From hiking boots to active clothing suitable for autumn walks, here is our expert review guide on the best walking gear for the season.
There’s a lot to be said for walking in a shirt rather than a T. The collar keeps wind (and sunshine) off your neck, you can control your temperature by rolling up sleeves or undoing a button or two, and a pair of chest pockets (plus in this case a bonus pocket on the arm) are really useful for essentials: pocket bins, GPS, sunglasses and so on.
This shirt is beautifully made from G-1000 polyester-and-cotton fabric, which is tough and wind-resistant – in fact, substantial enough to be worn in place of a softshell jacket on cool days. Wear next to your skin, or over a T-shirt or thermal baselayer: the fit is certainly loose enough to accommodate one, and you can (obviously) add a warm jacket over the top when necessary. Upper layers of similarly relaxed fit are ideal – if you prefer close-fitting jacket, this shirt may feel a little bulky underneath.
I can’t see myself wearing it much when hiking in warm weather, though. Admittedly, there are hidden vents across the back and under the arms to allow cool air in as you warm up; but even so, I would prefer for something more breathable for hot days.
Neverthless, the Singi excels in the cooler weather weather of autumn and spring, and makes an excellent winter layer for walking or working outdoors. If your time spent in the open is a little more stop-start – those who spend long hours wildlife-watching, for example – this becomes a durable year-round option.
Outdoor research, £40
Look like a conventional cap, with a peak to keep sun and rain out of your eyes… but the fabric is waterproof GoreTex, and there’s a hidden fleece band, shown here when folded down, to keep your ears warm on a chilly day.
Bristling with useful features, this backpack is hard to fault – it feels like an almost perfect design response to the needs of a hiker. This is the latest version of a pack that has been available in various iterations since 2007. (The women’s version is the Tempest 30).
It’s super-light at 910g. It should be possible to get a close fit – the pack is available in two sizes, and also has an adjustable back. Note that larger of these sizes has 33 litres of internal space, the smaller 31. Either way, that should enough for all the basics of autumn and winter day walking, including any warm or waterproof layers you may shed in the course of the day.
It has almost all the bells and whistles – literally, as the chest buckle contains a whistle for emergencies.
The top pocket is big enough for lots of the things you want to keep to hand – gloves, hat, map, sunglasses and so on.
There is space behind the back-panel for a 2L hydration system (ie rubber water carrier and tube), external loops for hiking poles and ice axe, useful stretchy pockets at both centre (big enough for wet waterproofs) and sides (for water bottles); and the belt pockets are also large enough to stash snacks, suntan lotion and other essentials.
A foam back-panel does a good job of allowing some cool air on to your back on a hot day. The belt harness is wide and comfortable; and compression straps keep everything stable and compact.
And the looks are pretty decent – it has a fairly clean appearance despite the complexity of fabrics, straps, buckles and zips. Surprisingly there is no rain cover – that costs an extra £18. Otherwise this it is hard to think of a better walker’s day pack.
I’ve been a bit sceptical about merino wool base layers, but this highly versatile and adaptable T-shirt changed my mind. I’ve often found merino wool tops faintly itchy – but not this one; the loose fit probably helps. The lightweight, 56% merino fabric feels remarkably pleasant and breathable in warm weather, or when you are working hard uphill. It soaks up sweat without clinging to your skin, and dries out pretty fast. Then when things turn chilly, it insulates well beneath a shirt or jacket.
There are various colour options and graphic designs to choose from, and men’s and women’s versions too. Finally, the T will stay remarkably fresh over a few days’ walking, even without washing.
Whitby and Co, £14.95
If you’re heading off the beaten track, you’ll need a map and compass. This folding device – sometimes called a ‘military compass’ – fits in a small pocket and makes it easy to take a bearing on distant objects. Lanyard supplied.
Odin Huggin Pant
Helly Hansen, £160
• For men and women (renamed the Odin Muninn Pant)
Billed as all-season, these technical trousers come into their own between autumn and spring. The softshell fabric is genuinely windproof and yet it also achieves Helly Hansen’s maximum rating for breathability. It contrives to feel really substantial while remaining reasonably light at 570g.
There is plenty of stretch, and some neat articulation to help you flex knees comfortably on uphill stretches. The elasticated waist can be tightened using Velcro tabs.
I like the hook on the trouser hem, which allows you to attach the leg to your boot laces, in lieu of gaiters, and the cuffs, which can be secured neatly around your boot-tops.
Zips on the lower leg allow you to pull them on and off without removing your boots… handy if the weather turns warm and you want to switch to shorts.
The three pockets are zippered – two at the hip and one thigh.
The design has a couple of flamboyant touches that bring to mind garments for the climbing and snowboarding fraternity: the fly is set at an angle and finished with a pair of poppers; and the lining at the waist is florescent yellow.
TIP: Err towards a tight fit. Although the trousers seemed to fit closely at first, with use the stretchy fabric relaxes, to the point where the Velcro fasteners on the waist no longer provided a close enough fit. There are belt loops, but oddly only at the front and rear.
• Read more reviews of walking trousers
Whitby & Co, £34.95
Made of tough stainless steel, this chunky, stylish flask contains 500ml – just under a pint. In the office, the flask’s contents were still piping hot after ten hours at room temperature, and warm after 20.
Suitable for all seasons apart from high summer, these warm, anti-blister, moisture-wicking socks are 43% merino wool, with a soft towelling sole for cushioning and breathability. These were so comfortable on a three-hour walk I barely noticed I was wearing them; due to their ‘spider net’ support, fit close to the sking with no movement or rubbing inside your shoe. But do size up: ‘small’ was almost too mini for my size 4 feet.
Review: Margaret Bartlett
More commonly known for its equestrian gear, in recent years Californian company Ariat has developed a performance range aimed at serious hikers. These walking boots are sturdy enough to withstand rough terrain, and I found they offered a comfortable fit without needing much breaking in. Surprisingly light, given their solid construction, the Skyline Summit GTX provides good grip on slippery surfaces, while the waterproof Gore-Tex membrane helps keep your feet dry.
The full–grain leather and textile uppers protect your feet, but make them a little cosy for hot-weather walking.
The extra protection around the heel and toe is excellent and the shock absorbing midsole provided much needed support for my feet. While the multi-directional traction makes the boots feel responsive.
Review: John Tilley
Helly Hanson, £180
Filled with the extremely warm synthetic insulation (Primaloft Gold Active+), and with a stretchy fabric
The first thing that struck me with this jacket was the immediate comfort. The polyester inner fabric provides an instant feeling of quality that you don’t always get in a lightweight jacket. Despite weighing only 580g, the jacket felt impressively cosy and cushioned. It delivers real warmth but you don’t get the build-up of sweat you can experience from some jackets while stomping the hills, thanks to it’s breathable Primaloft Gold Active+ insulation.
Its stretchy fabric, featuring two breathable panels under the pits, makes the jacket incredibly comfortable, allowing unrestrained movement perfect for all outdoor activities.
The Odin is easily compressed – ideal to pack for weekend jaunts to the countryside. Although not waterproof, the jacket does offer some protection from showers and features a lined comfy hood and padded chin, the fabric is also designed to be quick-drying.
As much as I really liked this jacket there were a few niggles, the first being the pull cord around the waist only pulls from one side, making the coat lopsided once tightened. The cuffs aren’t sturdy enough to hold back the insulating material, and I found the inner lining pulling through when putting on the jacket, which was frustrating.
Overall, though, if you’re after a lightweight jacket that combines warmth and comfort you won’t go far wrong the Odin Stretch insulator. It’s simple, clean styling means you’ll feel as happy in town or down the pub as you will walking the countryside – so it’s a real all-rounder delivering great performance.
Review: Tim Bates