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Adrian's Walking Tips

Over the years, I've picked up quite a few hints and tips regarding walking. Also, I picked up quite a bit of useful knowledge while a member of the Air Training Corps back in the early 1980s. The squardon I was with was fortunate in having members of staff who were former members of the RAF Regiment and Royal Marines, and they made sure that all members of the squadron received a comprehensive training in map-reading, navigation and survival techniques. Many of the hints and tips I've picked up are really just common sense, but others are a little less obvious and may even sound a bit silly at first. However, I know from experience that they do work and make good sense, and so I thought I'd take the opportunity to pass them on here. You don't have to follow the advice below, but I'd recommend you at least give it some thought, as it would help make your walking experiences much more enjoyable.


Footwear and Foot Care

Feet are obviously very important to a walker, and a good pair of walking boots is the walker’s best friend. There is a huge a variety of boots out there, and the choice of boots is very much a personal preference. However, it is always important to make sure that the type of boots chosen matches the type of terrain over which they will be used. For normal trail walking on hard surfaces, either full boots or smaller trainer-style walking shoes are suitable. Obviously, full boots give more ankle support, but can be heavier and some people may find them less comfortable than the trainer-style walking shoes. At a pinch, a good stout pair of trainers can be used for trail walking, but it is important to make sure that they have a good tread pattern on the sole. For rougher terrain, full boots are always the recommended option, preferably ones with a proper waterproof upper as this kind of terrain can often be wet and muddy, and there is nothing worse than walking in dripping-wet boots with dripping-wet socks!

Obviously, there are some types of footwear you should avoid when going walking. As crazy as it may seem, some people do try to go walking in high heels! While it may seem obvious to most sensible people that these are highly unsuitable for walking in, it isn’t unknown for some to try, and then act amazed when they lose their footing, sprain an ankle, and have to be rescued by the emergency services. Other types of footwear you would be wise to avoid includes sandals and flip-flops, deck shoes, cowboy boots and dress shoes.

Whatever type of footwear is chosen, it is important that it be well broken-in before attempting any significant walking. If not broken in, then any boots, no matter how expensive, are almost certain to rub and cause painful blisters, so always make sure to break in a new pair of boots before attempting a walk in them.

And the choice of socks can also have an effect on your chances of getting blisters. When you buy a pair of boots, always make sure they are a little larger than your usual shoe size, as this then allows you to wear the proper socks inside them. My own personal preference is for a pair of thin cotton-rich socks such as sports socks, over which I then wear a second thicker pair. This second pair provides a layer of padding between my feet and the boots, while the inner pair stops the rougher outer pair rubbing my feet, and also helps soak up the sweat.

One of the stangest pieces of advice I've ever heard was given to my neice and her friend when they were doing an 18-mile sponsored walk for charity, on which I accompanied them to make sure everything went OK. They were advised by somebody (not me) to rub their feet with a well-known brand of petroleum jelly, smearing it on very thickly, before putting on their socks, as this would stop them getting any blisters. The person who gave them this advice claims to do long-distance walks of up to a couple of hundred miles, etc, although myself and others have serious doubts about many of their claims to their walking experience. Needless to say, my neice and her friend did get lots of big blisters while I, just wearing my well-broken-in boots and a couple of pairs of socks, didn't get a single one. So I think it's fair to say that, if anyone tells you to put petroleum jelly on your feet, you should ignore them and just go with some good socks instead!


Clothing

As with footwear, it is important to have the right clothing for walking. Exactly what you wear will be a matter of personal choice and style, but there are a few useful guide-lines it is worth keeping in mind. The first is to always follow the principle of layering, which is wearing several thin layers rather than a few thick ones. While this may mean that you are wearing more garments, it also allows you to add or remove layers to help control your body temperature much more easily. This will make you feel a lot more comfortable, and make your walk a lot more enjoyable. Also, loose-fitting clothes will help air circulate around your body much better, again making you feel more comfortable – and they will also rub you a lot less, avoiding things like the dreaded “jogger’s nipple”.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is Britain, and this means that we can get rain at any time of the year. So it is always wise to make sure you have some waterproof clothing with you, even in the summer. At the very least, this should be some form of lightweight waterproof jacket, and will ideally also include some waterproof over-trousers too. Up on the tops of hills, or in other open terrain, it can also be very windy, so a windproof jacket is essential if you intend walking in these areas.

Something else worth having is a hat. While you may not normally wear one while “out and about”, a hat is a very useful thing to have with you while walking. In hot weather, it can help keep the sun out of your eyes and off your head, helping to avoid sunstroke and other similar hot-weather conditions. In wet weather, it can help keep your head dry - And yes, many waterproof jackets do have hoods that serve the same purpose, but these have the disadvantage of restricting your hearing, which can be a dangerous thing when walking on narrow roads which lack pavements.


Food and water

The tendency for most people when going walking is to load up their rucksack with plenty of food, plus either a flask of tea or coffee or a couple of small bottles of water or fizzy pop. It may come as a surprise to many of those who do this, but they are actually making a potentially serious mistake that could affect their chances of completing their planned walk. And, if they do complete it, they will be in much worse physical condition, and take longer to recover, than if they had done things a little differently.

When planning a walk, most people assume that the most important thing to carry in the form of provisions is plenty of food. This is based on the assumption that, when walking, it is food that the body will need the most. However, the experiences of people who have found themselves in extreme survival situations have shown time and again that the human body can go for up to three weeks without food, but only a couple of days or so without water. From this, we can see that it is water, not food, that is the more important supply to carry. So it is important to carry as much water as possible, even at the expense of food if necessary. While this may sound counter-intuitive to some, it is backed up by some very good scientific research by both sports scientists and the military, both of whom have recognised the need for proper hydration in order to maintain peak performance and health. This research has shown that as little as 2% dehydration can have a significant effect on performance, but the average person will be anywhere up to 7% dehydrated before beginning to feel thirsty. So, by the time you begin to feel thirsty, you will already be significantly dehydrated and your physical performance will have begun to degrade. As little as 2% dehydration can also have a significant effect on decision-making ability, which can prove critical in emergency situations and lead to possible wrong decisions being made. Mild dehydration such as this can have other effects too, including headaches and nausea, which can also impact upon performance. Maintaining a proper hydration level also speeds recovery from exertion, meaning that you feel fewer after-effects from any activity and regain your normal energy levels much quicker. This is why both sports scientists and the military now advise those under their care to maintain proper hydration levels at all times, and this is advice that walkers would be wise to heed too.

So how much fluid should you carry? The two primary factors influencing fluid consumption are the terrain over which you are travelling and the weather conditions in which you are doing it. The rougher the terrain and the hotter or more humid the weather, the more fluid will be needed. Research conducted by the Israeli Army in the 1960s showed that, in hot conditions, the amount of fluid needed to maintain proper hydration while walking can be as high as one litre per hour. While the UK does not have the same Eastern Mediterranean climate as Israel (yet!), this does show that the amount of fluid needed far exceeds what most people would imagine. My own experience has shown that, even walking along a prepared trail such as the Monsal Trail in warm weather, fluid intake can be as high as 500ml per hour. In cooler weather, this falls to around 250ml per hour, which is still a significant amount. So, when planning your own walk, or deciding what provisions to carry when taking part in a guided walk, it is important to carry at least 250ml of fluid for each hour, plus a reserve. This means that, for a six-hour walk in cooler conditions, you need to carry at least 1.5 litres of fluid plus a reserve, and so 2 litres would be a sensible amount. In very warm weather, these amounts should be doubled, and so the recommended amount of fluid to carry for a full-day walk in hot summer weather is approximately 4 litres. Is this more than you would have thought to pack yourself? I think it probably is.

One way you can slightly reduce the amount of water you need to carry is by "pre-hydrating". Anyone who watches top-level motor sports such as Formula 1 will be familiar with this already, as this is what the drivers can be seen doing on the grid prior to each race. Racing drivers lose an incredible amount of fluid during a race in the form of sweat, often two litres or more, and that fluid needs to be replaced in order to maintain peak mental and physical performance if they are going to stand a chance of winning the race. Most racing cars now are equipped with a drinks bottle that the driver can use during the race, but this adds unwanted weight to the car. So, by "pre-hydrating" before the race, the driver pre-loads their body with extra fluid, reducing the amount of fluid needed during the race itself, and therefore the weight of water carried by the car. While the average walker will not lose anywhere near this amount of fluid, the same principle can be used to help reduce the amount of weight carried. By drinking 250ml to 500ml of fluid before starting to walk, you can eliminate the need to drink any more for the first hour of walking, shaving a small but important amount off the weight you need to carry.

What kind of fluid is best to carry? Although some may think it traditional to bring along a flask of tea or coffee, this is not a good idea as both tea and coffee are diuretics that promote the loss of fluid and speed up the rate at which the body becomes dehydrated. The same goes for alcohol and “energy” drinks containing caffeine. The best fluids to carry are either isotonic sports drinks, fruit juice (but not pineapple or lemon, as these are both diuretics) or water. My own experience is that both the isotonic drinks and fruit juices can be a little too acidic to make up the bulk of your fluid intake, and this can upset your system and cause indigestion or even diarrhoea – not really what you want when out in the wilds! Experience has shown that by far the best form of fluid to carry is simply water, either ordinary tap water or a still bottled variety, to which is added three to four heaped teaspoons of glucose powder per litre. This can be obtained fairly easily from many health food shops such as Holland and Barratt, pharmacies, and even some supermarkets. Not only does this help keep you hydrated, the glucose helps to replace the energy lost through walking, reducing the amount of food you need to carry. In warm conditions, add a very tiny amount (no more than about half-a-dozen grains) of ordinary table salt to each litre of water to replace the salt lost through sweat.

But what about food? When going walking, many people make the mistake of taking far too much food with them – I know, as I’ve done it myself! All this does is mean that you end up carrying excess weight, which then makes you burn more energy. So how much food do you actually need to carry, and what type? Well, the guide-line daily amount (GDA) for calorific intake is 2,500 calories for an adult male and 2,000 for an adult female. This is based on an average activity level, and prolonged strenuous activity can increase this significantly – It has been estimated that the crew of a sailing ship such as HMS Victory had an average daily intake of around 6,000 calories! Obviously, these were exceptional circumstances, and there is no way that the average recreational walker would need much more than the normal GDA. What you carry with you to eat is of course your own choice and will be influenced by your own personal tastes. However, if you have a reasonable breakfast before starting off, and plan on an equally reasonable evening meal afterwards, you should not need to carry food containing much more than 1,000 calories with you (note: on most food packaging, the figure you need to look at is the “kcal” value). Try to avoid foods with a high sugar content, such as chocolate, as these give you an instant but short-lived energy “high”, followed by a sudden “crash”. It is far better to go for foods that are lower in sugars but high in carbohydrates, as these give a much slower and longer-lasting energy release. My own preference, arrived at through years of experimentation, is a cereal bar and some dried fruit and nuts for the morning, a Cornish pasty or small bowl of rice or pasta for lunch, and another cereal bar and dried fruit and nuts for the afternoon. Your own choice may differ, but hopefully that gives you some idea of what amount of food you need. Of course, it is also a sensible idea to carry a small reserve in case of emergency, and this is where the sugary high-energy foods such as chocolate do come in useful as they are low in bulk but high in energy.


Rucksacks

Do you need a rucksack? Well, not necessarily, but it is by far the best solution. A rucksack helps spread the weight across your body, and also keeps both hands free for when you need them to help maintain your balance over rough ground, or for passing through or over other obstacles.

A common mistake made by the inexperienced is to select too large a rucksack – When going for a day walk, you don’t need a huge 80 litre capacity rucksack, and a smaller “day-sack” of no more than 35 litre capacity should suffice. In fact, for most people, a 25 litre backpack should prove more than adequate to carry all of their water, food and waterproofs, plus the other bits and pieces it is wise to carry “just in case”. If possible when selecting a rucksack or backpack, make sure it is at least shower-proof, and if possible try to get one that has a built-in rain cover.

Even if the rucksack or backpack you choose is shower-proof or has a rain cover, it is always a good idea to use a waterproof rucksack liner to protect the contents and keep them dry, as even the best rucksacks can leak a little if the rain is heavy enough. While such liners can be purchased from specialist outdoor equipment suppliers, a simple thick black plastic bin-liner can do just as good a job at a fraction of the cost.

As for the alternatives to a rucksack, about the only one that is recommended is a “messenger bag” or similar. Although not ideal, as they don’t allow you to keep both hands free at all times, the larger styles of messenger bag would have enough room for all of your food, water, etc. As such, they would be a reasonable alternative for a simple day-long trail walk if you only do a little bit of walking and don’t want to go to the expense of buying a rucksack. However, most experienced walkers would strongly recommend that you do buy a proper rucksack, as they do make things so much easier and safer.


What else do you need to carry?

If you were to ask a selection of experienced walkers what other things you should carry with you on your walk, you would probably get a whole range of answers based on the personal experiences of each of them. Some would say you didn’t need anything else other than your food, water and waterproofs, while others would give you a long list of things, most of which would leave you completely baffled. As you are not going treking through Siberia or the Amazon rainforest, it is highly unlikely you will need a survival kit worthy of Ray Mears or Bear Grylls, but there are a few things it is wise to consider packing “just in case”.

Probably the most useful thing to make sure you have with you is your mobile phone. Most places in the UK now have pretty good mobile phone coverage, and so you can usually use your phone to summon help if anything goes wrong. However, remember before you set off to make sure it is fully charged and you have plenty of call time, as there is nothing worse than your battery going flat or running out of call time right when you really need your phone. And if you have two phones, take both, as you never know when you could need a spare. If you do take a spare, it is probably a wise move to put it inside a waterproof bag, just to be safe, and keep it switched off to preserve the battery life.

If you do have to call for help, you need to let people know where you are, so something to help with that would be useful. The old-fashioned solution to this is a map, but these don’t always give enough detail and you do of course have to know how to read them correctly. Fortunately, modern technology provides the answer in the form of satellite navigation. Many smartphones also include a GPS receiver, and this can be used to find your current location. Alternatively, you could always invest in a proper GPS receiver made especially for walking. These start at about £100, and are very useful pieces of equipment as you can use them to navigate along your route in place of a conventional map. If you do decide to get a proper GPS receiver, don’t forget to pack a spare pair of batteries, as they do have a habit of running out right when it is most inconvenient.

Another useful thing to pack is a small first-aid kit. It doesn’t need to be anything really fancy, and you can pick up small kits in pouches for about £5. (Avoid the small first-aid kits you find in many Pound shops, as these are too small and poorly equipped.) Such a kit doesn’t weigh much or take up a lot of space, but equips you to deal with the minor cuts and scrapes you may get crossing some terrains or obstacles. It is also a good idea to add things like painkillers and other "over-the-counter" medicines such as indigestion and diarrhoea relief tablets to the basic kit. If you are taking any form of prescription medication, make sure to pack what you need for the day. It is also a good idea to pack a back-up supply as well, which you should either carry on your person rather than in your rucksack, or give to another member of your party to carry in their rucksack. This ensures that, in the event you lose your rucksack containing your medication, you should still have access to what you need. This back-up supply can also be useful if you should find yourself stuck somewhere overnight awaiting rescue or a change in the weather.

Although it's highly unlikely you'll ever need it, it's also probably a good idea to pack a foil survival blanket. These are cheap to buy, lightweight, but very useful. As you probably already know, they are designed to help keep people warm, but can be used for other things too. In hot weather, they can help reflect the sun and keep you cool. They can be used as part of an emergency shelter, helping to keep you dry in wet weather. And, being so reflective, you can also use them to help draw attention to your location if needed.

It's also worth packing a torch and spare batteries, as this is another multi-purpose tool that can be so useful, but takes up very little space. It doesn't need to be a huge torch, as some of the modern LED torches can be incredibly bright, but also very small with it. And the other advantage of modern LED torches is the reduced current drain of LED gives a much longer battery life. Try if possible to get a torch which is waterproof, and also comes with a spare bulb or lamp unit. Many people favour the Maglite range of torches with their aluminium bodies, and there is nothing at all wrong with these. However, my own personal preference is for the much less common Mitylite torch. These are older technology, as they still use a krypton bulb rather than an LED unit, but are very reliable and have interchangable lenses - not only a clear lens for normal use, but also a red lens to help preserve your night vision. And they also have probably the best guarantee of any torch I've ever seen, with a lifetime guarantee covering damage from every situation you could ever encounter - except for shark bite, bear attack and children under five!! (Yes, really!) But why would you need a torch? Well, some walks could go through quite dark areas, where a torch could help you find safe places to put your feet as you walk. Or, if you are walking on the public roads, it could help make you more visible to passing drivers if you are walking around dawn or dusk. And, if you find yourself in need of rescue, a torch can help draw attention to your position.

Many people now use walking poles when they go out walking, but do you really need them? Well, this is another area where it is really down to personal preference, as there is no real evidence one way or the other concerning their benefits or otherwise. Some people may find they help when walking over rough ground, while others may prefer to keep their hands free and use them instead. About the only situation where they do have a definite advantage over not having one is when passing through fields containing cows and other large livestock - Many farmers would not dream of entering a field of large livestock without a long stick, as this can help ward off any animals that get too close. So walking poles and sticks are very much a matter of personal preference, and it is entirely up to you if you want to use them. Personally, I don't usually, but would never rule them out entirely when planning a walk.

There is an unusual alternative if you don't want to use walking poles or a stick. If you have watched TV programmes such as Coast, you may have noticed that presenter Nicholas Crane always seems to have an umbrella sticking out of his rucksack. This may seem strange and old-fashioned to some, but there is actually a lot of sense behind it, as an umbrella is a useful multi-purpose tool. Besides its obvious use of keeping you dry in the rain, it can also help keep the sun off you in hot weather, preventing heat exhaustion or sunstroke. It can also double as a walking stick to help you keep your balance, and be used farmer-style to fend off curious animals. So an umbrella, although at first something of a strange suggestion, can actually be a very useful piece of walking kit.




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