Walking need not be an expensive pastime but you do require some basic items.
The most important item of kit for a walker is footwear. Good grip, support and comfort are essential for enjoyable walking. This doesn't mean you need heavy or expensive mountain climbing boots, but you do need footwear suitable for the type of walking you do.
For short, low-level rambles on footpaths and across gentle terrain, ordinary trainers are quite adequate in dry conditions and Wellingtons are fine for wet conditions. Once you start walking longer distances, or venturing into rougher terrain, specialist footwear designed for walking is needed. Trainers are still appropriate in warm weather but they should be ones designed for off-road use, usually called approach or trail shoes.
Muddy boots! See reviews in our gear section
Most walkers wear boots, however, as these give more protection when it's wet or cold. For walking anywhere (except snow covered mountains) boots should be light and flexible. They may be made from leather, or fabric with suede or leather patches. Either will do. Features to look for are good underfoot cushioning and a deep tread on the sole. With any footwear, the fit is the most important factor and you should spend some time getting this right. It's best to buy from a specialist shop with trained staff and to allow several hours for the fitting process.
Socks & gaiters
You also need good quality socks that fit well. Wool is still a main material here, though some socks are made from wicking synthetics. Gaiters are useful to keep mud and snow out of your boots and off your socks.
Clothing for walking needs to keep you dry and warm in a wide range of weather conditions. So, as for most activities, it's best to dress in a series of layers. The most important items are your waterproofs. These need to be big enough to go over other layers and ideally the jacket should have an adjustable hood. Look for overtrousers with long zips at the ankle, so they can be donned over your boots. The best waterproof fabrics allow some body moisture to escape while still preventing the rain from penetrating. Even so, condensation can occur in any waterproof garment, especially if it's humid or you're walking hard.
Base and mid layers
Avoid cotton, as this absorbs moisture, takes ages to dry and feels cold when it gets damp
The best fabrics to wear next to the skin are wool, silk and synthetics such as polypropylene or treated polyester, as these wick body moisture away and dry quickly when damp. Avoid cotton, as this absorbs moisture, takes ages to dry and feels cold when it gets damp. Polyester fleece makes a good warm layer but wool pullovers will do just as well. Several thin layers are warmer and more versatile than one thick one. Front zips are useful for ventilation.
Windproof tops made from light synthetic fabrics are very useful. These will keep out light rain and snow as well as wind and they are far more breathable than even the best waterproof/breathable fabrics.
Wrapped up in the Peak District © Sarah Stirling Collection
For your legs shorts are great - as long as it's warm enough. Synthetic stretch trousers or synthetic trail pants are best for cooler conditions though any trousers will do as long as they're not made from cotton. Wear long underwear under your trousers when it's very cold.
Hat and gloves
Unless you can guarantee good weather - which is probably any occasion apart from lowland walks in summer - carry a pair of gloves or mitts and a warm hat. You may find a sun hat with a short brim (so that it doesn't catch on your rucksack) very useful the summer.
Other useful items include:
- Small first aid kit, just in case of an accident and to deal with minor injuries like blisters. Carry this in a clearly marked box or pouch so it can be easily located if needed.
- Small torch or headlamp. The new ones using LEDs (rather than bulbs) are excellent as they have very low power consumption and they are very tough. Carry spare batteries for torches with bulbs.
- Plastic survival bag to climb into if you're injured or stuck out overnight. This can also double as a groundsheet.
- Water bottle or flask, with a secure, leak proof lid.
- Food. Anything you like but items that don't crush easily are best.
Steve Long reviews the MSR Swift 3 Poles on our gear page
- Trekking poles - useful for balance on rough ground and for taking the strain off your legs.
- Sitmat - a small piece of closed cell foam to sit on when the ground is cold or wet.
All of this kit has to be carried somehow; this is most easily achieved with a rucksack. It needn't be large or fancy. There are many excellent small daysacks available. For low level and summer walking look for one in the 20-30 litre capacity range. For winter walking a larger 35-45 litre one will have room for extra clothing and large flasks. Padded backs and hipbelts or waist straps add to the comfort but frames are only needed for heavy loads.
If you have a tight budget you don't need to spend a fortune on 'designer kit'. You'll probably already have many items at home. As you get more experienced you can buy more specialist gear as and when required. The most important items are footwear, waterproofs and rucksack. Spend your money on good quality items in these areas and make savings elsewhere.