Skills & Gear


Personal Equipment

The society has some kit which can be hired. If you have any questions about the information below please contact the gear secretary or a member of the committee.

Remember we will refuse to take you on trips if your clothing (or lack of it) puts yourself and/or others in danger!

The following should be taken on all walks:

  • NO JEANS - This cannot be stressed enough. Wearing wet jeans whilst out in the mountains can kill so don't do it. Wear quick drying hiking trousers or tracksuit bottoms instead.
  • Waterproof top and bottom
  • Survival bag and whistle
  • Hat and gloves (even in summer, many Scottish mountains hold snow well into July)
  • Spare jumper
  • Good boots (with ankle support) - NOT wellies, heels, trainers or converse
  • Food and water

Don't panic !!! your kit does not have to be the latest and most expensive stuff. Some society members have 30year old tents and rucksacks and trousers that cost £5. Just because something is old or cheap never makes it unsuitable to wear. It is the design that matters not the looks. If you need any advice get in touch with the Gear Secretary.

Below are some links to shops where you can buy gear from:

There are a few places in Newcastle that fellwalkers can go for equipment. Cotswolds, about halfway down Northumberland Street is the first port of call. It is pretty much guaranteed that a member of NUFWS will be in there, browsing the shelves and wishing they had money for gear. The gear is quite expensive; however, if you produce your student card, you get a 10% discount and if you mention the fellwalking society you may get a 15% discount.
Go Outdoors
Go Outdoors, located out beyond St. Mary’s halls, is a cheaper version of Cotswolds.
Wildtrak can be found on Grainger Street and are a cheap option for gear. We also managed to secure a discount for fellwalking members so drop our name at the till!
LD Mountain Centre
LD Mountain Centre is another great place to get gear. It is located on Dean Street.

Society Equipment

In addition to maps the society also possesses the following equipment, which can be loaned out to members usually for a small deposit. Unfortunately there is not enough sleeping bags and mats for everyone! Please contact us before you sign up for walks if you require a sleeping mat or bag. All the loans are recorded in a the society logbook; if you need any help just ask the Gear Sec.

  • Tents
  • Stoves (several Trangias - you may need to provide the methylated spirits)
  • Sleeping Mats
  • Sleeping Bags

Moreover, we have our own safety gear for club trips:

  • Shelters (4x4 Person, 1x10 Person 4x8 Person)
  • Crampons (8/10 point only) but NO boots
  • Ice axes (lots of sizes and shapes)
  • Snow shovels - digging out a minibus from the snow isn't unknown!
  • Helmets (6) - many used for the trip to Skye
  • Rope
  • Multiple first aid kits
  • Four compasses
  • Many waterproof map cases



Navigation in the Mountains is essential to safe conduct. An integral part of leading and seconding walks is the ability to navigate with confidence and know exactly where you are on the hill. This pamphlet will hopefully give you the rudimentary basics in navigation with map and compass.


A Map is a visual and symbolic representation of a given area of ground or sea. There will only ever be two makes of map that you may come across in your time in NUFWS. Firstly, the Ordnance Survey (henceforth OS), Britain’s National Mapping Agency, who provide maps covering the entirety of the country in various scales and the other is Harvey. Harvey Maps do not cover the entire country but only specific parts of it and in some places are more detailed than the OS (such as the Cuillin Main Ridge).

Grids and Referencing

All OS maps have a grid of blue lines across them, both diagonally and vertically. Lines are exactly 1km apart on all OS maps. The horizontal lines (known as Eastings) correspond with Grid North (more about that later). The British National Grid (BNG) covers the entire country in these lines, which are systematically broken down into smaller squares. The BNG provides us with a numerical system for defining a specific point.

The whole country is covered in 100km squares, each with a unique two letter distinction code (for example Newcastle is in square NU), these are then broken down into the 1km squares seen on OS maps. Each grid line in the 100 kilometre square is given a number from 0 to 99. This is done for both the eastings and the northings (the vertical lines). It is convention to define any single square by giving the easting value first followed by the northing value (so the time honoured formula, ‘along the corridor, then up the stairs’). So, taking this to its logical conclusion, we will now have a 4-figure grid reference looking slightly like this: NN1245.

It is standard practice to go one step beyond a four-figure reference and give a six-figure grid reference. This will give an accuracy of 100 metres. What you have to do is consider how far along and how far up the mountain lies within the larger 1 kilometre square. You need to work out to how many tenths the point you are looking for lies within the square, you can estimate, but it is far better to use the ruler on the compass if you have time. Thus we will gain a figure looking like NN123432. (it is worth noting that the ‘6 figure’ part of the grid reference are the 3rd and 6th numbers in the reference, always).


The Maps used by NUFWS come in two scales, 1:50000 and 1:25000 (often abbreviated to 1:50 and 1:25), occasionally a smaller scale of 1:15000 is used to navigate in particular areas (usually the Cuillin Main Ridge). The 1:50 is carried by the seconder and only used in times of emergency, or if the group splits. The 1:25 is carried by the leader in a mapcase, along with a compass, ready to be used.

1:25000 Scale

The 1:25000 scale map is more detailed than the 1:50, and therefore, more useful on the hill. The scale represents 1 centimetre (on the map) to 25000 centimetres in real life (i.e. 250 metres). However, the grid lines on the 1:25 are separated by 1km, making the problem of fathoming out the scale less important, as the grid lines are often worked with. The OS 1:25 maps are known as the Explorer (replaced the Pathfinder).

1:50000 Scale

The 1:50000 maps are larger scale with 1 centimetre equal to 500 metres on the ground. The Grid lines are also 1km apart. The OS Maps are known as Landrangers.


A Contour line is an arbitrary line on a map joining two points of equal height, the distance between contours is known as the vertical limit. The OS 1:50 and 1:25 have 10m vertical limits, whilst the Harvey 1:25 has a 15m. This can be confusing. Contours form the natural shape of the environment and are used to pinpoint major features, such as bealachs and glens.

The thicker lines on OS maps occur every 50m, and are easily noted to gain a rough approximation of height, or height gained.

The Idea of North

There is not one, but three separate ‘North’. Grid North is the north used by the BNG (this differs depending on sheet), for OS Explorer Sheet 392 (Fort William) it is 2.28’ west of True North (i.e. The North Pole). Magnetic North is 3’ West of Grid North, somewhere over Northern Canada, This degree change must be accounted for when using the compass to take bearings, so every time a bearing is taken, 3 degrees must be added westward.

The Compass

Being able to use the compass and take bearings is essential in bad weather; it allows you to know where you are going, regardless of the state of the weather around you, and especially if leading or seconding, and it is for you, a necessity to be able to take bearings.

It has a large baseplate, so you can take bearings between places several kilometres apart and also to provide a definite 'direction of travel' in your hand. Magnifying glass, even if your vision is perfect, you need this for seeing fine detail on the map and for clarity in rain and snow. Scale or Romer for measuring distances on 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 scale maps. The Compass itself, consisting of a magnetic arrow (The magnetic needle) suspended in mercury, which automatically points to Magnetic North, remains in its housing. The number sequence round the edge of the housing is the degree scale (0-360) and used to calculate bearings (degrees can be supplemented by Mils, but only the Army use them these days).The lines on the bottom of the compass housing are used in taking bearings.

Taking a Bearing

Any inaccuracy in taking the bearing will be magnified when you follow it on the ground so it is important to be as precise as possible. It’s good to have a firm surface to lay the map on so you can hold the compass firmly in place – sitting down or using one knee works well. Before placing the compass on the map, estimate what the bearing will be (from your location to the feature you want to go to). This will alert you to the embarrassing and potentially serious error of lining up the compass in the wrong direction or along the wrong grid lines – getting into this habit will mean that your bearings are always double-checked.

Place the compass on the map with the Direction of Travel arrow pointing in the direction you want to go and then line up the edge of the baseplate with your location and the feature you want to go to (the magnetic needle has nothing to do with taking a bearing from the map and you don’t necessarily need to be anywhere near the area covered by the map when you take a bearing). You can also use the lines which run parallel with the edge of the baseplate; it is often easier to see the detail on the map more clearly by using these lines. Once you have lined up the two points, press the baseplate firmly down on to the map to keep it in place (this is why it is useful to use your knee). Rotate the compass housing so that the north arrow points to north on the map (ignore the magnetic needle). Make sure the lines within the compass housing are parallel to the eastings (the eastings are the Grid Lines which point north – they are called the eastings because they are numbered from west to east). Check that you have accurately lined up:

  1. Your location on the edge of the baseplate (or a line parallel to the edge of the baseplate)
  2. The feature you want to go to on the edge of the baseplate (or the same parallel line as in (i) above)
  3. The lines within the compass housing are lined up with the eastings, pointing to north on the map

You now have an accurate Grid Bearing. Take the compass off the map and note what the bearing is. You can read it at the cursor which is in line with the Direction of Travel arrow. Be careful not to dislodge the bearing by allowing the compass housing to rotate unintentionally.

Before following the bearing on the ground you will need to adjust it for the Magnetic Variation. This variation changes over the years. The area around Ben Nevis presently has a variation of just over 3 degrees while the Cairngorms are just less than 4 degrees. It is not practical to set your compass bearing to more than one degree of accuracy so for much of Scotland in 2004 you can use 3 degrees (confirm that you are using the correct variation by checking the details on the map). To convert a Grid Bearing to a Magnetic Bearing you need to add the 3 degrees. Most compasses which are used for mountain navigation have an increment of two degrees on the compass housing – so add one and a half increments. Finally check that the bearing you have is similar to the rough estimate which you took at the beginning – this is your double check.

Hold your compass in front of you with the Direction of Travel arrow pointing in whichever direction you are facing. Keep holding the compass in front of you and walk your body around until the north end of the magnetic needle coincides with the north arrow in the compass housing (the north end of the magnetic needle on your compass will probably be coloured red and some compass needles also have 'N' on the needle). It is your body that turns – not the compass baseplate. The Direction of Travel arrow now tells you which way to go.


You are unlikely to come across a GPS receiver in your time in NUFWS, mainly because we don’t have any, and need a large grant to get a decent set.

The GPS System

GPS (Global Positioning System) is a satellite based positioning and navigational system owned and operated by the US Department of Defence. GPS is an all weather system that works anywhere in the world. GPS can give an instantaneous, real-time position to within approximately 10m using a single handheld receiver. In addition to GPS there are several other GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) in use or under development, including the Russian (formerly Soviet) GLONASS, the IRNSS, and the planned EU Galileo and Chinese COMPASS systems.

The Workings of GPS

The GPS receiver calculates the timings of signals sent by the 24 GPS satellites in orbit. These satellites are designed to give global coverage. They are not, unlike the IRNSS plans, in geostationary orbits. Each satellite contains a very accurate clock (actually four very accurate atomic clocks) and the clock is used to generate a unique coded signal for each satellite. The receiver on the ground generates the same coded signal at the same time and compares the received code with the one being generated.

The receiver can then triangulate its position on the earth’s surface; however, it must have at least the co-ordinates (also known as trilateration of the satellites’ pseudoranges) of at least 4 satellites to calculate positioning.

Positional accuracy with a single receiver, to civilian users approximately equals 5m to 10m, 95% of the time, and the height accuracy is generally 15m to 20m 95% of the time. Until May 2000, the accuracy was a lot worse (100 m, 95%) before the US Department of Defence turned off Selective Availability (SA). SA was the deliberate degradation of the GPS signals to limit its real-time accuracy to civilian users. The US Department of Defence now has other ways of doing this if necessary (for example, in time of conflict).

Winter Skills

Walking, or mountaineering in winter is a totally different game to walking in summer. NUFWS runs several trips in which Ice Axe and Crampon control and use are essential. This pamphlet is designed to give the rudimentary basics in the handling of axe and crampons, as well as the ability to spot avalanche and other associated hazards. All of these techniques are demonstrated and Practiced on the Winter Trip to Aviemore, in the Northern Cairngorms.

Winter Equipment

The standard gear required for a day out in the winter, in the UK ranges depending on activity, so you will need a far larger amount of gear for a gully on Ben Nevis than you would just going up to Haystacks.

The standard gear for any winter walk is an ice axe and crampons, the club as lots of both, so there is no need to go and buy them (a good ice axe will put you back £60 and a set of 10 point crampons about £100).

The Ice Axe

An Ice Axe is a straight shaft between 50 and 70cm in length, topped with an instrument similar to a pickaxe, with the flat end know as the abs and the long end, the pick. It is used as an aid to balance and to secure footing on steep ground, for digging and cutting steps and for conducting ice axe arrests.

The axe is used to maintain a third point of contact. It must be held in the uphill hand (with the pick pointing backwards). This will help to make your footwork more secure. The Ice axe is by far the more important of the standard crampons and ice axe combination. Obviously this is not best explained on a pamphlet.


Crampons are essentially, a plate of studded with 6, 8, 10 or 12 spikes, which, when attached to ones’ foot allow increased grip. Always carry crampons when there is snow on the hills even if you think you may not need to use them. Wear crampons whenever your boots don't create steps in the snow easily and remember to put them on before getting onto ground where you would be insecure without them.

Boots should have stiff soles (often when buying, described as B0 to B3) and the crampons must fit properly, check they fit before leaving home. Accidents can occur as a direct result of crampons coming loose. Avoid wearing baggy trousers on which crampons can snag and beware of anything hanging down from your waist. Adopt a gait that has the legs farther apart than normal, and practice using your crampons in a safe, controlled environment. You should flex your ankles so that all of the downward points bite. Avoid stamping or dragging your feet. Develop the technique of placing your feet firmly and confidently with each step. Check your crampons are still tightly fitted about 10 minutes after setting off.

Winter Techniques

Winter hillwalking and mountaineering requires several techniques paramount to safe hillwalking. This is an attempt to give a step by step account of several winter techniques.

The Ice Axe Arrest

An Ice Axe arrest is a must when walking in snow or ice. An Ice Axe arrest is the simple use of an Ice axe to stop (or ‘arrest’) a fall or slip. There are 8 types of arrest, all in various angles of fall. The simple form depicts a feet first, head up fall. The first step is to calm down, eventually these steps will become naturally and automatic. The axe must be held with the chest over the axe head with a hand on the pick. Step two is to roll onto your front whilst bringing your weight to bear upon the axe, forcing it into the ground, this should slow you down, and if pressure is continually applied, then should stop you. All the while, you must remember to keep your legs up from the knee, or the crampons font points will stick in the snow and flip you over on your back. There goes a simple format of an ice axe arrest. This can be used in various different forms, for example, head first and on your back, a commonly hard one to execute.

Body Belaying

Body Belaying, as the name suggests in the use of a static belay with the body. It was common during the early 20th century, prior to the invention of the belay plate and Figure of Eight lock. I/t involves digging a platform to sit back against, tying a stopper knot, or figure of eight to provide a rudimentary shock absorber at one end of the rope in case of slippage, feeding the rope round your wait and across the arms, twisting the rope as you go, and lower a subject down, or raising them up the hillside. This technique is often used to evacuate casualties from steep group, and can be modified for this purpose. It is also used to steady wavering individuals, and allow for the comfort of a safety rope. It be can be enhanced by the creation of a rope-based harness for the belayer and the creation of ice screw based anchors if weight equilibrium is too one sided. This system works, with enhancement, to a degree of about 55-65, depending on conditions.

Using Protection

Protection, in this case, predominantly ice screws; are pieces of hardware used on a route, to ‘protect’ the mountaineer. This system, more often used when climbing, involves placing protection in the rock or ice and attaching to a rope to give the climber a measure of safety if he falls. Ice screws are long metal drills of varying lengths used for the same purpose on snow and ice. The Ice Screw can also be used on more gentle slopes, first for setting up an anchor and assisting a body belay, secondly for moving on steep ground, where individuals may be roped together for a variety of reasons, and screws may be placed by the leader to provide security in case of a fall and picked up, or threaded through by the next man on the rope.

This has never been used in anger in NUFWS as the only screws ever used by the society are currently in the possession of Richard Farran (VP ’11-’13), Pete Kemp (Web Sec ’11-’12, Social Sec 12’-’13) and Jamie Dodd (President ’11-’13), who took, but did not use them in the French Alps in 2011.

Snow Constructions

Snow can be a help in certain situations, for example, adverse weather or nightfall. Snow constructions can be divided into several different types; all must be checked regularly from the inside for a breathing hole (often held open with an ice axe). Firstly, the simple Snow Grave is a rectangular chamber cut into the snow pack to shelter one person, despite the morbid connotations, is very effective in less extreme weather. The Snow Hole is a larger construction and comes in various forms. The simple snow hole involves digging a chamber into a snow bank, cutting well into it and creating a raised sleeping area as well as several air vents. The door lintel must be created to take 4 or 5 large blocks leaving a small air space at the bottom of the door. Rucksacks may also suffice for the door, but they do get soaked. Snow constructions are a last resort if caught out; they provide shelter and rudimentary heat. My only experience was on a winter course in the Cairngorms, an 8 man snow hole took 4 hours to dig, and it dropped to below -25 that night, -35 with windchill, and the door collapsed at about 1a.m. and required 4 of us to rebuild it. It was not warm inside either!

Safety in Winter

A winter trip is a far sterner and harder exercise that a day trip to the Lakes. They take place in the Scottish Highlands, and sometimes use bunkhouses (but not always, on Loch Lomond 2011 we temperatures of -10 below freezing). It is not advised to go on these trips as a total beginner to Fellwalking, but rather to do a few Scottish weekend trips without snow first, to give you some benefit of experience and introduce you slowly to the Highlands.

The weather is the most dangerous object on a winter trip; the Cairngorm Plateau can go from sunny to white out (a condition where ground cannot be distinguished from Sky) in minutes. This dangerous phenomenon has lead to mass casualties up there, with the ‘Cairngorm Disaster’ of 1977, when 15 children died being one of the worst. My experiences on the plateau have been a navigational exercise through a white out to the top of the Fiacall Ridge, even with an instructor this was s***t scary, and a brief encounter a few years later in far more experienced circumstances when crossing the Cairngorm Massif from South to North with Pete Kemp. Those wishing to walk in such conditions need to have navigational precision and complete confidence.