5 of Ireland’s most awesome looped hikes – All within easy reach of Dublin

Looped hikes are the best option for a satisfying and exhilarating day’s hiking.  The reasons are as simple as they are logical.  You have the joy of ending up where you started. Not having to turn back and retrace your steps to the starting point gives you a huge boost psychologically.  Turning around to retrace your steps can induce a drudge like feeling. The end, the goal or the summit is the actual end of the hike. Phew!  It’s also good to keep the views fresh and the road new as you wander through our wonderful green and pleasant land.  On the practical side, there is no need to park a second car at the finishing place or ask a kind friend to be your taxi back to your own transport when the walk is looped.   Looped walks are awesome.  Even better if they can be accessed from the Capital city for that day trip to nature. A day of trekking and home for tea!

We have picked out 5 of the very best, stress free, minimum hassle, maximum pleasure, looped hikes, within easy reach of Dublin City for your enjoyment.

Wicklow

The garden of Ireland is always a first choice for those city dwellers who feel the call for solitude, beauty and incredible unspoilt nature. We have included two of the many looped hikes in Wicklow.  The first is a little shorter at an hour and a half hiking and the second presents more of a challenge. 

Ballineddan Mountain lies on the edge of the Wicklow Mountains and boasts wonderful views of the inland plains of Wicklow, including Lugnaquilla, Camarahill and Slievemann.   It’s a moderately tough trek, so it’s important to dress appropriately and bring wet gear.  The guide books warn of a steep ascent, partly on untracked heather and grass, which leads to the mountain summit.  Other than this it’s a fairly easy climb for the experienced hiker.  The broad, bare, grassy summit offers little shelter on wild and windy days but on a fine day it is a great walk.   The views at the top are definitely worth the effort and the descent is gloriously looped to bring you back to your starting point.  The whole trek is less than 5km from start to finish.   Find the route here:

Maulin Mountain Loop near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow is a tough 3-hour hike more suitable for the more experienced hillwalker.   It consists mainly of forest track and gravel path and provides a challenging route across the slopes of Maulin Mountain, with magnificent views into Glencree and overlooking the adjacent mountains and valleys.  At one juncture there is an incredible view of Powerscourt Waterfall and the Great Sugar Loaf. Instagram heaven.  In the distance Dublin Bay and the sprawling city are clearly visible.   A 6km trail with a 350 m climb, this looped track is not a regular Sunday stroll.  Just a short drive from the Big Smoke and set in the stunning Wicklow Mountains, it is definitely one for the looped walk wish list.  See the route here   

Offaly

An hour and a half drive from Dublin to the beautiful Sliabh Bloom Mountains, near the village of Kinatty in Co Offaly, the Glenafelly Eco Walk is a moderate trail with plenty of flora and fauna and bubbling streams to delight.  It’s a food choice for family outings as it provides plenty of diverse nature and not too much in the way of difficult terrain. The walk begins with scenic forest roads and a hiking trail by the river bank and continues with a short climb through mature conifers before leading to a gravel forest road.  Lucky trekkers might see fallow deer, pine martens, badgers or foxes on this unspoilt wilderness trail.  The Eco walk takes about 2 hrs at a constant walking pace.   Full Route can be viewed:

Louth

The Cooley Peninsular has breathtakingly awesome views and great looped walks that are easily accessible from the capital city. Less than an hour and a half drive from Dublin, the little port of Carlingford is a starting point for most of these trails.  We recommend the Slieve Foye looped hike, which offers incredible views over Carlingford Lough including the epic mountains of Mourne, sweeping down to the sea, on the other side of the bay.  This is a tough 3-hour hike and is reviewed here  with an excellent map and a great write up.

 “Slieve Foye isn’t a mountain to be frightened of, but it’s one to respect — even at the modest height of 589m, you want decent weather and an absence of low cloud to make your way safely among its rocky outcrops…  What a mind-melter of a view, from the majestic Mournes to the far-off Wicklow Hills down in the south, the Ring of Gullion out west and the sail-dotted waters of Carlingford Lough and Dundalk Bay in the east.”

This article will have you packing the rucksack and heading north at the next available opportunity.

Dublin

Ticknock – Fairy Castle Loop.   Literally on the doorstep! No need to travel far to enjoy some good mountain trekking.  The proximity to the growing Dublin population does mean that you will probably share the trail with like-minded city dwellers escaping for an hour or two.   This is a small price to pay for the convenience and enjoyment of Ticknock and the Fairy Castle Loop.  A scenic looped walk on forest road and path through the Three Rock Wood and upwards to reveal amazing views of the city from Three Rock Mountain and Fairy Castle.  At the top, there is a 360 degree panoramic view with the city to the north and the Wicklow Mountains to the south.  From Fairy Castle a muddy track heads west before you turn north and descend along the edge of the forest and back to the car. It is rough enough terrain so very much geared towards properly equipped and experienced walkers.   Good stout hiking boots and wet gear are needed.   Just an hour and a half of moderate hiking is all it takes to complete this loop.  

References:

https://outsider.ie/ireland/looped-walks-ireland/
https://www.irishtrails.ie/trail/Ticknock—Fairy-Castle-Loop/431/
http://www.walkingroutes.ie/

Baby carriers for hiking

And Baby came too…

So, your life now includes a small person too!  Congratulations! 

Hiking can be just as much fun as when you were one.  As you cope with the many positive changes that this new arrival brings to you (like a new found appreciation for sleep or a meal eaten with two free hands) you can also consider your new life on the trail together.  Baby comes too! A comfortable and practical baby-carrier is the best way to bring baby with you, without fuss or bother.

Baby wearing

Carrying your baby close to you is a natural, practical and beautiful thing to do –According to the website www.babywearingireland.ie , carrying your baby in a sling offers a wealth of health benefits for both the baby and the person carrying them. It is as natural as it is practical. There are many different ways to carry your baby.  Age, weight and where you plan to travel have some influence over what you choose.  The baby wearing Ireland site not only allows you to browse a selection of stylish and comfortable baby-carriers to suit every shape and size, it also gives a link to the sling library, where you can book a ‘loaner’ carrier and try it out for a week or two.  Baby wearers report a closeness and comfort for both baby and themselves and many confess to popping baby in a sling at home to induce sleep and restfulness in a fractious infant.

Choosing your Carrier

For your first forays into the wild when baby is still a tiny bundle, it is best to use a front wrap or fabric sling.  Take care to keep the little one protected from the elements with hats, sun-cream, blankets etc. These are inexpensive and plentiful in style.  Smaller babies can enjoy the world from the closeness of these practical wrap slings.  Once baby has reached 5-6 months old and can sit up unassisted with good head/neck control, you can think about a sturdy back carrier for those longer treks and hikes.  There are lots of back carriers to ensure that all sorts of expeditions will be safe and comfortable for both you and your child. 

Soft structured carriers are one option.  These usually have a soft cloth panel which holds the baby against the wearer’s back, along with padded shoulder straps and a padded waist belt. They fasten with clips or buckles.  The positives with a Soft Back Carrier are that the baby is very close to you, so it is suitable for very young and some wearers say it feels more stable due to the low centre of gravity.  On the downside, they do not provide the same level of sun/rain protection offered by framed packs  and are often lacking in storage options for your gear (and let’s face it, you will be needing extra gear for the new adventurer).  One of the most reported difficulties with the soft fabric carriers is that they can become unbearably hot, since your bodies are close to one another, generating additional heat.

For the serious hiker and long trail trekker, a framed carrier is the best option.  At Outdoor Adventure Store, we stock the Award winning, Ranger Child Carrier as it is the lightest back carrier by British Standards on the market at just 1.7Kg.  It’s a perfect baby carrying rucksack. The Adventurer S2 child carrier is also a favourite tried and tested carrier which we like. This modernised version of the original Adventurer has updated fabrics throughout and a newly designed face pad.  Little people like the framed carrier as their face is not pressed against the back of a parent, but as they hold them high, they are free to enjoy the view just like everyone else.  They don’t suffer the same heat problems as close carriers as there is airflow between child and parent, and rain and sun accessories provide more serious protection than provided by a soft carrier.  Most importantly, baby-carriers are specifically designed for hiking so the weight distribution is ideal for wearing over a longer time.

A few tips for hiking with Baby.

Cabin fever can set in following the arrival of a wee one, especially, for those of us who are used to the wild side of life.  Hiking with your mini-me is a great way to combat those feelings and to enjoy nature and the clean fresh air together. Preparation might be a little different than your pre-baby days.  Remember to bring plenty of water and snacks! Especially if one of you is feeding the baby too.  Pack hand sanitizer, sunscreen, hat for baby, and extra baby clothes, for back packing carriers carry a small mirror for checking on baby without having to remove the carrier.  Don’t forget that baby may be at the level of small trees and guard against them getting hit by branches. Don’t be tempted to lean over while you are carrying the pack. Bend at your knees to keep your baby from falling out when you are reaching for something on the ground.

Baby steps

Becoming a parent changes many things in your life, but there is no need to forego your love of the great views, lonely trails and wilderness walks. Celebrate the great outdoors as a family.    It is probably best to gently wean yourself back into the great outdoors and not go off the beaten track for the first adventures.  Plan well and enjoy the freedom together bearing in mind that it is perfectly ok to turn around and head home at any time. Choose a comfortable and fuss free carrier and enjoy a great start to your Outdoor Adventures together.

Brighten up your world with a head torch!

Light up your life with a reliable, durable and practical head torch.

Choosing a head-torch

Running down a dark trail.  Your heart rate is pumping. You’re in the zone with legs pounding and headphones thumping as you follow the beam of light from your head torch, when suddenly, disaster strikes. The lamp goes out!

A good head torch is an essential asset for hiking, camping or running.  It’s the difference between an easy experience and a potential disaster. A good headlamp is especially needed if you enjoy sleeping under the stars and/or expeditions in deep damp caves and other dark places.   So much more practical than a hand torch, a head lamp is truly a godsend when dusk turns to an early night on your adventurous hiking trip or when camping in the wilderness.  Also, it has to be said, they are absolutely amazing if you read in bed, but your partner prefers a black out bedroom!!

For the great outdoors you need to choose a head torch that won’t leave you in the dark at a critical moment. One that is easy to wear and shines its light just as bright as you need it. 

Enjoy our short but essential guide to buying the best head torch to suit your needs.

Light Output

The light output of your torch is measured in ‘lumens’.   So, the more lumens of power, the brighter the beam. The higher the lumens, the higher the energy consumption so this needs to be taken into account when choosing your headlamp. If you need, or like, a really powerful light beam, then an extra battery pack or one of our rechargeable head torches might suit your needs. The Light output can vary on head torches and some are even smart and can tailor the output to your needs.

Beam Distance

Hiking and running need a long beam while pottering about the campsite is best suited to a short beam. After all, there is probably no need to shine a full light on tents camped a few miles away while you seek the can opener at your own fireside.  Choose an up to 50m fixed beam when running in urban partially lit streets, and an up to 150m focus if hitting the unlit trails.  Some reasonably priced headlamps offer a wide beam, which is also useful for nocturnal outdoor adventure. The Tikka head Torch offers two lighting modes that cleverly adapt the quantity of light to each situation.  Maximum brightness is 80 lumens over a distance of 50 meters, which is pretty adequate for most activities. Or upgrade to the Tikka plus, with 140-lumen, this headlamp offers both spot and flood beams, a one-touch boost for quick access to max brightness and red LEDs for night vision without eye fatigue. It also features several lighting modes suitable for long-range lighting, proximity lighting or rapid movement.

Battery Time

It’s best to make sure you have power in your torch, than lighting candles and cursing the darkness… or something like that!   For the average runner or hiker, a standard head torch will offer anything from 6 to 15 hours running time before it needs a new battery or a hook up to a power supply.  If you want long battery time, with recharging options, then choose a top of the range head torch.  Consider your options carefully before purchasing as there is little point in having excellent beam distance and massive lumens at your disposal, if the equipment is lying sad and out of power at the end of your rucksack.  If your head torch projects 10,000 lumens over 500 meters, then your battery will last a whole ten minutes!   However, that is a helluvalot of lumens and your average torch will probably beam somewhere between 60 and 750 lumens so battery life should be much more practical than this.  Our trained staff at Outdoor Adventure Store will be pleased to advise on the best choice for your needs. 

Brightness Level

All of our headlamps offer at least two lighting modes to adapt the brightness to each situation. There’s also a new breed of head torches that use a Managed Light Output. These torches use light-sensing reactive technology to monitor the incoming light and adjust brightness accordingly. The top end of this market even allows users to monitor and adapt the light output via a Bluetooth app for maximum control of output and battery management.

Keeping it Light

 Keeping it light is essential for your neck muscles!  A heavy head lamp will become uncomfortable on a long night run or as you hike long distances.  There is a head torch to meet your specific activity and it is worth considering an ultra-compact and ultra-light headlamp if a heavier light will bring you down.  

State of the Art

Among the best of the best rechargeable head torches on the market is the ACTIK CORE headlamp offering 350 lumens of power, which, combined with its mixed beam, makes it ideal for outdoor activities like mountaineering, running, hiking and backpacking. Red lighting preserves night vision and prevents blinding any other members of your group. Its reflective headband helps you to be seen when a light is shone on it, and is equipped with an emergency whistle for rescue situations.   

So, whether you are using your lamp to navigate lonely damp mountain caverns, to get an early start on the hiking trail or aid with the spring lambing, there is a head torch suited to your needs.  Weight, functionality, durability and power sources are the things you need to keep in mind and as always, Outdoor Adventure Store have a range to suit all needs and at great value too.  Lighten up with a great head torch.

5 of Ireland’s secret islands to visit in 2019

Island Hopping – Irish Style

As the dark days of January set us dreaming of new adventures to enjoy for when the snow clears, the winds die down and the light returns it is the perfect time to make plans for some Irish Island Hopping later in the year.  It is fascinating to think that this small island of Ireland has some 80 smaller islands off its coastline, just waiting to be explored. Twenty of these have people living on them all year round while other wild and unspoilt islands remain uninhabited all year long.  Many others have holiday homes to attract a seasonal population who spend the summer months avoiding mainland madness but never brave the winter winds on these secluded spots.

Most island hopping tourists chose to queue for the ferry to Ireland’s wonderful and scenic islands, ( Aranmore, the three Aran Islands and Clare Island, for example) there are others who opt for the path less travelled, or the sea less traversed,  and seek out the unusual and lesser known islands.    Dreaming of intrepid treks to some of Ireland’s remote and secret islands is the perfect antidote to the wild winds and the sideways rain.

We list just five of these special places, to whet your appetite for an upcoming Spring and Summer of island hopping, hiking and trekking to the least known of our gorgeous islands off this gorgeous big island.

Gola Island

This beautiful island is one of many off the coast of Gweedore in County Donegal. The last of its inhabitants reluctantly left in the mid-nineties, but they still maintain their houses on Gola and often spend time there in the summer months. An area of spectacular views with fantastic walks and clean beaches, Gola also provides some of the best rock climbing in a wild, remote and amazing setting.   Check out some guided rock-climbing with these amazing adventurers: uniqueascent.ie  and your ferry service is here gaothdobhair.ie. A ferry service operates during the holiday season and on request for the remainder of the year.

Inishturk

The furthest of the islands off Mayo, Turk is the lesser visited.  Most day-trippers and tourist pile on to the Clare Island Ferry, leaving Turk to the more adventurous.  Both islands are well worth a visit but the longer boat ride to Turk will reward you with empty beaches, not a whiff of a stag or hen weekend and a calm, quirky island which is a joy to hike.  Perfect for snorkelling and swimming, Inishturk has a community owned shop and pub where you can enjoy a bowl of chowder while gazing at the miraculous Mayo Galway coastline.  A birdwatcher’s delight and a great spot for families wanting an easy walking trail that is just that bit off the beaten track. There are several B&Bs open for business and the Island is Irish speaking.  Ferries are from Roonagh Pier in Mayo.

Lambay Island

Ok we agree that an island off the coast of Dublin can never offer complete seclusion and a trip away from the all of the maddening crowds.  But you will have a lesser crowd if you opt to visit this stunning isle in the Irish Sea just 4km from the north Dublin coast, near Skerries.   Four people call this island home.    The most amazing fact about Lambay, is that it is home to a happy family of wallabies.  Yes, you read that right.    Dublin Zoo ran out of space and the marsupials were brought to the island by the Barings Family. Apparently, they have adapted well to life on the island. Home also to the only grey seal colony on the East Coast.  Lambay is considered to be one of the most amazing places on the East Coast for walking trails.  It is perfect for Dubs who don’t want to go too far to have a really different experience. skerriesseatours.ie  run the ferries to the island.

Sherkin Island

Sherkin Island is only 10 minutes offshore from Baltimore in West Cork, but it is a whole world away from mainland worries and mundane life.  A beautiful place of wild natural scenery and unspoilt nature.  There are good fishing spots on the rocky headlands and if you are lucky, you might get a glimpse of seals, otters and the odd school of dolphin or porpoise. It is actually used as a base for whale watching! An easy walking trail leads around the island.  Sherkin Island Horseshoe and the best thing for walkers, is that this wee part of the world is said to attract a warmer micro climate.  Not sure if this is true, but it would be worth the boat ride to find out.  Sherkin is also famous for its magical sunsets, so it’s ideal for a perfect overnight camping experience.

Skattery Island

You don’t have to go too far to explore the magic of Skattery Island. A few kilometres off the coast of Clare and in the estuary of the Shannon River, this small uninhabited island, offers plenty to see and do.  From the monastic ruins to the amazing views it is unsurprising that Skattery has been deemed a European Destination of Excellence. Walk in the footsteps of the 6th Century monks who once lived here in solitude.  The ruins of the monastery and a modern church make the tranquil pathways an interesting and unique walk.  There is an abundance of birds and wildlife and fantastic views.  The ferry takes just 30 minutes from the mainland and tour details can be found here

Islands promote a feeling of freedom and pure escapism.   Ireland is blessed to have so many little gems of isles just begging for exploration. It seems as if you leave all your daily drudge behind and enter a place where time has stood still.   Spending time on these lesser known pathways, perched out in the sea has many benefits.  The unspoilt beauty of these remote areas abounds in nature, no litter, no crowds and while getting there can be part of the challenge, the rewards are many.

Once you board that ferry and head out to sea, watching the mainland receding into the mists and looking ahead to the new and exciting land to explore, you will become hooked on Island hopping Irish style.

So, start planning those short breaks, or long weeks spent on Ireland’s lesser known islands.

One New Year’s resolution for 2019 – Go outdoors!

Resolve to spend more time in the Great Outdoors in 2019

This is one New Year’s resolution that will surpass all others. One New Year’s resolution that will make all the others seem like redundant wishes. Here is one resolution that is achievable, fun and covers all bases.

The most popular New Year resolutions include: getting more exercise, eating healthier, sleeping better and learning new skills. Most of these good intentions dissolve into unfulfilled good intentions by the time spring time comes around.  Not this year!  The resolve to enjoy this amazing country from the top of that hill, from the water’s edge or from the gentle beauty of a wooded forests, will tick all those boxes without you even noticing!  (Too much!).

All weather walking

Your foray into the big wild adventurous world doesn’t mean taking a 20 mile trek into the wilderness Bear Gryllis style.  A gentle walk around the local lake or forest trail is enough to get the heart rate pumping and the adrenalin flowing.  It is worth noting that, as you walk, your body releases chemicals called endorphins which interact with receptors in the brain to reduce pain and improve your mood.  If you happen to be passing some of the most beautiful views in the world at the same time, well, that is just a win-win bonus!  Walking also increases levels of serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are clever brain chemicals and neurotransmitters that influence mood in a positive way.   No wonder walkers are always smiling as you pass them.

Wrap up warm and wear suitable footwear for the terrain you choose. Get good wet weather gear so you are not stuck home on ‘soft Irish days’ and in the words of that eponymous sports-wear company ‘Just do it’.

Check out some great walk suggestion here: 

Cycling for fun

Cycling is on the increase in Ireland, both for recreational purposes and as a way of getting about for daily business.  In Dublin, over 95,000 people are cycling every day. This represents a 50% increase in people using bikes over the last six years.  At the same time, we are reliably informed by undisclosed sources that the number of stationery exercise bikes being used as clothes horses, being side-lined to the garage or resold on buy and sell sites, are on the increase.  But let’s face it, bikes are more fun outside!  When we consider the improvement in the quality of cycling gear, helmets and clothing, over the past few years it is little wonder that more people are pedalling about. The government investment in greenways and cycle lanes has made cycling a much safer family activity.  Little wonder that there are more people out and about, freewheeling happily up and down Ireland’s lanes, byways and highways.  Cycling festivals have started to gain popularity too and they offer a fun challenge to novice and expert cyclists while giving the chance to make new friends.  Check out www.cyclingireland.ie   for details and find yourself some great warm waterproof gear right here for guys & here for girls and pedal through the puddles without a care in the world.

Fresh Air

Your New Year Resolution to breathe fresh air does not need drastic actions on your part.  No need to plan grand expeditions up Carrantouhill or off to Kilimanjaro (‘though both challenges sound awesome!).  Simple daily acts will change your way of thinking.  Bring your morning coffee into the garden or out on to the balcony.  Enjoy the morning sky and nature waking up around you as a perfect start to the day.  Spend lunchtimes in the park.  On Sunday afternoons you can scoff smugly at the lines of cars parked at the beachfront watching the waves through the windscreen (What is that about??). Take hot chocolate out under the stars.  Leave the car at home and walk to the post office.

Once you start enjoying the great outdoors a bit more all those other resolutions… sleeping better, eating better, getting fitter, learning new skills and feeling more positive…will slip right into place. Make 2019 the year of your very own Outdoor Adventures!

Happy New Year from all the staff at Outdoor Adventures Stores.

Hiking for Older people

Breathe easy.

This is not another patronising blog about senior citizens needing to take it easy on the trail.  At Outdoor Adventure Store, we are well aware from customer feedback and our own experiences, that there is no statute of limitations on backpacking. Anyone who has been left gasping for breath, overtaken by sprightly seniors striding up mountain trails can attest to the fitness level of many in the older generation.  It’s all about gaining and maintaining a level of fitness.

However, as our bodies age, we may find that we cannot do all the things we once did.   This is also true when there are temporary fitness issues due to illness and injury. So, it really pays to be aware of our limitations while we enjoy the great outdoors

If you haven’t been hiking before and you plan to take it up as a retirement past-time, it is best to see your GP first, especially if you have any medical conditions.  There are walks and hikes suitable for all levels, so once you get the green light health-wise, you can begin to have adventures.  Just like anyone else, be sure you have the appropriate clothing and footwear.

Walking Poles

Common age-related problems often include the knees and legs.  Many walkers complain of difficulties when descending hills or traversing rough ground. A good sturdy walking pole can steady the path and give support.  They provide extra stability and can lower the amount of stress on your legs and knee joints by taking the weight onto the poles, through your arms. Feel free to have a chat with our helpful staff to ensure you get the best walking pole for your needs. The length of the poles should be adjusted to suit your height and the activity you are planning. Generally speaking, lengthen the poles for descents, and shorten them for ascents and the length for walking along flat or gently slopes should be around waist height.

Hydration

As we get older, our body water content decreases and the risk of dehydration increases. The consequences of not being hydrated enough also become more serious. It is really important to bring enough water with you on every trip.  A bladder hydration system attached to your back pack can be very helpful its handy small drinking hose makes sipping water as you hike, much more convenient.   If the weight of carrying water for the expedition is off-putting, you might consider some water purifying tablets, so that you may avail of the local water.  Check out the many easy ways to bring enough liquids with you on your hike.

Be Prepared

Be sure you have a route planned with a distance that does not over extend you.  This is true for backpackers of all ages.  Take breaks and stop whenever you need to.  Plan your journey with this in mind.  Carry a comfortable backpack, suitable for your needs on the day. Wear good walking/hiking boots and a well fitted pair of socks. Make sure the phone is fully charged and that someone knows which route you are taking and your approximate return time.

Keeping the fitness level every day

Walk regularly, even if it’s just for 20-30 minutes a day. This will help keep your fitness level up and prepares you for longer rambles on the weekend. Good rain gear will make this much more possible in our climate.

Be realistic  

As a form of physical exercise, hiking offers several benefits to the older enthusiast. Walking regularly reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, colon cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. Hiking is one of the most enjoyable ways to exercise. It burns between 180 and 266 calories every 30 minutes, a rate comparable to working out on a stair step machine or engaging in vigorous weight lifting.

But more importantly than any physical benefits, trekking in this wonderfully scenic county is uplifting, rewarding and good for your mental health. Stay young at heart, keep your heart healthy and get out and about in the wilds.

An inside look at walking the Camino de Santiago

What are your reasons for doing the Camino?

Are you thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago? There are many reasons why people decide to embark on this journey; to find themselves, to get away from their 9-5 jobs or simply to tick it off the bucket list. Whatever your reason make the most of your experience because it is YOUR Camino experience.

Here at Outdoor Adventure Store we spoke to two individuals about their experiences on the trail but most importantly what advice they’d give to someone walking the Camino for the first time.

Adam (30) is what you would call an expert on all things Camino, having walked three different routes; Frances, Del Norte and Primitivo all in just a month at a time. “Pack 7kgs or less including the weight of your backpack”, advised Adam. A light packer at the best of times, Adam only packed two pairs of trousers, three t-shirts, three pairs of underwear and five pairs of socks. “There are washing machines and washing facilities available along the way so don’t be too concerned with bringing a lot of clothes with you”, he said.

To keep the weight of his pack down Adam brought a light sleeping bag with him. He recommends the Vango Planet 50 or the Rock+River Travellite 60. If you’re walking the Camino in July you’ll only need to bring a sleeping bag liner with you to sleep in because it is very hot at this time of the year.

A piece of advice Adam gave us for anyone walking the Camino is to bring ear plugs with them. After 6 hours of walking a day everyone is exhausted and no doubt those who snore will snore that little bit louder.

Majella (28) a Camino novice, like many others, embarked on her first Camino de Santiago this year. Majella couldn’t get over how friendly everyone on the Camino was. “The Camino walk brings you through towns, villages, cities and forests in Portugal and Spain, I felt like I saw the real version and a bit of a touristic one”, explained Majella.

Like most people, Majella completely over-packed for her trip. Beginning her trip with a whopping 12kgs she quickly reduced her pack weight leaving a trail of items behind her at every opportunity.  Majella finished her journey with a pack weight of 8kgs; one pair of shorts, one pair of trousers, two quick drying t-shirts, a rain jacket and a cosy fleece for at night when the weather was a little chilly.

The only downside to Majella’s Camino adventure was trying to fit into her boots every morning after the six hours of walking she did the previous day.

Word of advice from Majella, “Go alone. It’s the best way. To go at your own pace, stop when you want to, talk to who you want. You’ll never be alone.”

A note from Camino de Santiago experts: 

“LEARN TO LET GO”
For whatever reason you decided to walk the Camino; meet new people, experience a new culture or just simply to take some time out, leave your worries at home.

“BE KIND TO YOURSELF”
Use your time on the Camino to look after yourself. Enjoy the company of others and your own, eat well and drink plenty.

“GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO REFLECT”
When you are out walking for hours on end day in day out you’ll have a lot of time and space to think. Think about what you want from life, contemplate your goals, what are your aspirations? Take this time to plan a positive future.

 

A guide to the perfectly packed rucksack

Before you take to the highways and byways for your grand adventure, you may be faced with one last dilemma.  No, it’s not how to say goodbye to the dog nor is it anything to do with missing Mammy’s Sunday dinners.  It concerns the growing pile of clothes, toiletries and equipment on the floor. How do you get all this stuff into one rucksack?  The challenge is packing it all so that you are comfortable as you walk, so that you can find things easily and being efficient with space so that you won’t be leaving essentials behind.  Yes, packing a rucksack is a skill.

Don’t panic! Here is a quick and easy guide to the perfectly packed.

The whole secret to the task is to evenly distribute the load evenly and in order of importance/ access.

The topple test – A properly packed pack can be tested by setting it down on a flat floor. If the bag falls to the left or right, then the weight is not distributed correctly, and the load will need adjusting. If the bag falls onto the front, then you have packed a bit top heavy and need to adjust the gear at the front of your bag or the load will drag you back as you walk.  So weight distribution is very important when packing your bag, but bear in mind that the important and essential items need to be accessible.  More about ‘the topple ‘later…

Before your big expedition, it is useful to practice the packing and to do it the same way every time. That way you know what fits and where everything is. Remember that you should not carry more than 25% of your own body weight, so dump some of the non-essentials now.

Start by packing the tent.  It’s the biggest item so place it in vertically and near your back as this keeps the weight close and easier to manage.  Slide the sleeping bag (snug in its waterproof case) beside the tent. Cooking items and bulkier stuff should be added next.

Place them to the front so you don’t have a pot handle sticking into your kidneys for the day. Clothes should be rolled and placed in the spaces between. Rolling is the best way to save space. Toiletries are next… Food items go to the top of the rucksack, alongside your first aid kit, waterproofs, hat and gloves and any other things which you may need in a hurry (toilet paper and sun cream!). If you are carrying liquid fuel, pop it in one of the side pockets, where it is less likely to spill on your gear and balance the weight with water bottles on the opposite side.

Now try the floor test. Once it passes the topple test, it is a good idea to trek around the room a bit and be sure that all is perfectly packed for your adventures.

A well-packed pack is something you don’t notice when admiring the astounding views and vistas of your adventure. A poorly packed one is very obvious to you and to your travelling companions.

A brief, but excellent, guide to Ireland’s Walking Festivals

Walking Festivals have become increasingly popular in Ireland for obvious reasons.  The friendly banter amongst walkers, the organisers who can guide you on the tracks less travelled and experienced guides who have access to the best routes only being the beginning. Pair that with refreshments along the way and transport to the start of routes it can all add up to a perfect weekend activity.

Walking festivals cater for both the novice and experienced walker and often offer a graded choice of walks, from leisurely strolls to tough hikes. Let’s take a look at some of Ireland’s best walking festivals

Bravely kicking off the walking year is the February Dingle Walking Festival in Kerry.  Get the weekend off to a jaunty start with a night walk on Friday 16th February. A choice of a moderate or easy walk on both Saturday and Sunday bring the intrepid hikers through the Dingle Way. The promise of the amazing views of Skellig Rock, Ring Forts, stunning beaches and beautiful mountain views should be enough to keep the chill out and spirits high.

Spend St Patrick’s weekend in the hills of Donegal at the Ardara’s Walking Festival. The hills of Donegal can still be a bit nippy in March, but the hardy walkers up there are out in their droves for short, medium and strenuous walks in some of Ireland’s most amazing unspoilt scenery.

The Holey Soles walking club in Leitrim plan to spend the Easter weekend climbing in the beautiful Glenade Valley for The North Leitrim Glens 23rd Hill Walking Festival. Registration is at Glencar Tea Shed and the fee of €10 – €25 includes transport to & from walk location, tea, coffee & scones at registration on both days. There is also the lure of home-made soup after Sunday’s walk. The views from the top of these amazing mountains are incredible.

The tenth anniversary of the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival takes place over the May Bank holiday. With a choice of guided walks led by qualified and experienced guides and aided by good humoured locals, witness some of Ireland’s most jaw-dropping scenery as you walk across the Mweelrea, Benbaun, Sheefry and Maumtrasna mountains. With the beautiful Killary harbour as a backdrop to the festivities it is no wonder that this is a very popular walking festival and enthusiasts are advised to book early.

Outdoor Carlow is a walking weekend organised by Tullow Mountaineering Club and The Blackstairs Ramblers Walking Club. The event offers a variety of guided walks throughout County Carlow in September. The proximity to Dublin makes this festival very inviting for many hikers.

If you fancy some longer guided walking days, walkinghikingireland.com have a number of self–guided and guided walking tours, including the Wicklow Walking Festival in October. ‘The Garden of Ireland’ is renowned worldwide for its scenic beauty and offers a variety of walking challenges – from woodlands and rolling hills to wild craggy mountain climbs making this festival extremely popular. Wicklow is home to the largest area of unbroken high raised ground in Ireland, approximately 50 km long by 40 km, covering almost the same area as that of Mont Blanc.

Walking Festivals are affordable and sociable and offer their support to local communities with a minimal impact to the environment. They are a wonderful way to enjoy the Irish countryside while improving your fitness levels.  This is just a small sample of the many organised walks on offer.

There are more to see here: The Ireland Hill walking guide

Remember, it’s important to kit yourself out properly if you are new to walking and hiking. Check out our blog ‘Hiking Tips for Newbies‘, for advice on your essential hiking kit.

The Best Winter Hikes in Ireland

Don’t let the winter keep you grounded, get out and about! Surprisingly, the winter can be the very best time to hike. A crisp, clear day, with firm ground and the slightest chance of snow can be amazingly uplifting. Of course, you need to wear sensible and suitable clothing. Pack some food and a thermos with a welcome hot drink and be aware of the reduced hours of daylight. Choose a well-worn route that can be completed within the hours available to you.

Here are a few suggested routes:

The Glendalough Lake Walk in Wicklow: The walk around this beautiful Co Wicklow lake is perfect for a chilly, sunny day as it is only 5.49 km, looped and sign posted. Beautiful scenery of the lake, hills, forests and mountains combine to make this a popular walking destination. Another charming walk nearby is The Avoca Forest Walk. This trail is twice the length of the Glendalough walk and of a more difficult level. Avoca itself is a beautiful village and an ideal place for a hot tea treat after the busy day of hiking.

For those who prefer to ramble far from the maddening crowd, it is advisable to choose a route far from the bigger cities. The Sliabh an Iarainn Loop in Co. Leitrim is about 5 km from Drumshanbo in the Iron Mountain and brings you through unspoilt, wild and quite demanding terrain, but it is definitely worth the effort. The advice from veteran hiker, Christopher Sommerville, is to “Climb the eastern flank from Aghnacashel Post Office skirting the grey cliffs and the beautifully hidden Mass Rock, to scramble up the crags. An exciting stretch of cliff-top, a slog up across heather and then the domed summit of Sliabh an Iarainn and the breath-taking view — 100 miles from Donegal to Sligo, Leitrim to the midlands” .

Not far North from here is the newly opened, Cuilcagh Mountain Trail which is open to the summit of the mountain from the car park at Legnabrocky, Co Fermanagh, just about 1 km from the road entrance to Marble Arch Caves. This hike is perfect for the winter walkers as the trail across the bog has been newly regenerated with a boardwalk protecting the rare blanket bog from erosion but making it easier to navigate the trail and access the mountain. On a good day, the views from here are stunning. Allow 4-6 hours for this particular walk.

Cork has plenty of choice for the hardy hiker, but one of the most exciting is the Esknamucky Walk in Glengarriff. This can be a bit challenging and is known locally as the High Walk. Steep and with impressive viewing points, it can be combined with the popular Waterfall Walk. (if the short distance of 9.8km is not enough to keep you in the zone)

Check the internet for the many trails and mountains that are still easily accessed in the shorter days of winter. From Errigal Mountain in Donegal to the Kerry Camino, there are a wide variety of outdoor trails to tempt you.

But no matter where you choose to walk this winter, there are a number of important things to bring with you:

  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • Waterproof jacket and pants
  • Comfortable athletic leggings or trekking pants (not denim)
  • Hiking socks
  • Warm clothing plus spares
  • Hat and gloves
  • 1½ litres of water (or a hot drink in the winter)
  • Food for the day
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses (even in the winter sun)
  • Rucksack of around 25-30 litres
  • Walking poles (optional)

Waterproof jacket and pull up trousers: Cotton clothing is best under good rainwear. Your raingear will also act as a wind proof layer against the worst of the winter elements.

Good waterproof boots: It’s important to note that the walking shoe which you could rely on for the dry summer trekking may not be suitable for winter wear. It’s not just about comfort. It is also about safety. Good gripping soles are a must.

Water: Bring enough water to rehydrate, even if the rain is coming at you sideways and you have never felt so drenched, you need to be certain that your intake of fluids is kept up as you walk. A good guide is to bring 1 and an half litres of water for a full day.

Food: Bring good food. Some carbs, some fruit and chocolate.

Hat/Gloves and a spare fleece: To keep the shivers at bay.

Make sure your phone is fully charged, as it can be used to call assistance and to provide torch light if you need it.