- Getting started walking
- Tips for walking with diabetes
- How often should I exercise?
- How many calories will I burn?
- Is walking a good workout?
- Warm up for walking
- Walking for health
- Pregnancy and walking
- Walking can help our overweight youngsters
- Walking helps in fight against obesity
- Avoid travel chaos: walk to work!
- Diet Coke nutrition info
- 10 reasons to take up walking
- Walking facts
- Finding motivation
- How a good walk can help with stress
- A cliff with a view: New Quay walk
- St Nicholas, Vale of Glamorgan
- Bawsey Church near King's Lynn, Norfolk
- Walking Facts and Figures
- Rambling: how to get started
- Footpath Erosion
- Advice and Information for Leaders of Rambles
- An Introduction to the Hadrian's Wall Path
- An Introduction to the Pennine Way
- An Introduction to the Coast to Coast Walk
- An Introduction to the Cotswold Way
- Public Rights of Way FAQ
- A Guide to Walking in Britain
- More Than a Walk
The Ultimate Walking Equipment Guide
Walking is a great pastime! You can do it every day of the year, it can be as relaxing or strenuous as you wish, and it normally requires little in the way of specialist equipment. Of course, much depends on whether you choose to walk on farmland, coast, marsh or mountain; and naturally a week's hiking in the Scottish hills in January will need very different preparation compared to a summer's day in East Anglia.
This fact sheet is intended as an introduction for those contemplating rambling or hillwalking for the first time, and does not attempt to cover all the possibilities and variations in personal taste. (Most walkers, through trial and error, ultimately find the boots, clothing or equipment that are best suited to them.) The British countryside should not pose too many problems for the suitably-prepared walker - but never underestimate the changeability of the weather nor the challenge of the hills, even at the height of summer. The bottom line is: be comfortable, and dress for the sort of weather and terrain you are likely to meet.
- Equipment -
Footwear and feet care
Feet are probably the most important part of a walker's body, so treat them with care. Some people scamper about in training shoes (generally fine for dry, flat land) while others plod about in Wellington boots. However, if you plan to walk regularly in all kinds of weather, and particularly if the ground is rough or stony, proper walking shoes or boots with tough moulded soles are essential: they protect your feet and offer the best grip. Boots give support to your ankles, which is essential on steep slopes. Stout walking shoes may be lighter, but walking boots ultimately offer the best protection against mud and surface water. Many walkers prefer boots for any walks of over three or four hours, since they offer comfort and support.
Buying boots: What variety or make of boot you choose is up to you. There are lightweight boots (a wide range and popular for summer walking), and the more robust and traditional boots (with one-piece leather uppers and a moulded grip-giving sole). When choosing which boots to buy, bear in mind the following points:
- Try on different types, wearing your usual walking socks
- Take time choosing, ask for advice, and above all else make sure the boot feels comfortable
- When laced, the boot should hold firmly around your entire foot (without it feeling too cramped); your heel should not move; and your big toe should not be pressing against the boot's toe.
Caring for boots: To keep your boots supple and as waterproof as possible, treat them with Dubbin, Nikwax or some specialist leather oil or wax. Make sure your boots are kept clean and, if they become wet, fill them with scrunched-up newspaper and place them away from direct heat to dry. Remember, boots are a long-term investment, so it will pay to look after them.
Wearing boots: For comfort and warmth, most walkers wear two pairs of socks - a thin pair (perhaps cotton) next to the skin, and a thicker pair (preferably woollen) on top. Others prefer synthetic looped socks, which are designed to cushion impact. Darned or holed socks will cause bumps and may lead to blisters. Wear your boots in before you undertake any major walk so that the hard, new leather becomes pliable and the boots feel comfortable.
Blisters are simply the result of friction, but treatment is a controversial topic. (Of course it is best to try and prevent them in the first place!) If you feel any discomfort take your boots and socks off immediately and examine your feet; blisters can form very quickly if your toes are rubbing or your socks have slipped. If you do get a blister (and they affect even the most experienced walkers) consider applying some material cushioning/padding, or a breathable waterproof plaster, or possibly some strips of surgical tape. Some walkers prefer carefully to burst a new blister (applying a sterile dressing immediately). However, by not bursting a blister you avoid the risk of infection - but at all times make sure that the blistered area is clean and protected. There is now a wide range of foot care products available from chemists and outdoor equipment stores, including so-called blister kits with highly-developed 'second skin dressings'.
Some tips on how to guard against blisters:
Waterproof and windproof wear
The two most hostile elements that walkers in Britain usually face are the rain and the wind. It is essential that you have adequate protection against both. A good jacket or anorak (waterproof rather than merely shower-proof) should include a hood, or provision for a hood to be attached, and spacious pockets for maps, snacks, etc. If you are planning to take walking seriously consider jackets made out of a modern, two-way 'breathable' material, which is supposed to allow body sweat out but prevents moisture from entering. Otherwise a knee-length cagoule or lightweight waterproof is very useful, keeping out the wind as well as the rain. They can also be purchased in breathable material.
To protect your trousers and socks from getting wet, consider overtrousers and/or gaiters. The former are light waterproof trousers, the latter knee-high waterproof leggings that button or tie up and attach to the boot. Both have their champions, but both can be difficult to put on and take off, and neither will keep you dry if you choose to wade through a river.
Clothing need not be bulky or expensive. Basically, several layers of cotton or thin woollen will be far more useful than just one sweatshirt or large jumper, since warm air will be trapped between the layers and provide better insulation; or you can remove a layer as you get hotter. Similarly, a top with a zip down the front allows you to ventilate as much or as little as required.
Trousers: The choice of what type to wear is enormous. Traditional corduroys or tracksuit bottoms are fine for the average lowland walk, although modern synthetic makes are popular among regular walkers: lightweight, loose-fitting and quick-drying. (There are many brand names to choose from.) But among hillwalkers, old-style breeches are still fairly common. Made out of a material such as tweed and worn knee-length, they are worn in conjunction with woollen socks or stockings. Heavy-duty jeans are not recommended, as they restrict movement, lack pocket space, and take a long time to dry out if wet.
Headgear: Up to 40% of body heat is lost through the head, so it is essential to protect your head and ears. A woolly hat is a must in winter, certainly if you are venturing onto the hills, and it can be worn under an anorak hood. But the head is also vulnerable to the sun's rays in the warmer months, so it is important to carry a sunhat or light headscarf (and apply sun cream).
Rucksacks are the best means of carrying provisions and equipment when out walking: they leave the hands free, and are far more comfortable than a shoulder bag over a long distance.
A daysack (a small, lightweight rucksack) will be perfectly adequate for a day trip. They are usually frameless, made of proofed canvass or nylon, and should be large enough to carry your lunch, waterproofs, a map, etc, and around 20 litres carrying-capacity is the norm. For weekends or short vacations there are larger models (but make sure you choose the size you require - a large, half-empty rucksack is unnecessary weight).
Some tips on packing a rucksack:
For longer holidays, or where you need to carry a larger amount of equipment, a modern backpacker's rucksack is necessary. These used to be rigid steel-frame units, but now they consist of a pack frame of light alloy with a carrying sack of cotton or nylon. Modern rucksacks offer greater carrying capacity (55-75 litres) and are lighter overall. There are many variations on the standard model, and you should consider what you are going to carry (camping equipment and sleeping bag?) and where you are going (winter hillwalking?) as to the size and sophistication of the model. Above all, make sure you inspect several different types, try each of them on (and put something heavy in it!) and, like choosing your walking boots, make sure it feels comfortable. Daypacks are designed so that the shoulder straps take the pressure, whereas backpacking rucksacks usually have a load-bearing hip-belt that ensures that the (heavier) load is spread evenly. So it is vital that the rucksack fits properly and feels comfortable on your body.
What else to carry
A compass is a valuable part of any walker's equipment. Together with the appropriate Ordnance Survey maps, it is essential for the hillwalker and more than useful for finding your way around agricultural lowlands. See RA Fact Sheet 2: Maps and Navigation. Also, make sure you fill your water bottle or thermos flask. Long-distance walking, in particular, demands a surprisingly high liquid-intake - even if you do not seem to be sweating - and it is important that you avoid dehydration. Extra clothing, emergency rations and a first aid kit are all key items, especially in winter. See below for more details.
For more details on how to look after your walking equipment (including camping gear, clothes, sleeping bags, boots and rucksacks) see the Equipment Care Leaflet produced by the Camping & Outdoor Leisure Association (COLA). Individual copies are free from COLA, Morritt House, 58 Station Approach, South Ruislip, Middx HA4 6SA, tel 0181 842 1111.
- Safety -
For the uninitiated, walking in Britain should present few problems, provided:
(1) you are not desperately unfit and do not over-reach yourself; (2) you know where you are going and what to expect; (3) you have the correct maps and equipment. The British weather, although generally mild, is damp, so have waterproofs handy; and it is also highly changeable, so always check the weather forecast before you set off, and watch the skies for signs of change.
Although the weather is generally mild overall, in the mountains of North Wales, the Lake District and in particular the Scottish Highlands, the conditions can be extremely challenging and it is essential that you are fully prepared. The weather can vary dramatically between valley bottom and mountain top. Even in Spring and Summer, the weather in the Scottish Highlands can suddenly take on an Arctic-like ferocity. In particular, the effects of wind chill (where wind and cold air combine to lower dramatically the body temperature) can be potentially fatal. For this reason, it is advisable to be properly equipped: where you are likely to meet snow or ice carry an ice-axe and wear crampons (metal spike attachments to boots) - and make sure you know how to use them. In the hands of a novice they can cause rather than prevent accidents. A number of outdoor centres specialise in mountain/winter walking courses for beginners - see addresses at end.
For any serious hillwalking in Britain, especially in the winter months, your rucksack should include the following: survival bag (a heavy-duty bag for body insulation in an emergency - on sale from most walking shops); torch; whistle; spare, warm clothing - including woollen hat and gloves; high-energy rations (mint cake, chocolate, dried fruit, etc); first aid kit (see below).
Of course, it must be stressed yet again that if you are venturing into the hills a map and compass are indispensable. But so, too, is common sense: don't be over-ambitious and push yourself (or your party) beyond your limits; and don't hesitate to call it a day and come down off the hills if bad weather is imminent. It is also sensible to leave a route card with someone before you set off, outlining your intended route with grid reference points, etc (see RA Fact Sheet 2: Maps and Navigation). But it is imperative that you notify that same person of your safe return. If a real emergency occurs when out on the hills the international distress signal is six loud blasts of a whistle, repeated at minute intervals.
Some people prefer to walk in the countryside on their own, but in remote or mountainous areas the risk of becoming stranded following an injury or illness is inevitably greater than if companions were present. There is also the more general issue of the personal safety of solo women walkers - over any terrain.
Although there are no established rules, consider the following if you choose to walk on your own. Make sure that you are fully prepared and equipped, and that your map and compass work is competent. Definitely carry a whistle, and have it accessible - around your neck or in your pocket, not in your rucksack. Some walkers also take a stick or personal alarm (and some now even carry mobile 'phones when in the hills - but beware limited reception range). Personal safety experts also warn walkers not to wear personal stereos when alone, so that you remain alert at all times. Leave an indication of your proposed route with someone, such as a route card; and, crucially, say what time you expect to be back. It is important that women walking on their own return before nightfall; and do not take unnecessary risks by tackling overly long or difficult routes. If you ultimately want to walk alone but are new to walking or just uncertain, then first go out and learn with more experienced walkers (such as on an RA group walk). It goes without saying that walkers who choose their own company must take particular care, but remember statistically you are far safer walking in the countryside than on a city street.
Hypothermia or exposure is probably the greatest danger in the mountains, and occurs where the body temperature is chilled to a life-threatening level (the wind chill factor aggravates this condition). To avoid this situation make sure you have enough warm clothing and extra food (see the books listed below for more details). Sunburn and windburn are the summer hazards. Sunhats, sun cream, and sufficient drinking water can prevent serious sunburn or heatstroke.
All walkers should have a knowledge of basic first aid, particularly if you are walking in the
uplands or travelling by yourself. A badly-strained ankle suffered in remote mountains can be a highly dangerous matter. It is advisable that at least one person in a party knows how to bandage an ankle or apply a splint to a broken limb; and hillwalkers should be able to recognise the signs of hypothermia and how to respond. Every rucksack should contain a first aid kit. For casual, lowland walking a few plasters and a small bandage may do; but those heading for the hills should consider taking plasters (various sizes); bandages (including triangular) and safety pin; aspirin; antiseptic wipes/cream; surgical tape; and wound dressings. Ready-made first aid kits for walkers are available, including the popular Gregson Pack which comes with easy-to-follow instructions. See the books listed overleaf for further details. Even more useful is a short course on basic first aid - contact your local St John Ambulance or Red Cross branch. Remember: fundamental to first aid is warmth, rest and reassurance.
The natural world
Insects can be a serious irritant, especially midges in Scotland in the Summer. Consider carrying an insect repellent, and know how to treat bites and stings. In particular, bites from infected ticks, if left untreated, may be dangerous and in extreme circumstances may lead to a serious condition known as Lyme Disease. The risk of tick bites is most acute during the Summer, when ticks that live on bracken and other undergrowth can attach themselves to the skin of animals and humans. The advice to walkers is to wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts when walking through dense undergrowth such as bracken, and regularly check for any signs of ticks on your skin or clothes, carefully removing them straight away. For more details see RA Fact Sheet 15: Bracken and Lyme Disease. A problem of a different nature can be posed by untethered bulls, and also marauding dogs. Treat both with caution. Back away, slowly, and report the incident to the Police if you consider the situation unlawful as well as dangerous.
Suggested reading and walking courses
The Complete Walker by Kevin Walker (Ashford, £6.95); The Backpacker's Handbook by Chris Townsend (Oxford Illustrated Press, £12.99) and a more recent handbook of the same name by Hugh McManners (Dorling Kindersley, £7.99) - all these books have details on equipment and safety. For expert all-round medical advice, consult the First Aid Manual, the authorised manual of St John Ambulance/British Red Cross (Dorling Kindersley, £8.99), or Practical First Aid by the British Red Cross (Dorling Kindersley, £4.99). Both organisations also produce videos on the subject. For more specialist matters, see Medical handbook for mountaineers by Peter Steele (Constable, £10.95), and Safety on Mountains ("An Approach to Mountain Adventure for Beginners") by the British Mountaineering Council, £1.50. All the above books should be available (or can be ordered) from bookshops and libraries.