The temperature is climbing and the ground drying out, so what’s the best kit to wear during this spring/summer transition?
The number one thing to remember is that breathable layering works in every situation - spring, summer, autumn and winter. If I were a politician, I would be saying this three times as it’s my key message, but I’m not so I won’t.
Layering gives you endless options, allowing you to meet the challenge of the vagaries of the British weather (who forecast the rain we had this Saturday?). But there’s no point layering if those layers aren’t breathable. It would be like wearing a plastic mac - the moisture would have no place to go and you’d end up a sweaty mess.
Here’s what I favour for the warmer months:
Base T shirt - No need for long sleeved base layers in the spring and summer months (but do if you want to). There’s a superb choice of technical Ts. My ‘go to’ item has to be a merino wool short sleeve T. Merino wool is not just for winter. It’s super versatile - excellent at keeping you cool, highly breathable, absorbs odour as well as sweat (how utterly brilliant is that?!), naturally UV resistant, soft and stretchy. Hmmm, pretty hard to beat really. I like the Icebreaker range but there’s lots of choice out there so take a look and find one that suits your style.
I also rate my Cool Tex short sleeve polo with the Bristol Nordic Walking logo on the back. It’s a very flattering shape, looks crisp and cool and wicks away the sweat, probably faster than its merino counterpart. Like most synthetic fabrics though, it doesn’t absorb body odour.
Cotton is incapable of drying quickly so will hold onto moisture. Wet armpits don’t look great. Polyester is very quick to dry but super stinky. I avoid both for active wear.
Soft shell jacket - I generally miss out mid-layers in the warmer months and go straight to a soft shell jacket. Their wind-proofing qualities and shower resistance capability place them above fleeces in my estimation. I have two soft shell jackets - my Bristol Nordic Walking instructor jacket and a Marmot one (I liked the colour). Both are excellent, although my BNW jacket is best because, with a hydrostatic rating of 5000mm, it’s great at keeping me dry if there’s an unexpected shower.
A brief word here about gilets. These don’t tend to work so well during warmer weather as, unless you’ve got a back pack, there’s nowhere to put it if you get hot and want to take it off.
Waterproof jacket - Annoyingly you still need a waterproof jacket in the British summer, this weekend being a prime example. They key is to get the balance between durability and ‘wickability'. Last year I bought a bright red Patagonia shell. I’ve really enjoyed using this super light design and have never ever got hot and sweaty in it. However because the fabric is designed for active wear, it’s quite delicate and I’ve damaged the Gortex lining through tying it round my waist and scrunching it up in my backpack. It was also expensive. I’m not sure I’d spend that much again on a summer waterproof.
If you want to know more about waterproofs & the terminology, Ellis Brigham have written a decent buying guide. Click here if you’re interested.
Socks and shoes
You can hang up your walking boots in favour of walking shoes (or even trainers) if you know the ground will be dry. I’ve written about socks and shoes before. I favour shoes that light and flexible when the going is good underfoot. It allows me to maximise the heel toe roll and get the most out of my Nordic walking technique. When wearing lighter shoes I tend to veer away from the traditional walking sock towards a running sock. The ones I wear are X socks but there are so so many on the market and I couldn’t possibly hold myself out as an expert here.
Whilst on the subject of socks, I just want to mention a recent debate I had with a group of walkers about the pros and cons of wearing brand new socks before embarking on a long walk (10 miles/whole day). Personally, I often wear new socks (of a variety I’ve used before) on a long walk. I like the springy ‘new’ feel and my feet have been fine. However, I know that at least one of you developed blisters on the recent Dartmoor walk and you put that down to using new socks. So if in doubt, err on the side of caution and try your socks out before a long walk.
Bum bag or back pack
Warmer weather means that you’ll need to carry water with you. I generally use a back pack as I carry a host of other stuff too (soon to include a defibrillator - more on that in another blog) but bum bags with a water bottle capacity are a great alternative and avoid the possible sweaty back look.
Incidentally, I was talking to the the lead physiotherapist at the Southmead rheumatology department last week about Nordic walking. Specifically we were discussing the benefits of Nordic walking for those with arthritis and osteoporosis. Rachael advised that walking with a small backpack (at shoulder blade height) and a bottle of water was an excellent way to ‘load’ the spine and keep it healthy. So those of you who kindly carry weights for Rachael and myself during our ‘fitness plus exercises’ classes are supporting your spinal health as well as helping us!
Other bits and bobs
Caps are useful as they keep the sun/rain off your face as well as your hair. They also benefit your Nordic walking style as you’re not having to adjust your head position to keep (in particular) the rain off your face. Shorts are fine but beware of ticks.
NB You can buy the soft shell jackets and Cool Tex polo shirts us instructors wear - contact us if you're interested.