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.
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.
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: