Choosing the Best Clothes and Gear for Walking

Beyond fashion, you need function and comfort in your walking clothing and gear. Your walking clothing should be comfortable and loose-fitting to allow you to move. And while some items may seem like a good idea (e.g. cotton socks), they're actually not. Familiarize yourself with what to wear and what to avoid before you start walking.​

Socks

Socks drying on radiator
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Choose: High-tech fibers

Avoid: Cotton

Your socks should be comfortable, and the modern running socks made from CoolMax or other high-tech fibers are preferable to cotton, which hold sweat next to the skin and allow blisters to form more quickly.

Your walking socks should be made of a sweat-wicking fabric. They should be anatomically designed, rather than tube socks, so they stay in place at toe and heel.

You have a few options on what socks to buy, so do your research!

Walking Pants

Choose: Sweat-wicking fabric

Avoid: Denim

Denim is a bad walking choice. In hot weather, it is heavy and hot and holds sweat next to your skin. In wet weather, it soaks up rain like a sponge. If you end up wet from either sweat or rain, you may soon be chafed on your thighs and crotch.

Instead, choose walking pants made from a sweat-wicking fabric.

Hats, Sunglasses, and Sunscreen

Choose: Closed-top hats, sunglasses, sunscreen

Avoid: Visors

Both men and women, cover your head and shoulders! A walk of an hour or more will give you lots of sun exposure on your head, shoulders, neck, back, and cleavage. You can also easily overheat in hot weather or cool too fast in cold weather if your head is bare.

An open-top visor won't do the trick—the top of your head is still open and can overheat—so take time to pick a good walking hat and follow sun safety practice. Sunglasses for outdoor walking prevent UV exposure for your eyes.

Shirts

Choose: Short sleeves, sweat-wicking materials

Avoid: Skin-baring tops

For your shoulders, even if you wear a good sunscreen, wearing a skin-baring tank top provides too much sun exposure. It all adds up over the years to age your skin and raise your risk of skin cancer. It's best to wear short sleeves as a sun safety measure.

If you sweat while walking, you should invest in CoolMax or polypropylene shirts to wick the sweat away from the body.

Layers

Choose: A simple layering system

Avoid: Too much clothing

Depending on your climate, dress in layers so you may remove a layer as you warm up while walking and put it back on if you feel cool. If you are warm when you start walking, you will soon be too hot. Start off feeling slightly cool.

If you do not plan to walk up a sweat, a system can be as simple as a t-shirt, light sweater (wool or down), and windproof jacket which may also be waterproof.

Unless you are walking in subfreezing temperatures, this is all you need. Add a hat, gloves or scarf for extra comfort.

Colors

Choose: Colors and reflective stripes

Avoid: All black, especially after dark, and camouflage 

Dressing like a ninja and walking after dark is an unsafe fashion choice. Cars and bikes aren't expecting you to be crossing streets. Give them at least a chance of seeing you. Even in daytime, if you are walking alongside a road, you need to be highly visible to approaching cars. Wearing drab colors or even camouflage (unless you are in a military unit) is dangerous.

Choose your walking outfit to include at least one item in a bright color that can be seen from front and back. Or at least wear a reflective safety vest or night visibility gear. For myself, I love my Glo Glov gloves—they are easy to take and hard to miss.

Weights

Choose: Speed and distance over weight

Avoid: Heavy shoes, ankle or hand weight

Just keep on walking past any infomercial telling you that heavy shoes, ankle weights, hand weights, or a weighted vest is just what you need to pump up your walking. Every medical expert I've consulted in 12 years has said to avoid these during fitness walking, as they increase the risk for injury.

Weights on your hands or feet are unnatural and are likely to cause strain. Extra weight on your torso probably won't hurt, but it's better to go faster or farther to burn more calories. Save the weights to do a simple strength workout for a few minutes before or after the walk, when you can do it with proper posture and form.

Carrying Cases

Choose: Hip pack and pockets

Avoid: Heavy backpacks

Do you really need to pack along a week's water, food, and clothing for an hour-long fitness walk? You just need a few essentials.

Try to carry keys and other articles in pockets, a hip pack, or well-designed small backpack.  Carry water if you plan to be walking for a half hour or more with no water on your route. A small hydration pack with built-in water bottle holder is convenient.

Whatever you wear, make sure to wear it right to avoid pain.

Shoes

Choose: Well-designed fitness shoes

Avoid: Heavy boots and flip-flops

Heavy boots may last through forced marches, but they weren't meant for fitness walking. Save the heavy hiking boots for the situation they were designed for—to support a hiker with a heavy backpack on rough trails.

Fitness walkers need flexible soles to move with their feet as they roll through a step. Backpacking boots have heavy, inflexible soles, which can set you up for muscle strain.

And flip-flops weren't made for fitness walking. They provide no support, and they don't allow you to push off with each step. In effect, you are shuffling rather than walking. Save them for summer fun that doesn't involve walking any distance. If you love the feel of air on your toes, invest in a pair of well-designed hiking sandals instead.

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