The great thing about walking is that it doesn’t matter what you wear – it’s what we all do every day. But if you want to get a bit more from your daily perambulations than just a lungful of oxygen or the shopping, then investing in the right walking gear can boost your performance by making you feel more comfortable and helping you to set targets. And targets matter, because walking properly – with your body aligned correctly – for 10,000 steps a day has been found to have real benefits for health.
Since becoming a fan of the Joanna Hall Walkactive programme I’ve learnt quite a bit about what works and what hurts. Here are my tried-and-tested picks for walking.
The most important thing to take with you when you walk is a step or distance counter. Researchers at Stanford University have found that using a pedometer can lead to significant increases in physical activity and weight loss, and improvements in blood pressure.
You can now find pedometers to suit all tastes, from the basic to the hi-tech.
Some people see their pedometer as a working accessory – they want steps counted, no frills. These tend to be easy to programme, they clip on to a belt loop or slip into a pocket, and rely on a watch battery for power.
Kinetik stepometer, £5.99
At £5.99, the Kinetik digital stepometer is one of the cheapest: it includes a large, easy-to-read screen to show the number of steps taken, distance travelled and calories burnt, and includes an integrated stopwatch and 10,000-step reminder alarm to let you know when you hit your target. Simple and easy.
Buy now from Superdrug
Tanita PD-724 pedometer, £24.95
Slightly more sophisticated is the Tanita PD-724 pedometer, which measures and records distance, steps, calorie count and activity time, and includes a seven-day memory so you can monitor and review daily and weekly totals.
It even features a “fat burnt” measurement and allows you to enter your own targets. The PD-724 can be hung from a neck strap or kept in your pocket, and it has a safety alarm. I found the display small but it was easy to use.
However, if you – like me – tend to become emotionally involved with gadgetry, you need to think about something more interactive. This is the world of the wristband, or fitness band, which you can link to your PC or phone, sharing data between the two so you can analyse as well as record performance.
Three of the biggest contenders here are the Samsung Gear Fit, the FitBit and the Garmin Vivofit.
Buy now from John Lewis
Samsung Gear Fit2, £149
The Samsung Gear Fit is moving decidedly closer to the concept of a life-band than the others as it can also keep you up-to-date with instant notifications from Galaxy smartphones (you need to have a Samsung phone to make the most of it). I liked the sleek shape too.
Buy now from Samsung
The Fitbit has launched new coloured bands that are available individually at £12.99 or as a three-band accessory pack in navy, tangerine and teal for £24.99.
The Fitbit is discreet and doesn’t offer the instant display of the others, and when you connect it to your PC, the programme is easy to install and well designed.
Buy now from Currys
In this regard, I prefer it to the Vivofit, which offers the same range of displays: steps counted, calories burnt (and you can tap in additional info such as food eaten, additional exercise taken, hours slept, for a rounded analysis of your health), but seems fiddlier to operate online.
Yet the Vivofit band is more attractive – and the display easy to read when you are on the go. The battery lasts more than a year, and a red bar appears when you haven’t been active for a while as a hint. I even find myself enjoying the fact that it can offer you the time. Just like – what were those things we used to wear on our wrists called? A watch.
Buy now from Argos
One of the key techniques in the Walkactive programme is engaging the whole foot when we walk – so that all the muscles in your foot get a workout and the joints get mobilised.
Joanna Hall says: “Some shoes are good for specific exercise programmes and personal ability, others for different sports or for more advanced exercise. No shoe will do the work for you – but certain shoes can be more comfortable.”
Merrell bare access arc 3, from £79.99
She recommends shoes that are developed using what is called barefoot technology – these are soft, wide shoes that force the user to recalibrate their balance as they move, making them work harder, as though walking barefoot in sand.
These can take some getting used to – and if you have fallen arches, you may need more fixed support. On flat surfaces I can walk in a barefoot shoe such as a Merrell Women’s Barefoot Run Bare Access Arc 3.
Buy now from Amazon
TevaSphere Speed, £45
But on rougher ground I need the structure of a TevaSphere Speed, which has support pods tucked inside. Seek advice at your local running or sports store. You may need to go up half a size if you take up the Walkactive technique.
Buy now from Cotswolds Outdoor
Don’t ignore developments in fabric technology, which will keep you cooler (or warm) and drier while exercising.
Rohan has an incredibly lightweight new jacket, the Aura, which weighs on 80g and is wind-resistant.
Karrimor’s Aspen convertible trousers can be unzipped at the knee to transform into long shorts.
Montane has a new women’s gilet called the Glacier Vest featuring PrimaLoft Eco (70 per cent recycled fibres), which is ideal for all weathers.
If you want to look stylish, try OnePiece, the Norwegian brand that brought us the onesie and makes extremely comfortable walking clothes, including some trendy hats.
Don’t forget a bum bag or lightweight backpack for your water bottle and emergency supplies – look for one that works ergonomically with the body.
Fleetfoot running bag, £35.99 or Kånken Mini, £65
Try a Fleetfoot run and walking bag in black/silver reflective, or Kånken mini backpacks from cult Swedish brand Fjällräven.
Secret Training personal care range, from £2.50
Lastly, a new personal care range called Secret Training includes hand sanitiser, sun screen, hygiene wipes, body wash and anti-chafing cream – ideal for enthusiastic walkers who overdo the training.