One of the great things about walking is that you don't need a lot of fancy equipment. All you need are shoes, socks, clothes, and water.
The following provides some tips on how to select good walking apparel:
When it comes to shoes, it is important to pick shoes that are comfortable, supportive, and suit your individual type of foot arch. Walking shoes are designed for the unique heel-to-toe rolling motion of the foot in the walking stride—a stride that is very different from running. See choosing a walking shoe.
Good socks are very important for general comfort and preventing blisters. Important guidelines when selecting socks are:
- Make sure your socks fit well and don't bunch.
- Wear socks made of material that wicks moisture away from your body. While cotton socks are comfortable for normal use, they collect moisture when exercising. With this extra moisture on the foot, the foot becomes more susceptible to blisters.
- Many walkers prefer socks that supply extra padding.
- Examples of some very popular socks that do all of these things are Thorlo's, Smart Wool Walking Socks, and New Balance CoolMax Socks.
You don't need special clothing for walking, just be sure your clothes are comfortable and allow freedom of movement. Additional tips are:
- Wear clothes that wick moisture away from your body.
- Dress in layers. No matter what time of year it is, it is a good idea to dress in layers when walking. By wearing layers, you can make adjustments as your body gets warmer or colder or as the weather changes. In general, you need three layers:
- The Inner Layer (for staying dry.
- The Middle Layer (for temperature control)
- The Outer Layer (for wind and water resistance)
- Dress for the season. In the winter months you'll need heavier clothing plus hats, boots, mittens, etc. In the summer months, it is important to wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Water Bottle (with water in it!)
Because you sweat and breathe more during physical activity, your body needs more water than usual. It is important to stay hydrated—water regulates the body's temperature, cushions and protects vital organs, and aids the digestive system.
The American Council on Exercise recommends the following in terms of water consumption:
- Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before starting your walk.
- Drink 8 ounces of fluid 20 to 30 minutes prior to walking or during warm-up.
- Drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during your walk.
- Drink an additional 8 ounces of fluid within 30 minutes after your walk.
You don't need much to start a walking program—supportive shoes, comfortable clothes, and water are about all you need. Some people like accessories.
In special situations, for instance if you are walking at night, you may want to bring along extra equipment. And some people like accessories and gadgets. The following lists specialty walking equipment and accessories.
Road ID's are bracelets that usually weigh around 1 oz. and can be worn around one's wrist or ankle. These bracelets contain your medical history and your family contact information. It is a good idea to wear these bracelets because, in the event of an injury or health complication, medical staff would have all the necessary information to successfully treat you.
Many people bring a cell phone with them on walks. Cell phones are especially important when walking alone. If you get injured or harmed on a walk, having a cell phone with you allows you to contact help.
Some people carry watches or cell phones that have Global Positioning (GPS) in them. This ensures that if they get lost they can find their way back to safety.
Pepper spray can also be important for a walker. If a walker is attacked by a dog or person, pepper spray can help protect the walker from harm.
If walking at night, a flashlight is always a good idea. Flashlights allow the walker to see what is ahead of them and also allows the walker to be seen more readily by traffic. If walking at night, it should also be mentioned that wearing reflective clothing helps walkers to be more visible to traffic as well.
A pedometer is a device that gauges how many steps a walker has taken. Newer, more sophisticated pedometers also estimate how fast people are walking and how many calories they have burnt. Pedometers have become very popular due to the 10,000 steps initiative. See Pedometer FAQs.
Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitors are used by some walkers to identify exertion. Measuring heart rate is one way to determine exercise intensity. Heart rate monitors are most often used by people with moderate to high fitness levels or by people whose doctors have recommended they keep track of heart rate.
MP3 players provide entertainment and motivation while walking. When walking alone, many people choose to listen to music to pass the time. Music is also a great way to motivate you. Take care to not listen to music too loudly—this is because this can damage your ears and makes you oblivious to the sounds of traffic or other people walking or cycling behind you.
Walking poles can help increase the amount of exertion and condition your upper body as you walk. Walking with poles is called Nordic Walking. Most walking poles have rubber tips that grab the pavement and wrist straps that secure the poles to your arms.
What about hand weights? Most experts say no—don't use them. Why? Because the benefits don't outweigh the risks. By using hand weights, you risk causing injury to your shoulders or the muscles of the upper chest. To increase your walking intensity and conditioning, use poles instead.
Choosing a Walking Shoe
We are all different, and so are our feet!
Each of us is built differently. This becomes obvious when we look at our feet. Some of us have wide feet, others have narrow feet. Some of us have high arches, others have hardly any arch at all. Therefore, before you buy a pair of walking shoes, you need to recognize the type of foot you have. You can go to a podiatrist to find out what type of shoe you need, but that is usually not necessary. The most important part of foot anatomy in selecting a proper walking shoe is the type of arch.
How do I determine what kind of arch I have?
Here are two simple ways to identify your arch type:
- Wet your bare foot and then step on a piece paper. If most of your foot can be seen on the paper, you have flat arches. If you can see very little of your foot, you have high arches. If you are somewhere in between, you have what is called a "neutral" arch.
- Another way of identifying your arch type is to look at the insole of your old walking shoe: if the shoes are worn in, you should be able to see a representation or imprint of your foot.
Now that I know what type of arch I have, what kind of shoe do I need?
Here are the two most important things you need to know when selecting a walking shoe:
- Choose a shoe made expressly for walking. There all sorts of shoes made for different sports and types of exercise—running shoes, tennis shoes, basketball shoes, to name just a few—but only walking shoes give you the support you need for the specific activity of walking. Walking shoes are designed for the unique heel-to-toe rolling motion of the foot in the walking stride—a stride that is very different from running. Walking shoes also have rounded heels and toes. This helps reduce impact when your heel hits the ground and help you push off into your stride.
- Choose a shoe with the proper support for the kind of arch you have. The right kind of arch support will distribute your weight evenly across your foot. A proper fitting shoe will also allow your foot to adapt readily to different walking surfaces. The following recommendations are for the three main arch types:
- Neutral Arch Type: You can wear almost any shoe that feels comfortable. This is because you have an adequate amount of arch support and shock absorption.
- Flat Arch Type: Having flat feet may create added muscle stress and joint issues. Due to this fact, people who possess flat arch types should look for walking shoes with a firm midsole and pronation control. Pronation is when your foot rolls inward, placing most of your weight on the inside of your foot. Feet with flat arches tend to pronate more than the other types. Aftermarket arch supports can help this problem; they can be found at nearly all shoe stores.
- High Arch Type: If you have high arches in your feet, your feet do not absorb shock adequately. This added stress on the foot can be disabling if not addressed by the shoe. High arches require extra padding and arch support that does not limit motion. If you cannot find a shoe with good arch support, or an insert that provides sufficient arch support, you may want to consult a podiatrist or foot specialist.
What other concerns should I address when selecting a walking shoe?
Any good walking shoe should be not only well fitting and comfortable, but capable of breathing well. The shoe should be able to shed the heat and moisture that build up in vigorous walking. Ill-fitting and poorly made shoes can cause discomfort, callouses, and blisters, so take your time in selecting a pair of walking shoes because you hope to be walking in them for many miles!