Suitable hillwalking gear is a must for hiking in Ireland. Regardless of the time of the year, the weather in the Irish mountains is changeable and unpredictable. Although it may be warm at sea level it will get colder as you climb higher and if there is a wind this will make the cold worse.
The key to staying comfortable and warm is to stay dry, because wet clothing leads to heat loss through evaporation and impaired insulation.
Basic hillwalking gear required for comfort and safety on the mountains include the following:
- Stout waterproof hill walking boots
- Warm Hat and Gloves (two sets in Winter)
- Wooly socks
- Waterproof over-trousers
- Rucksack for lunch, water and extra clothing
- Food and drink for lunch (and a little extra for emergencies)
- Drinking water
- Extra clothing layers (it can be very cold on the mountains although warm at sea level)
- Change of clothes and towel (to be left in car)
- Bivvy bag (survival bag)
- A whistle
- Small torch or head-torch in Winter
Wearing many thin layers of clothing traps heat far more efficiently than one piece of bulky clothing, and will allow you to regulate your body temperature and reduce perspiration. Even if you set off in shorts have some extra layers in your rucksack.
The layering process
- Base layer
- Mid layer
- Insulating layer
- Waterproof layer
The layer of clothing next to the skin (the base layer) should be snug, porous and made from a performance fabric, such as polypropylene, that wicks perspiration away from your skin to the mid-layer. Merino wool is gaining in popularity because it smells less, absorbs moisture well, is soft, biodegradable, and doesn’t melt easily. It is however heavier, slow to dry and expensive. Avoid cotton because it traps moisture before it hits the jacket, making you cold.
The mid-layer should be a thicker synthetic fleece to hold in heat, yet still able to wick moisture away from the body.
The insulating layer can be a thicker fleece or, if you are doubtful about the weather, a lightweight duvet jacket can be carried e.g. Mountain Equipment Trango jacket.
It is a myth that your head loses any more heat than elsewhere on your body and in fact it is your arm pits and grains that probably lose the most. Hats should be carried all year round, and a sun hat is vital.
Gloves are also essential and, generally, bulk equals warmth, although you may lose dexterity.
These supposedly provide an outer and insulating layer in one. They are soft to the touch, highly water resistant, wind resistant, highly breathable and often stretchable. While not 100 per cent waterproof, a soft shell delivers twice the breathability of Gortex, however they do take a long time to dry out when wet and you will then feel the cold more.
The decision to wear soft shells or conventional clothing depends on the activity. If rain is likely, a conventional waterproof jacket is important, but for aerobic activities in cold, dry, high activity situations, soft shells may work well.