Tips For Walkers

Walking in the scenic Irish hills and mountains and visting remote natural beauty spots around Ireland are very enjoyable recreational activities which attract large numbers of visitors and tourists to the country.

However inexperience and lack of precautions can often lead to walkers getting into difficulty. Mountain Rescue teams often come to the assistance of lost and disorientated walkers and climbers. Difficulties and injuries occur primarily due to falls or from exposure to the elements. These can be avoided by following some basic safety tips:


Always make sufficient preparations before starting out. Consult guidebooks, route descriptions, websites or walking manuals and seek advice from experts. Remember that you can never be too careful. Before beginning hillwalking on your own or with a group it is best to take a course such as the Mountain Skills scheme usually run over two weekends.


Before begining a walk it is wise to decide where you are going and know how long it will take. Factors that should be taken into account are the distance, the height and type of terrain, your level of fitness and weather information. Make sure that you can cover the distance before darkness descends as temperatures will fall and you will be unable to see where you are going in low light.


Weather conditions can alter in a matter of minutes catching the unwary walker off guard. In the hills and mountains, winds can often be much stronger while rainfall can be much heavier and more frequent than in lower areas. Mist and cloud can descend suddenly causing zero visibility. It is crucial to keep in mind that the air temperature drops 1 degree centigrade per 100m of ascent. In winter, high ground is often covered with snow and ice. It is recommended to choose a time of the year that is suitable and to set out on a walk only when conditions are favourable paying attention to local weather forecasts.


It is easy to get lost in the hills and mountains. A waterproof map of 1:50,000 scale featuring topographical features and landmarks and a compass are recommended. It is important to be able to use equipment correctly so your location is known at all times. Rescue call-outs are usually for missing or injured persons who have made a navigation error and lost their way before finding themselves in trouble.


Concealed holes, loose rocks, slippery ground and soft bog are hazards to look out for, so thread carefully. Most accidents occur when people are descending slopes rather than during climbs. Crossing streams can be be deceptively dangerous especially when there is a flood. Accidents occur most often when people are not taking their time, not paying attention or when they are tired.

Equipment, clothing and footwear

The Irish climate is usually wet so waterproof jackets and trousers are recommended irrespective of the weather when starting out. Avoid wearing jeans and cotton clothing as they absorb moisture and are difficult to dry. Wet clothing can lower your core body temperature causing hypothermia. A warm hat, gloves and thick socks are also essential in colder weather. Rough terrain can result in a ankle injury, however this can be avoided by wearing walking boots with good ankle support. A stick is also  a useful walking aid. Use a waterproof rucksack to carry spare clothing, a torch, whistle, first aid kit, food, water and a hot drink in a thermos flask. Chocolate, boiled sweets and drinks can provide extra energy.

Other precautions

Walking alone in remote areas is best avoided especially if help is not close by. Isolation, fatigue and a sudden change in weather conditions can disorientate even the most experienced walkers. If there is a group, the members should stay together at all times and move only as fast as the slowest walkers to avoid anyone getting lost.

Try to leave word with a trustworthy person about where you are going and when you are expected back. Mobile phones can be useful in emergencies or to let people know where you are if you are running behind schedule, however they are not always reliable. In most mountainous areas, coverage is limited and batteries can run flat. You should avoid making unplanned deviations from your route.


Staying calm and thinking things through is vitally important. Panicking may only lead to errors of judgement and further complicate the situation. To get help, call 112 or 999 and ask for Mountain Rescue (the service is voluntary and therefore should be contacted only if the emergency is genuine).

The recognised distress signals are six blasts on a whistle or six flashes with a torch, followed by a minute pause and repeated until you get a response. The recognised response is three blasts of a whistle or three flashes of a torch.

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