The misty mornings and darkening evenings are a reminder that autumn is well and truly here. So it’s time to think about your kit! Here are some suggestions for what to wear to stay dry and comfortable Nordic walking this autumn and winter.
Take a look at my blog Best foot forward – what shoes to wear for Nordic walking.
- For Nordic walking you want a boot/shoe that has a good flexible sole. This enables you to achieve a proper heel/toe roll, which is a key part of the technique. Boots tend to be more rigid but there are quite a few now with a pliable base. Some of our walkers are using trail running shoes, others regular walking shoes or boots and a few favour barefoot shoes.
- Buy something that’s reasonably light. If your footwear is too heavy you will end the walk with tight/sore hip flexors.
- Waterproof or not? This is a MAJOR topic of discussion. My opinion after over five years of walking is that there is no such thing as a waterproof shoe/boot unless it is made of leather. Even if it says it’s waterproof it will only last a year at best (if you walk reasonably regularly) before it starts to leak. Yes you can re-waterproof them and yes you can take them back to the shop when they leak (one of our walkers has done this five times). But still, at the end of the day – usually much sooner than you would like – they will let water in. So the question is, do you spend the extra money on Gor-tex shoes knowing that they will let you down or do you abandon the idea, go for non-waterproof shoes and rely on waterproof socks? One thing’s for certain – you absolutely do not want soggy feet. It completely spoils a good walk.
- Ankle support. This is a matter of personal preference. Some people like protection around their ankles and others don’t. For me, it’s all about the terrain that I’m likely to be walking on. On the bogs of Dartmoor I’d opt for ankle support every time as you often can’t see the tufts and ruts. Elsewhere (like on The Downs) I wouldn’t bother. Probably, in terms of technique, something that doesn’t restrict your ankle movement would be preferable.
As every foot is different there is no one perfect shoe. So it’s really a question of trying them yourself. However, for what it’s worth, I wear Scarpa Terra leather walking boots and Salomon X Ultra shoes. Both are Gore-tex but my Salomon’s are lying – they last less than a year before the water ingresses despite my maintenance routine. I also fancy trying the trail running shoes. Ros likes the Merrell range for the summer (hers aren’t waterproof) and Scarpa for the winter.
Again I’ve written an article on which sock is best for Nordic walking – http://www.bristolnordicwalking.co.uk/blog/which-sock-best-nordic-walking – so take a look at that. You want something that is breathable, controls moisture (preventing blisters) and is very comfortable. If your footwear isn’t waterproof then, in the autumn and winter months, you will need socks that are. Try DexShell or Sealskinz.
These are very useful and well worth buying. The grass in the autumn is long and wet and gaiters stop your trousers getting sopping. If your trousers get wet your socks are likely to as well. In the winter gaiters take the worst of the mud and muck, leaving your trousers clean enough to wear another day. You can buy long or short. I wear long – Rab.
The main thing is that they need to be comfortable! This generally means buying something that is breathable, with a good wicking fabric, which allows freedom of movement. Essentially, therefore, a walking trouser rather than jeans or such like. I would say that the most popular make amongst our walkers is Craghoppers. Rohan is another well-loved brand, especially their fabulous dry roamers.
You can buy lined or unlined trousers. My legs don’t really seem to feel the cold (unless they’re wet) so I prefer unlined trousers. Again it’s a personal preference thing. If it’s really cold I wear thermal leggings as a base layer – but I can’t remember the last time I did that.
Not everyone wears waterproof over-trousers. Here’s some reasons why:
- Their regular trousers are waterproof (like the Rohan Dry Roamers) or have a waterproof coating that makes them showerproof;
- They wear trousers made of quick drying fabric so don’t bother;
- They don’t like them because they are cumbersome, hot and sweaty;
- They forgot them.
I find them very useful and like my Berghaus Gore-tex Paclite ones, which are light and very breathable. Take a look at http://www.bristolnordicwalking.co.uk/blog/need-waterproof-overtrousers-heres-three-best for other choices.
Base and mid layers
As I’m sure most of you will know, layering your clothing is the key to comfort. It gives you the versatility you need for Nordic walking. Most off us start of chilly at the beginning of a class but we certainly warm up once we get going!
Layering means wearing several layers of lighter clothing which, when combined, provides good warmth. In the winter months you will probably want a base layer, followed by a fleece or similar (the mid layer) under your jacket. My article Layering: how to optimise your cothing for active walking has more detailed information on the layering system and the different options but here’s a quick summary:
- Base layers – can be synthetic or made from natural fibers. The essential thing is that it has good wicking capability to draw perspiration away from your body. Merino wool is my favourite (I use the 200g weight and find that’s perfect most of the time). For those of you that are hypo allergenic, take a look at the bamboo clothing range BAM (https://bambooclothing.co.uk). Other popular makes are Icebreakers and Arc’teryx.
- Mid layers – need to be warm and breathable. As with base layers, there are different weights for different conditions and levels of activity. I tend to use my soft shell instructor jacket (which is technically an outer layer) as my mid layer and put a waterproof on top if necessary.
Essentially there are two kinds of ‘waterproof’ jacket- water resistant, sometimes referred to as showerproof, and fully waterproof. Water resistant jackets are treated with a waterproof coating while fully waterproof jackets are made with a waterproof membrane and taped, or sealed, seams.
As well as being waterproof, our jackets also need to be breathable – to let out all the sweat and perspiration! This means we really need to be buying something with a waterproof membrane such as Gore-tex, HyVent or eVent. It pushes the price up though and your waterproof jacket is likely to be the most expensive piece of kit that you buy. My preference is to use my waterproof just as an outer ‘shell’ – so mine don’t have any type of lining whatsoever. I like the Patagonia and Rab ranges but there are many fantastic makes and I’m sure you have a brand that you particularly like. Check out my Layering Blog for more detailed information on waterproofs.
Hats, gloves and buffs
Hats, caps and head warmers stop the wind blowing your hair into your face plus they keep you warm. I tend to overheat pretty quickly in anything other than a cap unless it’s very chilly but everyone’s different.
Gloves are another topic of much debate during the winter months. The Nordic walking technique allows you to be very active with your hands, which improves circulation and helps keep them warm. However, most of us use gloves or mittens in the winter. We tend to find that smooth (synthetic or leather) gloves are better than wool gloves as the wool tends to get stuck to the Velcro. I wear fur-lined fingerless mittens, which makes me feel very glamorous! You don’t want anything too bulky as it makes it difficult to do the strap up and hard technique-wise.
Buffs are great on a cold day, especially as they are very scrunchable. It means they’re easy to take off and shove in your pocket when you get hot.
An absolute must if you are joining our early morning or 6pm classes this autumn and winter.
Finally, on a different note (and as I expect you know), last Thursday was National Poetry Day, the annual mass celebration of poetry and all things poetical. This year the mists have particularly struck me – as well as the abundance of apples and pears on our fruit trees. So, in honour of both National Poetry Day and the magnificent autumn we’ve been having, I am reproducing on of my favourite poems, Ode to Autumn by John Keats, at the end of this blog.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barréd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.