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Top 10 Walking Equipment Essentials

The definitive hiking and walking equipment checklist

Walking is an easy, relaxing way of exploring the great outdoors whilst getting some essential exercise for your body. Anyone can start walking providing they have a rough idea of where they're going, a decent pair of footwear, a walking route planner and the drive to get outside! Walking is about exploring the world as we know it and getting away from the modern lifestyle we are all guilty of being involved in at some point in our lives.

Although walking doesn't really much "equipment," there are a few things that one can buy which can make the entire walking experience a far more enjoyable one. Certain items are obviously more critical than others, so use this definitive walking equipment list as a rough guide only. Everyone has their own preference with certain tastes of one walker being completely different to another.

If you'd like to add to this list, or provide feedback of any kind please email rambler@walkingrouteplanner.co.uk

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1. Walking Clothing / Base layers

Many individual walkers will argue that you can walk in any clothing that's comfortable to you. In many short walking route situations this is applicable, but being comfortable on a long walk can be the difference between being an enjoyable walking memory and one you'd like to quickly forget. Although I wasn't a believer of the base layer to begin with, I rarely walk without them. The base layer technology helps to lift the sweat from your skin as you walk, helping to keep you feeling cool and fresh. Cotton for example doesn't have the material properties to do this, retaining sweat which leaves you feeling clammy.

On top of that base layer, you'll want an outer layer or waterproof jacket that's designed to keep all weather conditions at bay. A jacket that's easily removable will help make controlling your body temperature a lot easier, whilst making sure you choose something that's water & wind resistant. If I were to offer any advice, avoid cheap showerproof options - They won't stand the test of time or keep you dry during an unexpected downpour. Breathable materials such as Gore-Tex will help your body "breathe" whilst helping sweat perspire naturally. Sticking to these breathable materials is the key to walking clothing - Fabrics like this will stop you from sweating excessively whilst spreading excessive body heat.

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2. Walking Shoes / Walking Boots

It's easy to slip on a comfortable pair of sneakers and head out the door, but it'll only be a matter of time before you realise why proper walking footwear is important. Of course, if you're just walking on pavement or other hard concrete surfaces then running shoes or cushioned sneakers will work just fine. When venturing onto natural paths and dirt trails, then it's wise to look for something a little more rugged. Remember, all types of walking boots will have a "breaking in" period in which they will feel a little stiff and not as comfortable as you'd like. Don't worry - the comfort will come in time, as the materials of the boot will become flexible to your walking style as you complete numerous walking routes.

We don't need to tell you that making sure you choose waterproof footwear is something of a must. If you're in a position to buy some new walking boots or shoes, then be sure to check that they are all weather waterproof. The costs may be a little more, but there's no finer feeling than being able to keep your feet dry whilst the heavens open mid-walk.

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3. Socks

Now that you've got yourself a suitable pair of walking boots, you'll need to protect your feet with a comfortable pair of walking socks. Don't be fooled into thinking that the black pair of cotton socks you wear to office "doubled up" will do the job, because they really won't. You'll need to grab hold of a pair of socks make from wicking fabrics which work to "wick" the sweat away from the feet, preventing blisters and potentially painful rubbing.

A good pair of padded walking socks can be purchased from any outdoor store for relatively good prices. If you're working with a slightly larger budget, keep a look out for a pair of double layered socks designed with a wicking fabric laced to the inside of the sock. Although these sophisticated double layered socks may seem like a little too much for a casual walker, remember that a good pair of socks can be the difference between feeling fine after a lengthy walking route and having sore feet for days.

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4. Hats / Scarves / Gloves

It's better to be safe than sorry right? When walking in the great outdoors of the UK, the weather can quickly take a turn for the worst. It's always useful to keep one eye open on the weather whilst taking some easily packed protection in your rucksack. In addition to classic Thinsulate thermal hats and fleece beanies, the classic billed cap has always been popular with outdoor walking veterans. Available at any outdoor store the billed cap will protect your head from the sun and keep wind-chill to a minimum, whilst helping to keep sweat under control.

If the temperature does decide to drop, having a comfy lightweight scarf accompanied with a pair of Thinsulate polar fleece walking gloves can really be the difference between powering through the rest of your walk and feeling gloomy, wishing you were anywhere but there. Of course, if you plan to walk in the colder months, then the aforementioned accessories are an obvious must.

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5 - Backpack / Rucksack

Often regarded as the alternative to stuffing your pockets, some walking regulars will argue that a backpack or rucksack is essential to any wannabe walker. A rucksack is a great way of keeping all your walking essentials in one place, distributing the weight evenly across your body. Some advanced walking backpacks have waist straps designed to help to spread the weight even further, helping to prevent potential shoulder and back ache. We shouldn't have to say this but handbags, "manbags" and satchels are not ideal. They'll mess with your natural walking balance and potentially cause aches and pains in your shoulders.

When shopping for a rucksack, it's important to go for one that suits your body shape and size. If the backpack is too small or too big it'll quickly become more of a nuisance than a helpful means. Remember that backpacks with waist straps will help to reduce the weight on your shoulders. A day sack is normally good enough, but as a good rule of thumb 15 to 20 litres normally does the trick.

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6. Walking Stick / Hiking Pole

I personally found no need for a walking pole during my first 5 - 6 years as a walker until I was offered one by a close climbing friend of mine - I now swear by them. A walking pole is a great way of spreading the stress of walking on the body by using your arm and back muscles as opposed to just your legs and feet. Most walking poles are made from lightweight materials (expect around 300 - 400 grams per pole!) so keeping them with you whilst walking isn't too difficult or cumbersome.

Some advanced walking poles are even fitted with "antishock" spring technology to help take away the strike motion as you're walking. They even sell folding walking poles that utilise clever telescopic pole technology, so you can always find room for one in your backpack.

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7. Route Planner / GPS / Map / Compass

Some walkers tend to find the thought of getting lost and finding their way back, quite the exciting thrill ride. For a veteran walker this may be the case, but for a beginner venturing out for the first time, getting lost can be a horrible experience. Knowing your walking route before you head out the door can certainly be helpful as it will help you relax during the walk. Having a good idea of where you're going allows you to enjoy the surroundings, whilst marvelling at the show nature has to offer. Better than trekking with a map in front of your face in a vain attempt to try and keep to your walking route plan!

Be sure to take a look at a walking route planner such as WalkIt or Ramblers (free online resources available for anyone) to give yourself an idea of where you're going. Most walking routes can be printed so you can keep a copy on your person whilst out. In addition to knowing where you're going, walking route planners are great for checking terrain types, elevations, path types, locations of toilets and other points of interest, and any other major checkpoints such as roads.

If you've got a little more budget to work with, you may want to look into purchasing a personal GPS device. With technology advancing each day, most handheld walking GPS devices are now easy to use, lightweight, with protection from the elements incorporated flawlessly into the design. A lengthy battery life quickly makes a handheld GPS a lifesaving companion should you get lost whilst the sun sets over the horizon!

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8. Food & Water / Energy Bars

Picture yourself nearing the peak of a 6 hour mountain trek, 30 minutes from the top, only to find yourself lacking enough energy for the final push. At times like this many veteran walkers will tell you that you simply can't beat a handy bar of Kendal Mint Cake, helping to pick you up from slumps in performance. First developed in 1869 as a spin-off creation of glacier mints, there are still three original factories that make Kendal mint cake in Kendal, UK. Kendal mint cake is a staple for mountaineers and explorers alike due to the high energy content, which is why long distances walkers tend to keep a packet in their rucksack for emergencies. There are of course plenty of other high energy food alternatives, so pick one that suits you.

It's obvious but be sure to drink plenty of water! Avoid becoming dehydrated at all costs as this will drastically affect your performance without you even noticing. Carry an appropriate amount of water on your person depending of course on the distance you plan to travel. Pack high energy foods such as dried fruits, nuts and trail mix to keep you going during your walk.

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9. Sun Protection

When walking outdoors, there's a high chance that a lot of your body will be exposed to the warming rays of the sun. Although this sounds like an ideal walking haven, excessive sun will dehydrate the body, cause burn, and even skin cancer. If the sun is going to be out, even on cold windy days, be sure to liberally apply sunscreen to exposed skin areas for maximum protection.

Remember, your clothing is your first layer of defence from the sun so wrapping yourself in light breathable materials isn't such a bad idea. Try opting for a long sleeve fitted sports top instead of a polar fleece to ensure sun protection without overheating, which can lead to dehydration.

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10. Mobile Phone / Communication device

Mobile phones and portable communication devices have come on leaps and bounds in the last 10 years, with over 5 billion active mobile connections across the planet. There's a high chance that whilst reading this, you'll have a mobile telephone or something similar within a reachable (or walkable) distance should you need to use it.

Some mobile smartphones even allow you download and installation applications that allow you to have an active walking route planner with you as you walk. Sometimes this can be more cost effective than buying a personal GPS device, whilst having the luxury of having both your phone and GPS in one device. If a smartphone sounds a little much for you, or you fancy yourself as a bit of a technophobe, try to get your hands on a basic mobile phone just in case. They even sell waterproof phones - perfect for surviving a torrential downpour.

From a walker's point of view, a mobile phone acts as great back up for getting yourself out of a sticky situation. If your walking route planner has let you down, and you find yourself lost with the evening darkness fast approaching, a simple call for help could quickly get you back on the right track.