Here is some advice on what you should wear when hiking in the West of Ireland. Note that the main weather characteristics of this corner of the world are that we have a lot of rain, quite a bit of wind, not very hot temperatures and not very extreme conditions either (rarely below 0 Celsius, unless you’re climbing mountains in winter, where you’ll suffer wind chill factor, but rarely any snow worth talking about).
From the point of view of terrain, much of the far west of Ireland (especially west Mayo) is covered in blanket bog, with pools and puddles on the waterlogged ground, much of it hidden under sphagnum moss clumps. Apart from bog, we have (mostly) limestone rocks jutting from the ground all around, perhaps most famously in our scree covered mountain slopes, from about 400 – 500 m altitude up.
So, let’s go from the feet upwards.
1. Hiking boots – This is essential kit. Get ankle high, waterproof hiking boots. Buy a pair that is at least one half to one full size too big for you, so you can wear two pairs of good socks and feel nice, comfortable and secure within. I wear Meindl.
2. Hiking socks – Do not try to wear your regular socks, no matter how thick you might think they are. I have tried and continue to use a wide variety of hiking socks inside my boots. I have absolutely no preference between synthetic and wool, nor between twin- and single-layer. I use all the pairs I have interchangeably. The only criterion for me is that they are thick and comfortable. What I do is wear a relatively short inner pair and an outer pair that are as long as possible, so I can pull them up to my knees if feeling cold, or fold back down as required.
If you have a stronger opinion on socks, I’d love to hear it!
2 bis. Gaitors – Forget about them. I had a pair, but gave up wearing them. They just annoyed me. Mind you, others swear by them.
3. Waterproof pants – I use a pair with a membrane, from The North Face, called HyVent. The pants are 100% nylon on the outside and the inner mesh (membrane) is 100% polyester. They’re brilliant in rain and wind, but truly terrible in dry, warm weather when you’re hiking up a hill, because your thighs get ‘stuck’ with each step. I made that mistake just once. In good weather, I just wear a pair of O’Neill’s GAA tracksuit legs, in 50% polyester, 50% nylon.
4. T-shirts – Definitely do not choose cotton, or indeed polycotton. Why ? They take in your sweat and the rain and hold on to them jealously. Cotton takes much too long to dry out and leaves you cold and wet, especially when the wind strikes. Wear 100% nylon or 100% polyester tees. They dry out quickly. I wear a light Regatta or a heavier O’Neill’s GAA t-shirt, both in 100% polyester.
The trick is to bring more than one t-shirt, perhaps including one that has long sleeves, and to peel them off or put them back on, depending on conditions. Wear the long-sleeved one under the short-sleeved others, if you think you’re going to be cold. That way, you can peel off, without having to go bare chested as you do so.
5. Sleeveless Softshell – I wear a Regatta 100% polyester fleece-type soft shell. As opposed to the boots, earlier, this should be a snug fit, so that when zipped up, it really does give you warmth. It’s sleeveless, because it doesn’t restrict movement and you can always allow for this by bringing along a long-sleeved t-shirt or sports jersey. Personally, I never feel the cold on my arms, so this one is perfect.
6. Waterproof Jacket – Not quite as critical as the boots, but good to have. Getting wet on the chest and back is not as bad as in the feet, in my opinion. Anyway, I have a good 100% nylon outer, 100% polyester inner mesh (membrane) from O’Neill’s. It’s no Berghaus, The North Face or Regatta, but it’s good enough for me.
7. Hats and Gloves – Woolly hats are best for warmth, but they do get wet. Gloves should be able to keep a reasonable amount of water out, but they won’t manage that forever either. I always bring the woolly hat, but don’t bother with gloves unless it’s deep winter and I’m going above, say, 400 m.
In most conditions, I actually prefer a baseball cap. But I never go without a woolly in the rucksack.
8. Rucksack – Mine is a Eurohike, which I think is a brand of Millets outdoor shops, but I can’t find a website for that, so apologies. Anyway, the one I have is a Weekender 35 litre and its most important feature is the rain guard that you can pull over it if the weather gets wet. My advice : start your walk with a half empty rucksack, so it has space to take the layers, as you peel them off.
Your comments are welcome.