How the Norwegian Mountain Code can make you safer on hikes

Being Norwegian, I was taught The Norwegian Mountain Code from a young age, so to me it is always baffling to hear stories about people setting out on long hikes without any water or a change of clothes.

You may never have heard about The Norwegian Mountain Code (aka Fjellvettreglene) before, but it is basic common sense for hikers, and something I believe we all should have been taught when we were kids. A little respect for Mama Nature goes a long way.

The Norwegian Mountain Code

The Norwegian Mountain Code dates back to 1952 and consists of 9 rules that are short, practical and easy to learn, so without further ado – 

1. Plan the hike and tell someone where you are going

Even these days, when we all seem to be surgically attached to our mobile phones, this is very important. You never know when or where the signal might drop out. East Devon is actually particularly bad when it comes to this. Plan ahead and make sure someone knows where you are, and when to expect you back.

2. Adapt the hike according to ability and weather conditions

As the saying goes, you need to walk before you can run. Don’t attempt a 20 km hike before you know you can do 15 km without any problems. And don’t try to scale a mountain if you haven’t even been to the top of a tor or two.

The Norwegian Mountain Code can help make you safer on hikes everywhere.
Beware of unstable cliff edges – cliff falls are not uncommon. And always check the tide times!

3. Check the forecast and heed warnings of avalanches or rock falls

Cliff falls might be more relevant down here in East Devon, but you get the point. Don’t just take a quick peak out of the window. You need to prepare for what Mama Nature might throw at you.

4. Be prepared for bad weather and freezing conditions, even on short hikes

Just like other women, Mama Nature can be moody and changeable sometimes. That is her prerogative. Bring a windbreaker, a change of clothing, some food and water if the weather is unpredictable – and make that hot water if you’re in an area where the temperature might drop below zero.

5. Pack all the equipment you need to help yourself and others

You can’t rely on others to bring what you need, but if something should go wrong, you want to be able to help others as well. A first aid kit, a torch, an extra layer of warmth – these things can come in handy for more people than just yourself.

6. Choose the safest path and learn how to recognise rock fall areas and unsafe ice 

Down here in the Westcountry, all ice is unsafe, so there’s no need to spend time on that part of the rule. But be careful when it comes to scree and unstable cliff edges. Don’t try to show off. Better safe than sorry.

7. Use a map and compass, and make sure you always know where you are

Again, don’t rely too heavily on your mobile phone. I lost my way on Woodbury Common once and couldn’t get a signal. Fortunately, I am fairly familiar with the area, and knew roughly which direction to walk in. But it was late, the sun was about to set and I was tired and sweaty and starting to get cold. By being better prepared, I could have avoided twenty minutes of mild to intermediate panic.

Top tip: If you’re not using a map and compass, be sure to take a few screen captures of the map before you begin your hike. That way you still have a rudimentary map to go by if you you should lose your signal. This doesn’t help at all if your phone battery should die, of course…

You never know when you might lose your phone signal. Follow the Norwegian Mountain Code and tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back.
Woodbury Common. Not *quite* the spot where I got lost.

8. Turn around in time, there is no shame in going back

This is the most well-known rule from The Norwegian Mountain Code, and Norwegians tend to quote it all the time as it is apt in numerous situations. People become invested in anything they have spent considerable time, energy or money on (a behavioural trait known as the sunk cost fallacy). They want to complete the project, reach the end. Which is understandable. But not always wise. If you only remember one thing from this article, please remember this: THERE IS NO SHAME IN GOING BACK.

9. Conserve your energy and seek shelter if necessary

Again, remember to bring food and drink and dry clothes. If the weather is hot or you sweat a lot, remember that you need electrolytes as well as water. Make sure you don’t exhaust yourself completely. And don’t underestimate how tiring it can be to hike through rain and strong winds. Just as there is no shame in going back, there is no shame in sheltering from the elements. It is common sense. And it might make all the difference.

So there you have it – that is The Norwegian Mountain Code! I would add that you should never ever leave litter in nature, but that would be like preaching to the choir, right? I know you don’t do that.