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A beginner’s guide to walking kit

Written by Fiona

August 31 2011

First came the beginner’s guide to cycling, now I have blog followers asking for a beginner’s guide to walking. More so than any other outdoors activity, walking requires specific kit for each season and with summer making only a last-ditch attempt to have its presence known, most experienced walkers are now “winterising” their walking gear and rethinking what they carry in their rucksack for hikes into the hills.

Happy, smiley colourful kit for walking

This guide is specifically for those who haven’t walked much before and are planning on lower-level trail walks or hikes on well-trodden paths to smaller hill summits. It might be that you’ve decided to get fit by walking, or you’ve just become a dog walker or you want to join a local rambling group. This is a guide to the essentials for new-comers to walking.

One point, though, and this will be welcome news to newbie walkers who might imagine that because you’re about to become outdoorsy, it means you’ll need to ditch your sense of style. Twenty – or even 10 – years ago, walkers were more likely to look like a baggy–all-in-one-navy-blue-waterproof, but these days the fantastic range of outdoors fashions means there is really no excuse for not looking funky on the hills.

Waterproof jackets, fleeces, baselayers, hats, gloves and even socks have had a fabulous makeover in recent years, with manufacturers seemingly caring as much about the colours, style and fit, as the practicalities.

Pop into any outdoor clothing shop, or view on-line, and you’ll be amazed by the gorgeous clothing that’s on offer. For women you’ll find bright pinks, lovely greens, dazzling blues, lilacs, flowers, spots and stripes. For men, there are reds, oranges, greens… pretty much any colour that allows you to avoid muddy browns and khaki greens of old!

Female and male walking equipment is also made to fit our very different physiques. No longer shall women endure small men’s jackets or trousers. Women’s walking clothing is tailored to fit our shape. Many styles even look flattering!

The list of basic kit for walking

Boots: Waterproof and breathable are a must. For lower-level walking a summer-style boot wil be sufficient, but it still needs to have good grip. Look out for Vibram soles, or similar. Boots must be comfortable. Make sure you try them with walking socks and ensure there is enough space at the front of the boot for your toes to move. The boots should fit snugly but not over-tight. Boots that support your ankle are best for hill walking, while for trail walking you could choose walking shoes. There are many different boots from a wide spectrum of companies, but everyone’s feet are different so ensure you try on a lot of boots before making your final choice.

Baselayer: These are thin tops (long sleeved and short) that are worn next to the skin. They are made from a magical material that keeps you warm but also allows sweat to wick away to the outside. Baselayers can be worn under other layers, such as a thin fleece and a waterproof jacket, or on their own in warm weather. I love baselayers and have a huge selection, including pinks, baby blues, flowery designs. Choose from crew neck, v-neck, quarter zip, etc.

Fleece: Several baselayers are better than one thick fleecy layer. The layers trap heat between them and can be peeled off or put on as required to keep you at a constant and comfy temperature. On colder days I’ll wear a baselayer, a thin fleece and then a waterproof jacket. Again, fleeces can serve as a funky outer layer as they come in so many fabulous styles and colours. Tell me you could pass by this Norrona Fleece Hoody?

Waterproof jacket: Windproof, waterproof, breathable. These are all musts for a good jacket. There are many fabrics that do this job but mostly I’d always pay extra for Gore-Tex because it really does do the job of keeping the rain out. Ensure the jacket also has a hood. Preferable extras include pockets for putting your hands in when it gets chilly, a map pocket, a two-way zip, waterproof zip cover, adjustable cuffs and hem, I also like my jackets to have a thin fleece patch on the inside top of the zip so that when the jacket is zipped up to the top it doesn’t scratch your face/chin. It’s a good idea to have sleeves and hem long enough to prevent rain drips going inside your gloves and trousers!

Added extras. These aren’t essential but they make walking much lovelier.

Walking trousers: A pair of jogging bottoms or leggings will be fine for most novice walkers but if you’re looking for the ultimate comfort while out on the hills, walking trousers are a great choice. They are designed to fit comfortably while walking and help to avoid skin rubs. Many people love the trousers with a section that zips off to give you shorts but I’m not so keen. Make sure that the zipped section does not rub on your legs when walking uphill. I once spent a four-hour hill walk being annoyed by a zip rub just above my knee. My preference is for full-length or three-quarter zip offs. There are men’s trousers for guys and women’s trousers for women. They are made to fit our differing shapes.

Gaiters: You might think these are just for rambling-types but the waterproof protectors are ideal for keeping your feet and trousers dry when walking over wet ground.

Waterproof over-trousers: They need to be breathable and make sure they have zips that allow you to put them on over your walking boots so that you can pop them on and off according to the hill walking conditions.

Walking poles: Many more people swear by these poles, especially for protecting your knees when going downhill. Make sure you buy good quality, with an easy-to-operate telescopic action. There is little worse than grappling with a stuck walking pole in the wind and rain on a hill!

Accessories: Hats, gloves, socks, neck warmers. Every shop has a multitude of accessories and they all have their place according to the weather. It’s always a good idea to have a waterproof rucksack with a few extra accessories just in case. Choose to fit and pay as much as you can for waterproof, breathable and better quality.

Map, compass, GPS: If you plan to walk solo you will need to know how to use a map and compass. It’s vital, in fact. Sign up to a navigation course, if in doubt. Remember that a GPS may not always work and so you can’t always rely on these gadgets.

Other kit: If you plan to turn a walk into a wild camping trip you might also need a larger rucksack, lightweight tent or bivvy bag, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress, cooking stove, equipment, an EDC knife and food & water.

Why not take a look at what’s cool if you are keen to buy yourself new kit or gifts for others.

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