Hiking in High Mountains: Do I Need Insurance?

One again winter is proving to be the time when people plan their hiking for next summer; the email enquiries about the Pyrenees are coming in thick and fast.

On query that I’ve had a couple of times recently is about specialist insurance. Is it really necessary?

The short answer is most probably yes. In the UK the mountain rescue and emergency services are free. In most other countries in the world — including almost all of those that are popular trekking destinations — the rescue and emergency services are paid for through insurance. In this regards the UK is very different. Some years ago there was a debate as to whether to move over to this system but in the end it was decided that we wanted people to explore our hills and mountains and we wanted them to be safe.

I’ve wondered about this myself, after all I’ve never had cause to use these services. However, one morning I woke up at the camping ground at the bottom of the Pic d’Ossau glacier to ind a helicopter airlifting someone out. I’m not sure what the emergency was but I remember looking at this rather expensive helicopter and thinking that I was glad I wasn’t paying for it! Somebody could have had a bad fall that had swollen badly during the night or they could have been taken with altitude sickness. Either way a helicopter is not called out by refuge staff unless it is necessary!

These days (in the UK) many of us get free travel insurance by virtue of our bank accounts or credit card packages. While this is very useful in many situations there are specific exceptions which we need to be careful about. Some policies specifically exclude some activities such as mountaineering and skiing. Mountaineering will include mountain trekking. Others specifically exclude any activities over a certain height (often 3,000 metres). If you are walking the higher routes in the Pyrenees or the Alps you will certainly be walking higher than this. You will need insurance!

You can find specialist cover online although only a surprisingly small number of companies offer a good deal above 3,000 metres. I always buy my insurance through the British Mountaineering Council; this gives you BMC membership as part of the package and access to all of the associated benefits.

Many of us do not like to think of the risk involved in hill walking but, of course, it is a risky business. On my recent backpacking trip to the Monadhliath I was clambering up a frozen peat hag. I was a bit ambitious in my stride and slipped, wrenching my left arm against my walking pole. As I began to fall I could feel ligaments and muscles tearing! AT Newtonmore I was lucky enough to be staying with a doctor who was happy that I could still move my fingers. Any one who has torn ligaments knows how painful this can be. A month later my upper arms and shoulders are still sore although I have all of the movement back. But that slip could have been much worse. It was a relatively innocuous accident but if it had happened in very high mountains it could have been quite dangerous. On this occasion I had fallen about 6 feet downwards — I was lucky that I landed on soft peat.

If you are headed off to the Pyrenees or Alps or anywhere else exciting next year, don’t forget the insurance!


  1. I agree re insurance. I’m glad that the uk has a non fee rescue service but insurance is a must i think even in uk and doesn’t cost much through BMC. In my own experience the insurance paid for convalescence and medical bills after release from hospital. Bank insurance covered the cost of replacing all the gear which had to be removed by cutting up into strips, as well as the gear that was left on the mountain side.

    • Good points. Thanks Paul. If you have insurance it is a reminder to check to see exactly what the exemptions on your policy are!

  2. I was glad of my BMC insurance last year. I spent 10 days in the Yukon bush and made my way back to civilisation no problems. 24 hours later I was running a high fever and got myself to Whitehorse hospital. I had to hand over my credit card before even seeing a doctor (they were very Canadian about it and very polite!) and they whole visit cost around £750 as they treated an infection I had picked up (small cut on toe, drawback pf wearing Terrocs I think in glacial stream), the subsequent fever and rehydrated me.

    The BMC insurance paid up no problem and I was thankful. One tip, as I did, is to phone ahead before going to hospital (assuming you are conscious!) as they need to do a fraud check and see if the establishment exists!

    • Thanks Mark. I’d never thought of checking to see that the hospital exists!

      • I think phoning the BMC 24 hr line before I took myself to hospital smoothed things for me when I got home and made the claim. I got permission to get a taxi to hospital and back to my hotel (that’s not technically covered but they gave me the ok and paid for it) and when I was there they phoned the hospital and confirmed I was there to check there was no ‘funny business’. Made everything smooth when claiming. Just remember to keep all the paperwork with you as they need to see all receipts and medical reports. All in all though good service from the BMC!

  3. Another vote for the BMC/MCofS insurance here….I looked around before my HRP crossing and they were the cheapest as well as being comprehensive enough.

  4. Sorry to hear about your accident Andy. I would say that full health insurance b a specialist insuance firm is mandatory. I had an accidwnt in the French Pyrenees last year and spent a week in hospital. The European Health Insurqnce Card (EHIC) covered 80% of costs, but the remaining 20% amounted to £800.. Just imagine what that would have cost without a EHIC and insurqnce.! Still, every cloudhas a silver lining and the lady doctor who oversaw my treatment has taken a shine to this poor Englishman and a wonderful romance blossomed.

    I can thoroughly recommend the speciqlist insurance compqny Snowcard. I found them really easy to deal with and they were exceptionally helpful. I prefer them to the BMC. If you spend much time abroad the annual Snowcard policy is very good value. If abroad – be insured!

  5. chris yapp says:

    it,s quite simple if you holiday aboard wether it,s sun bathing in barbados or climbing in the alps get insurence

  6. David Howard says:

    Mountain rescue and medical cover is free with Austrian Alpine Club membership

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