Zero to Hero – Part 3

You’ve tested your base ability, learnt how to walk more efficiently, now it’s time to look at basic kit.

Sport Walking is an endurance walking discipline to tackle ultra challenges, so you’re going to need to carry kit. If you’re taking on an organised event, there could be mandatory equipment but even if you’re just pursuing your own plan it’s kit that’s worth having.

So, for part three of our Zero to Hero plan, here’s a quick run down of some of the essentials and a few other bits and bobs that will help you get more from your Sport Walking.

The Foundation
The only essential and the foundation of your whole Sport Walking kit list is your shoes. They’re the first thing to look at because they really are your most valuable asset.

In theory you can Sport Walk in any footwear you like – boots or approach shoes – but the key thing is weight and stiffness. You will benefit from a degree of stiffness in the sole for walking, unlike for running but you don’t want too much.  It’s like the three bears, the balance needs to be ‘just right’. And this is where endurance trail running shoes come in.

What trail and mountain running shoes or specialist lightweight technical walking shoes give you is a significant weight saving over ‘ordinary’ off road shoes and a massive saving over boots.  The essential thing is to pick the shoe that will allow you to improve your performance the most. Don’t just pick a shoe because it’s a ‘walking shoe’ and don’t just go for a trail running shoe because it’s the lightest option. Make your choice based on what works for you and what is the best specification.

For instance, lightweight trail running shoes might seem like the best option because they’ll probably be the lightest shoe you can find, which you’ll be forgiven for thinking will give you the best performance. The only thing is, if they’re lightweight shoes, they may not give you the support or cushioning your feet will need for walking. Again, it’s about finding the right balance.

What you need are shoes designed for long distances, ultra marathons or fast and light trail walking, like the ones above. Always remember this is about sport, so performance is your first priority. The other thing that’s important is the outsole, again another reason to go for trail running or specialist lightweight trekking shoes. You want an outsole that offers good grip but you don’t want really long or deep ‘lugs’ (suitable for mud) because they will be too ‘squishy’ on hard packed trails or roads.

There’s no need to pick a shoe with a waterproof liner, although in winter this will obviously keep your feet dryer and more comfortable. In summer you won’t need a liner and in winter you can manage without.

This is sport, it’s not meant to be about staying comfortable, it’s meant to be fulfilling and challenging because that’s where the sport lies, that’s what you’ll remember. The key question is whether having lined shoes will actually help you perform better or whether the additional weight and extra cost aren’t aren’t going to make a tangible difference.

The bottom line: Pick a shoe that fits you really well, is as light as possible but with reasonable cushioning (not too soft) and a good grip. 

Only a brief mention of clothing because this will be where personal choice will override any advice we might give, so all we’ll say is that you should pick the lightest technical garments you can, with a thought for how each garment will help you. For instance, if you choose a top that’s too loose, when you wear a rucksack or vest, it could bunch up and chafe.

Go for clothing that’s designed to perform – to wick sweat away, to breathe, to stretch and regardless of shape or styling, avoid cotton tops like the plague. Think about layering because that’s the best way to regulate your body temperature, so look to use a base, mid and shell layer in winter and a breathable t-shirt in summer. On the legs, choose close fitting but not tight fitting trousers in winter (avoid ‘thermal’ versions except when it’s really cold) and lightweight shorts in summer (shorts with a lycra compression layer under a looser outer are great).

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Wear close fitting comfortable technical items

The thing to remember is to wear clothes to suit the conditions you’re in but you also need to be able to carry other layers so you can adapt. Wear too much just in case and you could over heat, wear too little and if the weather turns you’ll struggle. So that’s where the next piece of kit comes in.

The Load Carrier
With a need to carry essential safety items, food and also spare clothing and waterproofs, you’ll need a compact lightweight rucksack or ultra running vest for your challenges. Now, it’s not essential to carry gear when you’re training – you can go for 5-10k without taking anything but for longer training walks or challenges, you will need some basics, as well as fuel and drink, so it’s not a bad idea to pick a suitable sack or vest and then use it for every walk, so that when you do need to carry more kit for a challenge, you’re already used to the feel of the pack on your back.

An ultra running vest with about 10-15L capacity is perfect

Ultra running vests are superb for Sport Walking – they’re designed to be as unobtrusive, as light and as stable as possible because they’re for running. They come in a variety of capacity options from the most minimal up to 25 litres, so you can pick one that works for you. We use a 15 litre vest for almost everything. It’s light and compact enough to be almost unnoticeable and yet can carry a 1.5 litre drink bladder and everything you’ll need for a non-stop 100k challenge.

The best thing about ultra vests is that they usually have ‘soft flask’ pouches and other storage on the straps, so you can easily access energy bars, your phone and other things you might need as you go along, without having to take your sack off. The design of vests mean that you don’t need a waist strap, so you’re not compressing your stomach and the vest style construction also means that the whole bag fits snugly around your chest.

Of course, you can still choose a rucksack instead and a 15-20 litre version will be fine.  Whatever you choose, try to pick one that gives you some storage on the straps if you can. The key is to always try and keep moving, so whatever you choose for your bag, you want to be able to keep it on your back as much as possible. Stopping to get a flask out isn’t a part of Sport Walking!

Staying Dry
Let’s face it, the only thing you can really predict about the weather is that it’s unpredictable! The important thing is to be prepared because, as we’ve mentioned before, you want to be able to give your all to your challenge or even just to your training and you don’t want to let the weather be the factor that determines whether you succeed or not. So you need shell protection for when the heavens open.

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A lightweight running cag is your best friend

As with every piece of equipment, you need to strike a balance between weight and performance.  With waterproofs, you need to choose the right waterproofs for the situation you’ll be in.  If you’re taking part in a supported challenge event with checkpoints and food supplies and the terrain is relatively benign (the South Downs, Ridgeway or other non-mountainous area) then a lightweight running jacket that is waterproof but, perhaps, not as technically capable as full mountain waterproofs will be enough.  You may not remain completely dry (if it’s not the most breathable option you could experience condensation inside) but it should be enough to keep you performing.

It’s the same for over trousers. They’re not essential for lowland challenges but if you can carry something that doesn’t weigh a lot but that will give your legs a little protection from the elements why wouldn’t you?  The essential thing is that if you’re taking your Sport Walking into more challenging environments – mountains or wild remote places, then you need to take more serious protection.

If we’re Sport Walking in the mountains, we’ll normally take a vest with a larger capacity (20L is enough), so we can carry our usual super light cag and over trousers but also take full mountain waterproofs as well. It just increases our options, so we don’t just have to get fully togged up if there’s a light downpour, which would hamper our performance.

Other Essentials
You’ll need to carry fluid for hydration (electrolytes are a minimum and an energy drink for longer challenges) and food for fuel for anything over 10k and if you’re going longer than 20k, it’s wise to take some ‘emergency’ rations, just in case.

Some essentials for a 100k challenge but you don’t need all this for training or shorter walks

It’s a good habit to get into, always to take a compact lightweight survival blanket (the foil type) and a first aid kit, as you’ll need this for a long challenge event, so you might as well keep them in your bag all the time. Good ultra vests and many rucksacks now have small whistles built into straps but if not, that’s another good item to always keep in your bag.

There are plenty of other items you could take and for many challenge events you’ll have a compulsory kit list to adhere to but the only other item that you’ll want to have on your essentials list is a dry bag. Actually, a number of dry bags rather than just one with everything in, as that way you can keep items separate and dry should you need to access kit when it’s raining.

Whatever else you choose to take with you, if you get these basics right, you’ll be able to put everything into the walking itself and not worry about getting wet, or having to make compromises.

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