Our Beginners' Guide to Going Walking
If you are just starting out walking, it can feel quite daunting... Where do you walk? What will the walk be like? What do you need to wear? What do you need to take?
Lots of questions, but we've got the answers on Walks Around Britain.
Where to walk?
Firstly, our walking routes, television programmes and video walks and audio walks on our podcast should give you plenty of inspiration of where to walk - and if our website doesn't cover an area yet, we've got links to other sites to help you.
What will the walk be like?
All the walks on our website are graded - easy, medium and hard - and we try to give as much information about the walk as we can - including the number of stiles, the type of terrain and even how to get to the walk using public transport.
And if you pick one of the routes with our famous video walks, you can easily see exactly what the walk will be like and what you'll discover along the way by watching the video.
So that's the first two questions answered. Now let's tackle the other questions...
What do you need to wear?
Well, you can go out walking wearing jeans and trainers and a can of cola - but we don't advise that if you want to be comfortable and enjoy your walk. Having said that, you perhaps don't need extreme boots, expensive all weather jackets and a pack more suitable to mountain explorers. It's horses for courses.
Some of the walks on the Walks Around Britain website go through areas which are pretty exposed, and although these are often the best and most rewarding walks, you certainly won't enjoy them if you're frozen to the bone and soaking wet... Even on bright days, the weather in Britain can change very quickly - so you need to be prepared.
Here's what we recommend you wear if you're thinking about going out walking on a fairly regular basis...
If you only buy one piece of kit for walking, we recommend you buy a good pair of walking boots. Nothing will ruin your day more than having uncomfortable wet feet!
Walking boots are the best as they provide you with ankle support - essential over uneven ground. A lightweight pair should be fine if you're not going to climb the Lake District's highest fells or over rugged terrain.
Online retailers may be cheaper, but the best place to buy a boot is a local outdoor shop. They'll be able to check the ones you want fit well and are comfortable. A local outdoor shop might be more expensive than an online retailer, but you can get help and advice in getting the right boots.
Make sure you "break in" new walking boots before you go out seriously walking in them. Use them for a couple of weeks before your first trip and gradually increase the length of time you wear the boots. When the stiffness is gone and you feel comfortable in them, that's the time to go on your walk.
Socks are also important as they are your first line of defense against blisters. The best socks don't bunch up in your chosen boots and should take sweat away from your skin. If you don't invest in properly designed walking socks, steer well clear of cotton socks.
Reviews of socks from our blog...
Terra Nova Extremities Hiker socks
Waterproof jacket with hood
With our weather being so changable, a good quality waterproof and windproof jacket or anorak is essential. There is a big different between waterproof and showerproof / water resistant - as you'll find out in the middle of Snowdonia! Look for one with a hood and many waterproof jackets have a built-in hood which can be folded away when its not needed. Spacious pockets are also a good idea, especially if they have zips or flaps to stop your maps, food and other items getting wet.
Trousers that will dry quickly - not jeans!
Everyday casual trousers are ok for easy walks, but if you're intending on walking regularly then a pair of synthetic walking trousers are a must. These are lightweight, loose-fitting, have plenty of pockets and dry very quickly - very useful when on a walk.
Some walkers wear shorts in warm weather, although long trousers offer more protection against ticks, nettles and brambles. Certains types of walking trousers allow to the legs to be zipped off to form shorts.
Try to avoide jeans. Once jeans have got wet, they take a long time to dry - which with their high wind-chill factor means you can get very cold in them. They also can cause chafing due to their restrictive movement.
Hat and gloves in the cooler months / Sunhat or cap in the hotter months
It's a common myth to think "up to 40% of body heat is lost through the head", but it is certainly the case that wearing a hat in winter will keep you warmer. A hat is a must in winter, especially in the hills, and it can be worn under a jacket hood. It also protects your ears too.
Gloves are also important in cold weather, especially if you suffer from circulation problems such as chilblains. Walking with a good posture means you should be able to swing your arms freely, so putting your hands in your pockets isn't a good idea.
When it's sunny, wear a sunhat and use sun cream on your face and any bare patches of skin. You may be out in the sun for long periods without shelter and even in a cooling wind or in winter you can still get burnt.
The basic idea of outdoor clothing is layering - this means using several thin layers of clothing rather than one thick jumper. This is because warm air gets trapped between the several thin layers providing better insulation, and you can add or remove layers as you get hotter or colder.
The "base layer" is the one nearest to the body. This can be made from a synthetic material which can take mosture away from the skin - known as "wicking". There are many different types of synthetic material but essentially they all do the same job. Or another material is Merino - which is from a breed of sheep. Merino is highly breathable and is exceptional at actively moving moisture away from the skin. Merino fibres also release a small amount of heat when wet, so unlike synthetics will not feel cold and clammy when wet.
Between base layer and a jacket, you can add one or more insulating "mid-layers". This is usually an open-weave or a knitted fabric - most people use a fleece. Regular fleece sweatshirts from normal high-street stores are fine, but a good fleece specially designed for outdoor use could keep you warmer and more comfortable. Some of these walking fleeces are even windproof, so you have the option of not having to wear a jacket.
The right OS Map for the walk you are doing
This is so important. Unless you do know the area where you are walking like the back of your hand, a map is essential. We are blessed in Britain in having some of the most acuate and comprehensive series of maps available courtesy of the Ordnance Survey. The OS offers a range of different scales of maps - the best for walkers are the 1:25 000 scale Explorer series in orange covers.
Ensure you have the correct OS map for the walk you are doing. All the walks on our website clearly state the OS map required, and if you haven't already got it, you can click on the link to buy it from our mapshop.
A waterproof case is a great idea to keep your map dry - and now OS have a special range of laminated maps available - but they are more expensive.
Rucksack / Backpack
A rucksack (or backpack) is the best way of carrying what you need on a walk - they are hands-free and will be more comfortable than a shoulder bag over long distances.
Small rucksacks are often called a daysack or daypack. These are perfect for short walks - the kind we do - and are usually around 20-25 litres in capacity. This makes them fairly light, even when fully loaded, and they'd be ideal for most walkers. Sometimes the simplest only have shoulder straps - so that all the weight of is carried on the shoulders. We'd only entertain these for the occasional short distance walk.
If you're looking at walks of a longer distance, then a suitable rucksack size would be around 30-55 litres. These have more compartments and pockets for the added items you need whilst out on a longer walk.
More intense long-distance walkers could look at packs of between 55-75 litres.
Other items we advise are...
More food and water than you think you'll need (at least ½ litre of water for every 5 miles, and more on a hot day)
Basic First Aid kit
Snacks, eg bananas, sweets, nuts, mint cake
Sunglasses and suntan lotion in sunny weather
Cash for phone box (remote areas often don't have mobile reception) or bus/taxi if something goes wrong
Spare clothes in a bag inside your Rucksack.
You might also want to bring...
Torch - especially longer walks in the winter
Gaiters - great if mud or rain are likely are your route. These protect your boots and trousers.
Flask of a hot drink - tea, coffee, hot chocolate or soup
Walking poles - if you find them useful.
You'll have an idea of what kind of walking you are going to do and how often, bearing in mind the time of year, weather, length and difficulty of the walks.
If you only buy one piece of kit, we advise a pair of good quality walking boots.