River navigation can be difficult. It’s often hard to see what is around you, due to your low-down position, and hard to place exactly where you are due to limited forward visibility. But knowing where you are on the river is a key canoeing skill. It enables you to judge your time and distance, pick out (then find) a good camping spot and make sure that you don’t miss a good pub.  

Join us on our Swedish canoe expedition for a true trip through the wilderness.
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In this blog we’re going to look at how you can tell where you are on the river, how to navigate and how to use your map on the river. As always, feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the part that interests you the most. 

Remember though, canoeing is also about enjoyment, keep an eye on where you are but be sure to take in the scenery as well.

Why not join our Facebook group Wildway Bushcraft – Bushcraft tips and advice, where you can ask any questions that you might have about bushcraft and meet like-minded people. Click here to join our Facebook group.

The importance of knowing where you are 

Canoeing rivers such as the Wye, particularly in the summertime, may mean that you might never really need to work to ascertain your location if in any doubt you can simply ask one of the many passing canoeists, riverside anglers or pop into the pub just to check. However, if out in the wilds of Scotland or crossing the remote Swedish wilderness then knowing where you are is important; particularly if someone has an accident or you need to find a pre-arranged campsite in poor visibility. Read on to learn some basic techniques for finding out where you are when on the river.  

Navigating on the river


Judging paddling speed

Speed is, as every school child will remember, distance/time. So in order to judge your speed on the river, you need to establish how long it takes you to do a set distance, for example, a mile. In order to get a realistic average, you will need to record this over several miles. After you’ve done this you’ll have an idea of how long it takes you to canoe a certain distance, therefore you can estimate how long your trip will take you, so sit back and enjoy the river.

Of course, being able to judge your speed means knowing where you are. Read on to find out more.

Finding where you are on the river

Assuming you’ve basic navigational skills then finding your way on the river is a pretty simple task; it just involves a little bit of readjustment. Note that, in this blog post we are looking at navigation on the UK’s inland waterways – we’ll look at extended open water crossings another day. 

Navigating on the river

Use your bearings

Bearings are your friend. If you know which way you’re heading when you begin your journey then as the river bends, so will your heading. It is then a matter of lining up your new position, in relation to north, with a part of the river on the map that corresponds to that bearing. For example, if the river heads south then bends east, your compass will show that when you begin your heading (south) then when the compass turns to show you’re heading east – you’ll know you’re on the easterly bend of the river.

Look to the landscape

Use the features visible from the water in the same way that you would if you were walking. What can you see from the river that corresponds to what you can see on the map? Woods, forests, bends in the river can all help you to work out where you are on the river

Look at the river

Certain river features, such as narrowing channels and large bends will also be identifiable on the map; helping you to pinpoint exactly where you are.  

Join us on our Swedish canoe expedition for a true trip through the wilderness.
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canoe the river spey

Use a GPS

GPS technology, although still expensive, is more accessible than it was a few years ago. As a result more and more people who enjoy the outdoors are using them. Though you should always carry (and know how to use) a map and compass as well as a GPS the latter can be invaluable in pinpointing your position. A number of specialist GPS systems are available that are designed for kayaking/canoeing.

Planning a multi-day canoe trip? Read our blog ‘Packing for a long canoe triphere.

Use local knowledge

Local knowledge goes a long way. Before the start of your trip ask canoeing locals, or those outside the are returning from a trip about any particular water features that you need to look out for. This will not only help you to plot your position on a river where the surrounding terrain may be quite featureless; it will also help you to avoid any potential hazards. 

Use attack points

You might not always know exactly where you are, but knowing pretty much where you are is a good starting point. Provided that you stick to the main river and not go up any tributaries (unless of course, that’s your plan) it’s pretty hard to go wrong. However, on occasion, you may need to know exactly where you are. In this case, use a version of the walker’s ‘attack points’. These are a series of distinct points on route to your destination. Take note of each one then as you pass them mentally cross them off. This helps you establish an accurate location as you will always be between two ‘attack points’.  

Next week

Next week we’ll be looking at navigating at night when walking, be sure to check in next week to find out more.


Join us on our Swedish canoe expedition for a true trip through the wilderness.
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Natural Navigation in the UK


The abilities to find north, navigate short distances and tell the time of day without a map, compass or watch are key bushcraft skills. In this latest blog, we will look at we will introduce you to these skills and show you how you can get started in navigating without a map or compass.

As always, feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most. 

Why not join our Facebook group Wildway Bushcraft – Bushcraft tips and advice. Here you can ask  questions about bushcraft and meet like-minded people.
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Navigate without a map: how to find north
Finding North without a map or compass

The ability to find north without a compass when out in the woods is a key bushcraft skill.  In the following section, we’re going to show you some different ways of finding north when you are out in the woods. First though, a word on the different kinds of north. 

Grid north, magnetic north and true north 

There are, essentially, three different types of north. Grid north is the direction of the grid lines on your map, magnetic north is the direction indicated by a magnetic compass while true north is north on a longitudinal line that converges on the North Pole. For more information about the differences between grid, magnetic and true north see the Ordnance Survey site here.  

Why does this matter?

Over an extended distance, magnetic variation will start to matter, likewise, it’s a good idea to factor it in when walking on a bearing in the Scottish mountains in a whiteout. However, when trying to navigate using natural features then it’s almost impossible to be accurate enough that it will matter when you try to relate the bearing you’ve taken from natural features to the lines on the map.

Learn more about natural navigation by taking part in our weekend bushcraft course.
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Finding north using the sun

Find north without a map or compass

Despite what you might read about finding north using an analogue watch, this method is, in reality, far from reliable. An easier way of finding north is by using a shadow stick. Place the stick in the ground and mark the tip where the shadow ends. Wait about 15 minutes or so then mark the new position of the shadow tip. Draw a line between the first marker and the second. Stand with your left foot on the first marker and your right on the second marker, you’re now facing in a northerly direction.

Finding north using the stars

Keep in mind that this blog is written for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and the UK in particular. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere finding north using the stars is a very different matter.

As you might remember from Scouts or the like, the key to finding direction by using the stars is by locating the North Star.

How to locate the North Star

In order to locate the North Star, you first need to find the constellation known as ‘the plough’, ‘the saucepan’ or, for the Americans, ‘the big dipper’. What you’re actually seeing is the seven brightest stars of the constellation Ursa Major, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it as long as you can identify it. 

Remember, the Plough rotates around the North Star so will sometimes look like it is upside down. However, this doesn’t change how you can find the North Star.

The North Star, or Polaris, sits directly over the North Pole. In order to find it is to go straight up from the two stars that make the ‘edge’ of the ‘saucepan bowl’ for about five times the distance that these two stars are apart. This will lead you to a bright star on its own. This is Polaris or the North Star, and there you are, you’ve found North.

Navigating using the north star

Learn more about natural navigation, fire lighting, shelter building, water sourcing and other key bushcraft skills in our  weekend bushcraft course.
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Navigate without a map: calculating pace and distance 

Use natural navigation to measure pace and distance

Calculating pace and therefore distance covered is key to successful navigation without a map or a compass. In our blog last week we looked at how to judge distances without a map, knowing the distance you are from an object you then need to be able to calculate how long it will take you to walk that distance. This is particularly important if the light is fading or weather conditions are worsening, you need to be able to judge if you will be able to reach your objective in time or if it is better to stay put and wait it out. Perhaps the best-known method for calculating distance is by using Naismith’s rule.

Naismith’s rule

Naismith’s rule is a rule of thumb for judging pacing when out walking. It was originally devised by the Scottish mountaineer William W. Naismith in 1892. The basic principle of Naismith’s rule is that each 5km takes one hour to walk, for every 600 metres ascended during that hour add an additional one hour. Another way of looking at it is an hour for every 5km with an additional minute for every 10 metres of ascent (this would be one contour line on a map but you will need to judge ascent yourself if you don’t have a map).

Modifications to Naismith’s rule 

Weather, weight carried, terrain, conditions underfoot and fitness of your party can all impact on Naismith’s rule. Generally speaking though when walking on rough or hard terrain alter the pace from 5km per hour to 4km per hour, a strong headwind will reduce this further to around 2km per hour. Walking with a heavy pack will also cut your speed on flat ground to around 50% of your unladen speed.

Telling the time of day

Natural navigation for telling the time


Now you can estimate the direction in which you are traveling, the distance (see our earlier blog), and how long it will take you, you need to know the time of day. Knowing the current time (without a watch or phone) and the time of sunset will let you work out whether you have time to make the distance of whether it will lead to you being benighted.

Estimating the remaining time before sundown

A handy little trick to estimate the amount of time you have left is to measure, in terms of horizontal fingers, the distance between the sun and the horizon. Extend your hand out in front of you so that your palm is facing across your body with your little finger horizontal to your feet. Remove or add fingers until your palm covers the gap between the horizon and the sun. Each finger represents about 15 minutes, so four fingers represent an hour.

Direction of the sun in the sky

The sun rises in the east (roughly) and settles in the west (again roughly), at midday the sun will be directly overhead. Therefore, knowing what time sunrise is and being able to see the current position of the sun in the sky will enable you to make a rough estimate of the current time of the day.

Coming up

Next week we will be looking at how to navigate accurately on the UK’s rivers. In the meantime, why not join our Facebook group for bushcraft tips, advice, and discussion.



Learn more about natural navigation, foraging, water sourcing and other bushcraft skills in our weekend bushcraft course.
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The natural world has been helping people find their way since the paleolithic era, and it’s been helping animals to do the same for even longer. This is still the case, for those that know how to spot them, the natural world provides signs and markers that can help find water, food, and direction. This blog post introduces the concept of natural navigation and provides an overview which will help you get started.

As always, please feel to read the whole blog or click on the links below to skip to the section that interests you.


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What is natural navigation 

Natural navigation is something that,  theoretically, all of us, can access.  In his seminal book ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ the legendary Harold Gatty states;

“a man with a good sense of direction is, to me, quite simply an able pathfinder – a natural navigator – somebody who can find his way by the use of the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, the senses that he was born with) developed by the blessing of experience and the use of intelligence”.

In short, someone who is merely skilled at noticing the signs around him and interpreting these signs.  

Learn more about natural navigation, foraging, water sourcing and other bushcraft skills on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information. 

Early examples of  great uses of natural navigation

Natural navigation early examples

Humankind has always been developing methods of navigation. The compass can be dated back to around 206 BC, and issues determining longitude and latitude plagued early modern navigators well into the 17th and 18th centuries. Despite this, early humans traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles using only the natural signs around them to find their way out and of course, home.


Navigation in 3000-1000 BC

There is evidence to suggest that between the years 3000 and 1000 BC the people that became to be known as Polynesians traveled thousands of miles across the open Pacific ocean; spreading their culture and their language, with only natural navigation. Australian aborigines passed down ways of finding one’s way across the often featureless landscape through the medium of song and dance. The routes described in these songs were known as Songlines . They often followed the stars, with lyrics and movements to the song acting as memory aids for the routes.

In short, natural navigation, like most things in bushcraft is about being at one with the natural environment. It’s about knowing how to spot and then interpret the signs that nature is showing you.

How can different elements help us to navigate

Natural navigation with trees

This blog is not supposed to be an in-depth guide to natural navigation, to learn these skills in detail it is worth attending a course. This blog merely provides a general introduction to natural navigation.

Natural navigation with trees/plants

Aside from the sun and the moon, trees and plants are among the best tools for natural navigation. The best way to use trees and plants in terms of natural navigation is as direction finders.

Trees, plants and the sun 

Trees are rarely symmetrical. Look for the side of the tree that appears ‘heavier’, or more abundant in terms of leaves and branches. In the UK if a tree is relatively isolated then the abundance of foliage on one side will indicate a southerly direction. This is because the southern side of a tree gets the most sun, so it naturally grows in that direction.  Additionally, branches on the southern side are likely to grow out in a horizontal direction,  those on the northern side are likely to grow upwards in an effort to reach the limited sunlight.

The effects of sunlight on the directional growth of a tree will become very confused in wooded environments. For this reason, it is better to consider isolated trees when trying to establish direction. 

Trees, plants and the wind

Trees and plants help to provide a clue as to the general trend in terms of wind direction. In the UK the trend is for the prevailing wind to blow in from the southeast, that is it travels from a southeast to a northeast direction. This often means that the tops of exposed trees exhibit a sort of combed effect, with the ends of the branches pointing in a northeasterly direction.

Using natural navigation to estimate distance 

Estimating the distance to an object relevant to your position is a key aspect of navigation. When combined with a direction it enables you to triangulate your position on a map with pinpoint accuracy. Being able to judge direction enables you to estimate how long it will take to reach your destination. With that in mind here are some natural ways to judge distance if you don’t have a map or a compass. 

Learn more about natural navigation, foraging, water sourcing and other bushcraft skills on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information. 

Use your fingers

This section should more correctly be titled, ‘judging distance using parallax’, but that’s not very snappy. Parallax is, in short, a method of judging distance by holding out a finger and shutting your eyes. It works like this; when you hold your finger out straight in front of you and view it only using your left eye, then, keeping your finger out in front of you, view it only using your right eye, it seems to have moved. This phenomenon is known as parallax. 

To use this to measure distance, hold your finger out in front of you so that it is pointing upwards in line with the object that you wish to know the distance of. View your finger through only your left eye, then, without moving your finger, view it only through your right eye. Note how many feet along the object your finger appears to have moved. Your distance from the object will be ten times the distance that you perceive your finger to have moved.

For example, if your finger appears to have moved thirty feet the object will be approximately three hundred feet away from your current position.

Judging distance with natural navigation


Know your distances

It is also worth remembering some key distances. Keep in mind that, like many elements of natural navigation, these are rough tools and not entirely accurate. With thanks to Harold Gatty’s ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ rough distances are:  

46 metres/50 yards: a person’s facial features, such as eyes and mouth, can be clearly seen.
275 metres/300 yards: the outline of faces can be seen.
1600 metres/1 mile: large tree trunks can be seen.
4km/2.5 miles: you can just about make out chimneys and windows
14.5km/9 miles: the average church tower or steeple can be seen.

Using the sun

When it comes to natural navigation the sun is one of the best indicators of direction. Roughly speaking, the sun rises in the east and settles in the west. However, it is only twice a year that the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west.

One of the simplest ways of navigating using the sun is through the use of sun tables. These are tables that relate the latitude and time of day to the angle that the sun will be at. Having a copy of these tables jotted down in the back of your notebook helps you to establish direction.  Harold Gatty’s book, ‘Finding your way without map or compass’ features some excellent examples of these tables.

Get started with natural navigation

Don’t throw away the map and the compass just yet. One of the best ways of getting started with natural navigation is to incorporate elements of nature in your normal navigation when on your next trip. For example, how does the position of the sun relate to the direction you’re heading in? How far away do you estimate the church in the distance to be?


Next week

Next week we will be looking at how to find your way without a map or compass in more detail.
Remember, if you have any questions join our Facebook community here.



Try your hand at natural navigation and other bushcraft skills on our weekend bushcraft course.
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Foraging is a fantastic way to either support yourself or to supplement your meals. The latter is especially true when on a long distance canoe trip across some of Scotland’s wildest landscapes. In this blog, we show you how to forage for food and catch fish in and along Scotland’s rivers.

Join us for a spectacular trip along Scotland’s river Spey.
Click here for more details about our five-day Scottish canoe expedition along the river Spey.


As always, please feel free to read the whole blog or click on the section that interests you the most. 

Ethical foraging 

Foraging on the rivers of Scotland

Foraging, like anything else, has its limits. Taking more than the environment can replenish will not only reduce the amount of food available for other fellow foragers but will also have a serious impact on the wildlife and general biodiversity in the area. When foraging there are a few rules that you can abide by to help maintain the environment; take only what you will need, forage from a range of locations, not just a single focused area; eat/use everything that you take.  

Recommendations from Reforesting Scotland

Reforesting Scotland produced an in-depth study into sustainable foraging and provide the following further recommendations;

  • Don’t uproot plants.
  • Don’t hunt out of season.
  • Only take a limited number of leaves or fruits from a plant. This will leave it with the resources necessary to survive and reproduce.
  • Only harvest a limited number of plants or animals within a given area. Spread the harvesting load as widely as possible.
  • Take care not to damage the ecosystem.

Further considerations in Scotland

Foraging in Scotland is loosely governed by three sets of guidelines, these are available via the links below.


As normal, never eat anything that you have not absolutely, positively identified as safe.


Good spots to forage for food

foraging on Scotland's rivers

When it comes to foraging the first thing to be able to do is to identify where to look for food. This blog won’t cover specialist instructions on identifying fungi – to do that you need to take a course. If you’re interested in learning more about foraging why not take part in our weekend bushcraft course.

What we will look at in this blog is where to look to find foods to forage and good spots to fish along the Scottish rivers. Remember, this is to supplement your meal when canoeing in Scotland, not to provide all the nutrition that you need. Also, keep in mind that this is a broad look at what is available to forage in Scotland and doesn’t mean that all the foods mentioned are available throughout the country.

Foraging for berries

Scotland is a wonderful place for foraging for wild berries. There are around ten varieties of edible berries that can be found in Scotland; these include blackberries, sloes, rowan berries, juniper berries and even wild cherries. These berries can predominantly be found in Perthshire, Strathmore, and Fife. Though they can also be found within the Grampian, Highland areas as well as Arran, Ayrshire, and the Borders.

Foraging for mushrooms

If you know your fungi then Scotland can be a great place for fans of mushrooms. Popular edible species found in Scotland include Chicken of the Woods, wood Blewitt, and hedgehog fungus. For more information about the different varieties of fungi available in Scotland see the Scottish Natural Heritage guide to fungi.

Foraging on Scotland’s coasts

Of course, should your canoeing trip take you within sight of any of Scotland’s magnificent coastline then a wealth of foraging opportunities await you. In addition to the mussels, limpets, and winkles typically found along the British coastline, parts of the Scottish shore can also provide Dulse, a wonderful red seaweed which can make a good soup. 

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

Fishing in Scotland’s rivers

River Spey canoe trip
Unlike in England, you do not require a license to fish in rivers in Scotland. You do, however, need the permission of the landowner to fish for salmon and sea trout, and permission from one of the owners of any loch that you wish to fish in; each river also has its own seasons. For more information on the legalities of fishing in Scotland see: http://fishinglicence.eu/uk/scotland.

The river Spey is one of Scotland’s finest Salmon rivers but is also home to Trout and Pike. For more information as to what to expect in the Spey see: http://www.fishpal.com/Scotland/Spey/ .

Bushcraft techniques for fishing 

There are essentially three broad types of bushcraft fishing techniques; hooks, traps/nets and spears/harpoons. In the following section, we will take a quick look at each of these in turn.

A word on the law

The techniques described below are bushcraft fishing techniques and some may not be legal within the UK. Please be aware that the law in Scotland states: “No person shall fish for or take freshwater fish in any inland water except by rod and line”. For more information on the legalities of fishing in Scotland see: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/marine/Salmon-Trout-Coarse/game/methods


Hooks are the classic method of fishing. A basic principle that remains the same whether being used with the most basic wooden rod or by the most experienced sport fisherman. The most basic hook is the gorge hook. This is a piece of strong wood or bone sharpened at both ends, the line is tied in the middle of the hook. It works on the premise that when the fish swallows the bait, the hook becomes lodged in a toggle fashion in its mouth.  Hawthorn also makes a great fishing hook.


While lines can be made from materials such as rawhide it is best, particularly when on a canoe trip where weight is not a huge concern, to carry your own line. This can be used in conjunction with a rod or strung across the river with the hooks suspended vertically from the main line.

Traps and nets

Traps and nets enable you to (in theory at least) to catch more fish with less effort. At their most basic all fish traps work on the same basis; that is the fish swim into a narrowing funnel which they are unable to swim back out of. Fish traps work best of fast flowing or tidal rivers where the force of the water can help to trap the fish. Depending upon the amount of time available to you fish traps can either be complex woven basket-type devices of simple rock walls which guide fish into blocked off eddy pools. In bushcraft, traps are preferable to nets, simply because the latter requires a great degree of cordage. However, if you’re going to be out in the woods for a while then they may well prove a worthwhile investment of your time. 

Spears and Harpoons 

While it might look easy in the films, fishing with a spear or harpoon is actually very difficult and requires considerable practice. Just to be clear, technically harpoons are thrown rather than thrust, both can have detachable heads, though in reality the terms are used interchangeably.  Your spear/harpoon should be made of a light yet strong wood with a narrow point (either of bone or carved into the harpoon itself); this point should be narrow enough so as not to destroy the fish.  

Coming up

In next week’s blog we will be taking a look at natural navigation in the UK. In the meantime take a look at some of the wildlife that you might see if you join us on our five-day canoe expedition along the river Spey; read River Spey Wildlife . 


 Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

River Spey Canoe

Canoeing is one of the best ways of exploring the wilds. More than that though it enables you to relax; to linger and to sit back. It connects us to an earlier way of life where explorers of old would traverse waterways in search of trade, knowledge, and lands anew; plus, it’s just darn good fun.

With all of this in mind, this week’s blog takes a look at how you can read the river when out canoeing. This doesn’t just mean being able to spot the rapids, it also means being able to pick out good places to set-up camp. First, though, we’re just going to recap some basic safety stuff.

As always, feel free to read the whole blog or click on the section that interests you the most.  

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five-day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

Basic safety when canoeing

Canoeing: Basic safety 

There are a number of canoeing accidents on the river each year,  what makes them even more tragic is that the majority could probably have been avoided.

Whenever you go out paddling it’s very wise to adhere to some basic rules of safety and carry some basic safety equipment with you. British Canoeing, the governing body of paddling sports in the UK recommends that whenever you go out paddling you;

  • Let others know where you’re going (same as you would if you were wild camping).
  • Be certain that the journey you’re doing is one that is within your capabilities.
  • Make sure that you never paddle the river alone.  

In addition to the above precautions, it is always wise to check the state of your equipment before every outing; check the weather forecast and to ensure that your boat has the buoyancy needed to keep it afloat should it capsize.  

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five-day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information. 

Basic safety equipment

The safety equipment that you need to take with you should, at a bare minimum, include the following:

  • Small First Aid Kit
  • Buoyancy Aid
  • Bailer/sponge
  • Phone (in a waterproof bag)
  • Drinking water and snacks
  • Suitable clothing for the weather

For more information have a look at the British Canoeing page on safety.  

Key river features you need to know 

canoeing trips with Wildway Bushcraft

Now that we’ve covered some very basic features it’s time to take a look at key features of the river that you need to know.

Remember though, being able to really read the river relies on practice, lots and lots of practice.  First though, a word on the types of hazards that you are likely to come across on the waterways of the UK.

Three common hazards for canoeing

There are three common hazards that you are likely to come across when canoeing. Rapids are not included as they are obvious features that you’re likely to encounter. 

  • Sweepers
    Sweepers are overhanging branches or trees. While these might be easy to spot the current of the river can carry you into the bank and into the path of these sweepers.
  • Strainers
    Strainers are underwater objects, such as roots, collapsed trees, plant matter, etc. that can easily trap underwater objects – such as capsized canoeists.
  • Undercuts
    Undercuts are parts of the bank, underwater, that protrude further than the part of the bank above the water. Typically made of rock or earth undercuts can act like strainers and trap objects beneath them.

River Feature: Eddies

Eddies are spots on the downstream side of an object that has acted to interrupt the current, for example, boulders. Because of the way the current works the water in Eddies can often be flowing in the opposite direction to the rest of the river. The water in Eddies can be calm and still or, on occasions, violent and swirling. Eddies are also a fantastic space to catch fish such as trout.  

River Feature: Upstream ‘V’s 

A ‘V’ shaped flow of water that faces upstream should be approached with caution. Where the point of the V is facing upstream the likelihood is that there’s an object is at the point of the ‘V’ and is forcing the current either side of the point. Hitting the underwater object that’s forming the ‘V’ is obviously not a good idea, it could even flip the boat.

River Feature: Downstream ‘V’s

Where the point of the ‘V’ is facing downstream it indicates a (relatively) safe passage through the rocks, the safe passage being the middle or point of the ‘V’. 

River Feature: Constricted channels 

A constricted channel is a point where the river narrows sharply.  Water through this point will be flowing faster than at the previous section of the river that you were on. This is due to the same volume of water being forced through a narrower opening, this increases the pressure and therefore the speed of the water.

River Feature: Weirs

Weirs are man-made features that essentially act as a dam and hydraulically recycle the water. Weirs are exceptionally dangerous and should not be attempted without an expert guide on hand (if at all). 

Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
Click here for more information.

Choosing a wild camping spot on the river 

Learn how to read the river

Wild camping alongside your canoe and the river that you’re paddling is one of the greatest joys of the outdoors.  In this section, we’re going to look at how to choose a good spot to wild camp along the river.  First though remember to ensure that you are abiding by the laws of the area, which in England and Wales means obtaining the landowner’s permission.  

  • Check the weather
    When camping near to waterways it is worth checking the weather [learn how to read the UK weather in our blog here]. If the weather is looking stormy, or if there is a lot of snow higher up the hills then it would be worth moving away from the river.
  • Check the height of the river
    Check the height of the river before pitching up. If the river is already very high then any overnight rain, even if it’s not torrential, could cause you to wake up with a tent in the middle of a river.
  • Be aware of wind tunnels
    That little piece of lowland between the rugged mountain peaks might look ideal but can act as a wind tunnel.  Consider how exposed your pitch is, particularly if camping alongside a loch, and the impact that the wind is likely to have on the temperature. In particular look out for Cols. These are  an ancient pathway formed by glacial movement and are the lowest crossing point between two ridgeways. Learn more about Cols here, be aware though; what constitutes a Col is a little bit like the debate between Munros, Marilyns and Nuttalls.

For more information on how to choose a wild camping spot read our blog ‘Where to camp? Tips for tents and shelters in the UK

Extra considerations when wild camping with canoes

Make sure that your equipment is properly packed! For more information on how to pack a canoe read our blog on what to pack for a canoe trip. Having found a suitable bank to spend the night make sure you secure your canoe, you don’t want to wake up in the morning and find your canoe drifting downstream.

Coming up

In next week’s blog we will be taking a look at foraging and fishing along Scotland’s rivers. In the meantime, in case you missed it,  learn all about how to pack for a long distance canoe trip in our blog: ‘Packing for a long distance canoe trip, what to take and what to leave behind’. 


Join us on a once in a lifetime trip as we embark on a five day canoe expedition of the River Spey.
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Wildway Bushcraft river Spey


Sourcing and purifying water when on a long canoe trip or out wild camping in the UK can be a challenge.  
But, the ability to purify water is not only a key bushcraft skill, it can change a survival situation to into a thoroughly enjoyable time outdoors.

In this week’s blog, we’re going to look at sourcing and purifying water while out and about in the UK. As always, feel free to read the whole blog or click on the links below to take you to the section that interests you the most.  

Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information  

Understanding contaminants in water

Purifying water
Sadly, the days of drinking water straight out of streams and rivers in the UK are long gone. Except for perhaps from springs in the wildest regions of the Cairngorms, all water in the UK should be considered to be contaminated.

This does not necessarily mean polluted in the sense that the water is obviously filthy, but polluted in the sense that it is contaminated with animal/human matter or chemical runoff from farmland.

Purifying water begins with understanding the risks involved. This means understanding the contaminants that you need to remove.

These can be divided into the following broad categories:

Broad types of contaminants

  • Turbidity

      Turbidity is the number of individual particles in water (the particles themselves are invisible to the naked eye) that, together, make the water appear cloudy or hazy. In short, it is the stuff in the water that makes it look ‘dirty’.

  • Parasites

    (With thanks to https://www.nhs.uk/conditions)
      Parasites in the waters of the UK can be divided into two broad types, multicellular organisms, and single cell organisms. The thing that they have in common is that, like all parasites, they survive in/on other organisms to the detriment of the host.

    •  Multicellular parasites in UK water include parasitic worms such as nematodes, cestodes, and trematodes.  Single-cell parasites include protozoa such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Cryptosporidium is very tolerant to chlorine disinfection and causes Cryptosporidiosis, resulting in severe bouts of watery diarrhea. Giardia causes Giardiasis and is typically contracted by drinking water infected with feces. If you’re infected with Giardiasis or have diarrhea then you should avoid handling food or utensils that might be used by other members of your party until you have been diagnosed as free from symptoms.
  • Bacteria

    The difference between bacteria and parasites is that while bacteria can live outside the human body parasites need a host in order to survive. Common bacteria found in water in the wilds of the UK, most likely from fecal contamination, include E.coli, Dysentery, Salmonella, and leptospirosis which is transmitted through rodent urine. These types of bacteria can produce a range of symptoms, most commonly sickness and diarrhea. Leptospirosis, however, can, in extreme cases lead to organ failure and internal bleeding, in the worst case scenario it can cause Weils Disease.

  • Viruses

    Like parasites, viruses need a host. The difference being that viruses only need a host to multiply. They are even smaller than bacteria. Fecal contamination of water often leads to diarrhoea but in certain cases can lead to more serious diseases such as Hepatitis A.

  • Chemical pollutants

    This is a serious one for the UK. Chemical pollutants in UK rivers often come from run-off from farmland pesticides and chemical fertilisers. This is particularly the case when the water source is near intensive farmland.

  • One thing to note

    It is worth remembering that ‘pathogenic organism’ is a blanket term for any organism that causes disease; so that covers viruses and bacteria (both multicellular and single cell) but not chemical pollutants.

Further in this blog, we will be examining how you can protect against the types of contaminants outlined above, however first let’s look at the effects of dehydration in the wilderness.

Remember though, broadly speaking, boiling water will kill all pathogenic organisms.

 Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
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The human body and water


The human body cannot survive without water. This is what makes the ability to source and purify water such a key bushcraft skill. The human body can survive for around two weeks without food but only around two/three days without water, and that’s at normal temperatures with little or no physical exertion.


The need for water even on short trips

It may sound like an exaggeration but even in remote parts of the UK, such as Dartmoor, the ability to source and purify water can make or break a trip.  

Think of it this way; according to the hill walker’s bible – Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir – a person needs 30 -35mls of water per kilo of body weight per day.

This means that a 70kg person would need 2.1 -2.5 litres of water per day; when exercising this amount triples, making around 6.3 – 7.5 litres per day. So, a two day overnight wild camping trip on Dartmoor, with no stopping to replenish supplies, would require, as a minimum,  between 12.6 – 15 litres of water. One litre of water weighs one kilo – are you really going to carry 15 kilos of water with you?

A two day overnight wild camping trip with no stopping to replenish supplies, would require a minimum of between 12.6 – 15 litres of water.
Are you really going to carry 12-15 kilos of water with you?

Signs of dehydration


Dehydration impacts on your strength, power, and endurance. More severe dehydration hinders coordination and can, in the worst case scenario, lead to heat stroke and even death.

There is a debate about whether it is better to wait until you are thirsty to drink or to drink before you are thirsty. Ultimately though it is a personal choice. Bushcraft is about being at one with nature, not about overcoming it, so by following bushcraft principles correctly and planning ahead, you should never find yourself in a situation where water is a critical issue.

One of the best early warning signs of dehydration is urine colour. Darker yellow urine equates to more severe dehydration, while slightly yellower than normal urine equates to slight dehydration. A urine colour chart can be found here.

Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
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Further signs of dehydration

  • Lack of energy and increased fatigue
  •  Complaints regarding temperature/clammy skin
  • Nausea

Signs of advanced dehydration

The following are signs of advanced dehydration and if experienced by yourself or by any members of your party then they should be treated immediately.

  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Shortness of breath

Keeping in mind that a loss of only 2% of body mass can be enough to impact on your ability to perform muscular work. So, for a 70kg man, a 2% body mass loss would equate to 1.4 litres (1.4kg) of water [source: Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir].

Sourcing water

It goes without saying that in order to purify water you need to first be able to source it. Generally speaking, the rule is always going smaller, stream rather than a river, spring rather than stream.

Use your geography

When it comes to finding water use your geography and look for the lowest elevation, this is particularly true if you’re at the top of a valley.


Animals and birds can be good indicators of water sources. Look for grazing animals such as cows and wild horses which never stray far from water. If you happen upon a trail made by animals then follow it down hill until water is reached. 

Morning dew

Dew can be a great source of water. It can be collected using a T-shirt and a mop style action to gather dew. Be aware though that although rainwater is one of the purest forms of water you should still boil water collected from dew as it may have been contaminated by pesticides or other pollutants on the grass.


If it’s raining, which let’s face it is quite likely, then rainwater itself can act as a great source of water.  It can be collected by simply placing a suitable container outside the tent or by setting up a more sophisticated system using a funnel made from an old tarp or other material.

Snow, and  a word on melting it

When boiling snow it is important not to compact all that you intend to boil into the pan. What happens, in this case, is that the snow at the bottom melts, turning into water, a gap between the water and snow forms, the base of the pot gets too hot and can burn through. A better way of doing things is to add any water that you have to the snow that you’re melting or to only add a little bit of snow at a time.

Learn how to source water, build a shelter and forage for food on our weekend bushcraft course.
Click here for more information


Purifying water

Broadly speaking, water purification falls into two main categories; boiling and chemical.

However, before you start purifying water it is best to remove the turbidity  that we discussed in the first part of the blog. Remember that turgidity is particles that are individually invisible to the naked eye. The best way of removing turbidity  from water is by using an old Millbank bag or brown filter bag (these are available from various online outlets).

Once you’ve removed all the sediment and turbidity from water then the time has come to purify it. Let’s look at the two main options for water purification.

Chemical water purification 

Chemical water purification is not as surefire as boiling water. Some, such as chlorine dioxide will deactivate most pathogenic organisms. Other chemicals, such as chlorine will kill the majority of pathogenic organisms.
Activated carbon filters can remove certain, but not all types, of chemical pollutants.

Boiling water purification

Boiling is the best and safest way to purify water.  Bring the water you want to purify to the boil and then hold it on a rolling boil for four minutes. This might be slightly more than is needed but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Boiling will kill all pathogenic organisms but it will not remove any chemical pollutants.

Of course, being able to boil water means being able to make a fire. To learn more about fire lighting in the winter read our blog ‘Lighting a fire in the winter: Tips for UK bushcraft and camping


Learn how to source and purify water on our weekend bushcraft course.
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Hypothermia can be a killer out on the trail. It arises when the body’s core temperature drops too far below its normal temperature of 37 degrees.

In this blog post, we’re going to be looking at how to prevent hypothermia, what the signs of hypothermia are and what you can do when you’re out in the hills to keep your party safe.  

Sign-up for our weekend bushcraft course and learn all about water sourcing, shelter building, and knife skills.


As always, please feel free to read the entire blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.


What exactly is hypothermia?

People have a core temperature of 37 degrees, which needs to be maintained in order to survive. Hypothermia is what happens when a person’s core temperature drops progressively causing, in the worst case scenario, unconsciousness, cardiac or respiratory failure or even death.  Typically, in the UK, hypothermia is caused by a combination of the cold, wind chill and physical exhaustion.

Avoiding hypothermia in the winter

Causes of hypothermia

The causes of hypothermia can broadly be divided into those that are environmental and those that are caused personal factors such as a lack of suitable clothing. Environmental factors include windchill and wet environments.


Windchill can be the most dangerous at lower speeds, though high-speed winds should also be taken into consideration and treated with respect – particularly given that walking against high winds can often lead to physical exhaustion.

Wet and cold

The other consideration to look out for is the wet and cold. Walking in the hills or mountains requires a breathable outer-shell layer that will protect you from the elements while keeping you dry.

Poor clothing

Your clothing should be based on a layering system (as we looked at in our blog ‘Suntan lotion or raincoats – how to read the UK weather. With a base layer that wicks the sweat away from your body, a middle layer that keeps you insulated and an outer shell which protects you from the wind and the rain.

Physical exhaustion

Physical exhaustion means that not only is the body unable to find any further reserves of energy to go on, but even enough energy to maintain its core temperature.

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How to spot the signs and what you can do

Keeping an eye out for the signs of hypothermia can help you to prevent it from developing further. By recognising the symptoms of mild hypothermia you can treat the casualty before the symptoms get worse and the casualty declines.

Categories of hypothermia

The International Commission for Alpine Rescue (ICAR) has outlined the following formula to categorise stages of hypothermia. These are as follows:

Stage I – Patient alert and shivering (core temperature of casualty around 35-32℃)
II – Patient drowsy and not shivering (core temp 32 -28℃)
III – Patient unconscious, but vital signs present (core temp 28 -24℃)
IV  – Absent vital signs, apparent death (core temp 24-13℃)
V – Death.

Learn how you can avoid hypothermia
What can you do?

Treatment of hypothermia should begin with prevention. However, should the first sign present itself, then immediate treatment is paramount before the symptoms escalate.

Treatment of Stage I

Ensure that the casualty is moved out of the wind, rain, and cold. The casualty should then be given a hot and sugary drinks or food. Provided that there is no injury (aside from the signs presenting in stage I) then the casualty should be encouraged to exercise and, once warmed up, can continue their journey.

Stage II

The casualty in stage II needs to be treated very carefully as they could be suffering from life-threatening heartbeats in not handled gently. Provided that there is no possibility of spinal damage then the casualty should be placed in the recovery position and should be given hot food and drink if there is no risk of choking – evacuation to a hospital should be conducted as quickly as possible.

Stage III/IV  

At this stage, the patient will have a reduced level of consciousness and could be on the verge of fatal dysrhythmia. Prevention of further heat loss is normally impossible at this stage. In stage IV it could be advisable to begin CPR, however, this must be continued until a hospital is reached.


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Preventing hypothermia when out on the trail

Rather than finding yourself having to treat Stage II hypothermia, it is preferable to prevent Stage I hypothermia taking place in the first place.  

Ensure that your wearing the correct clothing

Wearing the correct clothing is vital to preventing hypothermia. As we discussed at the start of this blog, when going out in the hills you should adopt a layering system of a base layer, mid layer, and outer or shell layer.  

Take advantage of the layering system

The layering system traps warm air between each of the layers. Wear waterproof trousers and a hat to prevent heat loss through the head and legs.  Wearing the correct clothing also means removing layers as you see fit. Overexertion will lead to sweating which can lead to a lowering of the body temperature. Avoiding sweating in cold temperatures should be a priority.

Check the forecast

It might sound obvious but check the weather forecast before you go out.  Remember, deciding to wait until conditions have improved doesn’t mean that you’ve given up – more that you’re exercising judgment.

Eat well

Physical exhaustion, one of the key elements that can, out in the mountains, bring on hypothermia. The food that you’re consuming should replace the energy that you have expounded on your journey. When working out the amount of food that you will need you also need to take into account the distance that you’re covering, the conditions in which you’re covering it and the level of fitness of your party.  A 20km walk, covering a thousand metres climb (in total across the walk) will expand about 6000 kilocalories.

Learn how to prevent hypothermia this winter

Hypothermia – a recap

Always look at hypothermia with an eye on prevention. Make sure that your party is well dressed and carrying adequate food.  If anyone in the party starts shivering then you should seek shelter from the elements and prepare a hot sweet drink and food if at all possible.


Learn more about looking after yourself in the elements by taking part in our weekend bushcraft course – learn more here.
Learn more about bushcraft with weekend bushcraft courses in the UK from Wildway Bushcraft

In this week’s blog post we will be looking at plant and tree identification in the UK in winter.  

As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, being able to identify the plants and trees of the British isles becomes increasingly difficult – many will have lost their distinctive leaves and berries which aid identification in other times of the year. In this week’s blog post we will be looking at how to identify trees in winter, key pointers that you can put into practice and provide you with a list of commonly found trees that you can practice identifying at this time of the year.

As always, please feel free to read our entire blog or skip to the part that interests you the most.

Difference between tree identification in winter and other seasons

The most notable difference in trees in the winter is the effect that the season has on the leaves. While Evergreen conifers are trees that retain their leaves throughout the year, deciduous trees drop their leaves in the autumn/winter and flower again in spring.

Coniferous trees identifying trees in winter

Why identify trees in winter?

Identifying trees in winter can provide you with an added depth to your winter walks. It can also provide you with access to a variety of bushcraft tools – enabling you to access the same natural materials that you would be able to access in the spring – for example; being able to identify trees in winter will enable you to find the correct wood for making a bow drill.  

Key pointers to keep in mind when identifying trees in the winter

When it comes to identifying deciduous trees in the winter the leaves are not there to help us, for this reason, we need to look to the bark, the buds, and their general shape. Tree buds, though they flower in spring, lie dormant in the winter giving clues as to the tree in which they sit. Tree shapes provide an additional clue as to their identification, field maples will, for example, have rounder profiles whereas ash trees are rather slim. Combining the characteristics of the bark and the buds in winter is a great method of identifying the tree.

Characteristics of bark and buds

Combining the key characteristics of bark and buds in a table is a great way of identifying trees in winter – see Collins Gem ‘Trees’ for a more detailed explanation of winter tree identification.  Here are a few examples below:


      • Hazel: Brown buds/flaking and peeling bark
      • Horse chestnut: Red and orange/brown buds and flaking or peeling bark
      • Beech: Brown/grey/black buds and cracked or scarred barks
      • Crab apples: Red/orange/brown buds and cracked or scarred bark and.


Why not try your hand at tree identification, foraging, shelter building, knife skills and many more aspects of bushcraft on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information

Several key trees to identify in the winter

Below are a few examples of key trees that you can practice identifying this winter.

Hazel (Corylus avellana):

Look for brown buds, flaking and/or peeling bark.

Hazel bark identifying trees in winter

Hazel bark


Hazel bud identifying trees in winter

Hazel bud

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum):

When it comes to the horse chestnut keep an eye out for reddy -orange/brown buds and flaking or peeling bark.


Horse chestnut bark identifying trees in winter

Horse chestnut bark

Horse chestnut bud helping you to identify trees in winter

Horse chestnut bud

Beech (Fagus sylvatica):

Beech trees can, in the winter, be identified by their own/grey/black buds and cracked or scarred barks.


Beech bark how to identify trees in Winter

Beech bark


Beech bud

Beech bud


Crab apple (Malus sylvestris):

Crab apples can be identified by their cracked or scarred bark and red/orange/brown buds.

Crab apple bark

Crab apple bark

Trees in winter Crab apple bud

Crab apple bud

Foraging in winter

Though it might seem like the forager’s patch is sparse in winter, the cold season can offer up a variety of treats for those that know where to look.

Beech nuts  

Beech nuts can make for a tasty nibble when you’re out in the woods. Simply scrape off the brown skin on the inside and eat the edible triangular seeds inside.


Chestnuts are perhaps the epitome of winter foraging. Found over most woodland floors, chestnuts can be opened up and removed from their green spikey cases ready to eat once cooked over a fire.

Pine nuts

Pine cones, the open ones at least, can be opened up and shaken to remove the pine nuts within. These can be eaten raw or toasted. For pine cones that are closed, simply put them near a fire for a few days and they should open up.


Give foraging a try on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard, also known as ‘jack-by-the-hedge’, is most often found in shady places such as the edges of hedgerows. Its heart-shaped leaves are smooth and hairless – like nettles – when the leaves are crushed they smell of garlic.

The colder season can also be a great time of the year for foraging for shellfish, read more about seashore foraging in our blog here.

Remember  – never eat anything that you have not positively identified.


Try your hand at foraging, learn the art of shelter building, campfire cooking and discover how to safely source water on our weekend bushcraft course.

Learn more about bushcraft with weekend bushcraft courses in the UK from Wildway Bushcraft

In this week’s blog post we will look at fire lighting in winter. We will look at the importance of being able to light a fire in winter, some useful bits of kit to take with you, the importance of using deadwood and how to create firesticks. Please feel free to read the whole blog post of skip to the section that interests you the most.

If you would like to learn more about fire lighting and friction fire lighting then why not join our one-day friction fire lighting course.  

Click here for more information

This blog looks at fire lighting in the UK winter, not the boreal forest, so we won’t be looking at fire lighting in mountains of snow.


The importance of being able to light a fire in the winter

Winter is the perfect time to perfect your fire lighting techniques. Not only will you really appreciate the benefits of a fire when the temperature outside is plummeting and the light is fading – you will also test yourself, wood will be damp and cold. But, before you start trying to light a fire in the winter, you need to ask yourself…

Should you attempt to light a fire at all?

Before you attempt to light a fire in winter time you need to consider the position of your group and your skills. While a fire in winter can be a real morale booster, failing to light one can also have the opposite effect. What is more, choosing to light a fire in winter when you’re exhausted, cold and wet can leave you more exposed to the elements. If you’ve any doubt about your ability to light a fire in these conditions then it can be best to wait in your shelter, tent or sleeping bag until you’ve warmed up enough to give fire lighting another go.

Should you attempt to light a fire in winter

What to bring with you?

Perhaps the most useful bit of kit you can bring with you is an axe. A well looked after axe will serve you better than a knife in many situations. To keep your axe in tip top condition read our blog on looking after your axe. Another useful bit of kit that you can bring with you is a folding saw, such as the Laplander folding saw. In addition, a firesteel and some strike anywhere matches are always a good idea.

The importance of using deadwood

When lighting a fire in the winter, or at any time come to that, it is important to only use standing deadwood. Bushcraft is about harmony with nature, not damaging it. Besides, greenwood will be far too damp to burn effectively.

Getting ready to light your fire

With the above considerations in mind, it is now time to get ready to light your fire.

Choosing a location for your fire

Successful fire lighting in winter, as well as at any other time, depends on preparation. Preparation begins with location. Clear the ground of snow or ice and be careful not to light your fire under any branches laden with snow or ice.   

Build your fire off the floor

Layer the floor where you intend to start your fire with sticks of about finger thickness. This will protect your fire from the floor and the floor from the fire. Be sure to dig through any snow and reach the ground before layering your fire – otherwise, if you light your fire on top of the snow then as it burns it will melt the snow and slowly sink into it.

Gathering materials

When gathering materials for winter fire lighting always gather more than you need, much, much more. Remember that in order to find dry dead wood you may need to look outside of your immediate area. Gather thin sticks that break easily when you attempt to snap them – these should be about matchstick thin. From there gather more deadwood that should be about finger thickness. Once again these should be much more than you need – several armfuls.  


Learn how to light a fire using friction in our one-day friction fire lighting course.  
Click here for more information. 


Creating firesticks

One of the biggest issues facing you when trying to light a fire in the UK winter is the fact that the deadwood around you, especially those that are around arm thickness, could be sodden wet. In this situation , fire sticks are a (literal) life saver.  Firesticks are, essentially, pieces of wood around the length of the distance from your middle finger to your elbow. The wood should be split, lengthwise, into four. Using your knife you can then shave ‘feathers’ into the wood, these go from long curls to very short scrapings.

Learn how to make firesticks by watching our video below:



Using birch bark

Birch bark is one of the best tinders out there. Due to its high oil content, it will burn for a long time and at a high temperature even when moderately wet. Remember though, only ever take birch bark from dead trees – never cut bark off a living tree.

Watch our video to learn how to light a fire using birch bark and a fire steel.

Perfect your fire lighting techniques – sign-up for our one-day friction fire lighting course and learn to make fire using nothing but your knife, wood, and your wits – click here.
Learn more about bushcraft with weekend bushcraft courses in the UK from Wildway Bushcraft

In this week’s blog post we’re going to show you how to predict changes in the English weather – read on to find out more.

Preparing to go out in the alps is, relatively easy – you expect it to be cold, windy and snowy so you dress as such. Going out in the UK hills though is something of a different matter, within the space of hours it can go from blistering heat to horizontal rain (as anyone who has ever been walking in Scotland will attest). Protecting yourself from the elements involves, of course, dressing for the occasion – as Wainwright famously said: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”. However, there is no point struggling into your waterproof trousers five minutes after the heavens have opened and you’re already soaked. What you really need to do is to be able to predict changes in the weather before they take place.

That’s what we’re going to show you – how to tell if it is going to rain, if it is going to snow and what to look out for in the weather.  

Learn how to build shelters, light a fire and find food by joining our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information. 

As always,  please feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the most relevant section.

Being able to predict changes in the weather begins with understanding weather patterns – and checking the forecast. Here’s how to get started.

Understanding how the weather works

A weather front is a boundary between two air masses. An air mass is simply a large “ocean” of air that has acquired the characteristics of the surrounding area – most notably temperature and humidity (for more information on weather fronts out in the mountains see Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir).  There are three different types of weather front, these are:

(1) Cold front

A cold front is a boundary between warm air and cold air. It’s indicative of cold air replacing warm air and is shown as blue on the weather map. Cold fronts normally mean rain as the front passes and may occasionally indicate thunder.

(2) Warm air

A warm front is warm air advancing over cold air. The presence of a warm front normally means precipitation at the front and a jump in the temperature.

(3) Occluded front

An occluded front is when a cold front catches up with a warm front, these are shown as purple on the map.


Cloud patterns

(thanks to the Met Office for the following information)

There are ten types of clouds which are divided into the following three categories;

High clouds

High clouds are mostly composed of ice crystals and exist between 18,000 and 45,000 feet. Typically clouds at this height are Cirrus clouds and resemble wispy brushstrokes.  

Medium clouds

Medium clouds are usually composed of a mixture of water droplets and ice crystals. They exist at around 6,500 – 18,000 feet.

Low clouds

It is the low clouds that are usually composed of water droplets, they have a base below 6,500 feet. These clouds are typically:

Stratocumulus – a series of typically white rounded rolls.  

Predicting the weather in the UK Stratocumulus clouds

Stratocumulus clouds

Stratus – these are layered clouds of grey with a uniformed base. These don’t normally mean unpleasant weather though from time to time they can bring showers.

Predicting the weather Stratus clouds

Stratus clouds

– these are vertical rolls or towers with a flat base.  These are most commonly associated with pleasant weather.  Though they can transform into…

Predicting the weather in the UK Cumulus and cirrostratus

Cumulus and cirrostratus

Cumulonimbus – these are the ones to look out for. They are large cauliflower-shaped towers, these often have ‘anvil tops’ and sometimes give warnings of thunderstorms, showers or snow.

Predicting the weather Cumulonimbus clouds



Useful sources for weather forecasts

Before going out in the hills it is essential that you check the weather forecast. There are a number of resources that you can use, obviously, there’s the MET Office (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk) – who also has a wonderful app, but there is also the Mountain Weather Information Service (http://www.mwis.org.uk/) . The latter is an essential resource when heading out into the Scottish, English, and Welsh mountains.

Signs of change in the weather

Observing the world around us can help us to predict changes in the weather. Here are a few ways in which you can detect changes in the weather by observing nature. 

There’s truth in the old sayings

Some of the old sayings have a ring of truth to them – remember the phrase ‘red sky at night shepherd’s delight, red sky in the morning shepherd’s  warning’? Well, it turns out that phrase may have more than a ring of truth to it. This is because the weather in the UK normally comes from the west. So a clear evening sky heralds fine weather, while a red morning sky can be caused by high cirrus clouds at the leading edge of a front.  

“Rainbow in the morning give fair warning”, this saying also has a ring of truth to it, as it indicates rain in the west and heading your way.

Learn how to build shelters, make fires and find sources of food on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information.


Looking at wildlife  

Wildlife can provide good clues as to what the weather will do. Right before it rains birds tend to fly lower to the ground because the air is thinner just before a storm. If you’re along the coast then the sight of seagulls nesting or seeking refuge rather than flying is also a sure sign that a storm is along the way. Before a storm begins cows may also huddle together or even lie down, ants and spiders also become more active just before a storm.

Heed the wind  

The wind can also help you to predict changes in the weather. If the wind has been blowing for a few hours, you can see how fast it is blowing by watching the clouds, and then it suddenly drops it is a good sign that a storm is on its way.  

Dewy mornings

Dew can also be a good sign of a good day’s walking ahead. Lots of dew first thing in the morning, or late in the evening can indicate a clear day ahead.

Essential clothing for the mountains

When you’re heading out into the mountains, the moors or the hills the correct clothing is essential. What this comes downs to is layering. When out walking several thin layers are better than one thick one.  The layering system can be divided into base layers, mid layers, and outer layers. We’ll look at these in more detail below.

Base layers

The base layer is the layer closest to your skin. Whatever you choose as a base layer when out in the hills it needs to draw sweat away from the body. Cotton T-shirts, for example, are particularly bad at drawing sweat away from the body, that is to say, that cotton T-shirts hold on to the sweat. This means that when you stop sweating all the moisture that is held in the T-shirt close to your body begins to cool down very quickly,  this, in turn, can make you very cold. The act of drawing the sweat away from the body is known as “wicking”. Some of the best materials for wicking base layers include Merino wool or synthetic materials.

Mid layers

Mid-layers go, as you might expect, between the base layers and outer layers. Mid-layers keep you warm and can include fleece tops, tops of synthetic fibres, other T-shirts, jumpers, etc. anything to keep you warm.  

Outer layers

The outer layer is designed to keep you dry and safe from the wind. In terms of choice of material, a waterproof jacket or smock forms the best outer layer. When choosing such a jacket it is advised that you pay particular attention to the hood. The hood should be able to be drawn tight around the face to protect from the elements but open enough to allow you to move your head.



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