have the capability to store ‘in case of emergency’ (ICE) details, a physical card is preferred because it can be more easily found and used.


Changes in weather conditions can produce serious problems for the mountaineer. Check
the weather forecast before leaving, using one or more of the wide range of specialist forecasting services for mountain areas, such as the Met Office mountain weather forecasts and the Mountain Weather Information Service. There are numerous Facebook groups that provide relevant and recent information on ground conditions in various parts of the UK.

Remember that the weather in the mountains often differs from that over low country. The main enemy is wind, rain and cold; a deadly combination unless the mountaineer is adequately prepared. Act before the weather dictates its own terms.

Equipment for Mountaineering

Good sound equipment is one of the essentials for mountain safety. Turn to experienced
members for detailed help in choosing the best equipment to suit your needs. Good
equipment suppliers will genuinely attempt to supply the correct equipment for your needs.

Footwear: Footwear suitable for the hills and mountains should be comfortable to walk in and yet sufficiently robust to offer the support and protection that is required. A good gripping sole, such as Vibram™ will help to avoid slips.

Clothing (layering): A layered system of clothing is recommended. This should be sufficient to keep the body temperature within a range of a few degrees to ensure the efficient functioning of the body. According to the weather conditions, insulation can be varied by putting on or removing one or more layers of clothing during the course of a day. A suggested three-layer system is:

  • Base layer next to the skin (wicks away moisture from the skin)
  • Mid layer (insulation layer ‐ may be more than one layer)
  • Outer shell layer (windproof/waterproof jacket and overtrousers ‐ usually breathable fabric such as Goretex)

On colder days, consider putting an insulating layer (down or synthetic) between your mid layer and your outer shell.

Clothing (additional): In addition to the suggested layering system, you should carry and use the following items of clothing:

  • Gloves or mittens – including one or more spare pairs
  • Headgear – Sun hat, warm (wool, fleece) hat, and/or balaclava, according to the conditions
  • Gaiters

What to carry

The main thing is to carry as little weight as possible, however, some things are essential:

  • Map and compass, whistle, phone, watch, basic first aid kit, survival bag, spare laces, torch/head torch, sunglasses, sun cream, food (including extra for emergency), water.
  • Additional winter equipment ‐ ice axe, crampons, goggles.

As noted above, it is recommended to carry some form of identification.

Rock climbing safety

Whether or not you choose to wear a climbing helmet is a personal choice. However, it is strongly advisable to do so, especially when standing at the foot of climbs.

It is the responsibility of the lead climber to ensure that his/her second is competent at

The decision to lead climb is a personal choice. Advice and training should be sought from experienced climbers before undertaking this.

Do not stand on ropes, especially those belonging to other people. Do not let ropes run over sharp edges. Double check all knots and belays. Where possible, check those tied by your partner as well as your own.

It is recommended that all climbers should make use of a prusik loop as a method of self‐
protection when abseiling and anyone with limited experience of abseiling should be supervised and use a safety line as well.

Undergo refresher training periodically on basic elements of climbing rock safely. Equipment and techniques can and do change.

Last revised: April 2024.