Mountain Leader Award (ML)

Ben Lui from camp on Ben Oss, Easter 2007  © pog100
Ben Lui from camp on Ben Oss, Easter 2007
© pog100, Apr 2007
The Mountain Leader Award (ML) qualifies you to take groups of people walking in mountainous areas in the UK. It does not cover climbing, but does involve some rope-work. It covers navigation, group management and involves overnight camping in the mountains. It is considered to be a 'tough' award to get by those in the industry.

This article details the remit of the award, how to register for it and what exactly it covers. This article has been produced in conjunction with the Mountain Leader Training Association (MLTA).

VIDEO: Mountain Leader Award


The Course 

The walking areas and mountains of the UK are often remote and exposed to harsh and unpredictable weather. They can be hazardous places for those who haven't gained the necessary skills and experience. The job of a Mountain Leader is to supervise and guide, providing clients with a safe and enjoyable walking experience, and expanding their knowledge in areas such as environmental awareness and navigation, along the way. 

If you gain your ML award, you'll be able to lead walkers anywhere, over any terrain in the UK, under 'summer conditions'. For the purposes of MLTUK awards, summer and winter aren't defined by periods of time but by the conditions that prevail – 'winter conditions' means ice and snow prevail or are forecast. The main skills covered by the ML award are group management, navigation, emergency procedures and equipment, access and conservation issues and security on steep ground. There's an expedition element to the syllabus, too.

Jan Ian Bailey - Summer ML holder  © UKC Articles
Jan Ian Bailey - Summer ML holder
Award Holder Profile - Jan Ian Bailey  

"I'm a freelance ML instructor. I also use the ML award in conjunction with SPA and site-specific validation to lead groups gorge-walking. Before the career change, I was a school teacher, and used to be involved in training and assessing Duke of Edinburgh Award students and organising and leading hill walking trips and expeditions. 

I found the ML training and assessment courses extremely valuable. You demonstrate your skills then receive informed feedback, which identifies areas for further development. I prepared for the training course by broadening my knowledge of mountain areas in the UK - in terms of practical experience and environmental knowledge - and also by developing the 'soft skills' of leadership by working with a variety of groups and clients. I did as much walking and group leadership as I could, throughout the UK and in the widest range of weather conditions, to prepare for assessment. The foulest weather conditions and complex terrain are the best mediums for identifying any issues with navigation, kit and leadership. 

The ML has been the foundation for every other outdoor activity qualification I've worked through from supervising rock climbing (SPA), organising and leading snowsports trips (SCO), guiding and instructing mountain biking (Mountain Bike Technical Leader) and leading walking groups overseas (IML)." 

How to register for the ML: 

To qualify, you need to be 18 years or over, have 12 months hill-walking experience and have completed at least 20 quality mountain day walks. When you register, you will get a log book. If you've completed far more than 20 mountain days already, log those that best show the breadth of your experience. Overseas experience can be included but, because the ML is a UK orientated award, at least half your logged walks should be within the UK.

To get a logbook:

What is a 'Quality Mountain Day'? 

As a basic rule, it should be at least five hours in length and have encouraged your development as an all-round mountaineer in some way. Work on logging a range of days involving a variety of weather conditions, exploration of new areas, different types of terrain and some satisfying physical and mental challenges. 

When planning a 'quality mountain day', think about how you will develop your leadership skills and include sections where you navigate away from marked paths. Also consider how you will increase your knowledge, practice your skills, pay attention to safety, and what you will do if adverse conditions are encountered.

Training and assessment 

Both ML training and assessment courses are six days long and involve a minimum of 60 hours contact time. They can be taken in a series of weekends or over consecutive days. Courses are run in all mountainous areas of the UK and at most times of year. 

After the training course, your course director will talk you through what you need to focus on before your assessment. You will need to have logged at least 40 quality mountain days and some leadership experience before the assessment. 

The syllabus 


  • General responsibilities 
  • Specific responsibilities 
  • Operational responsibilities in the mountains 
  • Personal and leadership skills  


  • Maps, scales and conventional signs 
  • Contours and other methods of showing relief 
  • Topographical features. 
  • Relating the map to the ground and vice versa 
  • Measuring distance on the map and the ground 
  • Navigating with map alone 
  • Compasses and other navigational aids 
  • Identifying features and position 
  • Methods of relocation 
  • Navigating across country in poor visibility and/or darkness  
  • Route planning and recording routes 


  • The mountain environment
  • Current legislation regarding access
  • Knowledge of land management in upland areas 
  • Knowledge of current relevant conservation legislation
  • Finding information about access to wild country
  • The Country Code and conservation 


  • Hazards of steep ground 
  • Environmental hazards 
  • Water Hazards (including marshes, streams and rivers) 
  • Emergency procedures 
  • Medical disorders  



  • Equipment 
  • Food 
  • General skills 


  • Sources of information on weather 
  • Elementary interpretation of weather maps 
  • Weather developments associated with different air masses, major cloud forms, changes in wind direction and in atmospheric pressure. 
  • Elementary practical identification of cloud types, wind speeds and temperatures. 
  • Effects of weather on route selection and level of activity.


  • The origins, development and ethics of mountaineering within the UK and Ireland.
  • The role of the Mountaineering Councils
  • The structure of mountain related training within the UK and Ireland
  • Mountaineering and hill walking media

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