I was born before Goretex was invented and survived, judging by today's advertisements this must be a minor miracle! Some of the lessons I have learned stand out, here's the most important.
A high percentage of walks on our web can be completed without special clothing or equipment. My advice is to start with what you have already got and when you are sure you will enjoy walking begin to replace your equipment on the basis of what you need most. Outdoor equipment shops are commonplace on the High Street and you will find them near popular walking areas too. Generally speaking specialist shops employ staff with greater background knowledge. On the other hand, high street shops stock good value items that are great for everyday use too. Keep an eye on both to get the best deal.
Equipment varies in quite subtle ways, deciding what to purchase can be a difficult. Realistically you need to buy equipment suited to the area within an hours drive of your home because, realistically, that is where you will do most of your walking! Shops stock what sells best, if you have your eye on something obscure that is not available it may be because it's unsuitable for the area in which you intend to walk. Beware of a stockist that only markets one brand, profit motives may have overtaken customer service, check out the other shops as well. Talk to other walkers about their equipment. Above all take your time.
Boots:- Again, don't rush out to buy boots before you start, many of our walks can be completed in Wellingtons or comfortable shoes. However, you will soon notice footwear shortcomings when mud is encountered. Boots don't pull off your feet in the sticky stuff and the cleated soles give a much safer grip. Hard rocky ground can bruise your feet in Wellingtons or shoes, boots have a firmer sole that solve this problem.
A good supplier will take time to measure your feet very carefully and perform a few simple checks. A boot needs to fit snug around the ankle and heel but leave a little freedom around the foot to allow it to swell while walking, you should be able to waggle your toes. Stand on a slope and check your toes do not slip down to touch the end of the boot, if this happens going downhill it will be painful. With the boots unlaced push your feet as far forward in the boot as they can go, you should then just be able to push a finger between your heel and the boot, if it is an sloppy fit the boot is too large, if it's a squeeze they are too small. It's normal to take your own walking socks with you when you go out to buy, if you don't have any buy them first.
Lighter boots mean your legs have less work to do, this obvious comment is often lost in the macho desire to get "big boots". Likewise, the fashion look and colour will not help your feet! Hill walking boots are lighter, cut lower at the back and will suffice for most of our routes.
Rucksack:- This is probably the first piece of equipment you will need but it is often overlooked by more glamorous items. 25 litres is about the right size for a "day sack". Expect to carry more weight in the sack than you realise, the heaviest item will be drinks. You may also be carrying for two people, have a good think about this before you buy! Bearing these last comments in mind I say it is essential to have padded shoulder straps and back, there is nothing worse than a Thermos digging into your back. Few rucksacks are reliably waterproof, zipped ones are more prone to problems, put your clothing in a poly bag until you know it is waterproof.
Waterproofs:- Oh dear! There is more hype about waterproof jackets than you can shake a stick at, and most of it surrounds breathability. As your body works it builds up heat causing condensation, this cannot dissipate through normal waterproof material and soon you are as damp inside the waterproof as you are out. Breathable materials allow some of this condensation to escape while preventing rain water coming in. The trouble is, some fabrics are more breathable than others and this is where all the hype comes in. Goretex fabric is still reckoned to be the best but you do pay more for it, there are a whole raft of breathable fabrics in a lower price band with acceptable breathable performance, only you can decide if Goretex is worth the extra. Don't buy cheap high street jackets that have a waterproof coating on the inside, they soon deteriorate and don't breathe well.
Expedition jackets are heavy and expensive, for general walking you don't need this level of performance and would be better off buying a lighter one. Equally you could buy an expensive lightweight jacket and tear it on barbed wire the first time out. You might want the jacket for everyday use so colour and fashion could be a consideration. What I am saying above all else is, balance your priorities carefully.
It's surprising how little you use waterproof trousers, they are not essential until you go into exposed areas.
Clothing:- Do not wear cotton clothing; it gets cold when wet and takes ages to dry, so never wear jeans. Most outdoor stores have walking trousers made from Polycotton that's inexpensive, wind proof, and dries quick, check these out first. There is a whole range of thermal clothing (fleeces and suchlike) that wick moisture away from the skin making it more comfortable to wear. To make these work effectively it's best to have a thin version next to the skin and layer other garments on top as you need them.
Going uphill:- This is an art that takes practice to perfect and some people never seem to get it right, try doing it this way. As the path gets steeper shorten the length of your step and aim to keep the same rhythm you used on the flat. Resist the temptation to take larger steps and don't be afraid to slow down even if others seem to be pulling away. Once this rhythm is established you will be able to keep going uphill without stopping for much longer, this is important because your body likes to burn energy at a steady rate. Racing uphill until you are gasping and then stopping will tire you, then the stops become more frequent until you are at a standstill, that's when the slow steady rhythm exponents overtake the stop/starters.
Going downhill:- Experienced walkers will tell you this is harder than going uphill, what can they mean? Physically you will find it is easier to balance your body scrambling up a slope than trying to scramble down it. Going downhill there is a natural tendency to lean backwards and this puts your body's centre of gravity in a less advantageous position with less weight on the foot. The weight transfer is also more sudden, combine both these factors together and you have a greater risk of slipping which in turn leads to injury. The right technique will lessen the risk. Bend your knees to move your centre of gravity forward again, this also allows them cushion your bodyweight as it transfers onto your feet. A smooth weight transfer will give better balance and an early warning if your foot is going to slip. If you have trouble with your knees taking the strain consider buying a telescopic walking pole, it will relieve the weight on your knees by a third.
Most of our walks are in easy walking areas and you can walk safely. Take a waterproof jacket and something to keep you warm if the weather turns against you. It's essential to take some food even if it is only a few chocolate snacks and always carry something to drink even if you plan to stop at a pub.
If we list a walk as exposed it will probably go into more remote areas and above 1,000 feet, take sufficient food and water to last 24hrs and a plastic survival bag. These are light, inexpensive and offer simple shelter. In the winter months between October and April rain may well turn to snow as you go higher. Snow walking can be dangerous; unless you have an experienced person with you turn back or take a lower route.
Take care on wet rock or grass particularly if you are going downhill.
If you stop for a rest after walking hard on a cold day your muscles will start to stiffen within a few minutes. To prevent injury restart the walk slowly with shorter steps than normal to give your muscles time to warm up. This is a common injury so beware!
Blisters can be a real problem so carry the special dressing packs sold in outdoor shops.
Diabetics can have sugar problems if the walk is strenuous.
Buy a compass and learn how to use it, it will only save your life once!
Walking alone is more dangerous than many people realise. Remember, if you have an accident it may be some time before someone finds you. Realistically you are relying on yourself to survive so take enough for 24hrs. Leave route details with a friend and agree a time for your return. Try this simple test; pack a normal rucksack and go into the garden, sit down and pretend you will be there for the next four hours. Any shortcomings in your kit selection will soon surface.
Follow this link to a government website for the latest information. COUNTRYSIDE CODE. I would add; take off muddy boots before entering a pub, shop or indoor tourist attraction.
What are your rights?
The sign "trespassers will be prosecuted" has frightened many people off a legal footpath but the true situation is nothing like as scary as it might seem; it is very hard to prosecute someone for trespass unless you can prove they caused wilful damage. If you adopt the Countryside Code this will not happen. Thankfully, landowners these days are more understanding than they were twenty years ago, you are more likely to find help than aggression so do not be put off.
A footpath or "public right of way" is just what it says, treat it like a pavement and do not wander onto other property. Strictly speaking the top 18 inches of soil on a footpath belongs to the County Council and not the landowner so you are not walking on his land but public land! Unlike other public highways a footpath is not maintained by the Council, it is the landowner's responsibility to keep it navigable. Occasionally the Council may help with maintenance as part of a recreational policy but this in no ways removes the landowners responsibility to keep it clear. However, the Council is legally obliged to erect a sign where the path meets a public road. If the path is blocked or impassable you are legally entitled to remove the blockage or make a short detour around the obstacle.
What to do if challenged by a landowner:-
If violence seems likely, either :-
The Ramblers Association
THE RAMBLERS promote walking in the UK, protect rights of way, campaign for access to open country and defend the beauty of the countryside. Membership is not expensive, you get a very useful year book and a quarterly magazine. Many outdoor shops offer substantial discounts to members, you could easily recover your first year's membership with this alone. The Ramblers are organised on a County basis within which are a number of Groups offering regular walking programmes free to members. If you are new to outdoor walking and cautious about how to start you could do a lot worse than join them to learn the ropes. Apart from walking they engage in a wide variety of educational and charitable activities associated with the countryside, a respectable proportion of the membership join solely because they support this work.