Gear and Equipment Advice for Glenwalk Members

by Hugon


When you walk with a group of people or a hillwalking club, you have a responsibility to the entire group to be properly equipped. Having the correct gear will also make your walking experience more enjoyable. However, in addition to that there is a safety issue, as incorrectly equipped walkers can lead to accidents, hypothermia etc. Walkers who are not properly attired also put unnecessary stress on the leader who has responsibility for the group. Glenwalk Leaders are instructed to refuse to allow on their walk members who are ill-equipped.

In this article we have split the gear and equipment list into 2 parts. Part 1 deals with equipment that all walkers must have right from the beginning. The 2nd part lists equipment that, while not vital, will make your overall experience of walking more enjoyable and safer. You can end up spending a lot of money buying cheap equipment only to replace it a short while later because it is not fit for purpose. So read on and discover what 30 years of hillwalking experience says about gear and equipment.


List 1 includes items that you must have with you on all walks, in all seasons and conditions.

Footwear: you should only wear dedicated hillwalking boots on the hills.  Hill walking boots are waterproof boots that lace above the ankles, and have a vibram-type sole for grip.  See photo below.  The ankle support prevents ankles being twisted on rough ground, while the vibram-type sole provides a good grip on slippy, muddy ground (which there is a lot of in Wicklow!).  Runners are not suitable as they do not provide the right type of sole or ankle support. It is also important that the boots be the correct size to avoid blistering.

Gore-Tex boots tend to be lighter and more breathable, good for summer, however they can get a bit wet in rain, this is where gaiters come in handy. Leather boots are tougher and more waterproof and better for snow and winter conditions. Leather boots should be regularly cleaned and waxed, always dry them naturally e.g. in a warm room and never in direct sunlight. NB when buying boots remember “snug is bad”, i.e. make sure there is a bit of expansion in the boot, as feet tend to swell slightly as they heat up. Always try on your boots with a thick pair of socks, so bring a pair along or buy a new pair. Some shops allow you take the boots home and wear them around the house (not outside) and if you find they don’t fit they allow you to return them, remember to keep the box. Many outdoor shops now use boot ratings. You would be looking for B0 (three season boots) or B1 (4 season and take crampons). Take your time when making your purchase.


Waterproof jacket: a waterproof jacket is a must in Irish conditions, preferably Gore-Tex. You should look for a jacket that, when zipped up, will completely cover your mouth (very useful in driving rain, hailstones, etc). One of the big mistakes that new walkers make is buying jackets with a lining. Proper hillwalking jackets are what is known as a “shell” i.e. they have no lining. The reason for this is that lined jackets cause you to overheat quickly especially when climbing, they are also usually less waterproof. On the mountains you achieve warmth by “layering up”, i.e. putting on several thin layers is better than one thick layer. The outer pockets of the hillwalking jacket should be up high, i.e breast pockets. The reason for this is that low pockets get in the way of the rucksack waist strap. Make sure that the attached hood comes down well over the head and face and can be tightened so that it does not blow off in wind.


Waterproof leggings

Once again many novice walkers make the mistake of buying leggings that have a lining. These will cause you to overheat quickly. Similar to the waterproof jacket you should buy waterproof leggings that are simply an outer “shell”. Buy leggings that have legs zips which go all the way up to your hip. People often make the mistake of buying cheaper leggings with shorter zips. It is very difficult to put on such leggings over your boots and removing boots during a walk is not a good option. And remember waterproof leggings go on over your gaiters.



There are thousands of types of fleeces out there. The only recommendations we would make is ensure that the front zip goes all the way from top to bottom. Pockets with zips are also very handy so that you don’t lose things on the walk. Apart from that be aware that some fleeces are very light and would not be suitable for winter conditions. Fleeces with lining are also much hotter than normal fleeces, which is not necessarily a good thing when ascending.


Base layers

Under your fleece you should wear two base layers (which can be put on or removed as required). These are usually breathable base layers (one long sleeved and one short sleeved). The advantage to breathable over cotton is that they are lighter and don’t overheat as easily and they don’t get as wet from perspiration. They also dry out better.


Layering up

Most experienced walkers “layer up”. This would involve wearing a breathable T-shirt, a breathable long sleeved shirt, a fleece and a jacket. These are then removed or put on as required. Some walkers also carry a spare thinner fleece with long sleeves in their stuff sack inside the rucksack (more about stuff sacks later).



There are two main types of hat. There are dedicated hillwalking hats that are windproof and cover the ears as well as having a small visor. Then there are the rest, such as woolly hats which have the disadvantage of being neither waterproof nor windproof. Woolly hats are grand for cold days with little wind or rain, but not much not much good in wet, windy conditions.



We would advise mittens with removable fingers which allow you to eg. adjust something on your rucksack without removing your gloves completely. These can be hard to find in Irish outdoor shops and we would recommend going online. The big problem with gloves is what to do when they get wet. Some people have a second pair however these will probably also get wet. The best option is to buy waterproof over-mittens. So, when it rains you put on the over-mittens to protect your gloves (see item on over-mittens below). It is always advisable however to have a second pair of gloves in your bag.


Hillwalking trousers

Dedicated hillwalking trousers are highly recommended for the Irish hills and remember no denims or cords should ever be worn. Proper hillwalking trousers are light (you put on your waterproof trousers if it gets cold), have many pockets with zips and have removable legs for the summertime. They also have a belt which can be quite useful when wearing a rucksack.



The best type of rucksack to use is one which has a space between the rucksack and your back, as shown in the photo below.  The advantage is that when you get hot and sweaty your rucksack will not stick to your back! We also suggest a rucksack that has a chest strap as well as a waist strap. A waist strap with pockets in it also allows quick access to small items you might need such as a compass.  Learn how to place the rucksack properly on your back for maximum comfort. By the way rucksacks are not waterproof so your new rucksack should come with a rain cover. Most leaders also carry a “stuff sack” (which is waterproof) inside their rucksack.



It is club policy that all walkers have a whistle attached to one of the straps on the outside of their rucksack, where it is easily accessible. The louder the better!



You should always carry a torch with spare batteries, or even a spare torch. One of the handiest brands is “Petzl” which can be worn as a head torch.


List 2: The following items are recommended, but not required, however you  should gradually acquire them as your hillwalking career progresses.



Gaiters go over your trousers but under your waterproof leggings. They help to keep your boots dry especially in rain and when crossing small streams. Buy full-length gaiters to start with. Some people buy shorter gaiters for the summertime.


Walking sticks

There are 2 main types: ones that you adjust by twisting them and ones that adjust with a clip. It is our strong advice to buy the ones that have clips, as they are much quicker and easier to adjust and less prone to breaking or malfunctioning. Some sticks have a combination of both we don’t recommend these. Sticks with clip adjustors may be more expensive but will last much longer. Learn how to use your walking sticks properly, i.e. shorten them for uphill, lengthen them for downhill.



We recommend a platypus rather than a water bottle for drinking, because with a platypus there is no necessity to remove your rucksack to take a drink, this takes time and slows down the group.


Waterproof mittens

In heavy rain your gloves will soon become wet, this in turn makes your hands cold. Some people have a 2nd pair of gloves that they put on but these in turn will become wet. One solution is to buy a pair of waterproof mittens which are worn over your normal gloves to keep them dry. Once again the best type is of the “shell” variety which don’t have a lining.



In driving rain or hailstones a scarf or balaclava protects your face.


Suntan lotion

Even on cloudy days you can get “sunburn”. You should always carry a small bottle of suntan lotion with you.


Sun glasses

Invest in a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes.


Emergency bivvy bag/group shelter

All leaders carry an emergency bivvy bag or group shelter when leading. It is a good idea to invest in one especially for walking outside the club.


Waterproof stuff sack

Most people don’t realise that rucksacks are not waterproof. This is why all good rucksacks, such as the one mentioned above, come equipped with rain covers. In addition some walkers/leaders put their “dry” year into a stuff sack and then inside their rucksack.


Ski goggles

In winter we can sometimes get blizzard conditions on the mountains. Some of the more experienced hillwalkers in the club wear ski goggles. Note that you can also get extra large ski goggles to go over your prescription glasses. Ski goggles also have tinted visors to protect your eyes in snow conditions.



Bring along some Compeed in case of blisters. Note that the best size of Compeed to buy is the larger ones, as these cover most situations and can be cut to size. You should only apply Compeed before a blister has developed.


Further suggestions:

  • Do the club Mapreading and Mountain Skills course (once yearly)
  • Attend a club Equipment and Safety talk (check club newsletter, website, emails)
  • Do a club GPS/ViewRanger course. (check club newsletter, website, emails)

Choosing The Right Rucksack

If you’re new to hillwalking you may find that your trusty backpack no longer works for those long days on the hills. You may have found there’s not enough space, or you don’t have time to take off your pack to rummage for what you need. You do want to be able to carry the supplies you’ve now discovered are essential to surviving out on the hills in all the weathers the Irish climate throws at us.   But you want to be able to access what you need easily. Oh, and it should be able to survive the rigours of the more adventurous treks led by those leaders on a mission!   Not to mention, it needs to weigh like …nothing! Otherwise, how will you make it to the end of the day without falling down and staying down, moaning “I can’t take any more…just leave me here.”

Decisions Decisions

It’s worthwhile browsing a while before you buy. Most day packs have between 20 and 40 litres capacity (that’s space for your kit, to the uninitiated).   Your walk leader will probably have a pack that’s closer to 40 litres in size because she or he will be carrying lots of extra stuff that us Glenwalk sheep don’t have to think about. So that’s a guideline.

After size, the next aspect to think about is the frame. It’s worthwhile spending a little extra to get a frame that’s specifically designed for your gender. Then your load will be distributed appropriately for your build. Thus avoiding some of the common back problems associated with bad posture. A woman’s rucksack, for example, will have the shoulder straps closer together for the narrower female frame. In most of the good camping stores the sales staff will get you to put on your chosen pack so they can adjust it to fit your particular body size. A mesh frame will also aid ventilation thus avoiding the discomfort of moisture build up.

Comfort Rules

Check that straps are padded where they meet shoulders and hips, making them a more comfortable option for long hikes. Check the fastening systems on the pack. The zippers should be beefier with larger teeth as these will last longer. Drawstring closures at the top of the pack are commonly used and replaceable if they break. Avoid buckles that are specialised to the brand and/or stitched directly into the pack fabric. They will be difficult to replace. A sternum strap will help distribute the weight of the pack. Some of these incorporate a whistle which can be very useful for hands free access in a life threatening situation.

External pockets should be scrutinised carefully. They can be really handy for items that you may need to access quickly, but size is important. Large and deep side pockets are very useful. (No point in having a lovely side pocket that only fits a compass or a protein bar.) Some brands have extra pockets in the waist strap. A top loading lid pocket can be used for items you don’t want to get lost in the main pack….like your lunch!

Inside clips in zipped pockets for holding items that are small (like car keys) are becoming more common.

Anything Else?

Look for sturdy closure straps. Tightening these can help compress the contents of your pack. Side straps are useful for tying items like walking poles to your pack when they’re not in use.

Some packs feature a rain cover.  Personally, I find it a nuisance to have to unpack it, and in high winds it turns the pack into a sail!  Much easier to pack your spare clothing, and anything else you want to keep dry, into a plastic bag (or stuff sack) inside your pack.


A rucksack featuring an internal pocket for a plastic water bladder (hydration system – Platypus) is essential for long hikes. The obvious benefit not having to break your stride in order to get a drink of water.

We all want to keep our rucksacks light but we have to remember that hillwalking needs a lot more careful planning with the attendant extra layers of clothes, extra food and hot drinks that involves.

Be safe out there, and

Happy Hillwalking


What is Hypothermia and Why Should We Care?

Hypothermia occurs when the core temperature of the body falls below 35°C. This can happen during a day out in the mountains if you’re not properly dressed/equipped.

There are several sub types of hypothermia, in the mountains the main type you might come across is Exposure Hypothermia. This generally occurs over several hours following exposure to moderate cold. The casualty becomes exhausted and then cools rapidly as their energy reserves are depleted and they are no longer able to shiver to re-warm themselves.

Another type to occur in the mountains is Immersion Hypothermia. This occurs where the casualty has had a sudden immersion in cold water or snow, the cold rapidly overwhelms heat production. Although rarer in the mountains, it can happen if someone falls in an icy stream.

Main Causes and factors

Hypothermia can be caused by several factors, hypothermia occurs when the body’s heat loss exceeds heat generation.

Weather – wind and rain decrease the body’s temperature more rapidly due to wind-chill. This means even on a relatively mild day, people can still succumb to hypothermia if it is windy and raining. The colder the air temperature, the higher is the risk.

Clothing/equipment – A lack of suitable waterproof clothing will lead to clothing layers getting wet, which will increase heat loss considerably. Waterproof jacket and trousers as well as at least two decent insulating layers such as a fleece or synthetic belay type jacket are important in trapping heat and cutting out wind-chill. The body can lose substancial amounts of heat through the head, so a hat is a must.

Dehydration and lack of food – The body needs food and drink in order to metabolise effectively and efficiently. The energy released by our metabolism heats our body, if our fuel reserves are depleted then we cannot produce the heat we need to stay warm.

 Ill health – People who are ill may be less able to metabolise and generate heat, and so are more likely to chill quickly.


There are several ways of classifying hypothermia. Perhaps the easiest is to think of hypothermia in terms of mild, moderate and severe. However, it must be noted that different people exhibit different signs before others, and not all the signs and symptoms may be present in everyone.

Mild Hypothermia

At this stage the body still has resources of its own to try to fight the effects of the cold, shivering will occur which is a voluntary response of the body to re-warm itself. Asking the casualty to stop shivering is a good test, if they can then the hypothermia is mild.

Mild hypothermia can be treated quite easily. Stop, find shelter, put more layers on and get high energy foods and warm drinks into the casualty. The food needs to be high energy e.g. a Mars Bar or glucose gels to help fuel the body’s production of heat. The casualty should then be able to walk off the mountain without any extra help from the emergency services.

Moderate Hypothermia

If, on asking, the casualty cannot stop shivering, they are in the realms of moderate hypothermia. By now the body’s energy resources are depleted and it has no way of reheating. The brain itself is affected and people act out of character with the ‘Umbles’. Speech may become Mumbles, they Stumble or Tumble as they lose co-ordination, they may become irritable and Grumble, their ability to do small tasks such as do up their rucksack or close zips on their clothing will reduce to Fumbles.

Confusion occurs and sometimes a casualty maybe under the illusion that they are warm and start to strip clothes off. While the casualty is still conscious it may be possible to re-warm by extra layers and warm clothing. However around these temperatures, the heart is in danger of fibrillation and the casualty may collapse and become unresponsive.

Severe Hypothermia

32°C and below, the casualty is in a serious way. Their heart is now in serious danger of ventricular fibrillation, this is an abnormal heart rhythm where the heart muscles contract in an uncoordinated manner out of rhythm with each other. This is life threatening and can be caused by the shock of cold blood rushing into the heart if the casualty is moved roughly.

The severely hypothermic casualty now has a cooled brain and so their usual functions will disappear. It may be difficult to detect signs of life as the muscles become more rigid and so pulses may not be found. The body falls into a dormant like state and breathing may be so shallow and slow that this too may be undetectable, the casualty’s eyes may not react to light and may be dilated.

Prevention of hypothermia

Check the weather forecast and make sure that you are adequately equipped for the conditions. Even if the forecast is good, conditions can change rapidly in the mountains and the weather forecast may not be accurate.

Make sure you have adequate clothing; both waterproof trousers and jacket, warm layers and hats and gloves, (several pairs).

Take plenty of high energy food and preferably a hot drink.

Plan an appropriate route for the conditions and make sure that you can navigate using a map and compass so that you do not become lost and stuck in poor weather conditions.

A summary of symptoms, signs and treatment of hypothermia:

Mild Symptoms

  • Shivering, cold, pale skin
  • Paleness/blueness of lips and extremities
  • Fast breathing
  • Lethargy

Mild Treatment

  • STOP! Seek shelter
  • Extra layers
  • Food & hot drinks (although often it is said that caffeine should be avoided because it is a diuretic, if it is the only hot drink available then it will still help the casualty)

 Moderate Symptoms

  • Uncontrollable and violent shivering
  • Pale, cold skin
  • Blue lips
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of co-ordination
  • Stumbling
  • Confusion
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Fumbling of easy tasks
  • Irrational behaviour (e.g. stripping off clothes)

Moderate Treatment

  • As for mild hypothermia
  • Monitor carefully
  • If the casualty stops shivering, check that they really have warmed up before deciding to walk off, i.e. are they looking warmer, do they feel warmer to touch? Is their skin pinker? Are they back to their usual character? (Because casualties also stop shivering in severe hypothermia).

Severe Symptoms

  • Shivering ceases
  • Cold, pale skin
  • Blue lips
  • Dilated pupils and not reacting to light
  • Unconscious and unresponsive
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Breathing and pulse may be undetectable

Severe Treatment

  • 999!!!
  • Move as little and gently as possible
  • Insulate from ground and air with as many layers as possible (but do not make big movements of the casualty)
  • Glucose gels smeared on the gums might possibly help, however, do not try to force feed an unresponsive casualty!
  • Shelter
  • Do not do CPR (you may not be able to detect the pulse and breathing although it may be present) N.B. a casualty is never cold and dead, only warm and dead
  • Protect the airway; Safe Airway Position


Ticks – A note from the environment desk

Ticks are a comparatively recent threat to our hillwalking enjoyment. Why?  Because some of them cause Lyme Disease.  While it’s not a common infection, it’s a very serious one and, undiagnosed, it can cause serious health problems for sufferers, including joint inflammation, numbness and temporary paralysis.  In the latter stages of the disease it can cause, amongst others, memory impairment and personality changes.

While this may explain some of your more bizarre behaviours, it is still wise to take some simple precautions and be vigilant.  After all, ticks, like unpleasant people, can make a nuisance of themselves in crowded woodland and heathland areas.

Covering up and wearing light coloured clothing is the best defense. After a hike, check around your neck and hair line, behind ears, waist line, groin and behind knees too.

What do they look like?  Have a browse here:

Be safe out there!

Happy Hillwalking

Your faithful Environment Officer Madeleine