10 Top Tips for Walking in the Winter
When the winter’s upon us, exercise might be the last thing on your mind, especially exercising outdoors, but what if I could give you some tips to make winter walking fun, safe and energising.
Follow my 10 top tips and it could become addictive.
The information will vary slightly whether you are heading off from home for a 40-minute walk or going out for a few hours or more into a National Park or something similar.
These tips are in no particular order of importance.
1. Layer Up.
Keeping warm is key, if you are cold you’ll hate the whole experience. Layering’s the answer and it means you can take off and put on as temperatures change or if you stop for a break.
I usually start with a thermal camisole top/vest and on top of that a long-sleeved T-shirt, preferably one that is made from a breathable fabric like Merino wool that naturally wicks sweat away from your skin. Next a light fleece and a cagoule, windshell or softshell top or some other kind of waterproof jacket. It’s wise to also take waterproof trousers if going on a longer walk and one that doesn’t have a handy cafe you can pop into.
Then add a buff which is designed to be close into your neck so keeps out all drafts. Don’t forget the hat, scarf and gloves, they do make the difference and keep your extremities toasty. Wearing a scarf or mask loosely over your nose and mouth will prevent that icy cold air causing you to get too much of a shock when you inhale.
On your feet some good warm socks, there are some great lightweight socks now so look around. Make sure your boots or trainers are waterproof. Depending on where you are walking and for how long, wellies are good but if walking further walking boots or trainers are the best.
As you take things off and carry spares and other items suggested further, I recommend carrying a backpack, again the size will depend how long you are walking for and how far. This is more comfortable than an ordinary bag.
If you get the walking bug then I’m very happy to advise on kit and where you can pick up good bargains.
2. Make early starts easier.
If you are an early morning walker, then prepare your kit the night before and place it close to you so that when that alarm goes off you can reach out and pull it all on. There’s less chance of you thinking twice if you can do this. To add that extra bit of luxury, put your clothes on the radiator so that you can reach out and have them caress your body in warmth – always works for me.
Use ski, walking or nordic walking poles to give you that extra grip and balance, two extra ‘legs’ are a great bonus, and it also ensures that the upper half of your body gets a work out too keeping you warmer and burning more calories.
4. Stay warm when you stop.
When you heat up the first things to take off are hats and gloves but when you stop these need to go on again so you stay warm. Even if that stop is just to take a photo, check a map or book, look at an amazing view.
If you stop for longer to enjoy your lunch, again put on what you have taken off and it’s useful to carry another lightweight layer such as a fleece or down jacket to add that extra warmth.
5. The extra essentials.
I cannot go anywhere at any time of year without my lip balm. These are important to protect your lips and don’t forget the sunscreen too. Yes, even in the winter the sun can be very bright and reflection from the snow can do your skin harm and you can get sunburnt. Sunglasses are important for the same reason. I also recommend tissues, moisturiser and some light painkillers and blister plasters, I always recommend compeed, the original and best and I have tried them all.
You may also want to include a light waterproof poncho which acts as another layer in the wind but is easily carried as it is light and folds down to a small package.
6. Carry Water.
It’s important to drink water in all seasons, not only in the summer. It keeps you hydrated and all that activity will make you sweat so it’s by drinking regularly you are replenishing. You may not find a fountain to fill up at or a shop to buy water so bring your own. I would recommend a couple of bottles.
7. Walk at a moderate or slow pace.
Start slowly to give your muscles a chance to warm up and walk in. You don’t have to do stretching exercises as the very act of walking does this. If the weather is snow and ice then be aware that the bigger your strides, the higher your risk of falling. Take smaller steps and do pay attention to where you are putting your feet. Snow covers up all kinds of uneven surfaces and even ice so if you get too gung ho you may be risking injury.
8. Stay safe .
As much as possible, whatever time of year, stay away from walking on roads. There is always a risk with traffic and it’s not as pleasant. Sometimes you may have to walk a short distance along a road so be very alert when that happens. When the weather is bad you definitely want to stay away from this kind of walking.
Ideally, you want to be walking in a park, along a canal or river, woodland or forest. If out for a short walk locally then it may be residential streets, preferably quiet ones.
In North America, a lot of walking is done in shopping malls with some even opening early to walking groups. This might just be ideal for winter months but it’s never going to be as beautiful as in nature.
It’s a great idea to wear bright colours, again at all times of the year and in the winter or if out in the dark to wear something reflective.
It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast and remember that in many places weather can be very localised, I’m thinking of places like the Lake District, Highlands and Brecon Beacons. I’m not advocating heading out though into mountainous and more wild areas in the winter as this is not within my particular expertise.
If that’s what you want to do, then please look for advice from sources that specialise in this kind of walking.
Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back and take a fully charged mobile phone with you as well as a mobile power pack. Keep your phone and power pack close to your body so it can be warm and likely to keep working.
If you’re new to walking, walk with others till you get your confidence. Get your own group together or join the Ramblers or another walking group. Google to find out what’s happening in your area.
Finally on the issue of safety, if you are getting really cold and your fingers and toes are starting to get numb, bring your walk to an end and get into some warmth and shelter.
9. Plan your route.
In the winter, a pub or cafe at some stage is a great thing to find. Don’t leave it to chance, plan a route that has one or even one in the middle and one at the end. If it’s a long day, it’s more fun to eat lunch in a warm place and then a pub at the end if a great place for a celebration.
Bear in mind the shorter days and make sure your route, on a longer walk, will get you home before it gets dark. You don’t want to be on top of a hill in fading light. A head torch is a great extra to carry just in case of emergencies.
When it’s windy, plan a walk in woodlands or forests where you will have some shelter. If gales are predicted then areas with trees are not good incase of breaking branches and in a case like this, it may be best to stay home.
10. Take some snacks with you.
When you are out on longer walks it’s always wise to have some snacks to tide you over or to provide that sugar lift if you are tired or just low in energy. There are so many protein bars to choose from but I would advise checking the labels as many are laden with sugar. You can make your own flapjacks or energy balls and the plus here is that you know what’s in them. I also carry chocolate, dried fruit and nuts and a banana or apple is good for me. A banana guard is vital for bananas though otherwise they will end up squashed all over your bag. I never thought I would be recommending a banana guard!!
Another thing to carry is a flask with soup, coffee, tea or hot chocolate – whatever you enjoy.
If you just love to walk and to do so all year round then just plan ahead. Nature puts on a great show in the winter too so don’t forget your camera.
Walking is a great protector from winter ills and since making walking a major part of my life I have had very few colds I know it’s due to my walking and there’s no way I intend to stop. If you fear the sniffles that this time of year brings, invest in building your immune system, get those shoes on and get walking.
My Women on Foot group walks all year round in and around London and once the days get longer we go further afield. If you’re interested or if you’d like to have these in your own town/city or area let us know.
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