Walking Clothing and Equipment
In the days of Wainwright and before, walking gear consisted of woollen or cotton clothing, a canvas rucksack and an oilskin coat if you were lucky. Since that time continual advances in technical clothing have allowed modern walkers to be comfortable and virtually impervious to all but the most severe weather conditions. All outdoor pursuits now have highly specialised clothing developed and marketed by companies that have become major brands and even fashion setters. The key to this trend has been the development of synthetic textiles with breathability and wicking properties and the concept of layering including a shell outer layer.
Today, if you want state-of-the-art technical clothing supplied by a top brand it is going to cost you, particularly if you go for the latest season’s fashion and want gear for all seasons. The upside is that you will stay dry, and your body will be at a comfortable temperature in all conditions. This assumes that you layer appropriately for the climate and use the many functional features of the clothing.
Of course, you don’t have to purchase all this expensive gear to go walking, and by purchasing from lesser known brands and perhaps in sales it is possible to kit yourself out for a reasonable sum. If you follow manufacturer’s instructions on care and washing, then your purchases will last and prove a sound investment keeping you comfortable in the great outdoors.
The concept of layering is to wear several layers of clothing, each of which serves a different function. A layer of air also exists between each fabric layer and acts as further insulation of your body heat. As conditions change or your body heats up with exertion you can remove a clothing layer to allow heat dissipation and keep cool. If you stop for rest or the temperature drops and you feel cold you can add a layer to improve retention of your body heat. It is a good idea to begin a walk feeling a little on the cool side as your body will soon generate heat with exercise. If you begin with too many layers you will have too much insulation and will soon have to stop and remove a layer. This idea of layering is sometimes referred to as the onion principle. This concept is more relevant to walking in cool and wet conditions.
This is the layer of clothing that will be in direct contact with your skin. Perspiration will be absorbed by this layer and, if the material is unsuitable such as cotton, it will become damp and clingy, leaving your skin wet. Modern technical base layer materials have a wicking property which transmits the moisture from your skin through the fabric to its outer surface, leaving your skin dry. It is definitely worth investing in a specialist high wicking base layer, particularly if you are backpacking or on a walking holiday as the fabrics are easy to wash and dry very quickly. Some even claim to stay fresh without washing after several days wear.
These layers are designed to offer insulation, retaining your body heat and keeping you warm. In cooler climates you should have two mid-layers available allowing you to control heat loss. One layer you wear continuously and this could be a fleece shirt or lightweight fleece pullover. The second layer should be a mid or heavyweight fleece jacket, depending upon the ambient temperature. The jacket can be removed if you are too hot, or just left open allowing some heat dissipation. For walking in cold dry conditions a wind-blocking fleece jacket is a good choice for protecting you from strong chilly winds. There are many variations of mid-layer garments and choice will depend upon climate, type of walking and personal preferences.
Known as the shell layer this is designed to keep you dry in wet weather and offer protection from strong wind. It is the barrier between you and the elements. If you are hill walking all day in driving rain you will be asking a lot from your shell layer, so good shell jackets are technically sophisticated and consequently expensive. If you only intend short walks in good weather and just need protection from occasional showers a much simpler jacket easy to pack in your daysack is all that is required.
An essential feature of a shell jacket is that it must be waterproof and not let water in, but if you are working hard and perspiring then internal moisture must also be removed if you are to stay dry and comfortable. High quality shell materials have a breathability property which allows perspiration to be wicked out leaving you dry, so always look for materials with good breathability when purchasing. Equally important is the construction of the jacket. Seams must be waterproof and zips should have storm flaps and there should be adjustable cuffs and collar to avoid water leakage. A well-fitting hood that will turn with your head and perhaps with a stiffened peak is essential. There should be plenty of pockets, including a map pocket. Underarm venting zips are also a useful feature for when you are hot but rain prevents you from easily removing a layer.
Clothing for Walking in a Warm Climate
If you are walking in warm dry conditions two layers are all that is required using a light weight loose fitting shirt or similar over a technical base layer. Shorts may be preferable to long trousers for comfort, but not when walking through areas where ticks might be prevalent. Zip-off trousers offer the ability to switch between long to short as required. Fabrics with UV blocking properties can help protect you from strong sunlight, but light colours that reflect sunlight and help deter insects are more important. Choose quick drying fabrics. A peaked cap is also useful to protect your head from excessive sun exposure.
Like all walking gear trousers have become increasingly technical and specialised. They can be broadly classified as follows:
Long summer wear
Long summer wear with zip-off lower half converting to shorts
Long winter wear lined
Over trousers (shell trousers)
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