The hills and trails of Ireland offer stunning wild scenery, challenge and adventure. Hiking and walking have never been so popular and are a great way to keep fit and destress in nature. Here in Donegal, we are spoilt for choice with a wide variety of walking routes to suit all levels of fitness and ability. When taking up any new sport, it’s always good to be prepared with the basic kit that will help you to have a great day out and keep safe. Now is also the time of the year to prepare for the colder months ahead and get winter ready.
Changing Weather Conditions
While the sun may be shining at the start of a hike, it’s important to remember that weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains. The temperature will also start to drop as you gain height. As a general rule of thumb, on average the temperature will drop by 1 °C for every 150 metres of ascent. What does that mean? Let’s say the temperature at the car park at the base of Errigal, Donegal’s highest mountain, is 8 °C, as we make our way up the hill, it will get increasing colder and on the peak of Errigal (751 metres) it will be – 3 °C. Add in wind chill and it will feel even colder. For instance, if there was a light breeze of 17 Km/hour that could reduce the temperature from a freezing -3 to a potentially dangerous -8.5 °C on the summit. At such temperatures hypothermia can quickly set in so be prepared and get winter smart.
Get Winter Smart
Feet first. Get a good pair of waterproof 3 or 4 season walking boots suitable for the kind of walking or hiking you plan on doing – the rougher the terrain, the heavier duty the boot you will need. If you intend to follow hiking routes that go through bogs, which is pretty much unavoidable in Ireland, we recommend buying leather rather than fabric boots. Leather boots can be reproofed to maintain waterproofness and are more robust. Also think about socks; most hikers use a very thin pair under a thick warmer pair to help prevent blisters and keep the feet cosy. Have a thick pair of socks with you when trying on boots to ensure a good fit.
Layer-up. Dressing in layers will help deal with changing temperatures and conditions. Start with a moisture-wicking baselayer (top and bottoms), topped with a pair of walking trousers or leggings and a warm insulating top such as a fleece or a woollen jumper. Next, a waterproof coat and over trousers are essential kit, plus a warm hat and gloves. Always carry an extra warm layer as well as a spare hat and gloves in your rucksack during the winter months. Gaiters are an optional extra but are great for keeping your feet dry and trousers clean.
Food and drink. As they say you are what you eat so keep fuelled up on high energy foods and snacks that will warm you. Leave the salad and cold pasta from last night’s dinner in the fridge! Bring plenty of fluids too, you’ll be thankful for a warm drink on a cold summit. A Solas Ireland Walks and Hikes favourite is a peanut butter and banana sandwich plus some nuts to snack on and a flask of warm Ribena, yum!
Expect the unexpected and be prepared. Additional rucksack essentials include a dry bag or a robust bin bag to keep your gear dry; a fully charged headtorch; a first aid kit, extra food and a lightweight bivvy bag for emergencies which will also keep your bum dry during the lunch stop. Plus, don’t forget a map and compass and learn how to use them! A GPS device or a smartphone can be useful, but never solely rely on them as batteries can die very quickly in cold conditions, etc.
Finally, remember that the right gear is one thing, but the right preparation is another. Check the weather, plan your route, and let someone know where you’re going. Get out and enjoy the hills and trails throughout the seasons.