Here in Ireland, we’re very lucky to be surrounded by breathtaking coastlines, enchanting woodlands, and beautiful mountains. So, why not use the good weather to get out and do some exploring? Whether you want to try your hand at hiking or hill-walking, there are tonnes of physical and mental health benefits associated with getting out in the great outdoors. To help you get started, we have put together a guide for you to use when prepping for your first expedition.
Before Hitting the Trails
Whether you’re setting out for your first hike or your hundredth, a little prep work is required to make sure you stay safe and comfortable when out hiking the trails. Here are some of the things we would recommend preparing before heading out.
1. Planning Your Hike
Before you hit the trails, we recommend doing your homework. You should know the distance of the trail, the terrain, and the difficulty. This is particularly important if you’re new to hiking. The last thing you want is to get stuck on a long, difficult hike without the gear or the experience!
Coillte is part of the forestry sector and they care for and manage 7% of Ireland’s land. This land is primarily forested and offers many different trails to explore! Most Coillte forests are home to gravelled, well-signposted walkways that are perfect for beginners or hikers who don’t want to go too far off the beaten track. On the Coillte website, you will find free downloadable maps of hiking areas near you.
Alternatively, you can download an app like AllTrails (available on iOS and Android). AllTrails, for instance, allows you to search for different hiking trails near you. You can also use filters to search for hiking trails based on their length and difficulty. When you have found a suitable trail, you can easily check the type of terrain, the length, elevation gain and the route type. The app will also tell you on average how long this particular hike takes to complete. AllTrails is quite handy as it includes reviews and comments from other hikers so you know exactly what to expect. In addition, you will find information on nearby activities, and sights worth seeing. It’ll even tell you if the trail is dog-friendly or not! There is a built-in navigation function too – so it’ll show you exactly where to go as you progress through your hike.
You should always download a map of your route onto your phone – just in case you lose 4G on your hike and you can’t access apps/internet.
2. Tell a Friend
When you’re hitting the trails it’s extremely important to let someone know where you’re going, what route you’re taking, and when you expect to be back. This way, if something goes wrong, a trusted friend or family member can alert mountain rescue as soon as possible and they’ll know where to find you. If you’re going alone, we suggest sharing your live location with a friend via Whatsapp or a similar app. Then, they know where you are at all times, just in case of an emergency.
3. Gather Your Hiking Gear
Whether you’re planning a relaxing woodland walk or a challenging hike, you will need to invest in proper equipment. The first thing that you should pick up is a pair of hiking boots. If you’re not wearing proper walking or hiking boots, you will certainly feel it after a couple of Km. Not only will your feet suffer, but it can be rather dangerous. Flat-soled trainers don’t offer the same grip and ankle support as hiking boots which is important if you’re going off the beaten track.
We also recommend investing in waterproof hiking boots – yes, even in summer. Ireland is a very wet country and even if it’s a sunny day today, some hiking areas can be mucky or wet from previous rainfall. Heavy rainfall in the days leading up to your hiking expedition can also create streams or boggy areas along your trail. You’ll be very glad that you can stomp through these wet patches in your boots without getting your feet wet. In addition, it’s important to remember that the weather in Ireland can often be unpredictable. It could rain at any time and no one likes soggy socks halfway through a hike!
You may also want to invest in walking poles if you’re planning on going uphill but these aren’t a necessity. If you plan to go hiking regularly, it might also be a good idea to pick up a hiking backpack – they are more lightweight than regular backpacks and usually have openings for water bladders.
4. Check The Hourly Forecast
As we said, the weather in Ireland is extremely changeable so it’s important to get ahead of the game by checking the hourly forecast. As we said, hiking in Ireland can be tricky due to the extremely changeable weather. Therefore, you should get ahead of the game by checking the hourly weather forecast.
Checking the weather forecast is also a matter of safety, especially if you’re hiking uphill. Irish mountains offer some of the most stunning views but it can be dangerous to adventure uphill in certain weather conditions. We recommend postponing any hiking trips if there is a possibility of fog, heavy rain, or high winds, even if you are an experienced hiker. As changeable as the weather is on flat ground, it changes much faster in the mountains and fog can roll in very quickly. Hiking in low visibility can be dangerous, even for experienced hikers, and there are specific skills you will need to learn to remain safe in such conditions. Therefore, it’s best to avoid hiking in these conditions where possible.
5. Pack Your Hiking Backpack
Now that you have done your homework, you should know what route you will be taking, the type of terrain on the trail, and what the weather will be like. This means packing your backpack should be very easy! The main things you will need to bring are protective clothing, food and water, and survival equipment. Check out our in-depth checklist in our “Hiking Equipment 101: What’s in Your Backpack?” blog post.
Lace Up Your Hiking Boots And Off You Go!
Did you know that hill-walking, hiking, and backpacking are all forms of cardiovascular exercise? Getting your heart pumping on a regular basis helps to keep it healthy and in shape. Hiking up and down hills for a few hours each week will certainly get your blood pumping! Now that you’re ready to hit the trails, you can enjoy some of the benefits of hiking:
- Reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
- Carrying a heavy backpack is a weight-bearing exercise. This means that it will help build muscle and manage weight.
- Walking uphill uses different muscles than walking on flat ground. Therefore, it’s a good way of exercising these muscles that you might not normally use. Just make sure you stretch well beforehand!
- Spending time outdoors is good for your mental health as it allows you time to think and relax away from the hustle and bustle of home life and work.
Whilst exercising is good for cardiovascular health, if you have conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, it’s best to speak to a GP before heading off on long or difficult hiking trips.