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?: I like to think of myself as relatively old-school when it comes to technology, where a good walk needs little more than comfortable shoes and clothing, and a decent bit of weather. But when I really think about it, my walking routine does in fact make use of several items of technology, so here are some tips on what I use. That’s the key thing, as well – it’s what I use. There are thousands of apps out there, and many different kinds of technology that might be used, however I cannot speak to anything other than what I actually use myself. Like with shoes, go with what’s comfortable for you.
Tips: Where, when, how and why
- A phone. These days, everything starts with a smart phone, and I am hardly alone in carrying it around pretty much all of the time. You have one and you use it all the time as well, I’m sure, so I can’t tell you what kind of phone to buy or how to use it. Think of your phone as your technical Swiss Army knife – it’s more than a phone, amongst other things it’s also:
- A Clock
- A Stop Watch
- An Alarm
- An Exercise Tracker
- A Map
- A Compass
- A Weather Station
- A Music Player
- A Camera
Get one you like and is comfortable for you, and for heavens sake keep the bloody thing in your pocket unless you need it – it seems like every time I’m out for a way, I have to dodge around someone who’s nose is buried in their phone as they walk, oblivious to all around them.
- Map apps. Pretty much every phone comes with a default map application. Since I mostly walk around Toronto, I tend not to use maps much when I’m out walking (though I’ve often looked things up if I’m trying to find a particular street or something). In Toronto, I use maps more from a planning perspective – if I want to explore a trail or neighbourhood or whatever, then I’ll use the map to do that first so that I have a basic sense of time and distance. That will let me know flesh out the rest of my plan, along with the weather forecast, regarding food, clothing, water, etc. Of course, if I’m away from home in a new place, the map is invaluable.
Of course, I do like an old school paper map too …
- Trail apps. I have used a couple of different trail apps. One is called Gaia GPS, and the other is the Bruce Trail app. In both cases, finding and sticking to a trail can be tricky, and these apps combined with the GPS receiver in my phone help me stay on on track. In the case of GaiaGPS, I can also route-plan a freeform route or I can record my route as I go. GaiaGPS also lets me download various map overlays from different countries, so for example, if I am in Ireland I can see local maps for that country. Another app I’ve looked at but haven’t bought yet is the Ordnance Survey app from the UK Ordnance Survey agency. If you’ve every used their paper maps, you’ll know the very high standard they offer, and the app puts this in your pocket. If only every country had something similar!
- Satellite Navigation. I have to confess I have only explored the use of these, I haven’t actually bought one, but if/when I do a long off-road walk I think I’ll buy one. These tools use GPS but they are dedicated to one purpose – navigation when you are off the beaten track. They also have an emergency function, so that if you get into trouble and you’re out of cell phone range, you can call for help.
- Exercise trackers. I use an exercise tracker every day – in fact I rarely take mind off and use it to track my sleep as well as my steps, heart rate, active minutes, etc. For me this tool is about motivation. I’ve developed the habit of getting a certain # of steps per hour, per day, and per week, and the exercise tracker nudges me to keep that up. Using it that way, and actually doing the walks, first helped me shed something like 30 pounds and since then has helped me to keep it off. It’s not about the actual score, it’s the trend. I feel like I’ve let myself down if I don’t get my minutes and steps every day.
- Cameras. Pretty much every smart phone these days has a camera, and this blog has encouraged me to use it when I’m out walking. It helps me to stay engaged in the world around me as I look for interesting things, and it also helps me to remember things – I can take a picture of a street sign, a commemorative plaque, a shop name, or whatever, something that I seem to need to do more often as I get older.
- Music. Every smartphone offers the ability to play music, and lots of people also continue to use portable music players, like an iPod. Along with that, there are dozens of different kinds of ear phones and ear buds. I am partial to the Apple family of products – the Apple ear buds have a very comfortable shape that works well for me. The only advice I would give is that it can be handy to use wired ear buds rather than wireless because they don’t drain your phone battery as much. That said, newer phones are coming without an earphone connection any more, so you have no choice but to use wireless. Use what’s comfortable and remember to keep the sound volume down so that you can hear what’s going on around you, especially in high traffic areas.
- Emergency tools. A phone can of course be a lifeline – the ability to dial 911 is super important, and shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s partly for that reason that you should make sure your phone is charged before you go out. More than that, there are various waypoint and cairn apps you can install that let you define a place or destination and then track when you get there, so that a friend or loved one can see where you are and that you are sticking to plan. Beyond your phone, there are also back-country emergency beacon tools, that use a satellite connection rather than a cell network so they work pretty much anywhere. If you are hiking off the beaten path, they are a great investment in peace of mind.
- Other ideas. As I said, there are lots of different types of technologies out there, and you can go nuts and try many or you can keep it simple. Things I’ve used while walking include other simple tools, like:
- Flashlight or headlamp – if I know I’ll be walking towards the end of the day, or if I’m overnight trekking then a headlamp is a great safety device
- Portable / solar charger for all your other electronics – this is the reason I like to keep it simple, because I hate to lug weight but sometimes you need to keep your other bits and bobs charged
- tablet, e.g. an iPad – not all the time, because it adds weight, but if I know I’ll be out for a long walk I might take one so I can read the news or a book when I take a break
- a laptop – similar, it’s heavy to carry but sometimes I’m combining a walk with work
Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a technologist, nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.