How Apparel Can Impact Your Walking Workout

By Erin Palinski-Wade

You’ve probably given a lot of thought to the best footwear for you when walking, but most likely you haven’t given other apparel much consideration. You probably just figure as long as you are wearing comfortable clothing when walking, that works just fine. And it can. However, fitness clothing has come a long way in the past decade or two, and choosing the right apparel can aid your workout.

Depending on when and where you walk, the temperature and weather conditions can play a major role in the best clothing and apparel for you. Choosing the right apparel can increase your comfort when walking, allowing you to walk longer and more often, maximizing your workout benefits.

Moisture‐wicking fabrics are a great choice for staying dry while sweating, especially if you walk in warm temperatures. However, even in colder weather, these fabrics have benefits. When layering, wear moisture‐wicking fabric against your skin, and layer it with other, warmer fabrics to keep out the cold.

According to REI, natural fibers are superior to synthetic fibers when it comes to keeping you dry. However, whether you choose synthetic or natural fibers, look for certified sports performance moisture wicking and antibacterial properties.

Choosing the right fabrics can make a world of difference in having a comfortable walk. You have many options depending on your needs, including the following:

  • A 100 percent opaque cotton fabric is all natural and breathes in warm weather, and the opaqueness ensures you have full coverage.

  • Bamboo is another great breathable, all‐natural fabric that absorbs moisture quickly.

  • Fleece is a great synthetic option for cold‐weather walks.

  • Merino fabric, which is antibacterial, all‐natural wool from sheep, is ultra-warm, sweat‐wicking, and ethical (biodegradable and sustainable).

  • If you are facing winds, especially cold winds, a hard‐ or soft‐shell, waterproof, and windproof outer layer will cut the cold, especially if you’re layering with fleece or merino wool underneath.

Weaving techniques and other properties can also make a difference:

  • A great construction technique is bonded or seamless technology that uses adhesives rather than seams to bond fabric. It gives you a smooth look and a chafe‐free experience.

  • Antibacterial and hypoallergenic fabric allows skin to remain odor free.

  • Compression garments help improve circulation, which feeds more oxygen to muscles, reduces lactic acid buildup, and reduces muscle fatigue, thereby enhancing performance.

When looking at all the fabrics and options available to you, Sweaty Betty is a great find, offering fun, fashionable designs in a wide array of fabrics.

Fit is also important when choosing the right apparel for your walking workout. Watch out for areas where skin rubs against skin — between your toes, thighs, and under your arms, which can lead to friction and chafing of the skin.

To help you feel comfortable under your fitness clothes, performance undergarments can be quite helpful. Aim to choose sweat‐wicking fabrics over cotton, which gets wet easily and stays wet, contributing to chafing in sensitive spots.

To help create a barrier to moisture, use a small amount of petroleum jelly or Runner’s Lube, a nonstaining cream made from lanolin, zinc oxide, and benzocaine that can be found in many sporting goods or drugstores, such as Eastern Mountain Sports.

Fitness apparel and clothing are constantly evolving. Wearable electronics like headphones and watches have been commonplace among fitness enthusiasts. However, in the past few years, wearable technology has begun to evolve even further to include items such as T‐shirts, smart bras, socks, and full body fitness tops and bottoms that have once‐wired technology built in.

This clothing, provided by companies such as Athos, has sensors and Bluetooth technology that captures electromyography (EMG) muscle activity, heart rate, skin temperature, and breathing, providing you with a vast amount of information about every workout.

Choosing the right socks

Socks can often go unnoticed, but in addition to the proper footwear, socks are one of the most important pieces of apparel you need for effective and healthy walking. When you walk, pressure points on your feet, moisture buildup from sweat, and the force and impact of each step can lead to blisters. However, socks are your first line of defense against this. If they bunch up, don’t fit correctly, or leave your feet moist, your risk of blisters (and need to put walking on hold for a period of time) increases.

Socks that provide moisture‐wicking fabric and have light padding in key areas, such as the heel and ball of the foot, can protect your feet from the risk of irritation and blisters, and may even add additional cushioning to each step. Various socks for walking on the market provide these features. One such sock available at retailers such as REI is WrightSock, which is considered a leader in performance socks.

Whatever sock you select, look for a few specific features for the greatest benefit:

  • Choose a sock shaped like your foot to allow it to stay in place and prevent bunching. Elastic or ribbing helps to ensure that socks stay put.

  • Look for gender‐specific socks, because men and women have differently shaped feet. This allows for a snugger fit.

  • Choose socks made in wicking fabrics to help fight against blisters, such as CoolMax, Dri‐Fit, Sorbtek, or SmartWool. Most sport stores carry quality walking socks.

Wearing the right undergarments

You may not have given much thought to your undergarments before starting your walking program, but if you choose the wrong options, you’ll certainly recognize it during your workout.

Choosing the wrong fabric or the wrong fit can lead to discomfort, chafing, and even increased risk of skin infections. Use the same criteria when looking for undergarments that you use when purchasing footwear or outerwear for your workout. Look for options that fit well; are made of breathable, wicking fabrics; and are comfortable.

Although the choices of undergarments are vast, some have been found to outperform the rest. If you want to review your options along with the pros and cons of each, check out my website for a buying guide comparing everything from ASICS to Barely There for women and everything in between to help you make the best selection possible.

If you wear moisture‐wicking fabrics, undergarments are not always a ­necessity, especially if you wear antibacterial fabric like Get Set Go shorts from Under Armour. However, for men, long endurance workouts can cause irritation and chafing. When buying underwear, men should consider anatomical support provided by a full front pouch that provides the benefit of a jockstrap. Check out the Jack Adams Trainer Trunk and other options at The Underwear Expert.

When it comes to choosing undergarments for women, steer clear of lace and satin, as these fabrics are less breathable and may cause irritation. If you suffer from bladder leakage, don’t let it hold you back from regular exercise. Companies such as Dear Kate make “leak‐free lingerie” athletic options, which can be the perfect fit for helping you feel comfortable and confident as you walk.

Sports bras are also an essential component of the walking woman’s wardrobe. Selecting a good‐fitting sports bra can minimize the movement of your chest, preventing discomfort when walking. In addition, it can wick moisture away from the skin, allowing for air flow and fighting against chafing.

When choosing a sports bra, make sure that the straps don’t dig into your shoulders, that the band around your lower chest isn’t too tight or too loose, and that the fabric is lightweight and soft. Even if you’ve had a mastectomy, you can still walk with confidence and comfort.