New to Hiking? ….Let’s Go!
Here’s a brief list of pointers if you’re planning on taking to the hills…….
Regardless as to whether plans change or not, it is always essential to plan your hike in advance; how far, how long, how many people, an alternative route in case change is necessary. Like embarking on any life venture, having a plan to fall back on, especially if the going gets tricky over rough terrain or a change in the weather, etc, instils confidence and a much higher chance of a successful, safe and enjoyable hike.
It is important to have adequate and suitable clothing for all kinds of weather, not just to wear, but spares to carry AND a spare set of clothes to change into if necessary at the end of the hike:-
- Good quality hiking boots that have been well broken in (runners or trainers may suffice but only in good weather and on hard, durable ground)
- Comfortable socks; two pairs, one thin and one thick, can be useful to help prevent blisters
- Comfortable base layer / undergarments
- Good quality trousers – not jeans or cotton material which absorb and retain moisture – preferably water proof or water resistant
- Fleece or jumper and as many inner layers as needed to keep warm
- Good quality raincoat
- Waterproof over-trousers, not essential but recommended
- Gaiters for soft, wet ground such as peat hags or marsh
- Hat and gloves essential, and buff or scarf if desired
- Sun block for sunny weather, especially around snowy ground
- At a minimum, have outer layers to change into at the end of the hike, but having a full change is advisable, especially in wet weather
- Towel to dry off
- Bag for muddy boots, gaiters
Food & Drink
The duration of the hike will govern how much food to take with you. For short hikes of up to two to three hours, light snacks should suffice. For longer hikes, bring a packed lunch in a hard waterproof container. Always have spare food for emergencies, if immobilised and awaiting rescue in the event of an injury, for example. Water is also essential, and a hot flask in cold weather is most welcome.
- Light rucksack with internal water proof bag; most have an external waterproof cover attached
- Map and compass and know how to use them – or someone on the hiking group who does
- Mobile phone, fully charged, ideally with portable charger
- If using a smart phone, App’s such as Viewranger and EastWest Maps can be useful
- Hiking sticks, though not essential, are increasingly popular; apart from redistributing the heavy workload from tired legs, they provide stability on rough, uneven ground, protect joints going downhill, and also useful for checking ahead for soft ground or hidden burrows
- At a minimum, the group leader should have a first aid kit, whistle and torch
The saying that in Ireland you can experiences all four seasons in a single day is never truer than on the hills and mountains. Therefore it is important to be prepared for all weather conditions, even if the forecast indicates otherwise. Localised weather conditions, such as relief rain, for example, where rainfall occurs on one side of a mountain can catch you unawares. Nevertheless, it is always prudent to check the forecast in advance of the hike, up to and including the day of the hike itself: it does tend to be accurate most of the time
If you remain on way-marked tracks and trails, especially if already familiar with them, advanced navigation skills will not be necessary, but it is important that at least one member of the hiking group is familiar with the route and the general area and has some map reading ability. For more adventurous hikes, or in unfamiliar territory, then a good up to date map and compass, and knowing how to use them, are essential for at least one member of the group. In Ireland, though waymarked trails are continuously being developed, many hikes involve some open terrain. These days, there are some very good app’s that can be used as navigational aids, but they should not be solely relied upon. Technology and adverse weather conditions tend not to make good bed fellows: batteries fail, screens freeze, GPS signal gets interrupted, etc!
- Plan ahead and Prepare
- Be Considerate of Others
- Respect Farm Animals and Wildlife
- Travel and Camp on Durable Ground
- Leave What You Find
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Minimise the Effects of Fire
As the saying goes, the strange thing about common sense is it’s surprising how uncommon it is! The application of simple common sense is essentially what you need to stay safe on the hills. For the inexperienced, or in unfamiliar territories, stay on waymarked or recognised trails. Having a first aid kit and at least one first aider in the group is advisable, especially for longer hikes and in remote areas. Always inform someone you know not on the hike of your plans. In Ireland, Mountain Rescue is a voluntary organisation who can be called upon by calling the national emergency number in the event of an emergency.
A Word on the COVID-19 Pandemic
The nature of pastimes and how we pursue them will likely change in response to the current pandemic. Indeed, signs that this change may already be underway are evident. The restrictions and unfamiliar behaviours that have been imposed for health reasons, keeping us in our homes initially, and then venturing beyond, slowly, in controlled and measured increments, have brought many of us to notice and appreciate our locality more. The reduced levels of traffic have had a positive environmental impact with a significant reduction in pollution levels observed in many places around the world. Restrictions such as social distancing has changed how we interact with each other in so many facets of life. Fortunately, for some outdoor pursuits, such as hiking especially, it should be possible to engage in such pastimes in a safe and healthy manner while remaining compliant with all of the essential guidelines. Indeed, more people are discovering the health benefits of outdoor pursuits such as hiking.