Tips for Walking – Planning

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What?: There are times when I just simply “go for a walk”, as you do – out the front door, wander round the neighbourhood, and back home for a cup of coffee. And then again, there are times when I want to do a longer walk, and then I need to do some planning. How long will I be out? What will the weather be like? Are there places to get something to eat or drink? What about water fountains, washrooms? Do I need to drive or take public transit either to or from the route? Everyone walks their own path – my moderate walk might be your long tough hike, and vice-versa – so plan according to your needs. I’m just saying this is what works for me.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

Mind the weather. Whenever I’m thinking of a longer walk, I’ll check the weather at least a day ahead of time, and I’ll check again the night before and then the morning of. Based on the forecast, I can then decide whether my route makes sense – I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment that I’ll do an all-day walk when the forecast calls for driving rain all day. If I do want to go, then the weather will determine my clothing choices. If you are dressed appropriately, you can handle most conditions.

Water and food. Anytime I’m going to be out for more than an hour or so, I’ll look at my route and decide whether I need to bring water or food. The longer the walk, the more I’ll need it, and of course that water/food choice will depend on the weather too. The hotter it is, the more water I’ll need.

Add some challenges. Often, in looking at the map, I’ll look for things to make my walk more challenging. Where are the hills? What about navigational challenges? Do I want to make it a time-challenge, where I try to walk a certain distance in a certain time? Basically, I’m often looking for ways to spice it up. Not every walk is a cross-the-Sahara marathon, but I also don’t want every outing literally to be a walk in the park.

Add some sights. While I like a challenge, there are also times when I focus more on what I’ll see as I walk. Can I plan a route to a neighbourhood I’ve never visited? Can I get in some quiet natural areas where I’ll see and hear some birds or other wildlife? How do I create some interest? That’s where the idea of whimsical walks comes in as well, like collecting streets that have animal names or walking streets in alphabetical order.

Map it out. For any kind of a longer walk, I’ll usually spend some time going over my route on a map. I’ll look for parks I can cut through, places where I can follow trails or quiet back streets, and also for places where I can take a break and sit for a bit. This is where I’ll also figure out washrooms and water fountains. Based on what I see, I may then revisit my clothing or water/food choices. I’ll also take into account whether I’m planning a through route or a loop. Through routes start somewhere and end somewhere else, whereas loops start/end in the same place. Mapping it out let’s me decide which makes sense.

Start/stop and transport. Once I’ve figured out what challenges I want, what sight’s I’ll include, and my overall route, then I can figure out how I’ll start and end it. Sometimes my route is within about 30 minutes of home, so I’ll just add time to walk to/from home to the start and end. Other times, however, I’ll need to get a lift. I try to do that by public transit where I can, often by picking a starting point that I can get to that way, and then planning the route so that I am walking towards home. Other times, my wife can drop me off somewhere, or pick me up. And of course, sometimes I will drive myself somewhere.

Review and revise. Once I’ve figured out the weather, my challenges, my route, my food/water needs, my clothing, and my start/stop points and transportation, I go back over the whole thing and summarize the plan to myself, to see if I need to adjust anything. For example, having added some challenges, so I need to add more water? Is it too hot to do the route I want? This is where I’ll add some alternatives to my plan, so that if the weather changes or the route is more challenging/less challenging than I thought, I can shorten or lengthen it. The longer the walk planned, the more I want some choices in my back pocket in case I need them.

Add some insurance. OK, I was a Boy Scout, so I do like to be prepared. When I have my plan more or less set, I’ll then look at what could go wrong and plan for that. That means things like adding rain gear, or adding extra water. It also means things like letting my wife know ahead of time where I’m going and when I plan to be home. Finally, it means making sure my phone is charged, and my gear is ready and in good shape. Bottom line – the longer/more challenging the walk, the more I try to have some insurance.

COVID. Oh yeah, can’t forget that. Do I have my mask? Do I have hand sanitizer? Is it nice weather so that lots of people will be in the parks, so that I should maybe pick a less-travelled route? COVID does add a wrinkle to things, and for the next few months it’s got to be something to take into consideration.

Don’t over think it. At the end of the day, I am just going for a walk. Usually that’s in the city, and I can always call my wife to pick me up, or call a cab, or just jump on a bus. If the weather’s nice, and I’m feeling relaxed, who needs much more of a plan that just heading out the door and following my nose? That’s the balance – have something of a plan but don’t over-plan.


Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Tips for Walking – Food and Energy

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What?: When I’m out for a walk, especially one of more than an hour or two, I’ll often take snacks with me and sometimes will take a full-on picnic lunch. Because I’m also trying to eat healthily before and after I go out, I pay attention to the snacks I enjoy. No two people’s dietary needs are the same, of course, so listen to your body and to your health care providers’ advice. I’m just saying this is what works for me.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

Avoid sugary/salty snacks. I try to avoid things like cookies, chips, nachos, etc. pretty much all of the time in any case, and I especially don’t want to include these as snacks on a hike. They just make you thirsty and while they may be calorie-dense, they are usually nutrient-light. You can do better – save these for the occasional cheat treat.

Mix and match proteins and carbs. When you’re burning energy on a hike, a mix of protein and carbohydrates will keep you fuelled. Think about lean protein sources like hard boiled eggs, or healthy choices like raw nuts and seeds, smoked fish, lean dry hard sausage, hard cheeses, etc. You don’t need a lot, but you do need some protein. As for carbohydrates, whole grains and raw fruits and veggies are great – whole wheat bagels, unsweetened oat cakes, a handful of raw carrots, an apple, and a nice ripe tomato – these all make a tasty snack and combined with a small handful of raw nuts/seeds and a hard-boiled egg you’ve got a light lunch to keep you going.

  • Be careful with energy bars and energy drinks. I use them too, like most people, but not as my primary energy source. I usually keep an energy bar in my back pack as an emergency source of calories. My main snack will be something more everyday, like a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese along with a piece of fruit. As for energy drinks, I avoid them unless it’s really hot – I prefer just plain water, but sometimes in the heat I need energy but I’m too hot to eat food, so carrying a chilled small (500 ml or less) energy drink can help me get over the hump. Besides, energy bars and drinks can mean wasteful, non-recyclable packaging which is bad for the environment.
  • Invest in green packaging. A few years ago, my wife found a company that makes storage packaging made of beeswax-coated cloth. This is reusable for months, keeps things fresh, and when it’s time to move on it’s biodegradable (or makes a great back-country fire starter). Other options include reusable silicone jars or bags or tubes, or just plain parchment paper. By having some of these items in the home, you can package healthy snacks and avoid plastic, with the bonus that you know exactly what’s in it.
Reusable, resealable silicone pouches
Reusable beeswax cloth for wrapping snacks
  • Eat well before you go out. For most of my walks, especially under 2 hours, I simply eat a proper breakfast or lunch before I go. For me that means carbs like oatmeal or whole grain breads, some cheese or smoked fish or a hard-boiled egg, and some fruit, and perhaps some yoghurt if I want some extra protein.
  • Cool down with a healthy snack afterwards. When you get back after a long walk and need some refreshment, reach for the fruit bowl. An orange is refreshing and helps to rehydrate you. If you still need something more, then move on to things like bananas, some raw veg, or a handful of nuts or seeds, or similar proteins. Your before and after snacks should be just as healthy as your walk snacks.
  • A picnic can be fun. The longer the walk I’ve planned, the more I’ll think about a proper picnic. That often includes a homemade sandwich, fruit and/or raw veg, and a little sweet treat like some dried fruit. It can also include dinner leftovers like salads or pasta or grilled meats, and I’ve sometimes used an insulated thermos to take a hot lunch like soup or chili or chowder. Just remember, all that stuff adds weight to your pack.
  • Carry out your crap. It drives me up the wall to be out on a lovely nature trail and come across an energy bar wrapper or worse, fast food packaging. If you’re bringing something to eat on your walk, then carry out the waste afterwards at least as far as the next garbage bin. The only exception, maybe, is an apple core or something similarly biodegradable, but even then it’s better to hike these home because these items often just result in habituating wildlife to people and creating a people=food association, which leads to raccoons, skunks, etc. prowling near trails and garbage cans.
  • Typical snacks for 6-8 hour hike
    • morning snack – a banana or a bagel
    • lunch – a homemade sandwich (how about cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle on whole wheat bread), along with fresh fruit and/or veg
    • afternoon snack – about 50-100 grams of raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds with about 25-50 grams of dried fruit
    • just in case snack – an energy bar

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Tips – Hydration

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What?: Here are some ideas for staying hydrated and comfortable when you’re out for a walk, whether it’s round the block or an all-day hike. Please note that this applies to areas where clean water is available – for back-country water tips, I suggest consulting a good source like Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

  • Water, just plain old tap water, is best. First and foremost, healthy hydration starts here and for me, that’s usually all I need.
  • Collect water bottles. I have a small collection of reusable bottles, ranging from 500 ml to 1 litre in volume, and in a variety of formats and materials. Some are insulated stainless steel, and others are either soft squeezable plastic or hard polycarbonate. That way, I can choose the one(s) that will match conditions, and I can take multiple bottles if I’m going out on a hot day where I know I’ll need more than a litre of fluids.
  • Be green, reuse and recycle. I avoid buying bottle water whenever possible, preferring to simply carry a refillable water bottle and topping up wherever I am. There’s usually a water fountain someplace, and if you ask nicely coffee shops or fast food places will fill your bottle for you, especially if you pay some rent by buying a bagel or a snack.
  • Be careful with caffeine. I usually avoid it during a walk because it’s a diuretic, which means it will increase fluid loss since you’ll want to pee. Also, because caffeine is an ingredient in some energy drinks, it’s another reason to avoid those. I do like my morning coffee, so if I know I’m going to be doing a big walk that day I’ll limit my caffeine intake before I go out to avoid the need for a quick early pit stop.
  • An insulated thermos bottle can be handy. On a hot day, filling it with cold water helps a lot to avoid heat exhaustion. On a cold day, filling it with hot drinks can be the warming boost you need. Just be careful with caffeine and remember that this kind of bottle is heavier than a plastic one.
  • Water adds weight. There’s no way around it, you need to stay hydrated, but remember that 1 millilitre of water weights 1 gram, so that full 1 litre bottle is going to weigh more than 1kg once you count the bottle itself. On long hikes, I carry two of these if I’m not near a water source, so by the time I add some snacks, sunblock, blister pack, rain gear, and a change of shirt/socks to my pack, I’m usually carrying more than 4 kg, at least half of which is water.
  • Plan your water stops. The further afield you are, the more you need to be aware of where you can refill water bottles. In Toronto, there are water fountains in most parks, but they are turned off between late October and early May. Check the web ahead of your walk so you know where you can fill up.
  • Look for unexpected water refills. For example in Toronto, many of the cemeteries have water taps used for groundskeeping and these are often accessible for refills, plus they are often available for more of the year than water fountains in the public parks. Outside the city, you may meet a friendly person out watering a lawn who would be happy to fill your water bottle in return for a smile and a thank you. Be respectful, and ask if you are not sure if you can use a refill source like this, and make sure you turn off the tap as well.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Sugar can give you an energy boost, short term, but it wears off quickly and too much sugar can actually make you thirstier. Many energy drinks contain a lot of sugars along with salts. A little of that goes a long way. If you are going for a long hike on a hot day, a small (500 ml or less) water bottle filled with an energy drink is sufficient as long as you also have at least the same amount or more of plain water.
  • Add some flavour with fruit. I often put a slice or 2 of fresh lemon or lime into my water bottle on a hot day. It gives it some flavour while avoiding sugars.
  • Make flavoured ice cubes. On a hot day, a cold drink can be super satisfying. One way to do that is to take a small slice of lemon or lime, or a few raspberries, and put them into each cell of an ice cube tray and then fill it with water. A couple of those frozen flavour bombs in your water bottle will chill it and give you a lift at the same time.
  • Green tea is a great compromise. Hot or cold, green tea is both pleasantly refreshing and a bit less caffeinated than regular black tea or coffee. A thermos of that along with a bottle of plain water is a great way to either warm up or cool down while still packing water for straight hydration.
  • Frozen water bottles can chill your snacks. On a hot day, you may need to keep a sandwich cold so save weight by freezing a partially full water bottle (make sure it’s no more than 3/4s full) and using that as an ice pack. That way you’ll have a nice cold drink ready along with your snack.
  • You need water any time of the year. Even if it’s -30 out, you’ll still need to stay hydrated. An insulated water bottle is great because it will keep your water from freezing in your pack. I find I drink less when it’s cold, but I still need some water.
  • Remember, what goes in has to come out. I tend to hydrate lightly before I go out, so that I don’t need a pee stop just after I get going. The more you drink as you walk, the more you’ll need to plan your bio breaks. However, you also shouldn’t skimp on water either to avoid pit stops – too little fluid intake makes you sluggish at best, and can lead to dehydration or heat stroke at worst. If you aren’t in need of a pee every 2-3 hours, you’re probably not drinking enough water.
  • My hydration rules of thumb for hot weather walks, i.e. above 25 C
    • 1 hour or less – a 500 ml insulated water bottle filled with cold tap water.
    • more than an hour – a 500 ml insulated water bottle with cold tap water plus back-up water, about 500 ml of water for every 2 hours I’ll be out, e.g. 4 hour hike means carrying at least 1 litre of back up water, and more if I know I’m going to be far from refill sources
  • My hydration rules of thumb for cool weather walks, i.e. below 5 C
    • 1 hour or less – I’ll have a drink before I leave home and then skip taking water with me as I won’t perspire much
    • more than an hour – an insulated 500 ml water bottle filled with plain room temp tap water. For 3-4 hour hikes or longer, I’ll add either a 500 ml or a 1-litre back up bottle. When I am taking a snack I’ll sometimes add a 500 ml insulated thermos filled with hot green tea.

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Tips – Clothing

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought I would share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What? When I first started going out for long walks/short hikes, I would just wear the regular clothes I already owned – cotton T-shirts, jeans, running shoes, etc. I quickly learned that those weren’t the best choices, especially if the weather tended to extremes of hot or cold, so over the years I’ve acquired a walking wardrobe that helps me prepare for most conditions.

When? These tips apply to any season, bearing in mind that the clothing choices you make can vary a lot by temp and weather conditions.

Tips: Where, when, how, and why

  • As Shrek said to Donkey, ogres are like onions because they have layers. Your clothing choices should be like that too. Being able to add or subtract a layer on the fly while you are walking can make a big difference in comfort.
  • Layers with zippers are handy – for example, a zippered fleece sweater under a rain jacket can be enough warmth for a 5-10 C day, and if you get too warm you can just open it up without having to take it off
  • Breathability is key. Look for things like zippers under the arms on rain jackets, or armpit air holes, or breathable water-resistant materials like GoreTex. There’s nothing worse than working up a sweat and feeling that moisture trapped against your body because your clothes won’t let it evaporate.
  • Avoid cotton, it traps moisture as you perspire and that can lead to chafing and blisters. Damp or wet cotton also wicks heat away from your body, which is bad news when it’s cold – you don’t want to work up a sweat while wearing a cotton T-shirt and find you’re chilled when you sit for a rest break.
  • Look for natural fibres like wool and silk. These breathe well, they wick moisture away from your body, and keep you warm even when wet. I like Merino wool because it’s light and soft. Try to use these as your base layers next to your skin.
  • Synthetic fibres like fleece work well too, like the moisture-wicking materials used in exercise gear that also often have some elasticity to allow you to move and stretch easily. Just remember that these materials shed plastic micro-fibres every time you wash them which eventually work their way into water systems creating long-term environmental problems. So yes, they work, but natural materials are best.
  • Try then buy. I like to buy one example of something – socks or underwear or whatever – and wear it a few times on different walks in different conditions. If that works well, then I buy more of the same thing.
  • Remember your pack. It’s important to try on clothes, especially outer layers, with your backpack. You don’t want to find out there are pinch points or chafing areas after you’ve bought the clothing item. Take the pack with you to the clothing store if you can and try on both together. This also lets you fiddle with zippers on jackets and fleecies to see how well that will work while wearing a pack with a waist belt and sternum strap.
  • Especially in summer, it’s amazing how many sets of clothes you can get through over a few days. I usually come in dripping so everything goes straight into the wash, and unless we’re doing laundry constantly I find I need at least 3-4 pairs of underwear, socks, etc. in order to go out everyday.
  • You get what you pay for, in clothes as in anything else. Good stuff will cost more but it will last longer, so over time it’s usually better value.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather be comfortable than stylish. I look like a middle-aged guy in hiking gear when I’m out, because I am a middle-aged guy in hiking gear. So what.
  • Start with your feet. Your shoes or boots will make or break your comfort on a walk, and blisters can stop you in your tracks, so to me it’s more important to spend money on footwear and skimp on the other clothing layers if needed. You can always take off a layer of clothing if you get hot or add a layer if needed, but you can’t take off your footwear and keep hiking. I look for wearability and comfort first of all, and style is way down my list of priorities.
  • For a moderate 10 km hike, my clothing choices will be something like this
    • Spring
      • Base layer – workout underwear, top and bottom – moisture wicking synthetics
      • Upper body Insulating layer(s) (the colder the temps, the more layers) – long sleeve work out T-shirt, and/or light merino wool jumper, and/or light zippered fleece jacket
      • Lower body – synthetic breathable hiking pants with lots of cargo pockets. If the temps are above 15 C, then walking shorts, also in synthetic material with cargo pockets
      • Outer layer – water resistant rain jacket, non-insulated if it’s above about 5 C, or a light down jacket if it’s below that. Also light running gloves, if it’s forecast to be below about 5 C.
      • Socks – compression fit, light merino wool
      • Footwear – hiking boots or running shoes depending on weather and terrain
      • Head gear – water resistant baseball style hat, with a backup light toque if it’s under 5 C
      • Optional – if there’s rain in the forecast, I’ll wear or at least carry in the pack a pair of light rain pants
    • Summer
      • Base layer – same as spring. I’ll carry a spare T-shirt if it’s over about 30 C so I have something dry to change into if needed. If it’s especially sunny, I’ll use a SPF 40-50 rated exercise T-shirt
      • Upper body insulating layer – none, unless it’s forecast to drop below about 15 C
      • Lower body – synthetic breathable hiking shorts
      • Outer layer – light rain jacket in the backpack unless there’s about a 0% chance of rain in the forecast
      • Socks – compression fit, synthetic materials. I might carry a spare pair if I’m going to be out for 3-4 hours or more so I have change to dry ready
      • Footwear – running shoes
      • Head gear – baseball-style running hat or a broad-brimmed sun hat, depending on forecast.
    • Autumn
      • Overall, same as spring. Layers adjusted depending on forecast temps, keeping in mind that it gets darker earlier so the temperature drops can hit you earlier than in spring
    • Winter
      • Base layer – usually the same as other seasons, but if it’s below about -10 C and particularly if there’s a significant wind-chill, then add merino wool long johns.
      • Upper body and lower body layers similar to autumn, adding a layer of winter rain pants if it’s wet or below about -15 C
      • Outer layer – down-insulated winter parka + light running gloves with down-filled over mittens if it’s below – 5C
      • Footwear – hiking boots, with gaiters if it’s really snowy/slushy
        • Bonus tip – non-slip crampons for street walking work well over your boots, to give you grip on ice
      • Head gear – toque usually, or else a rain-resistant baseball style cap that fits under the hood of the parka

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.