8 Steps To Beginning Your Hike Life
Hiking is a fantastic way to keep fit & enjoy the great outdoors!
Inactivity is a growing health concern in the Western world and sometimes it can be daunting to join a gym or fitness class, hiking is a wonderful alternative which can help you improve your overall health. The best point of all? It’s 100% free and literally on your doorstep!
In Ireland, we are blessed to have many scenic routes to explore, leaving us with no excuse. In a world which is always “switched on”, hiking helps us to unplug from social media & relieve mental fatigue that it sometimes brings with it (however you will need that hiking snap for the “gram”, or it doesn’t count… right?). Any type of walking helps to improve our health but hiking through a countryside environment can be more beneficial for our mental wellness than built up areas. Thus, its time to get hike savvy. Here are some of my top steps to remember when planning your hiking trips.
Step 1 – Planning you route
It’s really important that your find a route which suits your fitness levels. Experienced hikers might classify a hike as needing to be a certain elevation, distance & difficulty level but to me a hike is any activity exploring an outdoor route which you would not have done otherwise. There are some extremely difficult hikes in Ireland (such as Carrantuohill) but there are some that are very manageable (such as the Bray to Greystones cliff walk). Make sure you do your research before you set off.
- Starting off make, find a distance that you can manage in a day or a half day. Base it off how much time you have available, you don’t want to feel under any pressure and allow for pit stops along the way.
- Plan your company! Perhaps you enjoy the odd solo hike? But it is a fantastic bonding opportunity and chance to reconnect with family & friends that your busy lifestyle may have taken from over the past few months. If you are going alone, be sure to let people know where you are headed, what time, and when you expect to be home.
- Com is my favourite for checking out hike information, difficulty, past reviews & so on. Use a reliable website, source or friend to help you pick your hike destination – preferably a source which has done the route recently.
Step 2 – Footwear Choices
The correct footwear for a hike is the ultimate key to a successful & enjoyable one. Blisters developing on your feet are really common when hiking, even in “well broken in” hiking boots or trail runners, the longer distances and different angles can cause some new blisters to form. Be very careful when choosing footwear, ensure it’s suited for the hike, comfortable, worn before but remember to also pack some plasters just in case. Having very supportive & breathable socks will be important too.
Call into your nearest outdoor clothing store & see what hiking sock/boots/shoes they have to offer. Depending on the time of year you may want to opt for different styles, but ensure they are snug with a little wiggle room. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong pair of running trainers either – I have often found them the best for shorter hikes especially on Summer days! However, be cautious, ensure they have enough grip on slippery surfaces – a hiking boot or shoe will always tick this box.
Step 3 – Clothing
This is going to be dependent upon your environment & the time of year. Will there be long grasses/bushes? Will it be a hot day or a wet/windy one? Perhaps the temperature will drop as you reach your summit? Light weight, quick drying pants will be your best option, but if you know it’s going to be a paved route, with no obstructions, you may be ok wearing shorts but I would suggest having high socks or lightweight pants in your bag just in case.
Starting out, any lightweight top (short or long sleeved dependent on your environment) is absolutely fine, but I always recommend bringing layers. If you are too hot you can always take off layers but there is nothing worse than being cold & miserable hiking. It takes from the experience. Try starting with a base layer, a warm middle layer, and a waterproof outer layer.
Choosing to bring a much larger jacket will again be dependent on environment. A hat could be worth bringing, to protect you from the sun on hot days, or a warm snug one on those winter sunrise mornings. Lastly, a lightweight backpack is worthy investment for any hikers or walkers.
There’s no strict orders that can be given when it comes to clothing. Just starting off on a short hike in your best gym trainers, old t-shirt & tracksuit? No problem! Get to “know the field” before you invest in all the latest hiking clothing. However, I would advise against wearing cotton – it’s a little too absorbing for hiking (especially in socks).
Step 4 – What to pack
A lightweight backpack is highly recommended whether you are new to hiking or very experienced. Check to see if your bag has a waterproof cover, otherwise bring something to cover it with if it rains. Inside here there are some essentials you’ll need to always ensure you have with you.
- Do you require any medication such as an inhaler, or allergy tablet?
- Phone charge banks (google maps is great for hiking) & maybe a map or compass for more advanced individuals.
- Sun protection in the form of creams, glasses &/or a hat.
- Extra clothing layers or spare clothing.
- Perhaps some illumination in case it gets dark – such as a flashlight or high vis vest.
- Basic first aid supplies are always a good idea.
- Toiletries & a garbage bag. You may get short taken so always be prepared! Remember to never leave any rubbish or used papers behind, have a strong rubbish bag at the ready to take with you.
- Plenty of extra food & hydration.
- Advanced overnight hikes will need a lot more but this covers all of the necessities for most day hikes in Ireland.
Step 5 – Fueling for you hike
If you are doing a sunrise hike, you may be bringing your first meal of the day with you, but otherwise it is really important to fuel up well before you begin. You don’t want to fall weak or “hangry” half way there. To have a truly successful hike, you need to ensure your body is as prepared as your backpack.
The primary and most efficient fuel for hiking will be carbohydrates. Of course, you will need adequate fats & protein to keep your body functioning optimally, it’s the carbohydrate stores you will burn through quickest. Ensure you hydrate well before the hike and get a balanced, fulfilling breakfast such as overnight oats or warm porridge. Why not try some of our other breakfast recipes here on our blog such as cheesy breakfast tacos, egg muffins & toast or pancakes! Adding dairy to your morning meal will provide you with a great combination of nutrients to fuel your day. A wholesome mix of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins & minerals.
When bringing snacks for you hike, if you have a cooler bag you might opt for some fresh sandwiches, yogurts, or smoothies but if not you could bring fruit, nuts or even rustle up some blueberry protein muffins in advance for snacking on the go! Make sure to always bring extra food supplies.
Step 6 – Adequate Hydration
Even if you don’t feel thirsty as you hike, it’s a good idea to keep drinking water every 20 minutes as if you reach dehydration, it’s too late. Personally, I would aim for 1 litre every hour to hour and a half. It does mean you may need to be prepared for some pit stops but trust me it’s worth it to keep adequately hydrated.
Try to choose stainless steel water bottles that will keep your drink chilled (and also are far better for the environment), or even a hydration backpack for much longer hikes.
Arriving to your starting point in a fully hydrated state will be vital, so be sure to have lots of water in the tank from the moment you awake on hike day!
Step 7 – Be prepared to take breaks & pace yourself
Remember hiking is not a race. You need time to appreciate the surroundings, catch your breath, and refuel. If you are new to hiking, you may need to take regular breaks along the way and that’s ok!
When you first get started on your route you may want to power forward at super human speed (as I know you will have taken all of my fueling & hydration advice on board), but be sure to find a pace which you can maintain for the day, especially if you have an elevation building ahead of you. Trust me you will be glad as the day goes on that you saved some energy for the more difficult parts.
Step 8 – FINAL CHECKS
Twas’ the night before the hike when all through the house… The overnight oats sat soaking, the hiking shoes clean and well worn, the outfit laid out & the snack bag stocked to its fullest.
Now before you set off for your adventure remember to check the weather one last time, the route starting point & any local news in case its closed for some unforeseen circumstance. Let people know where you are headed even if it is as part of a group, & ensure you have your phone fully charged before you leave. Get a good night’s sleep the night before so that your fully revitalised to take on the great outdoors.
You’ll come home with a mental clarity like no other, a sense of achievement that can’t be taken away from you, a day of memories to last a lifetime, hopefully some gorgeous photographs to show friends or family & another step forward towards healthier active living.
Now that you are equipped to tackle your hike, here are 5 of my favourite well known hiking destinations around Ireland that you may add to the bucket list
5 Scenic Irish Hikes:
- Glendalough Spinc Trail, Wicklow Mountains – This is moderate in intensity and approximately a 9.7km trail with a 458m elevation. The path is clearly marked but be prepared for a slightly colder environment up the top!
- Torc Mountain Killarney National Park – Also moderate in intensity, an approximately 7km trail with a 416m elevation in the stunning Killarney park.
- Bray to Greystones Cliff Trail – Easy/moderate trail route approximately 6km one way but some may walk it back too, or otherwise get the dart. The elevation doesn’t get too high at just 117m.
- Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Trail (The Stairway to Heaven) Co.Cavan/Fermanagh – A harder trail totalling 20km to the top of the mountain with a 665m elevation and includes a loop walk, or follow the Legnabrocky Trail alone which averages about 14km.
- Coumshingaun Loop Walk, in the Comeragh Mounatins, Co.Waterford – A difficult hike at times averaging at 7.5km for the loop around the Corrie Lake, but you can hike up and down a section without doing the full loop too, and it is just as beautiful!