(Last updated on 24th December 2020)
Recreational walking in the great outdoors is a relatively low-risk activity when it comes to COVID-19. The fresh air and a well-separated population should help to minimise the virus's ability to spread outdoors.
From a walking perspective, there are a few things we should all consider while out and about. Keeping the walking community and the general population safe and healthy during this ongoing crisis is the most important thing right now. In response to the crisis, we have come up with some practical tips to help recreational walkers limit the spread of the virus.
This page focuses exclusively on the practical measures we should all take while out walking during these times. Guidance related to permitted group sizes (indoor and outdoor), travel restrictions and business opening restrictions change from week to week. Further details on these can be found via the official Government links.
Whether you live in Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, your national government / executive is likely to be issuing different advice from its equivalent across the border. During this crisis, we believe the most responsible approach we can take as an all-Ireland walking information service is to err on the side of caution. For this reason, we choose to base our walk-related advice on the most stringent guidance currently being issued by the Irish Government and / or the Northern Ireland Executive.
The daily statistics indicate that COVID-19 is circulating in Ireland, and we all must do our collective best to eliminate it. Even if we all bring the number of Irish cases down to zero, there would still be an ongoing risk that the virus could be re-imported into Ireland by incoming visitors or returning travellers from overseas. And there could be individuals walking among us who unknowingly have COVID-19 but are not showing symptoms.
Travelling to walks
In normal times, we would encourage walkers to use public transport or car-share as much as possible to get to walks in order to minimise our collective carbon footprint. However, these are not normal times. If using public transport, you should wear a mask to cover your mouth and nose. You should also sit well away from your fellow passengers. Car-sharing should be limited to members of the same household. We recommend that all walkers heed the latest travel advice issued by official government sources in relation to COVID-19. Click here for Government links.
Start your walks from your front door as much as possible. Consider your front door as one of your trailheads for the next while. Use a local park, forest, beach or other green space (if it is open to the public) where you can achieve the required minimum physical distancing of 2m. If you don't have any such facilities nearby, choose safe routes along local streets or country roads. If you have your own garden, use it too.
If driving to the start of your walk, we urge you to park with consideration. If there is an official car park, use it. If it is full, drive on to another start point. A full car park means lots of people, which is what we all need to avoid. If there is no official car park, but there are other potential parking options, please consider other road users before parking there. Your vehicle must not become an obstruction for local residents, farmers, emergency services, etc, who need unrestricted access at all times along the roads and into property. Bear in mind that vehicles which are long and wide will require a lot of space to manoeuvre through field gates and into forest tracks. Before you set off on your walk, take a good look at your car and try to visualise a large tractor and trailer, a firefighting appliance, a mobile mountain rescue base, etc, trying to get past it. If your car poses an issue, move it to a better spot. A badly-parked car is at risk of being damaged by a large vehicle having to squeeze past it, so park well to avoid an unscheduled trip to the car workshop.
Always maintain the recommended minimum 2m physical distancing from people who are not members of your household.
Consider other forms of home-based exercise to supplement your walking.
Widely referred to as "social distancing", we prefer to call it "physical distancing". Basically, try to keep a minimum clear distance of 2 metres between yourself and other people. Don't shake hands, hug, fist-bump, high-five, knock elbows, etc. Parents and children who all live together in the same household should walk as a close family unit while staying at least 2m from everyone else.
Try to limit your group to just the members of your own household as much as possible, but always adhere to current government restrictions on gatherings. Keep children under control and within arms reach. When other walkers are approaching in the opposite direction, your group should walk in single file as they pass to better facilitate the minimum 2m separation. Step off the path or cross the road / street if safe to do so.
Please, please do not hog the middle of the pavement when other walkers are approaching in the opposite direction. Move as close to one side of the pavement as possible so they can pass on the other without either of you having to step onto the carriageway. This is no time to be marking your territory. Hogging the middle of the pavement is totally unacceptable during this time, so please don't do it. The life you save might actually be your own.
To minimise the chances of encountering others on your walks, consider walking outside the peak times. Bear in mind also the amount of daylight hours available when you start your walk. It might be a good idea to carry a headtorch if starting late in the day.
Walking clubs and guides must follow current Government guidelines and restrictions in regard to group sizes.
As walkers, our hands are likely to come into contact with shared surfaces along the paths, tracks and trails we walk. These include gates, stiles, handrails, summit markers, information boards, etc. Experts tell us that the virus can live on certain types of surfaces for up to three days, although it is unclear how long it can survive in an outdoor environment. For this reason, we believe it is important to highlight these potential hazards as a sensible precaution. We were the first to highlight the risks associated with outdoor contact points back in mid-March. It is good to see that other websites, including those of national governing bodies, have chosen to follow our lead on this matter and are now issuing the same advice.
Compared to our normal everyday activities, walking brings our hands into contact with relatively few surfaces. However, our hands are likely to encounter a gate, stile, handrail or other contact point along most of the routes we walk. On very popular walking routes, some contact points could be touched by dozens or even hundreds of hands in a single day. Bear this in mind when choosing where to walk.
In addition to following the hygiene advice issued by official government sources in relation to COVID-19, we would also suggest that walkers take the following specific practical measures to help keep the walking community and the wider population safe and healthy.
In upland environments in particular, where physical distancing comes naturally, good hand hygiene should be promoted in order to minimise potential spread of the virus. Promoting good hand hygiene in upland areas might even improve the argument to minimise domestic travel restrictions for hillwalkers. This, in turn, would help to reduce overcrowding and parking issues at other walking locations such as parks, forests and beaches.
Keep your hands clean
It is highly unlikely that you'll find hand-washing facilities along your chosen walking routes. Walkers will need to be self-sufficient when it comes to good hand hygiene. It is also important to avoid touching your face as much as possible. You could be infected with the virus and not know it.
We recommend washing hands before setting off on a walk, ideally at the trailhead, and at the end. Bring your own personal bottle of hand sanitising gel or a packet of wipes with you on the walk. Clean your hands using the gel or a wipe immediately BEFORE and AFTER you touch a surface. This will minimise the risk of you transferring the virus to the surface as well as minimising the risk of you picking it up.
On small group walks, a designated member of the group could act as a mobile hand-cleansing station. That person would carry a bottle of sanitising gel or packet of wipes and distribute to the rest of the group at arms length after each contact point (e.g. a gate, stile, handrail, etc) and at the start of the lunch stop. Don't pass sweets and other foods around the group.
Always maintain the recommended minimum 2m physical distancing from other people.
Leave no trace
If using wipes, please place them in a plastic bag after use, bring them home along with all your other rubbish and dispose of properly in a bin.
The virus can transfer from surfaces onto gloves. From here, it can further transfer to other surfaces and the wearer's own face. For this reason, we suggest walkers only touch gates, stiles, handrails, etc with clean ungloved hands, then clean the hands immediately using sanitising gel or wipes.
Only take photos using your own camera or phone. Don't ask others to take a photo of you using your device and don't offer to take a photo of others using their device. If you want a photo of yourself, take a selfie. Alternatively, ask a friend to take one using their device and email it to you later. Keep your photography devices and other handheld equipment clean.
Always maintain the recommended minimum 2m physical distancing from other people.
Don't take risks
Now is not the time to be taking unnecessary risks. Know your limits and stick to the places you know best. If you choose to venture into areas you are unfamiliar with, especially uplands and other wild areas, it is imperative that you are a competent self-navigator skilled at using a printed map and compass. If you rely exclusively on a GPS device for navigation, you are not a competent self-navigator. In terms of physical fitness, unless you are an elite athlete, be content with maintaining your fitness rather than progressing it for the time being.
Ireland's Mountain Rescue Teams (MRTs) will always aim to provide a 24/7/366 service. However, the MRTs will be required to implement special measures during the ongoing crisis in order to protect themselves and the wider population from the virus. Bear in mind that attended responses to call-outs might only be limited to those which involve serious injuries and that those responses could take longer as a result of the additional safety measures. In the case of less serious injuries, the responding MRT may choose to advise you over the phone how best to treat yourself. They may also recommend that you wait on the hill for weather conditions to improve or until morning if you have lost your bearings. MRTs now have the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and procedures in place to allow them to respond to call-outs. However, be aware that MRTs may recommend a temporary stoppage of hillwalking and mountaineering activities during times of heightened restrictions.
To minimise the risk of spreading the virus, MRTs have discontinued some of their usual fundraising activities (e.g. walking events and street collections). We encourage all walkers to consider supporting these vital volunteers during this time by making online donations. Click here for links to all the Mountain Rescue Ireland team websites.
Throughout this crisis, Irish hospitals have been facing increased pressure. They could really do without having to deal with avoidable recreation-inflicted injuries at this time. We therefore urge all walkers to avoid higher-risk walking routes. Exposed summits, ridges, cliffs and gullys are particularly dangerous places to visit at the present time.
Always maintain the recommended minimum 2m physical distancing from other people.
During this crisis, we recommend that walkers carry certain items with them on their walks.
A basic first-aid kit will allow you to deal with any minor injuries you might incur while out walking. Always carry a fully-charged mobile phone in case you require emergency assistance, bearing in mind that an emergency call could last a long time. Extra food and water is also recommended in case you have to wait for assistance. Similarly, an extra layer or two of clothes would be advisable.
The World Health Organisation now recommends that non-medical face masks be worn when the recommended minimum physical distancing cannot be achieved. One scenario when it is impossible to achieve physical distancing is during an emergency. Whether you are the one who is injured or a passer-by who feels obliged to assist them, it is worth having a mask with you. Always consider the possibility that you could have the virus without displaying or feeling any of the associated symptoms. Mountain Rescue Team members are now being issued with personal protective equipment (PPE) on their call-outs. However, their response is likely to take more than an hour, during which time passers-by are likely to get involved. For this reason, we recommend that all walkers carry a face mask in case an emergency arises. It is also advisable to have a bottle of hand sanitising gel or a packet of wipes.
If you are heading out into the mountains, hills or other remote places, we also encourage you to carry a hard copy map of the area, a waterproof map case and a compass. Only competent self-navigators who know how to use these should be venturing off the beaten track. If you rely exclusively on a GPS device for navigation, you are not a competent self-navigator.
- First-aid kit
- Fully-charged mobile phone
- Extra food, water and clothes
- Non-medical face mask
- Hand sanitising gel or a packet of wipes
- Hard copy map, waterproof map case and compass
In response to the virus, the Irish government and NI executive have imposed size restrictions on public gatherings. Please check the latest information issued by official government sources for current restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings. Click here for Government links.
Event organisers have been adjusting their plans accordingly in order to comply with any restrictions in force at the time of their upcoming event. If you are planning to take part in a walking festival, challenge walk or charity walk, please check that event's official website for the latest updates.
When size restrictions are imposed on public gatherings, official end dates will be stated. Bear in mind that the respective government could extend restrictions beyond stated dates and / or amend maximum permitted numbers of people.
Official Government links
For the latest advice, guidance and instructions issued by official government sources in relation to the COVID-19 crisis, please refer to the following websites.
We will continue to monitor the latest advice, guidance and instructions issued by official government sources throughout this crisis. The practical considerations and advice detailed on this page are aimed specifically at recreational walkers. These are supplemental to the general advice, guidance and instructions issued by official government sources and will be updated accordingly as the crisis develops.
Other useful links
If you are planning to visit parkland, woodland or beaches, please check in advance to see if they are open and what facilities will be available when you get there. You can find links for hundreds of Irish parkland, woodland and beaches on the following pages:
Alternatively, you can find a growing selection of local places to walk on our county pages:
We recommend that you create a shortcut or bookmark for your home county's walking information page. This will give you quick access to all local walking information we provide for your area.
In addition to the above practical considerations and advice we are issuing to recreational walkers during the COVID-19 crisis, please also refer to our Countryside Etiquette page. The advice on that page will help to make walking much more pleasant for you, other walkers, landowners and other land users.