How to pick out the best headphones for walking

 

Walking is an underrated form of exercise. If you’re a gym-goer, it’s easy to overlook the importance of supplementing your workouts with something as simple as going for a walk.

Walking is easy, free and it’s low-impact so it has a low barrier of entry and it comes with a ton of health benefits. One of the reasons we’re interested in shining a spotlight on walking is that it can be great for maintaining good mental health which is super-important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walking can be invigorating, challenging and fun, and it’s easy to incorporate it into your everyday life: walking to the shops, around the neighbourhood, even to the gym counts as much as hiking a trail or climbing a mountain but walking can also be dull.  If you’re regularly taking the same route, it can be a good idea to pair your walks with headphones. You get the exercise and the fresh air along with getting to listen to that great new album, that entertaining podcast or new playlist.

You can wear headphones for walking to learn new skills, explore interesting topics, listen to political debates or take in a TED talk.

 

Walking with headphones

 

And like walking, headphones also have a low barrier to entry: you can listen on a crappy pair of £2 earbuds or a £1000 pair of over-ears. Many of us will want something in the middle of these two: a pair of reliable but fine-tuned headphones that give us clear audio and maybe a few additional bells and whistles so what are some of the best headphones for walking?

There’s no real best headphone for walking because it depends entirely on what you’re planning on wearing them for: are you going hiking or are you walking to work whilst wearing them?

  • Is sound quality very important to you or are you looking for something with robust build quality?  And where do you stand on price?

  • Before you search for the best walking headphones, it’s worth thinking about what your non-negotiables are.  For example, are you interested in wired or wireless headphones?  If you’re hiking in the great outdoors, then you might prefer wired to wireless so you don’t have to worry about charging them up.

  • You should also think about the type of headphone you need.  This is partly due to safety.  If you’re walking in urban areas or remote areas with potential traffic, then you should consider open-back headphones as they allow ambient noise to pass through.  This means you can hear any approaching dangers. Open-backs are less useful, however, if you also plan on using your headphones in other areas of your life: if you want them for plane rides or if you work in open-plan offices.

  • The same is true for noise-cancelling, too.

    Most of us like the thought of blocking out background noise but it’s not always safe to do so if we’re walking outside.  If you think noise-cancellation is important, then opt for a pair where it can be turned off or managed through your phone or device. 

  • One thing you may not have considered is bone-conducting headphones.  These are popular with cyclists as they allow the wearer to listen to music but still hear everything going on around them.  Bone conduction headphones generally have reduced audio quality so they’re less suitable for someone after a more hi-fidelity experience but they are a safer option for walkers.

  • If you’re into speed walking or if you’re planning on hiking hard or if you get sweaty, then you might consider sports headphones that wick moisture away from the cushion.  These can be useful but the sound quality isn’t always brilliant as they’re built more for durability than anything else.

  • You might prefer adding headphone protection yourself.  You can easily add sweat-proof headphone covers to the ear pads to prevent moisture damaging the cushions.

  • It is important to look at build quality and durability, too, though.  This is especially true if you’re taking your headphones hiking.  You’ll want a robust and strong design that won’t break at the first sign of trouble.

    We’d recommend investing in a good carry case to protect your headphones.  You may have to buy one even if one was included in your box. Bose Noise-Cancelling 700s, for example, are well-built but would you feel comfortable risking them in the bottom of a backpack on a hike? A lot of people do.

    It’ll depend on the weather, too, both for where you live if you’re walking locally or where you’re planning on taking them.  Often this can be combated with a hood or umbrella but this may influence you on how much you’re willing to spend.

  • In extremely cold temperatures most headphones will hold up but you should turn them off before heading indoors as moisture can form inside the headphone.  In high temperatures, your ears might also become hot under the ear cups and if you’re worried about sweating, you can add moisture-proof headphone covers.


2 suggestions of reasonably-priced headphones for walking.


Of course, we’re big fans of the Sony WH1000xm3 noise-cancelling headphones, but they’re not suitable for all walkers or all environments.  Google any list and you’ll find them top along with Bose and Sennheiser, et al.  The suggestions below offer a compromise — affordable but with features that may be helpful to anyone looking to wear headphones for walking.

 

Plantronics BackBeat FIT 500 On-Ear Headphones

You can check out our previous post about the BackBeat FIT 500 on-ear headphones but it has an 18 hour battery life and comes with the cable so you can listen even when your out of battery.  There are controls on the earcups so you can bury your device in a bag and still skip or stop tracks.  Whilst they’re not waterproof, they are water resistant so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in a rain shower.  One issue is that the earcups don’t fold down which makes them less ideal for traveling with.  These retail at around half the price of Bose QC headphones.

 

AfterShokz Aeropex

These are bone-conducting headphones and can be a safe option if you’re walking near traffic.  They’re lightweight and sweat and dustproof.  Just remember that audio quality will never be the best with bone conduction.

 

You can wear any headphones for walking but some are more suitable than others depending on the kind of walking you intend to do.