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Real Mountain Skills - Winter!

Posted on October 18, 2011 @ 5:41 PM in Walking

Nathan Kingerlee runs an adventure and outdoor training company, Outdoors Ireland, based in Killarney, County Kerry. While guiding some folks on Carrauntoohil last year, questions came up around tips and tricks to make life easier while in the mountains during the cold winter months. In this blog, Nathan has kindly noted down some tips and techniques for safely walking in the mountains this winter.

Winter Mournes 2

When I think back to some of the hard lessons I’ve learnt and tricks I use, here’s some ideas:

If you’ve a choice between getting a backpack that’s a little too big, or a little too small, get one that’s a little too small. That way you’ll pack only what you really need and you’ll pack in a well organised fashion.

No backpack is properly waterproof and backpack covers don’t work, so put a big lightweight dry-bag or a heavy duty plastic bin-bag inside your backpack, to keep your contents dry.

Wear a tight’ish hat that pulls down well over your ears. A loose hat may blow off your head on a gusty day. It’s happened to me!

For really cold days, or winter conditions, mittens are much better than gloves for keeping your hands and fingers toasty warm. When it’s really cold wear a pair of thin fleece gloves within your mittens. Get mittens with wrist straps, so when you take them off they’ll dangle from your wrists – one less thing to blow away. Practice doing tasks, like opening your zips or using a compass, with your mittens on; as this takes a bit of skill.

Always, always, always carry a spare pair of gloves and a spare hat, buried deep and dry within your backpack!

Slieve Donard Winter

Don’t sweat! Start your day a little chilly as after ten mins walking you should have warmed up to a normal temperature. Avoid overheating and sweating, as this both dehydrates you and gets your base layers damp, meaning when you stop you’ll cool very quickly. Use your layers and zips to control your body temperature, also adjust your walking speed to cool down or warm up.

Continually drink water throughout the day, even if you’re not thirsty. By the time you’re thirsty you’re already a little dehydrated. Also snack on your food throughout the day, to always keep your energy levels high.

If you’re using a platypus and the temperature is cool, blow back the water in your platypus tube after taking a drink, in order to clear the tube, otherwise the water in your tube can freeze.

Keep your mouth closed! On cold, snowy days breath through your nose instead of your mouth, as the cold dry air will crack your lips and dehydrate you; especially important on multi-day trips. Sun cream and lip protection are invaluable, both for sun burn and wind burn.

Wear thermals and fleeces which are well fitted and long. Long thermals means you can tuck them well down into your trousers and they won’t ride up exposing and cooling your bare skin. Long fleeces won’t ride up your back as you’re hiking or stretching. All your fleeces and waterproof coat should have a draw cord at the bottom of them, which allows you to pull the bottom tight, preventing body heat escaping and rain seeping in. When it gets really bitter and cold tuck your thermal top into your underpants!

Especially in serious conditions think several hours ahead and adjust your backpack contents and coat pocket contents accordingly. For example, when you stop for a break, if you think you’ll need a spare fleece in an hour’s time when you reach the cold windy summit then make sure it’s at the very top of your bag. If it’s going to get dark in two hours and you’ll still be on the mountain have your head torch and food ready in your pockets; you don’t want to be fumbling in the dusk looking for your torch.

Winter Mournes

Don’t let your feet get wet, if at all possible; by not stepping into streams, etc and also carrying plenty of spare socks. If your feet get sore when you stop for breaks take off your boots and socks for five mins to allow them to breath. Be careful though; you don’t want to have a sock blown away or give your toes frostnip!

Carry a pair of tight’ish sunglasses or cheap snow goggles with you. They’ve so many uses, from protecting your eyes from dazzling sun on snow, to allowing you to see against driving rain/hail mixed with wind. On bitter days they even keep that often exposed part of your face warm. Wear a buff around your neck for full facial protection.

For details of Mountain Skills Courses which Nathan runs throughout the year visit would like to thank Walking and Hiking in Ireland for allowing the reproduction of this blog article.

Nathan Kingerlee
Nathan Kingerlee  Outdoors Professional

Nathan Kingerlee runs an adventure and outdoor training company, Outdoors Ireland, based in Killarney, Kerry. Specialising in mountaineering, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing and team challenges, Outdoors Ireland runs a combination of training courses, team building and adventure breaks.

Visit for more information.

2 comments have been posted in reply to this article

Posted by Aggy on November 15, 2011 @ 1:07 AM

I can alardey tell that's gonna be super helpful.

Posted by susanray1055 on September 5, 2018 @ 8:37 AM

This course is ideal for someone that has previous experience of hill walking. But wants to take this experience a step further through winter walking. Although experience in winter hillwalking isn’t necessary, it is beneficial to have some experience in summer hillwalking. Moreover, a reasonable level of fitness is essential. for more details

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