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Read our walking boots size guide with all your FAQs answered
How to size your walking boots, depends on a number of factors. Your ideal choice of walking footwear ultimately depends on its fit and the activity that you intend to do, as well as the type of terrain you are planning to cover. In rocky, wet terrain you will need a boot with more support and waterproofing than say if you are going to walk on made up tracks or on roads. In these last instances, a lighter more cushioned boot will be more appropriate. For hot-weather-walking, eg.
Italy in summer, you will prefer even lighter, open and breathable fabrics. Materials range from full grain leather through to suede and synthetic, with or without Gore-Tex or other linings to make them more waterproof.
Once you have decided on a style or function, the important thing is that the footwear should not only fit correctly to prevent blisters. The boot should also support your feet and ankles enough to help prevent walking fatigue and ankle or tendon injury as much as possible, for example from twisting or jarring. Once you know the sort of activity and thus the type of shoe you need, go and try some on at your friendly local store taking into account the below FAQs on sizing walking boots.
1. Boot length
Push your socked foot into the boot with loosened laces, with your toes going to the front and with your foot flat on the ground. Insert your index finger down the back of the boot, along your Achilles tendon down the inside heel without having to force it. If you can't do this or your finger, or toes are squashed, the boot is too short. Similarly, too much space may mean the boot is too long.
2. Width and pinch points
Whilst seated, with your foot flat to the ground and heel pushed to the back of the shoe, lace the boot and you will soon discover if the there are any pressure / pinch points which may indicate that there is not enough width especially if the laces are tight.
3. Weight shifting
Now with the laces tightened, stand up and bow, your feet spread under your body weight. You will now notice whether your toes are touching the front, and when you move shifting from foot to foot, if the heel or tops and sides are rubbing and if the shoe or boot is bulging. The latter may be a sign it is too tight. You can run your hands over the boot and find the obvious tight points.
4. Toe flex point
Although this won’t work so well if you are buying stiffened boots to use with crampons, most walking boots will flex at the point that is located between the ball of the foot and the toes. Attention! This is a usual blister pinch point that can be avoided by choosing the right size of walking boot. So, make sure that you use a step in the shop to see if there is any pinching when you go up the step or lean forward against a wall with your booted feet flat and flex forward. Remember that on a hill or in the mountains (eg. on the
Tour du Mont Blanc) this move will be repeated thousands of times and so you don't want anything too tight.
5. Other Considerations
If you use orthotic insoles and you intend to use with them with the boots, then take them along to the shop and replace the original footbeds and see how you cope with them.
Also bear in mind that your feet will often swell up slightly with heat, when they are wet or sweaty or with a bit of altitude. You may want to try double socks or one sports sock liner and a loop stitched walking sock over that to help correctly sizing your new walking boots.
6. After Purchase
After you have purchased your new footwear, take it home and wear it indoors for a few hours to check if there is enough support and no pinching. Boots are usually quite a bit heavier and more supportive than the usual shoes we wear and it may take a while to get used to them. In the UK at least, most stores will replace the new boots if you are unsatisfied with their sizing as long as you haven’t used them outside and that you have all the original packaging and receipts etc.
If you are having fitting problems with current boots, we know they do change over time, then
see our article on footwear micro adjustment with the help of... laces.
by resident guide John Millen
If you are considering going on a multi-day walking holiday for the first time, it will often mean a total direction change from your previous vacations where you were sightseeing or relaxing on a beach break.
There is a formality with walking tours in the sense that you will be moving to a new location and accommodation on some or most days. But this kind of holiday gives you so much time and flexibility to do what you please on the way: stopping at viewpoints or visiting gardens, homes, castles, pubs and cafes. You may decide to have a picnic wherever you please, take in the landscapes or talk to the locals. So within the framework of an itinerary there is normally plenty of scope for doing and seeing.
First steps for walkers
As a first step, you may choose to go for a long weekend of walking or doing a couple of day walks in succession to see if you do actually like it!
The key point for a first time walker is to not bite off more than you can chew; try an easy-ish straightforward itinerary which you know you can probably follow. You can then relax and take your time.
By going on a shorter break for a first time walking holiday, you will be able to get used to the walks and whether you may have issues with feet or knees etc. Imagine what it could mean if you were to discover this in a really remote location!
Guided or self guided as a first time walk?
If you are thinking about a self-guided itinerary, look for the lower graded and better waymarked options such as the more southern trails in the UK like
The South Downs Way
The Thames Path
– or if you want to go further afield, the
pilgrim routes in Spain
and France. If you have not had much walking experience then it is best to keep to the more simply navigated walks such as these. If you are considering a
, then the navigation and a lot of the decisions are taken for you. In general though, guided walks are a bit harder and you will need to be mindful about your fitness and pacing within a group.
Pacing implies getting to a certain place by a certain time. Although it is certainly good to have a challenge, an easier itinerary means that you don't have to worry too much about pacing. This ultimately means more time for stops along the way and arriving at your destination more relaxed.
Do I need special gear for a walking trip?
Outdoor gear can be quite expensive. So if you are not sure about whether this type of holiday is for you, on an easier-graded trip you will not necessarily have to invest in expensive outdoor gear. To get an idea of some of the items you may need, check out my tips on
What to Take on a Hiking Trip
Maybe you will have half the gear already, trainers/ old walking boots a small rucksack, and a waterproof jacket.
You could look to borrow some gear from friends and family, and then having completed the first holiday, you can decide if you want to do another and invest in some gear.
Perhaps use a locally sourced wooden stick instead of buying walking poles, until you decide that you want to use them or not.
Some first time walkers worry about water intake or toilet stops and
. Unless it is really hot, it is rarely worth carrying more than two litres with you, and remember each litre weighs a kilogram. Quite a good idea is to try and drink quite a bit to flush your system before you set out each morning or even the night before. Normally on the easier walks you will not be too remote to refill your bottles or to buy a drink or two somewhere. Just make sure that any tap or faucet water is drinkable. It may be worth carrying water sterilizer tablets or a small filter. Some water bottles (
more about water bottles here
) come with this feature fitted. Normally there will be some kind of sign if the water in undrinkable.
Walking hours without visiting a toilet may be a worrying proposition but it need not be, just discreetly make use of terrain and vegetation. If you use toilet paper, fold it up and put it in a bag until you can dispose of it in the usual way.
What about navigating a route?
Get used to using a compass for general direction finding before you head off on your walking holiday. There is plenty of online guidance on map/ compass reading and I have written some
advice on navigating
before. Download any mapping apps and use any GPS data that the company may provide to help you along, but always carry the printed map, route notes and the name and address of your ultimate stop of the day. If using a phone or GPS, it makes sense to carry an auxiliary power bank and the appropriate leads.
What to pack for my first walking trip?
Don't overburden yourselves on your first walking holiday, but you may wish to carry a small umbrella (for shade as much as for rain), a Thermos flask (most UK B&Bs have tea and coffee making facilities in most rooms,) a small pen knife and maybe a piece of foam or a garden kneeler to sit on during a picnic. Plasters or compeed are useful for any abnormal hot spots developing on your feet.
With such considerations and warm or cold weather clothing packed appropriately for the coming day, you should be able to enjoy your first walking holiday ever!
GGot excited to go and try out the concept of a walking holiday? At Sherpa Expeditions you can choose from a list of options that are great for a first-time walking trip:
England walking holidays for first timers
Scotland walking holidays for first timers
Camino walking holiday for first timers
contact our team
of friendly travel consultants to give you personalised advice, by phone or email.
You may well believe it would be hard to stay sustainable whilst on holiday, but it might be easier than you think! We have put together 5 easy tips on how to be more sustainable when travelling and whilst out on your walking or cycling trips. Read on to find out more.
1. Be conscious of litter along the route
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t see any litter lining our walking trails, but unfortunately this just isn’t the case and often people throw food wrappers on the ground or leave there takeaway coffee cups along the way. So, if you see something, don’t just walk past it, pick it up. Let’s do our bit and make sure there’s nothing lying around that could damage the environment or the habitats of surrounding wildlife.
2. Drink from a reusable water bottle and other reusable items where possible
While this may not be anything new, it’s always good to remember packing your
reusable water bottle
. There are many great ones out there, that can keep your water nice and cold until you get thirsty! Also, if you are bringing food out with you, make sure to bring it in a reusable lunch box with reusable cutlery...every little helps!
3. Use biodegradable & eco-friendly products
There are so many products around now that are much kinder to the environment in the ways that they are produced and the way that they can be disposed of. Some examples are bamboo toothbrushes, green cosmetics using renewable raw materials and ethically sourced and sustainable clothing, to name just a few. Why not swap out a few of your every day essentials before your next trip?
4. Eat locally
When you are staying in various towns and villages along the way, try either buying fresh from local markets if you are cooking for yourself or eating in restaurants using ingredients sourced from local suppliers so they have not had to travel far to get to your plate. This way you will be feeding back into the local community and helping boost their economy by keeping smaller companies in business…win-win!
5. Pack lightly to reduce CO2 emissions
Whether you’re travelling to your destination by plane, car or train, it’s always worth trying to pack as lightly as you can and only bring exactly what you need with you. You may wonder why this would make a difference, but the lighter your luggage is, the lighter the vehicle or plane will be, meaning it will use less fuel to transport your belongings and therefore reducing the effect it has on the environment via CO2 emissions. Something to think about next time, you want to bring something with you ‘just in case’.
Find a Trip
So, you are off to walk the Coast to Coast. Whether it’s guided or self-guided you will have your main baggage being transferred for you, which saves on a lot of weight, but the big question is what essential and useful items should you take with you on the walk?
As you are staying in hotels, pubs and B&Bs, this is something that can get reviewed on a day to day basis so that you can make adjustments in regards to the weather, and depending on if you are on a higher (mountainous) or lower (farmland and road) section of the route. First, are the essentials.
A 35-50 litre rucksack (day sack) should be a sufficient size to put everything in for the day. Most of these are of course not waterproof, so you may also want to invest in a rucksack cover – although, beware that these can easily blow off and fly away if not well secured. Make sure to line the rucksack with a dry bag, or have several individual dry bags or even ordinary polythene bags without holes in.
Modern day rucksacks have lots of utility points for attaching gels, water bottles or dormant walking poles. Elasticated webbing ties, or a large webbing fabric rear pocket of many day sacks is extremely useful for securing wet clothing between showers, so that it is readily accessible and doesn’t soak the main compartment of the rucksack.
Always carry full waterproofs, top and trousers, even if it is unlikely to rain, they make a perfect windproof layer and you can forget they are there. The risk is not putting them in your bag on a good day and then the next day when it rains, discovering that you haven't got them! Gaiters could optionally be carried and put on during wet and boggy days, when it is likely that your feet will get pretty wet.
Documents and Phone
For valuable documents and your maps, notes and books that you are using for the walk, it is certainly quite a good idea to invest in waterproof map and document cases; ideally an A4 or A5 sized one for documents and an A3 sized one for maps. Ortileb make some good ones which will be totally waterproof if sealed properly and last for years.
A mobile phone is more or less essential these days and can be used for contacting emergency services, the accommodation or for use as a camera or GPS. You may want to bring a 'proper ' camera as well, there is certainly a lot of subjects to take photos of during the walks, especially landscapes. It may be worth having a spare powered battery and a portable power supply for your phone, just in case.
If you are not wearing it, bundle a fleece, jumper or gillet into your bag. Although, really it is not essential to carry a spare set of clothing with you , an extra-long sleeved shirt may be worthwhile if it is very hot or if you want to change into a drier garment when you arrive at your next destination. Some days, there is always the chance you will get in before either your baggage does or before your accommodation is actually open.
Food and Drink
Some people carry a plastic container for their packed lunch to stop the content getting squashed, although most people just make do with just a bag. It’s always a good idea to put some extra high energy snacks and bars in the pockets of your day sack too and have at least 2 litres of drinking water with you. In the UK you can fill up from water taps, you don’t need to buy bottled water.
We would recommend you to take a half litre vacuum flask for hot or cold drinks as well. Some walkers are very pleased to have these with them whilst they are out on a cold day, or to ‘celebrate’ the traditions of morning or afternoon tea. Unlike walking on the continent, when you walk in Britain you will nearly always find a hospitality tray in your bedroom with kettle and tea / coffee items, sufficient to fill a flask.
Handy Everyday Items
Most rucksacks have a top pocket where you should store quickly accessible items, such as a small head torch, whistle, penknife, lightweight gloves and a beanie style hat. The same pocket should also be used to carry things like lip balm, sun cream, keys and a proofed wallet to contain things like your passport, money and tickets - items that should not be left in your main baggage. A squash able broad brimmed hat and sunglasses are also recommended, but maybe leave the umbrella behind as they can easily get destroyed in the windy conditions sometimes experienced along the Coast to Coast. Finally, make sure you have at least somewhere on your person or handy in the daypack for map, compass, notes, book and information about where you are staying overnight. It is easy to forget!
As well as getting out for some fresh air if you can, there are so many things you can do in the comfort of your own homes whilst in lockdown. This could be the perfect time to slow down and appreciate those small pleasures in life that may have passed you by before.
Does reading always seems to go to the bottom of the list when life gets in the way, normally reserved for holidays and long journeys? Now you have some more free time, you can really get stuck in to a new book and get transported to anywhere in the world.
The Little Italian Bakery - Valentina Cebeni
The essence of Sardinia is perfectly captured and you can easily whisky ourself out of this world into a new one. This is a place where time has stood still for years on end, but where the secrets of the island have also been hidden in its past.
A Wedding in Provence, by Ellen Sussman
A fictional story of a couple holding their second marriage in Provence, France surrounded by their immediate family in a quaint inn set in the small town of Cassis. The bride’s two adult daughters bring a little drama to the situation and it all quickly unfolds from there.
Normal People, by Sally Rooney
This award-winning novel is Set in Ireland. The story follows two people from high school in their small town to university in Dublin, exploring their relationship as well as their own psyches.
Listening to podcasts
There are so many to choose from, but there are a few that are great to keep that hiking mindset alive and kicking! Anything from advice on training for a bucket list trip to real-life stories and hints for beginners.
A weekly podcast in which there is a speak with experienced thru hikers about their stories from the trails and strategies for a successful thru hike. Each episode is not only full of unique stories from the trail, but also comes with dedicated 'Gear Recommendations and Trail Wisdoms' page. Here you can see what gear each thru hiker used including shoes, socks, packs, sleep gear and more, the food they ate and can recommend for you, gadgets, apps, hacks and of course wisdoms learnt along the way.
The First 40 Miles
This is a podcast for people who are new to hiking and backpacking. If you are new to backpacking, or if you're hopelessly in love with someone who wants you to love backpacking, then this podcast is for you. We talk about the essentials, how to lighten your load, and how to make the most of your time on the trail.
The Training for Trekking
This podcast is created to help hikers, trekkers and mountaineers prepare for their bucket list adventures. Rowan shares with you the simple training strategies to get you fit, strong and resilient to tackle anything the trail will throw at you, even during the current pandemic.
Cooking And Baking
Have you found a new found love for cooking and baking? You’re not the only ones! So, even if you can’t get to your favourite destinations right now, you can still whip up something native to the region instead and before you know, you’ll feel like you’re there!
French Coq Au Vin
A traditional French dish consisting of chicken braised with wine, bacon lardons and mushrooms. A red Burgundy wine is typically used, though many regions of France make variants using their local wines.
Moussaka is an aubergine or potato-based dish, often including ground meat, traditionally minced lamb and topped with a creamy béchamel sauce. However, there are many local and regional variations.
It’s almost impossible to think of the delicacies of Scotland without thinking of their famous shortbread. Perfect with a cup of tea in the afternoon, these sweet and crumbly treats will be sure to keep you going.
Sometimes it’s nice to look forward to watching a nice film at the end of the day, and even better when it includes stunning scenery and cuisine from the places you have dreaming of visiting. Whether it is more hard-hitting or light-hearted, they’ll be sure to inspire your next adventure.
Starring Reese Witherspoon, this film is based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed on her path to recovery. Still reeling from her mother's death and recent divorce, she decides to hike alone along the Pacific Crest Trail with no previous experience.
A Walk In The Woods
This hilarious comedy stars Robert Redford as the bestselling travel writer Bill Bryson, who makes the improbable decision to hike the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star in ‘The Trip’ following them exploring fancy restaurants of northern England, ‘The Trip to Italy’ where the two go on a road trip in Italy from Piedmont to Capri, on the Amalfi coast, and ‘Thee Trip to Spain’ where they discover the joys of tapas in Spain. Their culinary adventures take them through Cantabria, the Basque region, Aragon, Rioja, Castile, La Mancha and Andalucia.
Watch The Trip
, The Trip to Italy
and The Trip to Spain
In these times of social distancing, there are many ways to stay entertained. Whether that’s with your household over a good old board game or on a trans-generational Zoom call and taking things digital with an online quiz.
Would I Lie To You Board Game
A game of quick thinking that calls for a cool head and a poker face. Can you fool your opponents with an on-the-spot lie? Just like the TV show, some of the facts are true, some are not, it's all down to you to decide!
Find it here.
There is an abundance of online quizzes around, especially now, so the real question is which one to pick? If you would call yourself an expert traveller, why not test your knowledge with one or two from Traveller’s huge selection.
Find them here.
Puzzles can be great fun and really get you to concentrate, so much so you can find yourself in another world. When you’re not able to visit the places you want to, you can still recreate beautiful images of them!
With the night’s drawing in and the cold and wet weather affecting large parts of the British Isles already this autumn, our attention is directed towards cold and wet weather outdoor gear to cope with it all. Read on to find out about our top suggestions.
There’s great popularity at the moment for cosy puffer and duvet jackets, which can either be quite cheap with synthetic fill insulation, or quite expensive with various degrees of down or a down and synthetic mix. Most of these are great in really cold weather, but a lot of the time people will quickly overheat wearing them if they are undertaking any activity. They are also not particularly water resistant and down jackets become like wet tea bags when they are soaked - with lack of insulation to match.
There are some very compact ones on the market however, made by companies like Montane and Mountain Equipment which offer real warmth, but are very compact and can be conveniently pushed into rucksacks for easy packing if you don't need to wear them. A compromise would be a down gillet; which is a jacket without the arms. This keeps your core warm and your arms can remain very active.
Most people will rely on the tried and tested layering method to maintain adjustable warmth as you just remove or put on layers depending on how you feel. The best thing to start with is a base layer, perhaps with smart wool which is significantly odour free after even a couple of days of activity. Over this you can then have a fleece, hooded ones are quite popular, but you can always put a beanie in your pocket.
Over the top of the fleece (which will morph into something like a wet flannel if allowed to soak) you need a shell which is waterproof and windproof. There is a lot of choice for these again such as, Berghaus, Montane, Mountain Equipment, Rab etc. The waterproofness depends upon the price between chemically coated fabrics and those which are layered such as Gore Tex. The trend is for lighter and lighter fabrics.
Although some of the older waterproofs had the consistency of cardboard, some of lighter weight fabrics today are not that durable and most of us can't afford or even want to replace our gear every year or two especially as we think about our footprint on the planet. Even though they are a little more expensive, we have been very impressed with the quality of Paramo jackets, a British company who have their designs made up in Colombia, part of an on-going project to help local women find gainful employment. The result is something which is quite different to the norm. There are many walkers who swear by them, and a number of mountain rescue teams use them too. Their jackets have loads of features including hand warmers, ventilation zippers and a comfortable inner lining, this makes them heavier than some, but they offer great comfort and proper waterproofing and temperature control. A great innovation is a lightweight mountain smock (and over the head jacket) with warmers, pockets, ventilators a hood and a drop down tail for mountain bikers. We would highly recommend.
We also can't forget about our legs which need protection especially when the temperature drops and the rain starts. All the major manufacturers offer waterproof trousers, although they often don't seem to last long, perhaps because the seams get quite stressed over time. However, they are essential to prevent wind chill and the best ones to look out for would be those with good venting and long leg zips to enable you to get into them with boots or shoes on if needed.
SOCKS AND GLOVES
In terms of hands and feet you can get totally waterproof socks and gloves from manufacturers like Seal-skinz, but we have found that they do take a long time to dry when they are washed and some may still prefer a traditional wool and synthetic mix of sock. It's up to you as both will do the job.
When it comes to gloves, the famous climbing mitten of the 1950s-70s: 'The Dachstein mitt,' is being manufactured again from pre-shrunk wool and it's definitely worth a try if you want the best of both worlds, with a modern take on the traditional. Note that although you are obviously more dextrous wearing a glove, mittens keep your hands warmer which is why we would rate these for colder conditions.
We have mentioned beanies, which are obviously super easy to carry around. However, perhaps the most effective and stylish winter hat that we have seen is the Tilley woollen hat. This is largely waterproof and has an inner lining for more comfort which includes drop down ear warmers, so if you're in the market for a new hat, this is the one we would choose.
Don't forget to carry a lightweight head torch, Black Diamond or Petzl have good ones, as the days are shorter and you can easily get caught out if your walk takes longer than expected. Alternatively, if you just keep a torch in your pocket it will always be waiting for you, just remember to check the batteries regularly!
This month, John brings you some very useful travel photography tips. No matter what type of camera you use on your hike or bike ride, these beginner’s tips may help improve the tangible memories of your holiday.
People these days live through their cameras, mainly for gleaning memories and showing off to friends and families on Facebook or Instagram. However, sometimes the habit of taking a picture makes people forget to actually look at or see much of the subject matter. Nowadays even basic mobile phones have good cameras, and only keen photographers tend to carry a big SLR camera. In the middle ground, there are plenty of people using compact cameras. Whatever your preference is to travel with, here are a few travel photography tips that will most likely help you take even better travel photos.
1. Change Your Angle
Most people take the same shot from virtually the same angle as everybody else! Try something different, get low, lie on the ground and look up, get high in a building and look down, take the picture at a rakish angle. Once you have your standard shot try something new. Change your perspective, add blur. Change aperture for depth of field effects.
2. Add Some Effect
With SLRs and compact cameras a selection of graduated filters make interesting and easy effects: accentuating colours, darkening clouds etc. Some mobile phone cameras have effect changes that you can do after you have taken the main picture, for example increasing colour saturation, or turning pictures into paintings. Sometimes it is a bit gimmicky but other times these effects can be very effective. You may have noticed how a lot of travel photos these days look, well a bit too bright, a bit too unworldly: places are marketed with really clean looking shots which are not really 'how it looks'. Some extra advice, all JPEG type pictures can be transformed by degrees in Photoshop or Lightroom type software and it all depends upon what you want to achieve and how long you wish to spend doing it.
3. Filter & Zoom
With single lens reflex cameras, we advise to always carry a polarizing filter with you for those blue days of summer where you can get dramatic cloud or water effects. Just don't leave it on all the time. If you have a zoom lens, try a 'Vari zoom' technique, change to a 1:30 shutter speed, and try to zoom in or out with the lens in an even rate. This travel photography tip will help you get an effect of increasing blur towards the edges and more clarity in the middle, like the subject was rushing towards you. Other simple tips include, breathing lightly on the lens and you have a mist or fog effect that gradually clears as you look through the viewfinder.
4. The Golden Hours
Especially for outdoor photographers, weather conditions play an important role. In good weather, depending upon latitude and time of year, there is always that period when the golden light of dusk or dawn creates beautiful natural saturated colours. If you are staying overnight at a place, try to get up early, there will hardly be anyone about and you will be able to see the sites, although not always allowed to enter them, virtually on your own.
5. Tripods at Night
Before and beyond the Golden Hour, try night shots! If we are talking about how to take good travel photos, tiny but sturdy tripods can be really worthwhile packing to capture sharp night shots. Usually shots of illuminated monuments or cityscapes are usually better at dusk or dawn, just as the lights are going on or off, and before it is too dark altogether. There are tripods available even for mobile phones and of course for SLR and compact cameras.
Set your camera for the best resolution possible, memory space is comparatively cheap these days and there is nothing worse than having a superb shot and realizing that you cannot blow it up at all, unless the effect that you want to portray is that of Lego bricks!
7. A Clean Lens
John’s seventh travel photography tip is to keep things clean: carry a lens-cloth and keep your lenses clean. Mobile phone lenses often acquire a film of grime very quickly. SLRs have lens caps so that is easier, compacts often have retracting lenses that can suck dust into them if you are not too careful. Also, the sensor should be kept clean: on SLRs and some compact cameras, hair and dust can get trapped over the image sensor. This means they will appear in virtually every photograph you take in some form. Get your sensor carefully cleaned!
8. The Obvious!
Perhaps an obvious tip, not just for outdoor photographers, but useful at any moment really. How many times are you taking photographs and then at the critical time your battery fails or you run out of memory space? Carry a spare battery, a wireless phone or camera charger and memory card at all times.
My early days of cycling and mountain walking led me very quickly to realise the value of wearing sunglasses. Cycling fast, I had various run-ins with bees and flies with a combined impact speed probably around 45mph! Then there have been those times on
cycling holidays when a series of tiny fly flew into my eyes and started to dissolve leaving me to have to emergency-stop and flush the critter out before I swerved to the wrong side of the road. My early days on walking holidays in the mountains with inadequate sun protection resulted in squinty, tired and gritty feeling eyes. Soon I was investing in decent cycling sunglasses!
One should note at this stage that when we talk of sun
glasses, very few brands these days are actually made of glass. Ray Ban, Persol and Vuarnet, for example still make lovely sunglasses from glass, but these may not be always so good for sporting activities; being heavier on the nose bridge than plastics. There is also the slight worry that a glass lens could break or chip in sport and get into the eyes although this is highly unlikely. Most sports sunglasses are a type of plastic such as silicon or Perspex. Generally speaking these are very strong materials, although not necessarily very resistant to scratching. Oakley were one of the companies that pioneered this manufacture and once boasted ‘bullet proof technology lenses at 10 metres’, their advertisement showing the pock marking on their lenses after a shotgun blast impact, rather than a sniper rifle! Oakley make well-loved sports glasses but may not perform or last as well as models made by manufacturers such as Julbo, Enduro, Tifosi and the likes, for a third of the price. So much for bullet proof protection, my beloved Oakleys eventually fell apart!
Nevertheless, it is probably wise not to buy really cheap shades, slight optical imperfections can in the short-term cause headaches and may do lasting damage in the long-term. Also, importantly the lenses should be shown to block harmful UVA and UVB blue light as this has proven to cause cataracts and retinal problems.
You don’t have to buy an expensive pair of glasses for cycling or hiking, as long as perhaps they are from a reliable make, have UV protection and are manufactured for the category of light that you are going to expose yourself to. Reasonable specification glasses will normally be marked on the frames or box with ‘Category’ (or CAT) 0 to 4: indicating the Visible Light Transmission (VLT) of the lenses. So, Category 0 is like a safety glass, or a clear cycling glass for grey weather and have a VLT of 80-100% whereas a CAT 3 pair have a VLT of 8-17%, which is fine for most walkers or cyclists. CAT 4 glasses are designed for long periods on snow and ice or in bright conditions such as a beach and have a VLT at 3-8%. CAT 4 sunglasses are provided by manufacturers such as
and Julbo – both with side pieces or wrap rounds and the latter still using some optically correct glass lenses. Vuarnet
Especially for cyclists it is worth considering a pair of polarised sunglasses. Ordinary tinted sunglass lenses only cut down on ambient light that reaches the eye, or VLT. However by their very nature, they cannot block glare. Only polarised lenses can block glare and not having that option could be dangerous if you are riding your bike.
Tests show that the most protective sunglasses are wrap rounds that protect the eyes from incidental ambient light entering from the side. The wrap round can either be a continuation of the lens, or plastic frame or more traditionally, leather side pieces
. Quite a number of cycling shades now have some cut-outs of lens material between the frames and the lens, although this may slightly increase incidental light. The real advantage of this for cycling is that it ventilates and defogs the glasses when you are cycling or running which is really useful. Examples include the expensive Oakley Jawbreaker and the much cheaper Endura Mullet.
There is a fashion at the moment for lenses to have a tint that is as reflective as a shaving mirror. However, even on expensive glasses, mirrored tints can easily scratch and even wear off. A lot of manufacturers have their own style of tint, but fundamentally the most common lens colours are brown, then green, then grey. This is because these lenses are 'colour neutral'- they cut down on overall brightness without distorting colours thereby accentuating relief. Quite a few cycling sunglasses have a range of interchangeable lenses with different tints that can be used in different riding conditions. Oakley and Rudy Project do this at the top end and Endura, Maddison, DHB, Tifosi and others do so at the more economical end. Of course it can be a bit fiddly changing lenses, so for some people photo-chromatic lenses maybe a way forward as they darken or lighten depending upon light intensity (for instance: Julbo Aero bike glasses).
No matter how good the lenses are, it won’t help if the frames let you down - they are after all, the support for the structure. Make sure that when you try the glasses that they fit well and you don’t have to keep sliding them up the bridge of your nose like Agnes does with her glasses in Mrs Brown’s Boys. A lot of the sporting shades do have rubberised ear and nose pieces which make them more secure and stop them from bouncing around when you are doing sports. Frames bend out and fatigue; if you keep them on the top of your head when you are not using them, they will tend to overstretch and then they never fit snuggly anymore. Instead, keep them in a case clipped to your rucksack if walking and if you are not using them while cycling, do what the cycle pros do, and insert them upside down- sliding the arms through the helmet ventilation slots. Watch out also for sunglasses with ‘crystal’ frames (clear transparent plastic) as clear frame can cause light refraction at certain angles around the lens creating dazzle in your eyes.
The hinges of sunglasses will normally break under any kind of stress. Metal frames are more durable than plastic ones and some have a spring induction dampener to prevent overstraining.
Cleaning & Caring of Your Sunglasses
Sunglasses need cleaning regularly especially after cycling or walking when they may be covered in sweat-salt, sun cream, sand particles or even the tiny flies I mentioned earlier. Wash them in warm soapy water, then rinse off. Use the manufacturer’s microfibre wipe for gentle wiping off smears and breathe on the lenses and wipe for polishing. Wash the microfibre wipe regularly. Any screws keep tight, but don’t over tighten.
The more expensive glasses can be made to a prescription order at some expense. Of course, some manufacturers still produce clip-on sun lenses to go onto the frame of your standard glasses.
Some More Thoughts
Many people, such as myself, normally carry two pairs of sunglasses, just in case one pair gets sat on, gets blown off my face or has a lens or frame failure. However, I have decided not to have such an expensive pair for outdoor activities having wiped out a few pairs over the years. I just leave a nice pair of glass-lens & folding Ray Bans in my main bag for après action, chilling and sightseeing use. Sometimes walking around with cycling glasses on, just makes you look too much like a space cadet!
Just to point out that the only sunglasses that lasted me more than 10 years have been a solid pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers, with large metal hinges, and a pair of Rudy Project cycling and running glasses. There are also my beloved heavy duty Vuarnet Alpine glasses that have been with me for 15 years and I just can’t quite get rid of, even though I maybe should..!
For more of John’s Gear Matters blog articles on topics like
knives & multitools, water bottles, gaiters and much more, have a look at the complete Gear Matters blog articles overview.
If you have any questions on what gear you should bring on your walking or cycling holiday, please do
get in touch with John and the rest of the Sherpa team. We are happy to assist you with specific questions.
John Millen, our resident guide and walking expert, lists his essential items to take on a hiking trip. Especially with mountain trips in mind, but also useful to those that plan to walk outside the mountains, these items to pack on your walking holiday can certainly help you enjoy your holiday in the outdoors even more.
Bookmark this list of 10 things to pack on your walking holiday with Sherpa Expeditions and keep it handy for your next holiday in Europe.
Wear several layers of thin clothing, such as a thin merino top under a shirt and then a thin or thick fleece that can be taken off to adapt to changes in temperature. Also, have a waterproof coat ready and waiting. Quite a nice item to have if you are prone to feeling the cold, is a down 'gillet' which is like a puff jacket without the arms. These can be packed away easily and can be brought out if you get cold.
Take comfortable broken in, but not broken-down
hiking boots with some cushioning either in the insole, outsole or both! Trail or fell runners may be used to tackling alpine paths in trail shoes, but for travellers on our trips, trainers or running shoes do not give enough support for the rocky, uneven terrain. Hiking boots come in different categories of stiffness (based on the difficulty of the terrain for which the shoes are designed). On particularly stony trails, a pair of short gaiters called ankle gaiters, can be fitted to stop your boots filling up with stones.
>> Bonus: Tips on cleaning your boots
Wear a hat to protect your face and head from the sun. Some have flaps to protect your ears and neck as well. The best hats are the ones that not only dry fast but retain their shape once you have stuffed them in your bag. Tilley hats, for example, are expensive, but they are very good.
suitable sunglasses: they should be wrap-round style and rated Category 3. For those of you that plan to go particularly high or into snow then 'Category 4' and, preferably, a pair with side protection is recommended.
Always remember to take a
rainproof top and trousers. Rain showers are quite regular in the Alps, as well as most of northern Europe and the UK, and you do not want to be caught out in the wet. It is amazing how many people return or replace Gore-tex and other 'breathable' garments because they think that they no longer breathe. It is usually the case however that the garment is fine, but the fabric works on a humidity gradient and sweat will always build up in conditions where you work yourself hard, or there is a high level of ambient humidity. However, make sure that you check the taped seams are in place and wash the piece regularly.
Wear thick socks, preferably loop stitched and seamless ones. This can prevent your feet from getting blisters and adds cushioning to your walk. Tip of the expert: carry a spare pair on you.
>> Bonus: Looking after your feet on a walking holiday
Detailed Paper Map & Compass
GPS is generally accurate and reliable, however when it goes wrong it is great to have the back-up of a real map and compass. Although high-end GPS and some phones have good mapping features, it is often difficult to view the LCDs in bright sunlight and also to see 'the big picture'. Don't forget a
waterproof map case (e.g. Ortlieb) to protect the maps that we prepare for you on your walks and cycling days.
Take a whistle to warn people in the area if you are in trouble. The emergency signal to use if you need help is 6 signals per minute followed by a one-minute break. You should repeat this until help arrives or until you get an answer of 3 signals per minute followed by a one-minute break. In case you don't have a whistle, you can use a torch (flashlight).
Put all these items in a comfortable day pack, there are many makes at so many different prices. You will be generally better off having a bag that is a bit bigger than all that you put into it, to avoid crushing items. So if you know that your 30 litre pack is crammed full, get a 45 or 50 litre one. Bags with a chest harness as well as waist harness give better stability while you are walking or moving downhill. If you like your photography and are used to carrying your camera, then you should have enough room to stow it during bad weather.
Very few makes of rucksack are completely waterproof, and during a big shower some water can penetrate even if you have a rain cover. So, a dry bag for delicate items such as first aid kit, camera, passport etc, are really useful.
First aid kit, including a rescue or Bivouac bag or blanket, in case you have to stop in an emergency.
Mobile phone with important phone numbers at hand, even though remote areas may have no mobile coverage, there may be others near you with satellite phones.
Trekking poles are convenient for both descending and ascending as well they are indispensable on difficult terrain. Poles can be used to pre-load your weight as you descend and save pressure on the knees.
Sufficient amount of food and drinks: a
water bottle with at least 1-litre capacity - normally there are plenty of places to fill up in the mountains to avoid dehydration. Also bring with you some spare food such as energy bars, nuts, dried fruit etc. If you wear shorts, don’t forget to also pack a lightweight pair of long trousers to protect against the sun, cold and insects. Trousers are also useful when walking through thicker vegetation. Trousers with zips around the legs that turn into shorts can be useful if you prefer not to carry an extra pair.
Some people are a bit squeamish about feet. Others think they’re the most beautiful parts of the human body. But whatever your view, there’s no denying that your feet are one (or more precisely two) of
the most important bits of kit on a walking holiday.
Problems with your feet can really curtail your enjoyment of a walking trip, so it pays to do everything you can to prepare them in advance of your trip, and look after them once you’re hiking, trekking or walking.
Here are a few tips to ensure your carefully laid holiday plans aren’t trampled upon by problem feet.
WEAR THE RIGHT WALKING BOOTS
We won’t go in to too much detail here – you can read
our guide to choosing walking boots that we published last year. The important thing, if you’re buying new boots for your trip, is to spend enough time researching and trying on boots, and to allow enough time to wear them in before you start your holiday. If you buy some new boots a couple of days before you’re due to start, and you wear them for the first time on your first day’s hiking, you’re asking for trouble!
There’s a huge amount of choice out there these days – gone are the days when all walking boots were made of stiff, heavy leather. Waterproof materials like Gore-Tex have meant that modern walking boots can be flexible and lightweight, and more closely resemble sturdy trainers. But it’s important that your boots still give you the support you’ll need for the type of walking you’re doing. A good outdoor shop will have staff that will spend time talking to you about your needs and will help you choose the right boots. You can even get custom-moulded footbeds to go into the bottom of your boots to give you more support and comfort – any skiers out there will certainly be able to tell you about the benefits of these!
Sherpa Expeditions travellers receive a discount at
Cotswold Outdoor, one of the biggest outdoor chains in the UK, with knowledgeable staff and an excellent choice of boots.
WEAR THE RIGHT SOCKS
Socks and technology aren’t often two words that go together – but as with boots, there have been great strides (no pun intended) in the technology used to make socks especially designed for walkers. Obviously your choice of socks will be influenced by the weather – an October walk in the Scottish Highlands and a walk on the Amalfi Coast in August will clearly not require the same type of socks! But the main thing to bear in mind is that friction and moisture are your two worst enemies when it comes to blister prevention. Merino wool is particularly good for keeping feet warm without being too thick, and is great for drawing moisture away from the skin. It also has natural anti-bacterial properties.
Some keen walkers swear by wearing a thin pair of socks next to the skin, and a thicker pair on top for warmth, which can help to reduce friction.
As with your boots, the important thing is to find the best option for you, as there is a huge amount of choice out there. Once again, the staff at a good outdoor shop will be able to give you some good advice and talk you through the options.
Finally, if you’re on a trip where your luggage is being transferred for you, as with all Sherpa Expeditions holidays, it’s worth taking a clean pair of socks for each day’s walking. If this isn’t possible, then try to ensure that your socks get properly dried out each night.
USE TAPE ON PRESSURE POINTS
There are many types of blister tapes out there, but the best ones these days are made from the same material you sometimes see sports stars wearing on various parts of their body to help protect and stretch muscles. The trick is that this type of tape is moisture (i.e. sweat) resistant, so the tape won’t come away from your skin if your feet get a bit damp.
Leukotape is a well-known brand, but there are plenty of others available.
You can use the tape as prevention for blisters on the areas of the feet that receive the most pressure – the ball, the heel, the bottom of the big toe. But really, as everyone’s feet are different, you can put tape on any parts of your feet that you know are susceptible to rubbing against the inside of your boots.
CLIP YOUR TOENAILS
This is a simple one – keep your toenails short! If they’re too long they’ll rub against the front of your boots and this will cause damage and pain to your toes. It’s amazing how quickly your toenails can grow as well – so if your trip is a week or more long, it’s worth packing some nail clippers so you can keep them trimmed throughout your walk. Experts recommend cutting straight across the top of the nail rather than a rounded shape, as this stops the corners of the nails digging into your toes, and reduces the risk of ingrowing toenails. Filing your toenails also helps to ensure you don’t have any rough or sharp edges that can do damage to your toes.
It’s a really good idea to keep your feet moisturised to stop skin drying out ,which in turn causes friction and makes blisters more likely. You can use a standard skin moisturiser or specialist foot cream – rub it all over your feet, and especially in between your toes before you go to bed each night, and again before putting your socks and boots on in the morning. Some people like to use petroleum-based products such as Vaseline if their skin is particularly dry, but many experts say that this traps in moisturiser and makes you more prone to developing athlete’s foot.
There are also some really good foot balms on the market that you can use after a day’s walking, that use natural ingredients to soothe your feet and can even help to strengthen the skin, which protects against blisters.
TREAT BLISTERS BEFORE THEY GET TOO BAD
This cannot be stressed to much. People often start to feel pain when out walking, but decide to carry on until the end of the day – sometimes because they don’t want to feel like they’re holding up their fellow walkers. But blisters can develop very quickly, and a few minutes treating the early signs of a blister, or ‘hot-spot’ can save a hug amount of time, and pain, in the long run.
If you feel a hot-spot start to develop, take off your boots and socks and try and dry your feet as much as you can. Apply some foot cream and blister tape to the affected area. If you’re carrying a spare pair of clean, dry socks in your bag, now is the time to use them – if not, try and dry your socks out as much as possible in the time you have available before you put them back on. We can’t guarantee that this will stop a full-blown blister developing, but it’ll give you the best chance of getting through to the point when you can give your feet a proper clean and rest.
REST YOUR FEET WHEN YOU CAN
We’re guessing that most walkers won’t need too much persuasion with this one after a long day’s walking! But it’s worth mentioning because of its importance. If you’re walking somewhere dry and warm, take your boots and socks off when you stop for lunch or a break – even just a few minutes in the fresh air will be enough to dry away any moisture. Try to wash, dry and moisturise your feet as soon as you can after you’ve finished your day’s walking. If you’re heading back out, hopefully to a nice pub for some dinner and a well-earned drink, put clean socks on and some fresh shoes if you’ve packed them (and if you’re using Sherpa Expeditions’ luggage transfer, why wouldn’t you?!). But as soon as you’re back in your hotel room or tent, let those feet breathe and repair themselves ready for the next day.
Follow these tips and you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance of keeping your feet happy. And happy feet make happy walkers!