Get back to the great outdoors with these top tips for hiking safely in Ireland
Now that we're free to stretch our legs right up to the county border, Galz Gone Wild founder Mel McDermot shares her tips on getting back to hiking.
Today marks the day we are finally granted county-wide freedom, after three (!) long months of living within our five kilometres. Those pavement, road, seashore and forest walks have been well pounded now and we are ready to break out and take our well-toned calf muscles somewhere else for a change. Watching the same two swans nest in the same two spots as they did last year is magical, but the Groundhog Day feeling has not been lost on me.
Before we all park and take off up a mountain, founder Mel McDermot, founder of Galz Gone Wild, Ireland’s leading women’s outdoor adventure community and business, has a few tips to remind us exactly how to hike safely.
Food and water
You should always bring more food than you think you do, especially if you are going on a strenuous or long hike that you haven’t done in a while. “Pack a full day’s worth of food for your hike – sandwich, fruit, jellies, chocolate, trail mix,” says Mel. “Bring food you like that will keep you fuelled and happy. There is nothing worse than being hungry than a backpack full of snacks you don’t even enjoy.”
Mel also recommends packing some long-life food like energy bars, dried fruits and meats. These can be left in your backpack for the day you open it to pull out your beautifully made lunch at the top of a peak, only to realise you left it in the car.
Mel suggests bringing at least 2 litres of water with you, regardless of how long you’ll be out for. You might get lost or find someone else who can spare half a sandwich but has emptied their water bottle already.
There may still be a fierce nip in the air but the sun is up there and as we’ve seen so little of it throughout house-bound winter months, our skin will be extra sensitive. Come sunshine or cloud, Mel suggests packing sunglasses, sunscreen and a peaked cap and always lash on that sunscreen. The same goes for rain protection, although we probably need less convincing on that front.
Stick to the trail
Mel suggests bringing a map and compass, but only if you’re comfortable using them. “Never venture out into the open mountains unless you have the navigation skills to do so,” she says, but if you’re following a sign-posted trail, apps like ViewRanger and Hiiker can come in handy, just “make sure to bring additional power sources like power banks.”
If you are interested in going a little off-piste, “I would recommend doing a Navigation Skills workshop or completing the Mountain Skills training course accredited by Mountaineering Ireland,” advises Mel. “A great Mountain Skills course provider is Fia Mountaineering based in Wicklow.”
Be conscious of nature
Nature has had a number of the more rural trails predominantly to themselves over the last few months, so be aware that animals may be closer to the trail than usual. Nests are common at this time of year and Mel notes that “animals are sensitive to humans while pursuing or defending mates and territories, birthing, guarding young or nests and when food is scarce.”
If you do see any wildlife on your trail, do not feed them and try to keep your distance. Give animals space to cross your path and try not to disturb any nesting sites or dens. If you see an animal you think is injured, note the vicinity you’re in and head to Irish Wildlife Matters for information, or, if you are in a National Park, you can alert the Mountain Ranger office.
Do your bit
Galz Gone Wild has worked alongside Leave No Trace Ireland for trail cleanups and Mel encourages all hikers to follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles:
- Plan ahead and Prepare
- Be Considerate of Others
- Respect Farm Animals and Wildlife
- Travel and Camp on Durable Ground
- Leave What You Find
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Minimise the Effects of Fire
Keep some room in your backpack to pick up any litter you see on the trail and recycle what you can when you get home. After Covid, you can also join the GGW Trail Angels community that would do trail cleanups of their favourite trails.