Happy Hiking - How To Start
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How To Start

Walking is one of the best ways to experience Ireland’s beautiful landscapes. There are a variety of beautiful, signposted walking trails for people with different levels of experience. Those with map reading and compass skills can explore Ireland’s rugged upland areas. Whatever level you are walking at remember, your personal safety is your responsibility.

On this page you will find some useful advice on planning your walk, what to bring with you, getting a weather forecast and who to call in an emergency. Scroll down for more information.

We have put together a Happy Hiking brochure with some of this information, which can be downloaded here. If you would like to be sent hard copies of this brochure, please email info@mountaineering.ie.

First steps

There are loads of different ways to get into hiking. Find a way that suits you and don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone!

  • Go with a friend - for your first few hikes, it might be nice to have company. If you have any friends who hike regularly, ask if you can join them. They will be able to share tips on where to go, what to bring, how to upskill etc. 
  • Join a hillwalking club - clubs are a great way to meet new people and learn new skills, and with over 170 hillwalking clubs affiliated to Mountaineering Ireland, you'll have no problem finding a club that suits you. Find a list of all clubs here
  • Do a skills course - taking part in a Mountain Skills course or a Hill Skills day is your ticket to becoming more confident and independent in the mountains. On these courses, you will learn how to plan routes, read maps, use a compass, deal with hazards in the mountains, and much more. 
  • Go with a guide - hire a local guide if you want to explore a new area or undertake a route that might be particularly difficult. 

Planning a hike

  • Be realistic and choose a route which matches your skills and ability. All the trails on the Sport Ireland website are signposted and graded.
  • In most upland areas there will be no marked walking trails so you will need map-reading skills, or you may be able to hire a local guide.
  • Start out early to leave enough time to complete the planned walk.
  • Leave details of your planned walk with somebody reliable.

Using your phone as a navigation aid

Phones are increasingly being used by people to plan hiking routes and navigate on the hills, and with recent advances in GPS and mapping technology, they can be a useful tool for hikers. However, there are a few things to think about when using your phone in the mountains:

Even if you have a phone with a hiking app (e.g. Hiiker, OutdoorActive, AllTrails), it can't read and interpret the map for you. All it can do is show your position - you need to be able to understand from the map what the terrain will be like and what the potential hazards are, choose suitable routes from it and be able to make decisions about changing your route if you need to.

Many hiking apps are user-driven, which means that some of the routes on the apps are nothing more than the GPS data of the route that one hiker took. This can result in people ending up in sketchy terrain because they blindly followed the route on an app. 

Irish weather

  • It is possible to experience sunshine, strong winds and heavy rain all in one day.
  • Get a forecast before setting off, watch out for any changes, if the weather deteriorates, be prepared to alter your route or turn back.
  • If you plan to walk in the hills remember that the temperature will be lower there, the winds stronger and you are more likely to get rain.
  • Mist is a serious problem; you can quickly lose all visibility, especially on coastal hills.

You should check the forecast on a few different websites/apps to get as accurate a forecast as possible. Some good websites include:

Stay safe

Regardless of your aims when heading out for a hike, be they reaching a certain summit or covering a certain distance, the one true marker of a successful day in the mountains is that you make it home alive and uninjured. If you are encountering poor weather, running out of time, or feeling tired or out of your depth, turn around or find the easiest route off the mountain. Exercising sound judgement and being flexible will help to keep you safe and happy in the hills. 

What to do if you get lost / injured

  • If you think you might be lost, keep calm – think about where you have walked and the last place you saw a marker post or a definite feature. Check if it is possible to retrace your steps. If mist is down, descend to get below cloud level.
  • If lost or injured dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Gardaí/Police and tell them you need Mountain Rescue.
  • Treat any injuries as best you can and keep the casualty warm and comfortable.
  • For more information, visit: www.mountainrescue.ie

Enjoy the outdoors responsibly

Our enjoyment of Ireland’s trails and hills comes with a responsibility to care for the place we’re visiting, and to be considerate towards landowners and local residents.

Park carefully – avoid blocking gateways or narrow roads, remember that large farm vehicles or the emergency services may need access. Leave nothing visible in your car.

Dogs may not be welcome – Due to the presence of farm animals, dogs are not welcome on farmland and in most upland areas. Dogs are allowed on some marked trails, check in advance.

Prevent erosion – keep to the centre of the path, even when it’s wet or muddy. This prevents damaged areas becoming wider.

Leave no litter behind - Litter takes from the beauty of the landscape and it can be harmful to wildlife. Pack a spare bag to take away all litter, including biodegradable items such as fruit peels and tea bags.


A guide to the essentials to bring for your level of walking

Essentials For Shorter Walks Check
Sturdy Shoes Or Boots
Small Backpack
Warm Hat & Sun Hat (For Those Sunny Days)
Warm Layers
Mobile Phone (Charged)
Food & Drink
Waterproof Jacket

What to wear on the hills

Wearing the right clothes can be an essential element of staying safe when hiking. The following advice should you some help in knowing what to wear and bring on your next hike:

  • Hiking boots: A good pair of approach shoes or soft fabric boots are fine for treks on simple tracks, but more rugged terrain requires a sturdier mountain walking boot, especially in poor weather. It must be well constructed, water resistant, have an aggressive tread pattern, a medium level of ankle support and, most importantly, a good resistance of the sole to twisting.
  • Waterproofs: the key to staying warm is to stay dry, because wet clothing leads to heat loss through evaporation and impaired insulation. No matter the weather when setting out, you should always carry an outer waterproof and windproof layer of jacket and trousers, to repel rain and prevent the wind cooling you down. 
  • Layering: wearing many thin layers traps heat far more efficiently than one piece of bulky clothing, and will allow you to regulate your body temperature and reduce perspiration.
  • Base layer: the layer of clothing next to the skin should be snug and porous, so that it wicks perspiration away from your skin to the mid-layer. Base layer fabrics include polypropylene and Merino wool; avoid cotton because it traps moisture before it hits the jacket, making you cold.
  • Mid-layer: this should be a thicker synthetic fleece to hold in heat, yet still able to wick moisture away from the body.
  • Outer layer: on top of this is the insulating layer of a thicker fleece or a lightweight duvet jacket.
  • Trousers/leggings: for the bottom half something stretchy and quick drying is ideal; jeans become cold and wet very quickly, so should not be worn. If you set off in shorts make sure to have some extra layers in your rucksack.
  • Gaiters: these work well to keep your feet dry in wet grass, heather or bog.
  • Hats: these should be carried all year round, warm and well-fitting for the winter, and a sun hat (and sunscreen) for the summer.
  • Gloves: these are essential and, generally, bulk equals warmth, although you lose dexterity.

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