Safety Tips for Winter Walkers

Gleniff Horseshoe WalkAs we look for ways to shift a few of the pounds we put on over the recent holiday, no doubt many of you will take to walking in the coming weeks. And while there are some great benefits to getting the heart rate up and stretching the legs, there are a few things to consider, especially if you decide to take to the hills, and in particular if you are on your own.

  1. Take a phone. Make sure it’s fully charged before you set out. And as mobile coverage can be patchy on the mountain, make sure you let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to return. The phone is not only a way of getting in touch with someone should you get into any trouble while out walking, but the emergency services can also – in certain cases – access your location through the phone’s GPS system, so the phone really could become a crucial piece of equipment. Not all phones have a GPS tracker, so if you are unsure, ask at a mobile phone shop what the phone’s capabilities are, and that way you’ll know whether it’s sufficient for your needs.
  2. Bring a map and compass. People are becoming reliant on their phones for figuring out where they are on the mountain, and also for directions. But if phone coverage is patchy, these may not work properly, and phones have been known to lose power unexpectedly. Battery power can decrease quite suddenly when apps like maps are open, so you really want to save your phone’s power for speaking with the emergency services.
  3. Of course a map and compass may not be of any use if you don’t know how to use them. What do you do if the weather changes suddenly or visibility deteriorates on the mountain? This is where navigational skills can be crucial. The Sligo Mountaineering Club runs courses on different aspects of safety on the mountain at different times of the year – check out for details on these. And if you do get lost or can’t find your way, and don’t have the skills to descend the mountain, the important thing is not to panic. Stay where you are, and if the conditions don’t improve, call the emergency services on 112 or 999. They may be able to help you find the path by tracking your co-ordinates remotely, and failing that, they’ll send people out to help you.
  4. Wear the correct clothing. Several light layers rather than one heavy fleece top is recommended. You can remove and add layers as you need them. A good pair of hiking boots is also important of course, as is a backpack which can hold a spare change of dry clothing, a torch with spare batteries, some refreshments like a hot drink, water and some food. You can also add items like map and compass, a whistle for drawing attention, and a first aid kit. In terms of clothing, you should have a hat and gloves, waterproof trousers and jacket and thick socks, and there’s a huge range of these on the market. The general rule about these is that you get what you pay for. So if you are uncertain about whether you’ll walk regularly, maybe it’s best not to buy expensive kit for a while, but then again the more expensive gear should last longer, so it’s a personal choice.

And you could also avail of the New Year sales and use those vouchers Santa brought you – put them to good use before you end up leaving them in a drawer and forgetting about them.

Finally, wherever you walk make sure you respect the countryside, park your car considerately, keep dogs on a leash, take your rubbish home and adhere to the Leave No Trace policy. Enjoy the walks, and visit the website for details on great walks locally to suit all levels and to download the safety booklet from Mountaineering Ireland.