Walking Accessories


Walking doesn't require many accessories, but you will want to invest in good walking shoes.
Walking doesn't require many accessories, but you will want to invest in good walking shoes.
©2007 Photodisc

It's pretty easy to figure out that walking doesn't require much in the way of equipment. One of the only -- and by far the most important -- items that you'll need is a pair of sturdy, comfortable walk­ing shoes.

If you don't take time and care in selecting your walking shoes, you may be in for some serious discomfort.

In addition to walking shoes, there are a variety of accessories available that can increase your comfort, safety, and enjoyment as you walk. As you progress through your walking program, you may

want to add them to your walking gear.

These include walking monitoring equipment and walking safety equipment, all of which we'll discuss later in this article.

But first, let's explore how to find that all-important walking shoe on the next page.

To learn more about walking, see:

How to Find the Best Walking Shoes

Learning how to find the best walking shoes is not as simple as it used to be. As walking has gained popularity as a form of exercise, a wide variety of shoes meant specifically for walking has appeared on the market. The unique designs and features of many of these shoes have evolved from research into the mechanics of walking.

This research has shown that the stresses put on the feet in walking are different from those exerted in other exercises such as jogging, tennis, and aerobics. If you walk, it makes good sense to select shoes designed specifically with walking in mind.

When you shop for walking shoes, keep in mind that the basic shape of the shoe should conform to the shape of your foot, and the toe box (the area around your toes) should be high enough, wide enough, and long enough to accommodate your toes comfortably. But the fit isn't the only factor to consider.

You'll want to find shoes that cushion and support your feet as they hit the ground with each step. Shoe design, however, often involves a trade-off between cushioning and stability.

A well-cushioned shoe may not control the foot's motion adequately. An extremely rigid shoe, on the other hand, may not provide the shock absorption and flexibility necessary for comfort.

If you have had stress fractures, joint problems, or back pain in the past, you may want to opt for a shoe that stresses cushioning over stability. You'll want a shoe that has a well-cushioned insole (the shock-absorbing lining inside the shoe upon which your foot rests) and midsole (the part of the sole between the insole and the very bottom of the shoe).

If, however, your foot tends to roll inward (pronate) as you walk, you may want to pick a pair of shoes that stresses stability. If you don't know whether you pronate or not, take a look at your other shoes. If the outer side of the heel and the inner side of the forefoot (under the big toe joint) show a great deal more wear than the rest of the sole, chances are that you pronate excessively.

Most people pronate to some extent, but the more your feet tend to roll inward as they hit the ground, the more support you'll need to prevent problems. So look for a more rigid shoe with a sturdy heel counter (the back of the shoe that wraps around your heel).

To test the firmness of the heel counter of a shoe, try squeezing it. If it collapses, choose a different shoe.

To get the best of both worlds, look for a shoe with a midsole that contains two or three materials of different density (called dual- or triple-density midsoles). In these shoes, the softer, less dense materials cushion the feet while the firmer, denser materials stabilize them and make the shoes more durable.

You may also want to try a shoe that has a heel cup (a padded, cuplike area inside the back of the shoe that cushions the heel and holds it in place).

The sole of the shoe should be flexible at the ball of the foot. If you can bend the shoe in the middle (below the arch support), however, you won't get enough arch support and your feet may tire easily.

The outsole (the very bottom of the sole that comes in contact with the ground) should be made of a durable, springy material like rubber yet should be soft enough so that if you press your fingernail into it, you can see a slight indentation. The outsole should also be patterned to provide traction.

Instead of the flat-bottomed sole found in running shoes, some walking shoes feature a distinct heel. This type of walking shoe may be a good choice for people who are prone to developing aching arches, midfoot pain (plantar fasciitis), and heel spurs.

Some walking shoes have a "rocker" sole -- that is, they are thicker under the ball of the foot than are other types of athletic shoes, and they curve upward in front. This design helps support the foot as the body's weight is transferred from the heel to the toe.

The uppers (the part of the shoe above the sole that covers the feet) should be made of soft material that "breathes," allowing sweat to evaporate. Leather, or a combination of leather and nylon, is a good choice.

The uppers should have a padded heel collar (the part of the upper surrounding the opening of the shoe) and tongue. Some shoes feature a notched heel collar that helps prevent irritation of the Achilles tendon.

Go to the next section to learn even more about selecting the best walking shoes.

To learn more about walking, see:

More Walking Shoe Advice

Your choice of walking shoes will rely, in part, on where and when you'll be doing most of your walking.

If you walk to and from (or during) work, for instance, you may want to check out some of the dressier styles of walking shoes. If you'll be doing a lot of walking on uneven ground, such as on grass or gravel, you may want to look into high-topped walking shoes or hiking boots that offer greater stability and will protect your ankles.

When you shop for walking shoes, take your time. Examine each shoe carefully. Run your fingers along the inside of the upper to be sure there are no protruding seams that can cause blisters in the toe area. Poke your fingers into the insole and the heel area to be sure they're soft yet firm.

When you try on a style, put both shoes on and lace them up. If you'll be wearing two pairs of socks when you walk, wear them both when you try on your shoes.

Be sure to walk around in the shoes -- on both concrete and carpet. And remember to ask about the return policy on the shoes. Some stores will allow you to return or exchange shoes after a short trial period -- as long as you haven't worn them outdoors.

The bottom line on walking shoes: Pick walking shoes from an athletic brand that you find comfortable. Wear them around the house, then on some short walks, before switching over to them completely.

Once you've found a pair you like, consider buying a second pair right away, especially if you walk outdoors in inclement weather or your feet tend to perspire; that way, you can give one pair a day to dry out thoroughly while you wear the other pair.

And finally, when a pair is worn out, replace it! Do not keep walking in shoes that no longer provide the support and protection your feet require.

Racewalking Shoes

Unlike fitness walking shoes, racewalking shoes can be harder to find -- mainly because there are far fewer styles produced.

Designed specifically for maximum speed in competitive racewalking, these shoes are very lightweight. Racewalking shoes have less cushioning in the sole and heel than do freestyle walking shoes, however, so unless you're a dedicated, competitive racewalker, stick with a fitness walking shoe.

Find out how to choose the proper hiking equipment on the next page.

To learn more about walking, see:

Hiking Equipment

If you're going hiking -- especially on rugged, uneven terrain -- you'll need the proper hiking equipment, which includes a pair of boots or shoes that protect and support your feet and ankles.

Ideally, hiking boots should have high-top, padded collars that cover your ankles. The soles should be stiff -- to protect the bottom of your feet from rocky terrain -- and lugged or treaded -- to provide good traction.

Another important feature is weight. If you're going on shorter walks, or if you'll be hiking through less rugged terrain, you may be able to get by with a pair of sturdy walking shoes.

Or you might want to check out lightweight nylon hiking boots. They look more like athletic shoes, often weigh half as much as traditional hiking boots, and contain liners made of waterproof, breathable materials.

If you'll be doing a lot of hiking, through all kinds of weather, on rocky, uneven terrain, traditional hiking boots are probably your best bet. They're usually made of leather and have thick, heavy soles. They provide the best support and protection, but they're also heavier than the nylon models.

Walking Socks

If you choose them wisely, socks can greatly increase foot comfort and help protect against foot problems as you walk. Good socks for walking need not be designed specifically for this activity. However, they should fit properly.

Socks that are too small can cramp your toes and even increase the risk of foot problems. On the other hand, socks that are too large can bunch up, rub against your feet, and cause blisters.

The socks you choose should be shaped to fit your feet and should be seamless, since friction can build up between a seam and the skin and promote blisters.

They should also be thick enough to help absorb the forces that build up as the heel of the shoe strikes the ground. Often, this thickness is reinforced with a bit of extra padding where you need it most, at the heel and toe.

Walking Sticks

Many walkers -- especially those who also hike -- like the feel of a walking stick. It helps them keep their rhythm as they walk.

Using a walking stick can also increase the involvement of the upper body. On rough terrain, the stick can be used to detect holes, tree stumps, and unstable ground. It can also be used to ward off dogs.

Several different types of walking sticks are available. Some are made of lightweight aluminum. Others are solid and made of hard wood.

The type of tip you'll want on the bottom of the walking stick will depend on the surface you're walking on. Pointy steel tips are useful for walking on icy surfaces and mountain trails, and they often come with a removable rubber tip cover that provides traction when the stick is used on smooth surfaces like concrete.

Plastic tips help keep wooden walking sticks from splintering when they're used on hard surfaces.

Some walking sticks can be broken down into two or three pieces for easy storage. Other models are made of reflective material and therefore serve as a safety device during evening walks.

Some walking sticks even have tips that unscrew to reveal handy items like a compass or a sundial. Of course, if you live near a wooded area, you may simply want to choose a sturdy, fallen branch and use it as a homemade walking stick.

Go to the next page to learn about walking monitoring equipment, such as pedometers.

To learn more about walking, see:

Walking Monitoring Equipment

Walking monitoring equipment includes such devices as pedometers and pulse monitors. While not necessary, these may be items you want to purchase as you become more serious about walking.

Pedometers

A pedometer is a device that gives an estimate of the distance you travel on foot. It senses your body motion and counts footsteps. This count is then converted into distance using the length of your stride, which you typically have to measure and input before you can use the pedometer.

One way to do this is to mark off a 100-foot stretch of level ground. Then as you walk that stretch, count the number of strides you take. When you've reached the end of the marked distance, divide 100 by the number of strides you took and enter the resulting stride length into the pedometer.

If you enjoy jogging as well as walking, however, be aware that you can't use the same pedometer -- set to the same adjustment -- to gauge your performance in both activities. (That's because your jogging stride will be longer than your walking stride.)

Instead, you'll either have to get two pedometers -- one for walking and the other for jogging -- or you'll need to keep adjusting the same pedometer back and forth for the two activities.

Some pedometers attach to your waistband, while others are placed around the wrist or built into shoes. Some devices can also estimate your average speed, the number of calories you burn, and the amount of time it takes you to walk a certain distance.

Pulse Monitors

Several types of devices are available to measure your pulse as you walk. Some are hand-held. Others are worn on the wrist like a watch. There are also pulse monitors that strap around the chest and measure the electrical impulses of the heart, much like an electrocardiogram.

Pulse gauges offer an advantage over manual pulse-taking because they allow you to find out your heart rate while you walk, instead of having to stop to count heartbeats. (Remember, your heart rate begins to slow down within 15 seconds of when you stop walking.)

Some very elaborate pulse monitors are available that use ultrasound technology to measure the heart rate.

Find out ways to stay safe while walking in our final section.

To learn more about walking, see:

Walking Safety Equipment

Walking safety equipment includes the obvious, like reflective gear so motorists can see you, and the not so obvious, such as a fanny pack to hold your valuables. This section will also address basic safety tips like keeping the volume low on music players so you can hear danger signals.

Portable Music Players

Lightweight, portable radios, compact disc players, and digital music players are popular walking companions. They come in a variety of sizes and styles, from those that attach to your belt to those that are incorporated into headsets.

Some headphones are even built into earmuffs -- a handy innovation in the winter.

Remember, for the sake of safety, it's a good idea to keep the volume control at a sensible level. If you're blasting the music, you may not hear danger signals around you, such as approaching cars or cyclists or barking dogs.

Carrying Valuables

Even if you're not going on a day-long hike, you may still need to carry a few things -- money, keys, identification -- as you walk. One popular way to do so is to use a "fanny pack."

A fanny pack is a specially made belt with a zippered pouch. The belt can be adjusted so that the pouch area rests in front or in back -- whichever is most comfortable. (If you will be walking in a crowded area, you'll probably want the pouch facing forward for safety's sake.)

Some manufacturers even make socks and shoes that come with tiny, sealable pouches for keys, change, and identification.

Special packs are also available for carrying infants while you walk. These packs feature a collar to support the baby's head, as well as an inner pouch to position the infant securely.

Newborns, who need more support, are more secure when carried on the chest. The same pack can later be adjusted to carry the older infant on your back.

Water Bottles

A wide variety of portable containers are on the market for carrying liquids during walks, from disposable lightweight plastic water bottles to high-tech insulated thermoses and wearable water bags that come with thin hoses for hands-free drinking as you walk.

Some models feature an insulated carrier that keeps the contents cool on hot days and warm on cold days. Others have a dual function. They come equipped with a handle so that you can use the filled container as a hand-held weight.

Reflective Gear

Reflective gear is important for your safety when you walk at night, particularly if you are walking along a road in an area with no streetlights or sidewalks.

When a car's lights hit the reflective gear, you become visible at a much greater distance than you would be if you wore nonreflective white or light-colored garments. Reflective gear does not guarantee safety, however, so you'll still need to stay alert and face the traffic as you walk.

Reflective material is incorporated into many garments, including vests, headbands, belts, sashes, and leg bands. You can also purchase reflective safety trim that can be sewn, taped, or ironed onto your walking outfit. Ideally, the reflective gear should be worn on the chest, arms, waist, legs, and ankles.

It's especially important to wear reflective material on your legs and ankles, because much of the light from headlights is directed toward the ground. And because these body parts are moving, they are more likely to attract the driver's attention.

To learn more about walking, see:

ADDITIONAL CREDITS:

Peggy Norwood Keating, MA, Contributing consultant

Rebecca Hughes, Contributing writer