Winter Hiking Ultimate Guide
- Gear advice
- Tuesday 15th November, 2022
- By mrmattmcc
As we transition into the colder and darker months, the gear in our backpacks is changing too. With that, here is our ultimate winter hiking guide for Ireland to make sure you have all that you need for a full day of hiking.
This guide is based on a 6-hour hike in 3-10C with a chance of rain
If you would like to watch our video about Winter Hiking Essentials you can watch it on our YouTube channel! Just click below to watch!
The specifics of footwear will of course change depending on your hike. Suffice to say that a good pair of appropriate footwear is essential for adventures all year round but specifically important in winter! For open mountain hikes we prefer a mountain boot such as the Meindl Vakkum or the Salewa MTN trainer, these boots provide good protection for your feet while also proving you with the support and grip that you need on wet muddy terrain.
In the same vein, a good pair of hiking socks will prevent a lot of avoidable issues in the hills. Say bye to blisters! We have been experimenting with a few different types of socks over the past few winters and we have found that our favourite pair is either the Smartwool Phd range or the Bridgedale hiking range for general day-to-day hikes. We have also been experimenting recently with Dexshell waterproof socks and have been pleasantly surprised. Having an extra layer of protection for your feet on really wet days (which we are likely to experience in winter!) is very useful.
Merino or synthetic, it’s up to you! Having a good, wicking, comfortable base layer is of critical importance when the temperature begins to drop. You may think that what will keep you warm is the thick jacket but in most cases, the item that is against your skin will make a larger impact on your core temperature.
It should really go without saying! However, we will say it. Having a set of waterproofs, top and bottom, is vital for all outdoor activities in winter in Ireland. Even if it says it won’t rain on your weather app of choice! Historically GoreTex has been the only choice for hillwalkers, however, in recent years other options have become better and better. Nowadays, we find ourselves wearing Helly Hansen Odin jackets more and more, especially this year as the face fabric on Helly Hanse jackets is now more like a softshell.
Mid Layer – Fleece / Softshell
As the name suggests a mid-layer is designed to be your middle layer. However, this is probably going to be your outer layer for most of the hike. Depending on conditions this layer could be a lightweight fleece or a softshell, for breezy conditions we opt for a softshell jacket as this will be windproof and will also provide us with some light water repellency while remaining nice and breathable for the more difficult climbs on the hike.
One of the most important items to get right in your winter hiking kit is your insulation layer. The optimal layer to choose for these conditions will depend on how much you feel the cold. For nearly all winter hikes we find that the Rab Microlight is perfect. Nice and lightweight, easy to pack away but packing a good insulation punch for a micro baffle down jacket. When the temps are a bit cooler or if you are spotting often for food, photos or breaks we opt for something like the Labyrinth Loop or the Superflux. These are great “midweight” jackets that are great for sitting around at camp or winter hiking in deep winter conditions. For really cold nights or mornings, we go for the Lightline or maybe even the Rab Electron. Often these jackets stay in the cupboard and only come out to play if we are traveling to colder climates or snow hunting in deep winter, but they are great to have as you’ll stay toasty in them no matter how cold it gets in Ireland (given that the coldest you would be likely to experience in Ireland is -10C)
Hat & Gloves
While you may not lose 80% of your warmth through your head as used to be understood, having a fleece or wool beanie will keep you noticeably warmer when the temperature really drops.
Few things have the ability to ruin an outdoor experience as easily as cold hands. Having a pair of gloves with you will help rectify this issue and keep you from wanting to go home early!
We have found that a cold neck often results in a cold core. A buff or other similar neck gaiter is a great multi-purpose item to have. Keep your neck warm, cover any exposed skin on your face, or use it as extra insulation on your head!
Having a good backpack to store everything is perhaps one of the most important items of kit for winter hiking. We recommend a day hike bag with 20 to 30 L capacity for winter hiking in Ireland
Dry bags are a great way of organizing your gear as well as making sure that things that need to stay dry. We have a range of different sizes for you to choose from to organize your gear!
Many backpacks come with built-in rain covers. If your bag does not have one it may be worthwhile investing in one
Hydration & Nutrition
Waterbottle / Hydration Reservoir
A water bottle or hydration reservoir is essential. Either is great depending on the distance of your hike, how much water you normally consume, and your personal preference. For long solo hikes, we prefer a water reservoir as they are easy to sip on as you hike. However, when hiking in a group we generally opt for Nalgene bottles as we can ask a fellow hiker to get them from the side pockets for us.
Chlorine Tabs or a filter
If you bring less than 2L for the 6-hour hike a purification or filtration solution may be required. Double-check ahead of time if you will be passing a water source such as a river before you decide how much water to carry as having enough water is very important for our bodies while hiking.
Lunch & Snacks
Make sure that you have more than enough food to complete the hike you intended to do. We would advise carrying a sandwich, some fruit as well as some trail mix for a hike of this length, perhaps factor in a pub stop either during or afterward to ensure you get a good feed!
Some would consider this a bit of a luxury piece of kit. However, we would say that this is essential, depending on the time of day you head out you could have tea or coffee in your flask to have on the trail. This will keep you warm! Well worth bringing on very cold winter hikes.
First Aid Kit
A well-supplied first aid kit paired with the knowledge of what it contains and how to use each item can come in very handy for yourself or for others you may encounter on the hills. We hope that you never need a first-aid kit but its definitely good to have one!
Space Blanket / SOL bivi
Many first aid kits will come with a space blanket included. Having a space blanket or even better a shelter bag when out in the hills is a great idea. Much like the first aid kit, you may never have to actually use it, however if you do ever need it you will be very glad you kept it in your bag!
Map & Compass
Having a map and compass and knowing how to use them can prove very useful if you take a wrong turn or are unfamiliar with your route. We always advise planning ahead and being familiar with the route you intend on taking. Do not rely completely on waymarker signs as they can be overgrown, missing or damaged. It is also extremely easy to miss a waymarker sign if you are deep in conversation as often occurs while out winter hiking.
We list this as a secondary navigation option as one should not rely on GPS alone for navigation. A GPS-enabled device is a brilliant backup for navigation. We like the Garmin Fenix line of watches as they come with a large range of topographical maps pre-loaded onto them. They also come with a few features that we would consider last-resort navigation tools such as BacktoStart and TracBack that will both guide you back to where to began your activity. You can also search for nearby settlements, fuel, shops, and much more and then navigate there.
As if we need to include this on a list for any activity. We would generally advise having your phone with you but out of immediate reach when you are out on a hike. Disconnect a bit and allow yourself to have some screen-off time! However, we would also advise that you “set up” your phone correctly for outdoor use. Make sure you have an emergency contacts number easily accessible, make sure you have the relevant mountain rescue or emergency services number saved to your phone. Make sure your phone is fully charged. Keep your phone well insulated (we advise keeping it in an internal pocket of a mid layer or in your backpack) as cold exposure will drain the battery of your phone.
This a continuation of our previous point! Make sure you have a battery pack and cable for your phone with you! In the unlikely scenario where you need to use your phone to contact an emergency service you will be asked to stay on the line, making sure your phone does not run out of battery is imperative. It is also nice to be able to keep taking photos even if you are low on battery, if that is your thing!
We see far too many people relying on their phone torches for light once the sun sets in the evening. There are a few issues with this and reasons you should have a head torch. The torch function is an absolute battery drain on phones. Using a phone torch means you are no longer hands-free. Phone torches are significantly dimmer than even the lowest-end headtorch. For winter hiking we advise using a torch with a minimum of 200 lumens and a minimum battery life of 5 hours. Nearly all of our head torches meet these criteria. We have even done a video review of some of our favourites! Click here to watch!
It can be good to have analog alternatives from time to time! We would advise having at least €50 cash on you in a waterproof bag when you are out hiking. Whether you need a taxi fare or a cup of coffee in a cash-only country café it is a useful thing to have!
With the right gear, there is no reason why hiking should be a fair-weather activity!
If you would like a video walkthrough of what we take out in the hills for a winter hike check out our video here.
Do you have any questions about winter hiking equipment feel free to reach out to us on social media or pop into our store on South Great George’s Street.