Hillwalking is almost a national pastime in Ireland. With so many rolling hills, mountain ways and roving countryside to explore, the opportunities to get out and walk are plentiful. If you are a novice hillwalker, there are a few things to know before you take to the hills for your safety and ultimately your enjoyment.
Get the Right Gear
Good hillwalking routes can be labour intensive. Having the right gear will make the experience easier and safer. What equipment do you need to take up this exciting hobby? A good pair of walking boots or walking shoes will ensure you don’t end up on the sofa after a long hill walk with blisters and sore feet. Considering our weather can be unpredictable at best, being prepared with warm fleeces, thin layers and waterproofs are essential.
A good waterproof rucksack will help to literally carry the load if you need to shed layers. Remember to bring a first aid kit, sunglasses, sun cream, bottled water and high energy snacks, a torch, map and compass. Have your phone charged before you set out (and maybe bring a powerbank) and emergency contact details to hand.
Learn to Navigate
The open land can loom large in front of us as we take our first steps into hillwalking heaven. It can seem quite daunting finding our way through open paths and fields. Understanding the right protocol for taking to the hills is important to avoid trespassing and ultimately not get lost. Navigating can be challenging at the best of times and even harder if bad weather interrupts an impromptu hill walk.
Learning to navigate by using maps and a compass is a necessity for all hillwalkers. Planning your route is vital before heading out, as is checking the weather beforehand and understanding risks and being able to identify hazards. For safety advice check out Mountaineering Ireland for details on these important risk elements and video guides for the novice hillwalker. Also always tell someone your planned route, just in case.
Grab A Partner
Hillwalking can most certainly be a solitary hobby, and everyone has a different pace they would like to take as they make their way uphill. It can, however, be very beneficial to have a hill walking buddy with you to explore this new terrain. There are plenty of local hillwalking clubs you can join with like-minded people. Having more experienced hillwalkers with you can certainly be beneficial to show you the ropes.
Find your Route
Once you have the gear, the know-how and hopefully a partner or two, its time to take to the hills. There are plenty of places to explore and find a preferred route. Many hillwalking routes in Ireland are mapped and signposted with skill levels. If you are unsure where to start, joining a hillwalkers club will support you on supervised and already explored routes without worrying about your ability, the terrain or the length of the walk. Remember you don’t have to start where everyone else seems to be going. If the mountains are too daunting in the beginning, start along the coastal routes and local hills you are more comfortable with.
With the sun shining and an eagerness to get out on the hills remember to take things slowly at first and don’t push yourself too hard. There is no point risking an injury because of excess enthusiasm. As exciting as the next peak appears to be, be mindful of what you can achieve and remember to watch the weather. The sun can disappear as quickly as it came out.
Hillwalking is an incredibly mindful experience and most certainly not a race. There is no necessary target when it comes to getting the hiking gear out. Between the lush scenery, the rich history and the mythical paths Ireland has on offer, you will no doubt fall in love with your new hobby.