We all know how to put one leg in front of the other. But how many have really learned how to walk? Once you’ve mastered the tricks of the trade, walking is fun, great exercise and good for the environment.
(1) Time of day. Mornings can be ideal… it tends to have the bluest skies, and is the best time to enhance your circadian rythms, e.g. a good night’s sleep. But anytime is good, whatever works for you. Once or twice a day is ideal, but if you can’t do that, aim for every second day.
(2) Plan a route, or spontaneous? If you’re new to walking, it can be a good idea to plan your route, along quiet streets, through parks, etc. But sometimes the most fun is to “follow your nose”. Just step out your door, stand still for a moment and turn your head left and right. Then go whichever way you feel like. At each intersection do the same thing. It can be quite liberating, and you never know where you’ll turn up.
(3) Out-and-back or one way? I usually prefer an out-and-back or circular route that starts and ends at home; no car or bus required. But to change things up sometimes, try a one-way route. I walk as far as I want, maybe trying to reach somewhere I haven’t before, then take a bus or cab home.
(4) What to bring? A reusable water bottle, your cellphone, a jacket or rainjacket, a hat or cap. Maybe a snack? Your bus pass or cab fare? Other options: pen and paper; laptop; lunch; backpack and/or reusable bag for groceries? I always bring a pen and pad of paper… for any thoughts or creative ideas that might pop out of my brain that day.
(5) Rainy day? With a little practice, walking can be fun in almost any weather. You need the right clothes. Cotton jackets, shorts or jeans are terrible if you get caught in the rain.
- Jacket or umbrella? An umbrella is not much fun for walking more than a few blocks, and offers no warmth if the temperature dips. Instead, choose either a light, synthetic jacket, or a semi-permeable rain jacket. I prefer one that I can either comfortably tie around my waist, or stuff in my pack. (Available at MEC and other outdoor stores)
- Convertible pants. The most flexible option is nylon “convertible” pants — the lower legs quickly zip off for warmer weather, and are very light and compact, so you can carry them in even the smallest pack. Nylon pants are much lighter, thinner and cooler than jeans. If the weather is cool or damp, wear a pair of synthetic long underwear underneath. No need for fancy “semi-permeable” pants, unless you’re planning a long walk in pouring rain. They’re also heavier. Both are available at MEC and other outdoor stores. Just stay away from cotton!
- Rain pants. Another option is to carry along a pair of lightweight rainpants. If you get caught in the rain, you can pull over whatever you’re wearing. Lightweight is crucial: if they’re at all heavy or bulky, you won’t want to carry them with you. Available at MEC and other outdoor stores.
- Wait it out. Or, if you have no raingear but get stuck in an unexpected shower, just wait it out under a roof or nearby cafe. If you’re stuck, call a taxi home.
(6) Shoes and socks. Much urban walking is on sidewalks or other hard ground. Good walking, hiking or ‘approach’ shoes can make or break your love of walking.
- Where to buy? If possible, always buy from MEC or another reputable outdoor store where you can find great walking and hiking shoes, as well as qualified staff to help you choose the right one. If there’s no outdoor store near you, a sports/fitness store might have one or two decent walking shoes such as Merrell. Most regular shoe stores do not have good walking shoes, although they’ll try to sell you something! In our culture, a lot of people walk no farther than the parking lot. Outdoor stores in Canada: Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) | SAIL | Atmosphere | Trailhead
- Shoes or boots? Walking should be a pleasure. Shoes weigh much less than boots — and if you’re walking any distance, more pleasant to walk in. Choose boots if you’re going to be hiking rough terrain, or in winter, or have ankles that easily twist. Otherwise, shoes are usually the best option. In either case, take the time to test several different shoes by walking around the store at a brisk pace. You won’t get far in shoes that bind or chafe.
- Full leather or mesh? Shoes with mesh tend to be cooler, lighter, breath better and be less expensive. On the other hand, good leather boots can be stronger for rugged hiking. There are also some stylish urban leather options for those who don’t like the mesh look.
- Waterproof? For better or worse, many hiking shoes these days have waterproof-breathable membranes, such as Goretex/GTX. They will keep your feet dry if it’s pouring rain, or you step in a stream. Problem is, such shoes can be too warm in summer. So, unless you’ll be walking in the rain or bushwhacking the wilderness, you can do just fine without. It’s also lighter, cheaper, and more breathable that way.
- Dress shoes? Looking for something more dressy or stylish? There are a few stores that carry high quality urban shoes, a few of which are designed for walking (try brands like Rockport, Dunham, Clarks). Look for shoes with a thick but lightweight sole, designed for shock absorption on sidewalks and pavement. But for longer walks, there’s usually a trade-off between style and comfort/ walkability.
- Can I wear sneakers? Yes, if you like, it’s certainly better than nothing. But if you invest in a good pair of walking shoes, you’ll probably find yourself having twice the fun, while easily covering longer distances (without it feeling like it’s longer).
- Socks. Padded socks can make it even more comfortable for longer walks on sidewalks or pavement. I’ve always found Fox River Tramper socks to have the best padding, but they’re too warm for summer. For wet or cool weather, always choose wool or synthetic, never cotton.
- Shoes or sandals? How far can you walk, comfortably, without tiring, in sandals? I guess it depends. I’ve never taken them seriously for walking more than a few blocks. For summer I prefer summer walking shoes with a thin, light mesh such as the the Vasque Breeze (without Goretex if possible). These and quite a few other models are at MEC and other outdoor stores.
- Don’t cheap out. People spend tens of thousands on cars, only to be enslaved by the lifestyle they represent. A mere $100 to $200 for a good pair of walking shoes is a bargain, an excellent investment.
(7) Alone or with company? Walking is great — it should be experienced in as many ways and as often as possible. I very much enjoy walking alone, with a friend, or with a group. All three can be fun, social experiences, in different ways. To find a local walking group, try googling “walking” or “hiking”, plus the name of your city or town. Also check your local community centre, health centre; ask your friends and neighbours; or try Meetup and Hiking & outdoor clubs in Canada.
(8) Leave the car at home? Many of the best walks don’t involve getting in a car at all. Yes, getting into nature is great, and sometimes warranted. But if you always have to drive there, you’re also helping destroy it. Why not try more walks right in your ‘hood? With a little effort, you might find that there’s more right under your nose than you expected. If you do feel you need to drive just to walk, is it time to find a home with a better Walkscore? Or if that’s not an option, help organize active transportation, and walkable, pedestrian friendly, complete streets in your neighbourhood.
(9) Music, podcast… or creative silence? Some people prefer to walk only with music in their ears. Nothing wrong with that, but there is another way. Could you entertain yourself… follow your own thoughts… or just relax into the rhythm? Could you walk for an hour with no music, just thinking, observing and enjoying your surroundings? With a little practice, you might find that another part of your mind wakes up and keeps you good company along the way.
Great podcasts for walking — If you listen while you walk, always be extra cautious of your surroundings, traffic, etc. Here are a few good sources:
(10) Motivation. Need something to get you going? Would a destination help? When I walk, I often choose a destination such as getting down to the river, or walking by my favourite cafe (even if I’m not going in). When possible, I try to include errands or social visits in my walk. Or, set up a favourite podcast or radio program. Another option is to wear a Pedometer/Fitbit on your wrist — set yourself a goal in time or kilometers, whichever works for you. Or make it a rule to walk at the same time every day. More motivation ideas.
(11) Safety. Always be aware of traffic and look all four ways before crossing. Don’t assume that cars will stop, even if the light is red. Pause the music, use your eyes and ears while crossing. Don’t depend only on your ears — bikes and electric vehicles can be quite silent. Of course, be prudent about walking in cities or neighbourhoods you’re not familiar with, especially at night. See: urban walking safety tips.
(12) Walk-friendly communities, organizations & advocacy
Walk-friendly organizations to follow and support…
- Canada Walks
- Complete Streets Canada | Wikipedia
- 880 Cities
- Active Transportation Canada | Toronto | Edmonton | Vancouver | Wikipedia
- David Suzuki Foundation
- Ontario Active School Travel (aka Active and Safe Routes to School)
- Or Google: “pedestrian friendly“, “walk friendly”, “walkability”, “active transportation” or “complete streets” plus the name of your city/town
- On twitter: #Walking #UrbanWalking #ActiveLiving #Walkability #PedestrianFriendly #ActiveTransportation #CompleteStreets
How Walking Makes Us Healthier, Happier and Brainier
“Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara believes that plenty of regular walking unlocks the cognitive powers of the brain like nothing else. He explains why you should exchange your gym kit for a pair of comfy shoes and get strolling.” Full story…
- How walking makes us healthier, happier and brainier (The Guardian)
- Information on Walking and hiking in Wikipedia | Consumer Reports | Google
- Walking for health | Six reasons why walking is the daily brain medicine we need | 11 Biggest Benefits of Walking to Improve Your Health, According to Doctors | How much you should walk in a week to see a major improvement to your health
Dead Ends are
After many years of exploring neighbourhoods on foot and by bike, I’ve come to the conclusion that dead ends are for cars. When you’re on foot, there’s often a way through.
It’s also true of the big picture. Our cars — both gas and electric — are literally destroying the world. Car ads appeal to our ego and greed, showing illusions of the empty road, as if you were the only person on the planet. You aren’t. You are the traffic jam.
The needless consumption and unhealthy lifestyle that cars represent are the worst kind of dead end. As extreme weather ramps up, and ecological collapse threatens our very sources of food, water and fresh air, we have no other choice. We need to find a simpler, healthier way.
Maybe if you and I choose sustainable, alternative transportation — eliminating or at least minimizing our use of cars — real change will start to happen. Our new friends should be active transportation, public transportation, telecommuting, mixed use neighbourhoods, complete streets, relocalization, and as much as possible, car-free living.
Walking is an act of love and hope — for our communities, our planet, our children’s very survival.
Dead ends are for cars.
Please note that the above information is provided on an “As Is” basis and for general informational purposes only. Peter is not responsible for the content, accuracy, timeliness, completeness, legality, reliability, quality or suitability of the information and opinions provided. When you go walking, you do so at your own risk!