Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Nordic Walking and what to wear!

As the UK is currently gripped in unusual wintry conditions, it puts me in the mood to have a look at clothing for Nordic Walking and the “layering system” in particular.

If your outings usually comprise half an hour or so around the streets of your neighbourhood, getting sophisticated about the principles of clothing seems unnecessary. Even so, it’s not much fun venturing out on a cold windy afternoon unless you have something to wear which makes the effort reasonably agreeable. Of course, if you go for long walks or you venture further afield, then clothing systems come into their own.

Most outdoor activists traditionally apply the layering system when choosing clothes, and with recent technological advances there is now a bewildering choice. My own Nordic Walking “wardrobe” is a combination of garments from my mountain walking interests, mingled with a bit of trail running stuff (I have to confess, that as a typical mountain walker [here, we call it fell walking] I am a sucker for “gear”).

The classic system involves three layers: base, insulating and shell. The base layer is essentially underwear and it should feel comfortable and remain essentially dry as you are exercising. Coping with perspiration is key and in this respect synthetic materials which are hydrophobic (water hating) are ideal. Such materials are able to maintain a dry microclimate next to the skin by “wicking” moisture away to the outer layers. It is for this reason that cotton is not recommended for this layer, particularly during the cooler months.

The question as to whether such a base layer in winter needs to have thermal properties has to be matched to the conditions. For example, in lowland UK I would never bother with a thermal base, but it’s a matter of personal choice. For leg wear, some walkers/runners like to wear longjohns plus a pair of outer running shorts and this offers a good combination. My own choice is a pair of “trackster” type trousers which are cheap and cheerful and also wash and dry quickly.

I have found that the most suitable second, or insulating layer, is a lightweight, windproof fleece jacket with a full length zip (not a smock). I stress lightweight, as the level of insulation needs to be tempered by the fact that the body constantly generates considerable amounts of heat whilst Nordic Walking (particularly if your exercise level approaches vigorous). A jacket is also useful as you also get pockets – ideal for stowing paws, mobile and the dozens of paper hankies that are needed when it’s cold!

If you can be very confident that the weather will remain dry, then an outer shell can be dispensed with. However, if your journey takes you into wilder places then a breathable, waterproof shell is essential. A jacket designed for running, or even mountain biking, can be good in these circumstances as they tend to be ultra light and have little bulk. Such qualities will allow the freedom of movement needed to effectively Nordic Walk.

To complicate the picture, manufacturers have now introduced the “soft shell” concept in place of the “hard shell” (the outer waterproof). Some may view these garments as being little more than marketing hype as they seem to have a “difficult fit” within the layer concept. They are usually only water resistant, not proof, and do not have anything like the insulating properties of fleece. However, they are windproof, are very comfortable and work well as a Nordic Walking jacket owing to their soft feel. Be prepared for a hefty bill, though, if you go down the soft shell route.

Also, on cold days, I find it’s better to slightly warm the chest strap of my heart rate monitor – it saves that initial rapid intake of breath!

Malcolm Jarvis, Nordic Walker Leeds UK

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