Hiking best-practice ’If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes’
It’s one thing to tell my stories and be able share my experiences in the mountains but that'll never replace the feeling I get as a guide introducing others to experience it for themselves. Having said that, as hiking becomes more and more popular there’s increased pressure on parking and wear & tear on the established routes throughout the UK and Ireland. This brings me to highlight just how important it is to encourage others to follow hiking best-practice. I’ve always been a believer in simple things make big differences so I hope this can help to give an insight into some basic unwritten rules and ensure our adventures remain safe and enjoyable for everyone.
Safety First - Plan Ahead!
‘Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory’ – Ed Viesturs
The safety of yourself and your group is priority number one, and we all know when you're poorly prepared you're far more likely to run into problems but let’s be honest, I’m not suggesting to go adventure we all need to be experts (I’ve no desire to put myself out of work lol) and if your using an establish route what is there to plan for….?? Well a lot in fact, part of the appeal of hiking is being in remote areas away from the hustle of towns and Cities - but this limits the availability of rescue should an incident occur. Ask yourself the questions and then answer them…. Simple steps imperative to ensure your safety:
· Research the route: Get a feel for where you’re going, it may be established but how well marked is it? What type of ground will you be walking on? Google has the answer.
· Check the weather: Check it twice…. Weather can change in an instant so go prepared regardless but it’s better to have a scope of what to expect instead of an assumption.
· Clothing and equipment you're likely to need. The first two steps above will answer this but something I personally like to drive into my clients when confirming an adventure is SUITABLE footwear and WATERPROOF coat…. Note: The highest cause of incidents in the outdoors is ‘slips, trips and fall’s’ also, you can have the warmest clothing in the world but if it lets the wind and rain in you won’t stay warm for long!!
Taking these steps to ensure you have planned for the worst-case scenario can be potentially the difference between the story of a great adventure and a life-threatening situation.
Top tip: don't pack light on navigation, first aid, food, or water.
Park Smarter - RESPECT
Responsible Enjoyment of Special Places with Empathy, Care and Trust
Carpool – This is the big one, a lot of guides and clubs are already fantastic at organising this. Carpooling saves so much space in car parks meaning less congestion on narrow roads, fewer farmers frustrated by people parking in front of their field gates and a contribution to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
CO is one of the greenhouse gases believed to be most responsible for the global warming and transport is by far the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions in Ireland. In 2017, transport was responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions and it remains to be the sector where CO2 emissions are growing the fastest.
Mind the gap – This hits a nerve with me, lol. Park smart, by all means we need to be considerate about peoples access to their car and we don’t want to block anyone in but don’t waste space, keep it close.
Avoid the crowds – We all know the busy times and places so think about a different start point or even a quieter area.
Arrange your own parking – If your with a group it might be better to even check if there’s a community centre or similar, a farm yard or a place where you could arrange your own parking, a simple gesture of good will or a small donation can make this a lot more possible than you think.
Bus it – If you’re a group, club or company, on some occasions the hire of a bus makes sense, a bus may be bigger than a car but still only takes one space or maybe there’s a public transport route close to your access point, why not make use of it.
Leave only footprints, take only pictures
Two core principles of adventure are to dispose of waste properly and leave undisturbed what you find. We all get the feeling that to be in nature is clean and raw only too often for it to be tarnished by the remnants of those who were there before you! A simple rule is to make sure you ‘take out what you bring in’
Reduce the amount of waste you bring on the hike through:
· Use of reusable bottles
· Food with minimal packaging, and be sure to
· Ensure you bring rubbish bags with you.
It’s also important to resist the urge to collect plants and/or rocks on the trail so the next person can enjoy them too - a photo looks way better anyway!
Top tip: it’s worth investing in sealable rubbish bags for food and other waste which can smell, I like to use dog poo bags so I can tie them and they’re cheap.
Stick to the beaten track... if there is one
It’s tempting to head off the beaten track and explore alternatives but there’s two reasons you should really think about this, firstly it dramatically increases the risk of getting lost or injured, Secondly, with the potential for thousands of walkers to follow on the same route there exists a risk to local ecology as flora are damaged and habitats are disturbed.
Be camp conscious
Camping’s a core part of what most of us love about adventure, we need to be conscious that tents can damage vegetation and disrupt animal wildlife. Where possible camp within designated areas but when wild camping avoid areas that have signs of being camped on recently and if on a multiday adventure be sure to move your own tent every few days and allow the vegetation underneath to recover. Less damage will be caused the more durable the terrain, so ideal surfaces can be rock, gravel and dry grasses.
Campfires are a camping ritual but they scar the ground beneath them so I would say avoid camp fires where possible to minimise the effects. If you do make a fire, try to make it on gravel or rock, or even in a place where a fire has been made recently.
Top tip: if you are camping on hard ground you can use dried grass or leaves under the groundsheet to make an extra comfortable mattress for the night.
Keep water clean
Washing yourself, your clothes or your dishes in or alongside lakes, rivers and streams can pollute the water damaging the local ecology as well as the ability for other hikers to use the water source. Bring a water container to allow you to transport water away from the waterfront back to your camp for washing and cooking and try to avoid contaminating streams.
Top tip: research whether water sources are safe to drink before beginning your hike, but always bring water filters or purifying tablets with you just in case.
As mentioned above, one of the great things about getting outdoors is getting away from the hustle but popular areas can get busy during peak seasons so during these times allow for a gap to develop between you and the nearest group. Everyone's pace will be different, be conscious of faster groups trying to pass and be patient getting past slower groups.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but just a few best-practices designed to ensure that everybody has fun on the trail, try to use your common sense and be thoughtful toward other hikers!