What is more invigorating than waking up on a cold, dark morning in the depths of winter or those frosty spring sunrises to set off towards the mountains?
Is this just our idea of fun?
With the wild year we have had in 2020, outdoor activities in Ireland and time spent in nature has been a solace to many – and we think that is fantastic! We have taken every opportunity to walk in the Connemara mountains this past year.
If one positive thing has come out of 2020, we hope it will be seeing more people exploring and utilizing the incredible outdoor spaces and the hikes that we have in Ireland. A gift for both body and mind! (This is why we have revolved our life and work around it!)
The one thing to remember and focus on this winter and early spring – when we are adventuring the raw and wild routes of Ireland– is staying safe.
Whether a new or an experienced outdoor enthusiast, it is always important to check-in, refresh and remind each other of the key safety tips. It is always, always better to be safe than sorry.
Whatever activity you are embarking on this winter, here are some tips from our expert and well-seasoned team of hikers and mountain guides on the best way to stay safe while hiking in Ireland.
1.Research and share your trip plan
Whether you plan to do a short or longer hike – always make sure you leave a trip plan with family or friends. Let them know what time you will return, what gear you have (first aid kit, winter gear, overnight emergency shelter) and what you are wearing. Should there be an unexpected incident, it is a good idea to have people who are expecting your return and that have a good idea of where you are, should you need assistance.
2.Do not rely on your phone for maps!
Phones are great to take photos, they can even store some offline maps and other nifty features – but they are also unreliable and were not built as a hiking aid.
Batteries die, service is not guaranteed and a simple mistake like dropping your phone or a dead battery from cold weather (cold weather can drain phone batteries almost instantly) – could leave you without a map or way to contact anyone if you do get lost.
So, bring a physical map – be it a print out or copy of your route, a recommended and trust-worthy guide book and keep an eye out for the trail markers and signs along the way
*East West Mapping have good physical maps.
* If you find yourself in an emergency in the mountains, always call 911 or 112 first – be sure to contact emergency services as soon as it is safe to do so and be as clear and concise as you can and give as much information about your location and situation as possible.
*Bring a waterproof cover for your phone and try to conserve your battery in case you need it for an emergency situation.
You can also read about our Mountain Rescue teams in Ireland.
3.Check the weather
Winter in Ireland has more unpredictable weather than it does during the rest of the year. The conditions can change quickly. Check the reports, research the trail you are using and be as prepared as you can be. If there are any warnings or if you do not think you will be comfortable in snowy/rainy/windy conditions, then it is okay and a good idea to postpone until more suitable conditions.
The weather at the top of a mountain is different and more changeable!
Also, be sure to give plenty of time – the days are shorter, with less daylight hours during the winter/spring months. It is best to overestimate the time it will take.
4.Pack the correct gear
A good rule of thumb is to be over-prepared. You never really know what can happen, and even if you consider your hike or adventure to be relatively easy – twisting an ankle or an unexpected fall can happen anywhere, at any time.
Ensuring that you fill your backpack with all the essentials not only means you are as prepared as can be for any unexpected eventualities, but you will also feel a bit more confident heading out. It can also be helpful for others you come across who made need help.
- Rain gear, waterproof hiking boots, merino wool layers, micro-spikes for colder seasons (always handy to have and they are light and easy to attach to you backpack). Gaitors are also a great addition to your winter hill-walking adventures.
– The North Face, Patagonia, Arcteryx, Columbia, and RAB are reliable brands for good quality, waterproof shell or insulated jackets. Having a lightweight puffy jacket to stuff into your backpack is also a good idea – particularly for the top where it will be a lot colder once you stop moving.
- A headlamp. Bring extra batteries (or fully charged) and a whistle. Petzl and Black Diamond make reliable headlamps with strong light and adjustable settings.
- Wear several layers. Bring light and warm clothing so that you can de-layer easily and when you reach the top or stop for lunch, you can warm up quickly – aim to layer up before you get cold, so wrap up as soon as you stop. It is always colder than we may expect at the summit!
- Good quality gloves, a hat and a neck warmer are always important to have. Bring one more layer than you think you will need!
- A good backpack! It might seem obvious, but a good backpack that fits your body well is a key addition to your hiking kit. Ill-fitting backpacks are a pain in the back – literally! (Sorry, we had to). If you are carrying a backpack over 25l, having a waist-belt is a good idea. You will want to bring a pack that is large enough to have some extra space when you set off with all of your gear – as you de-layer you will want room in your backpack to fit those layers. *Check out our recent backpack post.
- First aid kit: A well stocked mini first aid kit is essential– bandages and knowing how to wrap a wound, pain killers (anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory – check with your local pharmacist), sterile wipes, hand sanitizer are all good things to carry.
- Plenty of water and food. It is always a good idea to have a bit more food than you think you will need. This means you will have food if you are out longer than intended and/or if you need a but more sustenance than you thought- it will keep the energy up. We like to bring a water bladder that fits in our backpack with a mouth hose so we can easily sip as we climb, staying hydrated is key for long days in the mountains. Leave more food and water in the car for your return also.
- Emergency shelter. A bivvy bag or any light shelter is good if you are going on a longer hike. If something were to happen and you are far away, having a shelter to stay warm while you wait is important- it is nice to feel protected against the elements (we all know what Irish weather can be like!). Hand and feet warmers are also a handy staple to include- you never know when you may need them and they are lightweight.
- Hiking poles can be a help- and good for your knees! You can find a wide range of poles and many are adjustable, so can easily be attached or slotted into your backpack neatly.
Galway has plenty of great outdoors shops, and most are doing online orders and quick delivery.
5.Hike with a buddy
We recommend to not hike alone, even if the route seems fairly safe or easy – if something happens it is a lot more difficult (and scary) to deal with it alone. If you twist your ankle or get lost, having someone with you is a comfort and support.
Two ( three or four) heads are better than one sometimes. Having more eyes to keep track of the trail, to discuss the day ahead and to ensure everyone has all the key safety items and skills is an excellent way to prioritize safety. It is also more fun with others!
*Please follow current government guidelines, only hike with your bubble and check the latest updates on your desired hiking destination.
If you are a Connemara local looking for some ideas to get outdoors this winter- check out our suggestions for walks you can complete in under three hours.
Please check Mountaineering Ireland for more tips on how to explore while staying safe in the mountains during winter.
Visit Sustainability Ireland for tips on how to keep our outdoors spaces protected and leave no trace.
Adventure Smart UK is a also a great resource for safety outdoors tips.
We hope you got some valuable tips from this post. We are passionate about the mountains, about the outdoors and about encouraging and empowering others to do so – safely. All of the Real Adventures team are highly qualified and trained to explore mountains and the outdoors – if you have any more questions about hiking in Connemara or in general, reach out! Our mountain expert Clare and the rest of the team will be happy to help and love any excuse to chat outdoor fun!
If you would like to know more about our hill-walking tours – check them out HERE.
Meet our Guides HERE.