There is certainly an art to dressing for the great outdoors. As we always say, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just a bad choice of clothing.”
Once you get moving, you will get warm so as a general rule, having layers of unrestrictive, lightweight clothing, that you can remove/add at a time, is often recommended. Breathable fabric that “wicks” sweat and moisture away from your skin will also keep you comfortable and keep you feeling refreshed and energised.
The weather will dictate the exact clothing you will need to take on a walk, but there are some general guidelines that will help you choose the best type of clothing. We have highlighted some key pieces of clothing you can’t go without if you want to stay comfortable during your walk.
There are three basic layers, each of which has a specific function. The base layer (against your skin) wicks perspiration away; the mid layer traps in heat to insulate you from the cold; the outer layer shields you from wind and rain. For maximum benefit all three layers should be made from breathable fabric. You don’t want to have an excellent wicking base and mid layer only for your perspiration to get trapped under a cheap non-breathable shell.
Base layers are a good place to start. Investing in a quality base layer will make all the difference. Base layers will be touching your skin, so can wick moisture away and keep you feeling less sweaty – on a long walk in the middle of summer, this is worth its weight in gold!
It is arguably even more important in winter as your sweat is designed to cool you down, but in cold conditions, this can make you feel quite cold.
Base layers are likely to be synthetic in material but natural fibres such as merino wool are also available
They range from basic breathable t-shirts to pricey garments with patented technology, promising all sorts of features. It is up to you what sort of investment you think you will need.
Base layers come in short-sleeve and long-sleeve options, you choose.
Similarly, in cold months, you will probably want to think about a base layer for your legs. This can range from yoga-style leggings and activewear to more advanced outdoor base layers – again, depending on the requirements and conditions you are likely to face, this will impact what is more suitable. Base layers designed for running or the gym are likely to be more than suitable for the average Nordic walker. This is what I tend to wear in Ireland. When hiking in the mountains in winter I choose thermal leggings
The key to base layers is their ability to wick moisture away so choosing ones that are highly rated for this purpose is the best way to go.
The job of the mid-layer is to insulate your body. During summer and warmer conditions, you may not need a mid-layer (or may opt to keep it in your rucksack). In colder months, the mid-layer will be vital to ensuring you don’t get too cold (which is particularly important if you are heading out on long walks in the countryside, where conditions can soon change).
Fleeces make for great mid-layers, creating warmth for your body.
Similarly, gilets and bodywarmers are also great mid-layers.
The best mid-layers will provide warmth but will not be too bulky. In recent years, there has been some amazing new products and advances in technology that has meant clothing that looks quite thin can keep you warm to conditions such as minus 30 degrees Celsius! You can buy crew, half zip, full zip and hoodies. All have their place. When it’s very cold people often use two mid layers or a mid layer and insulating layer. Down jackets (whether synthetic or natural) are extremely effective insulators. They can be super warm though so might not be great if you are going on a very active walk. Also check how breathable they are. Do not worry about waterproof options as this is where your top layer comes into play. Instead, focus on warmth. If you know you feel the cold, go for a mid-layer that has high insulating properties.
Mid-layers that can be packed away easily will also make your life easier if you do get hot and need to store it in your rucksack during the walk.
The outer or top layer is where your walking jackets and coats come into play. This will protect you from the wind and rain, so on those rough winter (or summer in Ireland!) walks, will be vital in shaping your overall experience.
There are different levels of waterproof so ensure the jacket is really designed for outdoor adventure and will wick away rainwater quickly. This will avoid any build-up of water on your jacket.
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, 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.
Wind protection is not to be underestimated and many coats and jackets will boast wind protection properties. Similarly, using a jacket that is waterproof is also especially important. Choosing an outer layer with a hood is also usually a wise move, as this provides extra protection against rain or wind.
The season and weather will likely dictate your choice of clothing for your legs.As mentioned in the base layer section, you may want a base layer for your legs in cold conditions to go under your trousers/shorts. Waterproof trousers are recommended if you think there is a chance of rain. These come in a range of styles and options.
The main thing is to avoid materials like denim – this gets heavy when wet and can cause chaffing Lightweight trousers that offer for optimal movement would be the best.
Some better outdoor trousers and bottoms are slightly stretchy, which is perfect for not getting in the way while you walk. Some fabric can be quick drying too – which may be worth looking into.
Headgear is not to be forgotten. Hat, caps and head warmers stop the wind blowing your hair into your face plus they keep you warm. Thermal headbands, buffs, hats, and caps can help protect your head from the elements. Although wearing a hat may be more obvious in colder conditions, ensuring you wear a cap or some type of head gear in summer will avoid getting overheated.
Buffs are great on a cold day, especially as they are very scrunchable. It means they are easy to take off and put in your pocket when you get hot.
Quality gloves will make a world of difference to your walk. You cannot just put your hands in your pocket if you are cold (how will you hold your poles?). Therefore, ensuring your hands do not get cold is important.
Having cold hands or overly sweaty hands is not fun when you are out on your walk.
Nordic walking gloves come in a range of styles so you can find one most suitable to your requirements. You can wear regular gloves under your straps but avoid wool as this will stick to the Velcro. Lined leather gloves are a good option but may not be suitable for very cold weather.
So, what type of things should you consider?
Warmth If you are planning on walking in cold conditions, having gloves that are warm will be important. Cold hands and fingers will ruin any walk so having gloves ready for cold conditions is a real bonus.
Fit and Comfort You want something that fits like a…… glove! Having comfortable gloves that fit well will mean they do not cause issues on the walk. You can get gloves in different sizes, so you don’t end up with gloves either too big, or too small.
Materials and Breath-ability Although warmth is important, so too is breath-ability and air flow within the gloves. Getting overly hot hands will just lead to discomfort and a very sweaty palm. Breathable fabrics and materials will allow for a better glove for warmer conditions.
Features Some gloves include clever technology which means you can still use a touch screen phone while wearing your gloves. If you are using a fitness app or Google maps during your walk, being able to conveniently check your phone without needed to take off your gloves can be a real bonus.
Leki have gloves that include the loop attachment for shark top Nordic poles so you do not need to wear straps over them. If you are interested in these we can order them for you. (NB not suitable for Leki spin poles)
Style One of the main decisions when it comes to Nordic walking gloves is whether you want short or full finger length gloves. Short finger length gloves will mean the ends of your fingers are exposed, while full finer length gloves will cover all your fingers.
Short gloves may be preferred in summer months when its warm, while full finger gloves can provide additional warmth in colder months.
Getting good walking shoes and footwear is only half the battle when it comes to having happy feet on a walk. Good quality, walking socks are a must and will have a big impact on overall comfort.
Consider a sock with good cushioning, especially around the heel and on the ball of your foot.
Ensure your sock has good wicking ability and odour management qualities. Top for this would have to be Merino Wool but synthetic materials can also be excellent.
Do not buy a sock that bunches up round your toes or has rough seams that will irritate your feet.
Most brands offer a range of weights to suit different temperatures so you will need to make sure you have the right pair for the conditions – it is not much fun walking mid-summer in your winter warmers! Also, some people like wearing sock liners. These are thin, lightweight, wicking socks worn under hiking socks. Their primary benefit is for blister prevention but those who wear them (and it is a bit of a Marmite thing) say they prefer the fit and general comfort that two pairs of socks give them. We wear CEP compression socks (other cheaper makes are available, but we have not found them as good) which can either be worn on their own or as liners under thicker socks. Compression socks need to be measured correctly to ensure a good fit and come in some lovely colours! There are plenty of claims by manufacturers that wearing compression clothing can result in: “increased blood flow, faster clearance of lactic acid, reduced swelling, reduced post-race soreness, faster recovery times” etc however it is hard to find any scientific studies that prove that compression socks actually improve your performance. We find them comfortable and have never had blisters even over very long-distance races.
You can buy wool socks (pay the extra for Merino Wool), synthetic socks or a mix of the two. You can buy ankle socks, short socks or long socks. You can even buy silk socks, bamboo socks or waterproof socks.
Socks that do not wick away moisture will increase the chance of blisters.
Walking socks help wick moisture away from your feet, keep your feet warm and offer a thicker layer to normal socks to help reduce the chance of blisters.
Due to the Nordic walking technique, having socks with a thicker heel will also add an extra layer of comfort and support.
We would also recommend taking spare socks if you are going on a walk all day. Being able to change your socks halfway through the day will feel amazing and help keep you going strong to the final step.