What Not to Wear Walking - Bad Walking Gear

Walking Gear and Clothing to Avoid

Beyond fashion, you need function and comfort in your walking clothing and gear. Avoid these mistakes in your walking gear and clothing.

Cotton Socks

New Balance Socks
New Balance Socks. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Cotton socks are a bad choice for walking. They hold sweat next to the skin, which allows blisters to form more quickly. Your walking socks should be made of a sweat-wicking fabric. They should be anatomically designed, rather than tube socks, so they stay in place at toe and heel. The right walking socks can help prevent blisters.
Top Picks for Walking Socks

Denim Jeans

Wendy on Dog Mountain, 1984, Columbia River Gorge
Wendy on Dog Mountain, 1984, Columbia River Gorge. Wendy Bumgardner © 2008

Denim is a bad walking choice. In hot weather, it is heavy and hot and holds sweat next to your skin. In wet weather, it soaks up rain like a sponge. If you end up wet from either sweat or rain, you may soon be chafed on your thighs and crotch. Instead, choose walking pants made from a sweat-wicking fabric.
Top Picks for Walking Pants

Naked Head and Shoulders

Cover your head and shoulders
Cover your head and shoulders. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Men or women, cover your head and shoulders. A walk of an hour or more will give you lots of sun exposure on your head, shoulders, neck, back and cleavage. I never leave home without a hat, as the top of my head easily burns. You can also easily overheat in hot weather or cool too fast in cold weather, if your head is bare. This is why I simply don't understand wearing a visor instead of a hat. For your shoulders, even if you wear a good sunscreen, wearing a skin-baring tank top provides too much sun exposure. It all adds up over the years to age your skin and raise your risk of skin cancer. It's best to wear short sleeves. Your skin will thank you.
How to Pick a Walking Hat
Safe Sun Practices

Too Much Clothing

Dressing in Layers
Dressing in Layers. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

I have a couple of walking buddies who I have to undress when we meet up for winter walks. They are wearing five to six layers of clothing and end up shedding two or three within the first half hour. If you are warm when you start walking, you will soon be too hot. Start off feeling slightly cool. As hikers know, you need only three layers (not counting your bra). The first layer is a shirt of sweat-wicking fabric. The second layer is an insulating layer of performance fleece, wool or down. The third layer is a windproof jacket, which may also be waterproof. Unless you are walking in subfreezing temperatures, this is all you need. Add a hat, gloves or scarf for extra comfort.
How to Dress in Layers for Walking

All Black After Dark

Night Walking Legs
Night Walking Legs. Wendy Bumgardner © 2010

Dressing like a ninja and walking after dark is an unsafe fashion choice. Cars and bikes aren't expecting you to be crossing streets. Give them at least a chance of seeing you. Choose your after-dark clothing to have lighter colors and reflective stripes. Or, for pity's sake, wear a reflective safety vest. For myself, I love my Glo Glov gloves —- they are easy to take along, and I can stop traffic or even direct aircraft with them.
Night Visibility Gear


German Soldiers March at Discovery Walk Festival
German Soldiers March at Discovery Walk Festival. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Even in daytime, if you are walking alongside a road, you need to be highly visible to approaching cars. Wearing drab colors or even camouflage (unless you are in a military unit) is dangerous. You do not want to blend into the scenery. Choose your walking outfit to include at least one item in a bright color that can be seen from front and back. A safety vest is a great solution. Learn to practice safe walking etiquette. If you must walk on the road or in the bike lane, walk on the left side of the road facing traffic, single file. Thinking that cars will see you in time to brake on a blind corner may be dead wrong —- literally.
11 Rules for Safe Walking


Ankle Weights
Ankle Weights. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Just keep on walking past any infomercial telling you that heavy shoes, ankle weights, hand weights or a weighted vest is just what you need to pump up your walking. Every medical expert I've consulted in 12 years has said to avoid these during fitness walking. Weights on your hands or feet are unnatural and are likely to cause strain. Extra weight on your torso probably won't hurt, but I'd rather you go faster or farther to burn more calories. Save the weights to do a simple strength workout for a few minutes before or after the walk, when you can do it with proper posture and form.
Better Ideas Than Walking Weights

Giant Backpacks

Backpack Worn Correctly
Backpack Worn Correctly. Wendy Bumgardner © 2008

Do you really need to pack along a week's water, food and clothing for an hour-long fitness walk? Doubtful. While you may want a few essentials, try to carry them in a hip pack or well-designed small backpack. I prefer a small hydration pack, so I can drink while I walk and still have a place for small essentials.
How to Wear a Backpack Right to Prevent Pain

Mountaineering Boots

Hiking Shoe
Hiking Shoe. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Heavy boots may last through forced marches, but they weren't meant for fitness walking. Save the heavy hiking boots for the situation they were designed for —- to support a hiker with a heavy backpack on rough trails. Fitness walkers need flexible soles to move with their feet as they roll through a step. Backpacking boots have heavy, inflexible soles. Heavy weight on your feet set you up for muscle strain. For rough trails without a heavy backpack, I prefer trail running shoes that have a trail-gripping sole while still being flexible and much lighter in weight than hiking boots.
Top Picks for Trail Shoes


Flip Flop Doesn't Fit
Flip Flop Doesn't Fit. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Flip-flops weren't made for fitness walking. They provide no support, and they don't allow you to push off with each step. In effect, you are shuffling rather than walking. Save them for summer fun that doesn't involve walking any distance. If you love the feel of air on your toes, invest in a pair of well-designed hiking sandals instead.
Tips and Picks for Healthier Flip Flops