Hiking at this time of year can be immensely rewarding and the scenery stunning. However, given seasonal weather conditions and terrain, navigation requires a little more care, planning and preparation.

Firstly, spend some time planning your route – ideally using a map. Try to visualise the ground, to give yourself an idea of what to expect and what you will see. Identify key points along the way, and plan your route to take into account any avalanche hazard that might be present and avoid high-risk slopes.

When packing, make sure your map and compass are readily available at all times, ideally in an easy to access pocket. Have the compass available to be held on the map with one hand so the two items are used as one. The last thing you want to be doing in extreme weather conditions is delving to the depths of your bag searching for them.

Swat up on your map reading skills, make sure you can measure distance and learn to gauge scale. On OS and Harvey maps, across one map square is 1km (1.4km diagonally). If you walk at 4km per hour it will take 15 minutes to cross a square. Add 30 seconds to a minute for every 10 metres, depending on how close the contours are together (which signals how steep the terrain is). Treat downhill as being on the flat.

Keep an eye on your pace. 100m is 2mm on a 1:50,000 scale map and 4mm on a 1:25,000. Time how long it takes to pace 100m, and multiply by 10 to work out your speed. 1min 30sec is 4kph; 2min is 3kph. Then monitor factors that slow your pace (e.g. weather conditions) and recalculate your ETA and if required, make the decision to cut short your hike.

As you set off, set your map by placing the compass on or next to the map and turn the map until the red end of the compass needle points to the top of the map. Keep the map set and move your body around the map until you are facing the direction of your planned route. Continue to keep the map set as you walk.

Learn to take your bearings. Place the edge of the compass on the map from A to B along the proposed line of travel. Ensure the base plate with the direction-of travel arrow points straight ahead and align your body behind it. Grip the compass on the map and turn your whole body slowly round until the red end of the needle points to the top of the map. The base plate will indicate your direction of travel; in reality this is just a slightly more accurate version of map setting and, provided the compass remains on the map with the red end of the needle pointing to the top, it will enable you to aim on objects ahead so you can walk in a straight line. You don’t need to turn and have the needle point to the north on the dial unless you want to communicate a bearing to someone else or lift the compass off the map. This will seem strange as we’re usually taught to turn the dial and use the compass off the map, but this is how orienteers navigate quickly and efficiently.

Most importantly, know what to do if you get lost. First of all, stay calm, set your map and make a plan. If you are on or near a linear feature such as a path or stream, look to see if it aligns with one on the map. Follow the feature – it will usually change direction or create a junction with another linear feature that should be identifiable on the map. If you are on a hillside, it will face a certain direction (aspect); so just use the compass needle to help you work out which direction the slope faces looking out. It won’t tell you how high up the slope you are; but if you are on a slope facing north, for instance, you can eliminate all slopes on the map that are facing east, south and west.

Make the most of winter hiking, but most importantly stay safe, check the weather forecast and be prepared – that way you’ll get the most out of your experience and it’ll hopefully lead to many more.