Sorry if you were expecting this to be a piece on how removing your clothes helps nature connection! I am hoping here to offer some advice on ways to get kitted out without spending a small fortune.
Clothing might seem like such a trivial thing, especially if your nature connection is more “walk in the park” than “Antarctic exploration.” However, without appropriate attire you may not even make it out of the front door. It has a huge impact on where and when you decide to go and how long you stay out for. It is important to be comfortable and very distracting if you are feeling too hot or too cold. I find clothing affects people in two ways. Firstly, confidence – they are just afraid of being uncomfortable in some way (either the wrong temperature, wet, dirty or not “looking the part”). Secondly, they simply don’t have clothing that is suitable.
This highlights one of the potential reasons (after lack of access to green spaces) behind less affluent groups being more nature-deprived. It can be really expensive to buy new coats, footwear and so on, especially when you have a family to clothe. It would be good to start the discussion about whether there is a need for something like clothing repositories for disadvantaged households.
Footwear has a big influence on where you go and how far. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who arrive for a walk in shoes they don’t want to get dirty or which become uncomfortable very quickly!
I live most of the time in a pair of running shoes, because they are good for most surfaces and they are comfortable over many miles. I probably wear them longer than I should and I am not going to win any prizes for fashion, but they are very practical for most purposes.
For muddier terrain, wellies are great – especially for kids, but they are not ideal for ground which is lumpier – anything where you might be climbing, being a bit athletic or need some support around the ankles. For this, I use walking boots. My first pair of walking boots were secondhand. They were grey and tough and I could definitely feel the ways that my feet and gait were different to the previous owner’s. However, after a bit of wearing in, they took me happily across a Duke of Edinburgh’s Aware bronze expedition on the South Downs. Secondhand boots might not be the recommended footwear, but if you are on a tight budget they can be a good option. Often you can find some online or in charity shops that have been barely worn. Incidentally, do not underestimate the benefits of good ankle support. I could have avoided a lot of pain and physio had I been wearing boots when I sprained my ankle. Generally, the more uneven the ground and the more weight you are carrying (rucksacks etc.), the more likely you are to need boots or trail running shoes.
Generally clothing is more of an issue in colder or wetter weather. However, it can be difficult to predict how you will feel while you are out. This is where layers are fantastic, because you can remove layers as you get warmer or, of course, put them back on. Apart from the outer layer, for most activities this really doesn’t need to be anything specialist. A vest, t-shirt, fleece jacket or jumper followed by a coat will cover a broad range of temperatures. If it’s really chilly, I will either wear tights and trousers or even two pairs of trousers. Waterproof trousers are inexpensive and can be great in the wet. Just be aware that if you sweat and then cool down you can get very cold, so removing layers as necessary to avoid wet clothes is a good bet.
This is probably the only other item which may not be in your wardrobe – at least in a form that would be comfortable in most weathers. At the very least, your coat ought to be waterproof at least to some extent. It might provide some protection against the wind and it might have some insulation. A lightweight mac is great for warmer days when you might get caught in a shower. A more substantial coat will be needed in the autumn and winter.
Hats and gloves make a big difference. I get my woolly hat out early. It’s easy to take on and off and to stick in a pocket, but it really helps to keep me warm, especially if the wind picks up. The rest of the year I wear a brimmed “rancher” hat. This keeps my head dry and keeps the sun out of my eyes. Gloves are worth having – not just for warmth but in case you have to touch something that isn’t great for bare hands, so I keep a pair in my pocket. You can also wear multiple layers of gloves if it is really cold. A neck buff is also handy to have.
For a lot of nature connection, you might want to sit down. For this, I highly recommend taking bin bags. They are lightweight. You can use them as a waterproof place to put clothes and you can do some litter picking. They are fantastically versatile!
A word of caution
There are a few items of clothing I know have caught people out – you do not have to go far to find the tales of people encountered on mountains in flip flops or flimsy fashion trainers. These really belong on the sandy beach or pavement. I have been told tales of people having to be cut out of their wet jeans so I avoid these like the plague. I tend to wear layers of leggings and they are perfectly good. They dry out quickly and I can move in them easily. You can buy walking trousers if you wish.
Keeping the costs down
I highly recommend buying secondhand. I am always amazed by how many items I find in charity shops and online that are in nearly new condition. You can also look for places selling previous year’s items – I find this really good for footwear. It’s a lot cheaper not going for the latest designs. You definitely can spend a lot of money getting technical clothing, but for most outings, provided you have a good coat and sensible footwear, you can really get a long way with items you will almost certainly have already for being reasonably active in.