Staying Safe in the Hills

Posted by True Highlands in Kit and Caboodle | 0 comments

For many, the appeal of the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands is the feeling of being disconnected – from emails, texts, social media, civilisation – and there’s nothing that can beat that feeling. Stepping away from the computer and into the hills gives an unrivalled feeling of freedom. But don’t be too quick to forget about your mobile phone – there are lots of apps, tips and tricks to help you stay safe in the hills on there!

Here, I’ll list just a few – with modern technology moving as fast as it does, it’s worth keeping informed of what’s being developed that may just save your trip – or your life.

Before I go on, I need to stress: DO NOT rely on your phone for navigation when in the hills! Far too often, we hear of walkers being rescued by our wonderful Mountain Rescue Service after thinking that Google Maps can guide them through the mountains… it can’t!! These apps are designed to be used on roads and not up mountains, in glens and on crags. While you can download OS maps (see below), nothing can beat a good old-fashioned paper map. If nothing else, it won’t run out of battery!

OS Maps
There’s something satisfying about building an OS map collection. I still love them and choose them over a download (think reading a book vs. a kindle!), but OS are moving with the times and have a fantastic online subscription – for £23.99, you can get a years’ access to all OS 25k:1 and 50k:1 maps, Aerial 3D (a great way to visualise your route), plus advanced route planning tools. You can download in advance and use the maps on your mobile phone or tablet without an internet connection – better than trying to control a large sheet map on a windy summit! Do remember to make sure your devices are fully charged – and even better, take a battery pack to recharge on the go.

OS Locate

A free GPS app that includes a compass, grid location and altitude, so that you can find your location and bearing. This doesn’t need an internet connection to work. It also includes a ‘share’ feature that lets you connect with friends and family, give them your location and let them know when you’ll be home. This is to be used alongside a map and not replace it.

999 text service

Did you know that if you don’t have a strong enough signal to make a phone call, you might be able to get a text through to the emergency services (999/112)? BUT you have to register your phone in advance!! This is easy – text ‘Register’ to 999, and follow the instructions that follow. This is a little-known service that could save a life.

Remote Medical Support App

The Remote Medical Support app lets you carry “a doctor in your pocket” and is great for both the Highlands and abroad! With a 24/7 telephone line to doctors, a photo diagnostic service, information on kit essentials, and first aid, security and safety videos, you can access medical support and advice on the go. You can also track your altitude and location through the app. Just remember that this is not an alternative to calling the UK emergency services if you need rescued!

This is a great app to take abroad with you, especially when access to medical support may be difficult.

Red Cross First Aid app

Would you know what to do if you found someone injured or ill? The Red Cross is the UK’s authority on First Aid and has made an app to help you care for someone until professional help arrives. It gives simple, easy advice on 18 everyday first aid scenarios, as well as advice on how to prepare for emergencies (including severe winter weather – definitely worth a read if you do any winter walking).

ICE (In Case of Emergency) Apps

There are many of these out there so I won’t link to just one – search ‘ICE’ in your app store (Windows, Android or Apple) and lots appear. Look for one that displays your information on your lock screen – even if your phone is not password-protected, this saves valuable time in an emergency. You can store an emergency contact, medical information including allergies or conditions and other information that could be valuable to someone giving you emergency medical treatment or rescuing you off the hills.


  • Turning on your phone’s location does help it be tracked (both by you and others), but it does drain your battery. Unless you have a battery pack with you, I recommend leaving it off unless you become disorientated, ill, or need it for a navigation app. It is also worth turning your data off once you enter the hills as it drains battery, and probably won’t be much use to you up there anyway!
  • The Scottish Mountain Rescue Service can be reached by dialling 999 or 112 (general European emergency number) and asking for mountain rescue. This is a fantastic service provided by expert, trained voluntary teams that should not be abused – they will be there for you in an emergency, but you should do everything you can do prevent an emergency in the first place!
  • Tell someone where you’re going, your planned route, time of departure and expected arrival time. Ask them to check in with you if you don’t inform them that you have arrived.
  • Enjoy! Staying safe might not be top of your priorities when you’re excited to get out and about, but knowing that you are prepared will make the experience much more enjoyable and may just save your life.


Of course, none of these apps are an alternative to being prepared with a well-packed rucksack. Here are the essentials:

  • Appropriate clothes and footwear including warm and waterproof clothing, whatever the season or forecast! This includes lots of layers, thermals, warm jacket, waterproof jacket and trousers, boots or walking shoes, thick socks, hat, scarf and gloves.
  • Plenty of water – I pack at least a litre more than I plan to use in case I am out for longer than expected for any reason.
  • Plenty of food (high-calorie and dense) – I pack flapjacks, wraps, dried fruit and of course chocolate!
  • A map (or app alternative) and compass
  • A first aid kit – this can vary depending on the severity (and risk) of your route, but a basic kit should include sterilising wipes, bandages, plasters, scissors, gloves, duct tape (fantastic for lots of emergencies!), microporous tape, triangular bandages and safety pins. More advanced kits could include splints, haemostatic dressing and tourniquets – but you may want to attend a first aid course to learn how to use these properly.
  • A storm shelter – these are basic, wind and waterproof shelters that can provide invaluable shelter from the weather when waiting for help to arrive. They may seem excessive, but they can cost less than £20 and be smaller than a sleeping bag. Rescue teams may take hours to reach you depending on your location and this could keep you warm and dry while you wait.
  • A whistle and torch to signal to rescuers. The international distress signal is 6 blasts, wait for one minute, then 6 blasts again (and repeat). Your rescuers will give three blasts in response. However, if you can’t remember this, any old whistling won’t be ignored! Keep this up until your rescuers reach you – it will help them locate you!
  • A mobile phone – even if you are a technophobe, do take your phone – even if you keep it in the bottom of your bag – you never know when you might need to call for help!
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses – don’t be fooled by Scotland’s reputation!
  • Hat, gloves and scarf – even in August – Scotland does deserve some of its reputation…

Now – you’re ready to enjoy Scotland’s hills safely! With the right clothes and equipment, and a range of fancy tricks on your phone, you can head off into the hills feeling safe and smug that you won’t be one of the (far too many) people struggling off Scotland’s mountains in flip flops…

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