Are there special rules of hiking? One of the aims of this blog is to help to try to educate people that hiking, and hill walking are something that everyone can do. Even with the most basic levels of fitness, there are beautiful walks out there that are accessible, achievable and most importantly enjoyable.
My message to people is that you don’t have to be the Bear Grylls type of person if you want to get outside into the countryside and enjoy nature. There’s a walk to suit everyone. Plus, the great thing is, as you get fitter and more comfortable hiking, there are hundreds more walks and hikes that you can progress to.
Still, a nervousness remains around hiking newbies and one of the frequently asked questions I get is around whether there are any particular rules of hiking that need to be followed. As such, I’ve set out the below list of what I believe is good hiking etiquette. It’s not exhaustive but it is a set of principles I try to stick to when I’m out on a trail.
1. Leave no trace
This is rule number one and it is so important. The world around us is so beautiful so let’s all do our best to keep it that way. The simplest way to do this while hiking is that you just leave no trace that you have been there. Leave everything as it was so the next person can get the full enjoyment of the area.
The Leave No Trace Ireland website expands further on the principles involved here and is well worth a visit.
2. Stay on the trail
If there is a path or trail along your route, then you should use it. Going off the trail can damage vegetation or plant species which can harm the local ecosystems and biodiversity. You will notice that there have been a lot of bog bridges (raised walking platforms for hikers) installed on well-travelled walking routes over recent years. One of the aims if these bog bridges is to preserve the vegetation underneath.
3. Stop for a pint!
Many walking and hiking routes in Ireland skirt or even go through towns and villages. You’re doing this to enjoy yourself. Don’t feel bad about stopping in along the way for some refreshments! There are plenty of interesting characters to be met. Both locals and fellow walkers. It’s also a welcome boost to the local economies.
4. Follow the signs
The easiest way to not get lost is to follow the signs when you were walking on a waymarked trail. These signs will generally be located at any junction/situation where it is not totally clear where the trail goes. In addition, national waymarked trails have a rule that they will also have a sign approximately every 500m. This is to give you some comfort that you are going in the right direction.
5. Respect wildlife
You are the one entering these animals’ homes. So be respectful. Give them their space and try not to disturb them. This applies to farm animals also!
6. Be extra cautious around water and heights
These are the places where accidents are more likely to happen. So just take an extra moment or two to make sure everything is safe. Which it will be as long as you don’t take any unnecessary risks.
7. Be Friendly and respectful of others
Just be sound. A nod or a quick hello to other hikers is always appreciated. Sometimes they will want to stop for a chat. It’s easy to get that vibe off people if they do. If you want to chat, then do. If not, just give a smile and keep on your way.
8. Be prepared – Packing
Make a list. Check it twice. Here is an example of a good packing I made when I completed the Wicklow Way.
Dress for what the weather is forecast to be. Also, remember, this is Ireland so have waterproofs, woolly hats, gloves, sun screen with you too!
9. Be prepared – Research
You won’t know what to pack unless you know what to expect on your hike. Do your research. Know what your route is and how long you expect it should take.
Find out if you need to bring a map? What is the weather expected to be like? What are the best places to stop for lunch? Are there any highlights to keep an eye out for? What amenities are along the way?
Blogs (like this one!!) are a good resource for this kind of prep as they let you visualise what the hike will be like before you go,
10. Let people know your plans
Don’t go off into the wilderness without first letting a loved one know what your plans are.
Bring plenty of water with you. It can be a drag to carry it around but staying hydrated is one of the most vital things you need to do (this can be taken as a general life rule and well as a hiking rule). Definitely one of my golden rules of hiking.
12. Be careful when hiking alone
I really enjoy hiking by myself. I find it’s a wonderful opportunity to practice mindfulness and for a bit of self-reflection. If this appeals to you too, that’s great. You just need to be a little more careful as you don’t have anyone else with you as back up if something goes wrong.
13. Know your limitations
How far you hike, how steep you ascend, how long you take…it’s all up to you. Just keep your own personal fitness levels in mind when deciding what trail to tackle. If unsure, I find its best to start small and build your way up to longer and tougher hikes.
If you’re tired while out walking. Stop and take a rest.
14. Wear Sunscreen
Baz Luhrmann wasn’t messing around. Sunscreen is important. Yes, even in Ireland. You will potentially be out in the sunshine for many hours. So, sunscreen is needed.
15. Have a good breakfast
The most important meal of the day and will be a major boost to set you up for the day. Porridge or other slow energy release food sources are ideal.
16. Insect Repellent
This is more a tip than a rule. However, there is nothing that will ruin a good hike more than if you are being eaten alive by midges. These guys are especially prevalent in damp areas on calm summer/autumn evenings. Have the insect repellent with you just in case.
17. Footwear is important
Another hugely important item is having the correct footwear. If you’re walking long distances, it is going to be tough on your feet. Look after them by having the right type of shoes on. I have a post on Irish based hiking stores who would all be more than happy to help on this front. A good pair of boots will last you for years (I have my pair since 2013) and will well worth whatever you invest in them initially.
Also, it’s no good having the proper boots without good socks under them. Get some proper hiking socks and make sure and wear them.
19. Start Early
Another tip more than one of the rules of hiking. The best time to take in nature is either sunrise or sunset. It looks prettier and you are more likely to see animals out and about at dawn and dusk.
I find dawn is best because if you are out in the wilds at sunset then there’s a good chance you won’t be home before dark. Which is not good!
19. When to move aside
Sometimes walking trails in Ireland’s countryside can become crowded. On narrow trails, there may sometimes be walkers behind you who are moving at a faster pace. It is good manners to stand aside and let them pass.
Also, hikers moving downhill should generally move aside if they meet others going uphill.
The above are a list of examples of hiking etiquette and rules of hiking. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be breaking any laws when you’re out and about either (e.g. trespassing on private property, illegal fishing or hunting, follow stated rules about keeping dogs on leash etc.).
Finally, the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. Have a great time. Have adventures. Make memories. Sooth your soul.