I like the auld bit of hiking. The whole thing of getting outdoors and pushing yourself. It’s a great mix of nature and exercise. When you’re doing it you’ll often see other hill-walkers and climbers and you’ll exchange a pleasant hello and maybe a bit of banter. Then you encounter the people who don’t do it as much and you’d almost have to pay them to talk to you.
The first group are grand. They’re friendly and welcoming and usually share the same interests. Mainly being the love of getting out. They’ll also have a common look about them. They’ve got the gear and they genuinely look happy about being out. If you’re planning on getting into hill-walking or climbing the bigger mountains there are a couple of things you should put on a checklist;
- Clothing: Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions. Head to any of the many outdoors shops around Ireland and you’re sure to pick up proper pants, t-shirts, jumpers, jackets and socks. They’ll make a big difference to your morale and indeed your safety. In winter time and in cooler weather warm and appropriate clothing could be the difference between a successful climb and an accident. Hats, gloves, scarves should all be in your bag. Bring spares as well. Spare socks and tops are the big ones, but try fit some spare pants in there too.
- Footwear: Invest in decent boots. Decent boots will pay dividends in protecting your feet and keeping you steady on the rocks. Don’t just buy the cheapest or indeed the most expensive pair. Try them on, see if they support your ankle and the sole of your foot. These two things will be most likely to bother you on a hike. Also, try and make sure they’re waterproof. Mountains and hills tend to have rivers, bogs, large ponds. Soggy socks will ruin your day. Gators are handy too.
- Equipment: Walking poles are extremely handy. Especially on windy days and on longer hikes. They are very effective in helping you climb and keep your balance. Know how to use them. When you should keep them shorter and when they should be longer. They’ll also make for handy splints if you or one of your party hurts something in a fall or slip. Bring a compass and map and do your best to keep orientated on your hike. Electronic GPS devices are cool and all but can be absolutely useless. Try and do a bit of research on your route as well. Do not rely on your phone for anything but calling for help.
- First Aid: Bring a basic first aid kit. Plasters, scissors, bandages, that kind of thing. You may not need them but somebody else who is injured may need them. They weigh very little so why not bring them.
- Supplies: Food and water are the big ones, especially the liquids part. For the longer hikes you will sweat and need hydration so try bring between 1.5 and 3 litres of water. Some lucozade can also be a good pick me up. Soft drinks though are mostly useless and work against your energy levels and hydration. Brings snacks and a main snack for when you reach your peak. Fruit, sandwiches, tins of tuna are all good choices. A hot drink in a flask can also boost you on the trip. Toilet paper. Bring toilet paper. You never know when you’ll need it, but surely it’s one of those things you’d rather not miss having.
- Talk: Tell people where you’re going and roughly how long you’ll be. That way if you get injured or stranded you shouldn’t be missing for too long. If you’re driving try not to hide your car when you park it, that way people will have a good indication as to where you started.
- Bag: why bring all that nice dry stuff and then bring a bag that will soak up the water like a sponge. A good waterproof bag will cost you between €30-€50 and will come with a cover for when (WHEN) it rains. Try go for a 33/35 litre bag, they’re the perfect size. Lots of places to put all your stuff.
- The Weather: The weather rules, you will not beat it. Look at the forecast. If it’s not too bad you’re good to go. If it’s to be particularly poor then maybe choose a different hike or less challenging route.
- Plan: Have a plan (at least a rough one). Know where you’re going, what to expect, when the sun goes down, the basics really. Plan to bring what you need. Don’t go crazy though, there’s no point lugging a massive pack around if you’re only out for a relaxing hike.
The last time I went hiking with a small group there was a wind warning in effect and on a mountain or a hill you really feel that. I was fine. I was snug in my ski pants, jacket and 2 layers underneath with my hat, gloves and scarf. I was astounded and shocked by the people I saw coming up as I headed back down, the second group of people you encounter on days out. There was one group of ladies with no jacket between them all wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants with flat runners. It was a recipe for disaster and on the way down I could hear it in them.
One lady complained that she couldn’t feel her hands and nearly started crying. I don’t blame her. As she was saying that her friends where leaving her there. Which was in particularly poor form as the one lady with a small bottle of water had passed me already. They were clearly not prepared for the day that was in it and the climb ahead. I also once encountered two hikers who had relied on their GPS, which failed them. They went a long way in the wrong direction. Luckily for them it wasn’t too late to correct their mistake.
In not preparing in even the slightest way they were putting themselves at risk. In doing that they were putting others in harms way. If we’ve seen anything over the past few months it is that there is a network of brave volunteers out there who are prepared and ready to go rescue and help people who get stuck or injured. Yes, sometimes the shit just hits the fan and you need to get help. However, I can’t help but get the feeling that they wouldn’t have to go out so much if people just got the basics right.
So…KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Plan ahead and try avoid the hassle of making the news. Try not to go beyond your abilities. Over time you will be able to do more, but take it easy. Most importantly, get out there and enjoy yourself. Take in the fresh air, the sights and the relaxing feeling that comes with putting your boots on the ground.
Please do share your own tips in the comments below. What would you add in?