I will admit, I am a bit of a statistics geek. When I was a kid I used to pore over football stats (hey, I still do a Fantasy Football League at work), I love seeing trends, and I read our monthly sales figures at work more than anyone else in my department.
So, as well as reading and writing, numbers are my thing. I am pleased that my two girls seem to have acquired my maths skills, although when they show me their homework now some of it just baffles me – I am obviously out of practice.
But when I started walking, I wanted to know how far I had walked. I wasn’t that bothered about the myriad of other stats that I can get from the latest technological gadgets that we are going to look at, it is all about the distance. But I know for others, maybe those on a weight loss journey or with high blood pressure, these other things are important too.
Low-tech methods of logging walked miles
Obviously the easiest method of logging miles walked is by using a simple notebook. But what do you log? Well, it depends obviously why you are logging and what you want to look at. If it is a simple case of logging miles, then a simple entry with date and miles walked would suffice.
However, many people also want to look back at a later date and recall that walk in their memory. This has to be a good idea – you can record date, where you walked, what the weather was like, who you walked with, how easy it was, the nature that you come across, and what memorable features there were. You may also want to record amusing things that happened.
All these details will help you recall happy times when you are low, and remind yourself of the great times and places that you have visited. It will also assist when you are not sure where you want to go for your next walk – a quick flick back through your notebook and you may remember a walk that you had forgotten and decide to re-visit it. Doing this you may be able to add more details – new things you come across, maybe a different pub stop, or the fact that a new cafe had opened which makes a great pit stop (especially when needing sustenance or a wee stop!).
If this sounds more like your requirements, then you would probably need a notebook that you can save 1 page per walk, adding the detail as necessary.You may want to go for a simple plain ruled notebook, however to keep it themed you may wish to choose a notebook or journal with a walking theme.
Now obviously you need to know how many miles you have walked. If you are not following a guidebook, which will give you that detail, then you need a method of actually measuring those miles.
A pedometer is the simplest way of measuring the numbers of steps that you walk. Most of them are pretty small and will clip onto your belt or waistband, so they are pretty unobtrusive.
How does a pedometer walk? A pedometer will count the number of times you take a step. But how does it know this? As you walk, you step forward with each leg, and as you do this your hips tend to sway to one side, and then the next. And that is what the pedometer will count.
So you know how many steps that you have taken, but how do you know how far you have walked? You would need to take a certain number of steps whilst walking, and measure the distance travelled, then a simple bit of maths would give you your stride length. Then it’s a case of taking teh total steps and stride length to calculate the distance walked.
If this sounds a bit too much like hard work, modern electronic pedometers have come to the aid. Although they will probably come with a default stride length you can change this and record your miles at the end of your walk.
The one thing to be really careful with pedometers is that they are attached securely. If you are climbing over stiles or rocks then you may wish to just double check they are still on when you get over. But with that in mind, a pedometer makes a very sensible option if you want to keep things simple.
But of course, there are more high tech options that have been available for a number of years now.
Fitness trackers are devices that you wear on your wrist, and they are very similar to pedometers in that they measure your body movements to track the number of steps that you take.
Generally speaking they look like slimline watches, with the most common colour being black, although they do come in a variety of colours. Some are also available with a variety of straps if you wanted too colour co-ordinate with your outfit, although I can’t imagine that many serious walkers are too worried about this!
They have many aspects that they can track. You can set them with your average stride distance, height and weight – these are all used to enable you to see your number of steps walked, distance covered, calories burned and even heart rate! Oh, and they tell the time. Certainly a step up from a pedometer, and also more secure with them being on your wrist.
They are waterproof too, so if you are caught in a downpour you need not worry about protecting your fitness tracker. This also means that you can wear them in the shower or bath, and when doing jobs round the house such as washing up or cleaning the car then you can keep them on your wrist.
They connect to an app on your smartphone by bluetooth, so you can then see graphs showing previous distances covered and access data for several weeks. Most can also measure the amount of sleep, and whether it’s deep sleep or light sleep, if tracking sleep is something of interest to you.
I use a fitness tracker every day. Some days, usually work days, I don’t get to go out for specific walks, but it does track my activity. It can be amazing how many steps I take on a quiet day – maybe 6,000 or so, without even going for a walk. these would be steps to the station, to the office at the other end of my journey, steps during my work day and at lunchtime when I try to get out every day. I also plays bowls several times a week at the Angel (and other clubs if away), and this can rack up a couple of thousand steps too.
Obviously when I do get to go out for a dedicated walk, then the fitness tracker comes into it’s own. So what do I use, I hear you ask? I have an OmniBand HR, which costs about £30. This is one of the cheaper activity trackers on the market, although you can get them for less, and also a whole lot more! This link will take you to Amazon where you can see a range of what’s currently on offer.
The big names in activity trackers are Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung, and Huawei.
If you really want to take the next step up, then you may want to purchase a smatwatch. Smartwatches will do all that a fitness or activity tracker will do, but will do so many other things too, although a lot of these are not connected to walking.
Many of them will look like a regular watch, and can look very smart, although in mind some are far from this – I particularly don’t like the look of the Apple Smartwatches.
What other features you do you get from a smartwatch rather than a fitness tracker? Smartwatches, especially when linked with a mobile phone, can offer the chance to receive notifications of emails, receive calls, play music, some even take photos!
Why would you choose a smartwatch over a fitness tracker? If you are looking to just track your walks, then you would go for a fitness tracker, but if you are also looking for the communication opportunities that a smartwatch offers, then you would choose a smartwatch.
Big names in smartwatches include Apple, Garmin, Suunto and Matrix. Generally speaking they are more expensive than a fitness tracker, although a low end smartwatch may be comparable to a high end tracker.
Mobile Phone Apps
There are numerous mobile phone apps that you can use to track your walks using the GPS facility of your smartphone.
Most of them are free, although they will offer you a paid version with added functions and less (or no) advertising. You will be able to see a map of where you walk, and details such as distance, elevation, number of steps and so on.
You can create an account and log your walks, some will let you add photos, and quite often their’s quite a user community if you wish to connect with other walkers.
Whilst they are great on their own, or as a backup/addition to your other tracking device above, it does man you need to carry your phone with you on walks. This won’t be an issue for most people, and is probably wise as a means of contacting people in case of an emergency, there will be some people who want to really get away from it all and not be contactable.
I used to use the Mapmyrun app when walking, but that was a few years ago and I don’t use a location tracking app now. This has now been superseded with Mapmywalk which is designed for walkers due to the large number of people using it’s predecessor for walking.
Many of these apps have a great many functions, so it is well worth spending some time looking through the different menu options once downloaded.
Accuracy of tracking
It’s quite funny, when I walk with Nicky, she has a different tracker than me, and we always differ in the number of steps and distances walked. Generally her steps are higher and my distance is longer, although being a few inches taller I think my average stride is set slightly longer.
But we know that different methods of tracking give us different readings. So whilst you can roughly track the distances travelled, each method will give a slightly different reading, and thus true accuracy is far from easy. But to be honest, the difference between a walk of 3.5 miles and one measuring 3.4 or 3.6 miles is not going to be a big issue to most walkers.
What is important is that by tracking your approximate mileage should keep you motivated to get out more often and walk regularly. Going back to the notebook from the start of this post, adding in details of wildlife seen, interesting features such as ruins of old castles, great landscape views and even the warmth of welcome from the local pub, will all go towards recalling great walks (and maybe not so great ones that you can avoid doing again).
Country Walking Magazine head-to-head test
In the December 2018 issue of Country Walking Magazine they took various trackers, smartwatches and smartphone apps and put them to the test.
They went for a 3.54 mile walk, measuring the distance on a trundle wheel that you would likely see being used by surveyors or on a geography field trip.
They also took 4 fitness trackers, 5 smartwatches, and 6 phone apps, seeing which was the most accurate in comparison to the trundle wheel.
The closest of the fitness trackers was the Huawei Band 2 Pro, at 3.48 miles or 1.7% lower. The furthest out was the Garmin Vivofit 4 at 3.27 miles, or 7.6% – I also think this is quite ugly, but you may like the look.
In the smartwatches, the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus was just 0.1 mile out, or 0.3%. However the Matrix PowerWatch X registered at 3.9 miles, or 10% over – maybe one to pick if you want to kid yourself you are walking more than you actually are!
The winner overall was from the smartphone apps – OSMaps being bang on spot with mileage. Not surprising really, considering it comes from Ordnance Survey. However the apps also gave the biggest difference at 13%, registering 4 miles, was World Walking.
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