When the lock-down restrictions ease, the numbers going hill-walking in Ireland will undoubtedly increase, some will be experienced and returning to the hills, others newer and less experienced.
This extra increase in participation will no doubt put extra pressure on the mountain rescue services, all while they try to keep their own volunteer members, and their families, safe from harm.
Mountain Rescue advice for safety on the hills
Mountain Rescue teams have issued advice for people to be cautious in their return to the outdoors, to not take on more than they are able for, be it physically or navigationally.
They have also advised that those in need of rescue or assistance should prepare themselves for potentially longer response times or even the possibility of an overnight on the hills while waiting for daylight to safely navigate home.
Nobody, experienced or otherwise, goes into the hills planning to have an accident, but accidents still happen. Now is a good time to plan and prepare for the possibility.
I have included at the bottom of the page a checklist of the everyday gear people should bring on the hills. To many it will be obvious what these items are but below I’ve listed 5 emergency items hillwalkers should consider bringing out too, but hopefully never need.
I’ve also recommended Irish based outdoors, suppliers, as now more than ever it’s important to shop local.
Also called a bivvy bag or bothy bag, this is possibly one of the most important items any hiker can carry with them.
Essentially a portable tent, without the bulk or weight, they can be stored in the bottom of your pack with convenience. They come in all sizes from smaller 2 person ones to larger 12 person sizes and are low cost.
They provide immediate protection from cold and biting winds or rain and within minutes of getting inside them, the body heat of the group will be keeping everyone toasty.
Whether you are lost in bad weather or keeping an injured friend warm while waiting for rescue, the benefit of a group shelter cannot be overstated.
I think this should be mandatory equipment for all hikers and considering the present need for social distancing, perhaps each hiker should carry a small personal one instead of the norm of one between a large group.
Adventure.ie sells an excellent Life-systems 2 person option in their Glendalough Store and online.
Getting caught out in fading light or after dark is an easy thing to happen. Without the ability to see where we are going, we are faced with the option of stumbling around in the dark or waiting it out ’til the next morning.
Neither are pleasant options. Tripping over a small divet can be more likely than walking off a big cliff, but both can injure you badly.
A cheap 5 euro generic headtorch isn’t a good option here, they won’t stand up to the rigours of mountainous weather.
Considering reputable outdoor brands like Black Diamond and Petzl have entry-level head torches from 20 euro, this should again be a no brainer, just don’t forget the fresh batteries.
Both Adventure.ie and Alpinesports.ie stock excellent affordable options.
First Aid Kit
There are excellent ready packaged options out there aimed at outdoor users and all the leading outdoor shops will stock them, but sometimes they have apparatus included that we are unlikely to use. Even more likely is that we don’t replenish the commonly used items in our kit. Cuts, sprains and breaks are the common injuries.
If cost is a barrier or you don’t want to carry the bulk of an all purpose first aid kit, then just make your own. It doesn’t have to be complicated, get a waterproof dry bag or zip-lock bag and stock it with alcohol wipes, gloves, face mask, plasters, different types and sizes of bandages, an extra large bandage to control bleeding and a roller bandage. Also, a small roll of duct tape.
It will be easier to keep track of what’s been used, it will barely take up space in your bag and you’ll be more likely to carry it.
A whistle should be included too, by far the best way to get attention in the hills or to assist a rescue team in finding you in poor visibility.
Also sometimes called space blankets, there are plenty on the market at a low cost, low weight addition to your backpack. They are super efficient at retaining body heat for an injured person and their big benefit is that they can be worn by a cold or near hypothermic hiker while moving.
There are some very cheap pocket sized options, which are really useful, but its worth noting they pose a potential risk to helicopters in that they can be sucked up into their engines. So remember to pack them away if being approached by a helicopter following an incident.
This is less likely to happen with heavier and more robust (albeit costlier) emergency bivis blankets like this one offered by Great Outdoors.
Map and Compass
Experienced hikers get disoriented all the time and its not an issue, its not knowing how to relocate and get back on track that can be the issue. So many hikers go into the hills, either without a map and compass or with a set, but without the knowledge and practice of how to use them.
Navigation is a tool that needs to be kept sharp in order for it to be effective. So if you’ve never learned how to or its been a long time since you did, you probably wont “figure it out” while under pressure on the hills.
Consider getting some navigation training or doing a refresher. Currently there are numerous providers offering online refreshers. While they aren’t a substitute for a full course, they are an excellent option for preparation that we can be taking in advance of being allowed on the hills again.
When full courses are allowed to run, The Mountaineering Ireland approved Mountain Skills course is an excellent place to start. While I am a provider of the course
there are also multiple other providers and with some research it’ll be easy to find an Instructor who teaches the course regularly and comes highly recommended. If in doubt as to who to choose, look for Instructors or Leaders who advertise the AMI or UIMLA badge. Trust the badges as a sign of a professionalism and quality in the outdoors.
Regular Gear checklist:
– waterproof jacket and trousers. No matter what the forecast is, waterproofs should always be carried. Mountains can create their own weather systems, different to that of the local lowland area. They can also be excellent as a windbreaker layer, even if its not raining. The two jackets I use are a North Face Summit Series Goretex jacket and a Columbia Outdry jacket and I really like both. I tend to spend a lot of money on my waterproof jackets and go slightly cheaper on my trousers.
– hats, gloves, buff. and spares in a dry bag. I have both expensive items and cheap Penneys items. All will work, just some will work better than others, but cost doesn’t have to be a barrier.
– Baselayer – again you can spend a lot of money or go cheap with generic items, once they are made from a material good for wicking sweat then they are good enough. Polyester/merino/bamboo are good, cottons are bad.
– hiking boots. On Irish mountains we don’t get the perfect quality trails and tracks that you find in other countries so appropriate hiking specific boots with ankle support are essential and runners are just a bad idea. Don’t buy them online either as fit is everything and a good outdoor shop will be able to help you choose the best fit for you. I personally like La Sportiva boots, they work well for narrower feet, so aren’t for everyone.
– warm breathable layers – again you don’t have to buy specific hiking clothing, obviously purpose designed clothing will perform better, but any active wear or clothing designed for the outdoors is appropriate. For women gym leggings are a great option instead of trousers. Like baselayers make sure they aren’t cotton or denim. Cottons and Denims don’t dry fast and you can lose a lot of body heat as your system works hard to warm up the cold fabric. This is an issue on a wet day as well as a hot day, when sweat covered clothing can sap at our energy levels stealthily.
– Spare layers – a warm mid layer, either fleece layer or a softshell, stored in a dry bag is essential for if the weather changes or if we get cold while stopped.
– Hiking socks. Specifically designed hiking socks are expensive, but they last a long time and will help prevent getting blisters and that’s worth any money. I like Bridgedale socks.
– food/water/snacks Enough for a long day on the hills, but also consider bringing some “what if” emergency snacks too, in case you are caught out longer than you intended.
– Backpack. A well designed backpack allows you to carry all the weight on your hips and is designed and cushioned appropriately. Its sore and frustrating if you carry the load on your shoulders all day and when we are sore and frustrated we make bad decisions in the outdoors. Bad decisions that can lead to incidents. I only ever use an Osprey Talon 33 Litre bag for day to day hiking and highly recommend it. It makes sense to buy a bag from a company that only design and make bags as all their research and development goes into that product.
– Trekking Poles. – I always carry a pair when Im in the outdoors, I don’t always use them, but I always have them with me. At first they can feel awkward to get used to, but once you are used to them they are excellent for moving efficiently and extending the lifespan of your knees. I use them a lot in descent to assist with a recurring knee injury. They can also be great to give to a nervous companion on steep descents, as a crutch for someone with a light sprain or to use as a splint for an injured arm or leg. I use Black Diamond Trail Poles.
All of the above might take some time and cost to put together, so now is as good time as any to start preparing, so that we are ready in advance of needing them. The gear might also seem heavy and restrictive, but the extra weight will soon be forgotten about and will ultimately only make us fitter on the hills.
While I’m aware that the above might seem excessive or over-cautious, I genuinely can’t think where Id leave any of it out in normal circumstances, so I definitely don’t advise leaving any of it out for the near future, when our need to be self-sufficient and stay injury free in the hills will be more important than ever.
I hope the above is of some help and I’m happy to answer any questions, so please feel free to get in touch if you do.