Saturday Walkers Club www.walkingclub.org.uk

Walking without clothes – why ever not?

The views below are those of the author, not of the Walking Club. Many club members feel that this club's walks are an inappropriate place for clothes-free walking

By Chris Lamb

The recent exploits of the Naked Rambler put the spotlight on the practice of walking without clothes. Few would want to emulate him by going naked in all weathers through built-up areas as well as open country, but there are many who enjoy walking naked in the countryside from time to time when conditions are right. Although most walkers are untroubled by meeting a naked fellow walker, there is still some misunderstanding about this practice, so here is an attempt to answer some of the questions that get asked.

Why would I want to walk without clothes?

Well, very likely you wouldn’t. At present, only a minority of walkers do so, and their reasons vary. Most would say that being in your natural state in the natural environment just feels good and creates a sense of well-being. Feeling the sun and breeze over your whole body is exhilarating and helps to relieve the stresses of everyday life. That well-known walker and naturalist, John Hillaby, wrote in his book ‘Journey through Britain’, “I took off my shirt and still felt hot. I took off everything except my shoes and felt fine. Try walking naked on a hill sometime for a kind of ecstasy unlike anything else I can think of.” Many would echo his words. Walking naked can give a great sense of freedom and enhance the feeling of being part of the natural world. Perhaps only those who have tried it can truly appreciate the pleasure.

Is it safe?

It’s not a good idea to go climbing over barbed wire fences or wading through thickets of brambles without clothes, but for most summer walks in England, clothes are not really needed for protection against the environment when the weather is fine.

Is it healthy?

In strong sunshine, a sensible walker always uses plenty of sunblock on any exposed parts of the body, and will cover up if prolonged exposure might result in sunburn. Provided precautions against excessive exposure are taken, a naked walker is no more at risk than anyone else. A certain amount of exposure to sunshine is beneficial because it helps the body to produce naturally the vitamin D that it requires. And fresh air blowing over your hot skin is much pleasanter than sweaty clothes, because your sweat evaporates quickly and you keep cooler.

Is it legal?

In normal circumstances, yes. Contrary to popular belief, there is no law in Britain that makes public nudity illegal. Victorian laws on “indecent exposure” were repealed a few years ago, and were replaced by a law that makes exposure an offence only if it is intended to cause alarm or distress. A government minister confirmed that this law does not affect a genuine naked walker who has no such intention. Provided walkers avoid built-up areas and crowded places when walking without clothes, there is little risk of committing an offence.

Is it decent?

Opinions differ, but most people realise that the human body is not inherently indecent. The majority of us have been culturally conditioned to believe that being naked in public is somehow shameful. But there’s really no reason to impose our own sense of shame on others who do not share it. If you feel your body is not “good enough” for other people to see, that’s OK, but remember it’s a choice that everyone can make for themselves. Of course, people can behave indecently whether naked or clothed. When considering questions of decency, what matters is how we behave towards other people, rather than how we choose to dress.

How do other people react?

At present, it’s quite unusual to encounter a naked walker, so many people do show some kind of reaction. A lot are amused, some are envious, some indifferent, and some are mildly disapproving, but very few find it genuinely shocking. Even those who don’t approve can recognise that it’s a harmless eccentricity. But a considerate walker will cover up anyway if it’s apparent that someone is upset. In practice, it’s often possible to walk long distances without meeting anyone else, so the question of people’s reactions doesn’t arise.

Won’t children be harmed by the sight?

There’s no evidence that seeing naked adults is harmful to children. For young children, nakedness is natural, both for themselves and others. Those who are brought up as naturists normally become well-balanced individuals. Even children who have absorbed our cultural norms instinctively appreciate that nakedness is not necessarily shameful. If unaccustomed to seeing people naked, a child’s natural reaction is not horror, but curiosity. “Why are those people naked?” is the typical question asked.

If you want to walk naked, why not join a naturist walking group?

Many naked walkers would not describe themselves as naturists. They simply choose to dress according to the current climatic conditions, and are not necessarily seeking to adopt a naturist lifestyle, or to socialise with naturists. If you use an umbrella in the rain, that is a practical decision, and doesn’t make you an “umbrellaist”. Sticking a “naturist” label on someone who chooses to walk without clothes may be convenient, but not necessarily accurate. And, in any case, the only regular naturist walks in southern England are organised on weekdays at a sedate pace, which doesn’t suit everybody.

Can naked walkers join group walks?

Only with the consent of their fellow walkers, whose feelings they should respect. Anyone who is unable to feel comfortable in the company of naked walkers should not have to accept it. But experience shows that initial feelings of doubt and surprise often evaporate, and the delights of the walk are far more important than how fellow walkers are attired. There is a strong tradition of tolerance for the eccentricities and cultural preferences of others, so let’s try to keep that tolerant approach going. As the old saying goes: Chacun à son goût!

The naked walker's code

When out on a group walk, I try to adopt the following code on occasions when I feel like walking without clothes for a while. I recommend the code to anyone who wants to try walking clothes-free.

  1. Don't strip off unless you know everyone in the group, and are sure they don't mind
  2. If the original group later splits into smaller groups, the rule above applies to the particular group you are with
  3. At other times, if you want to walk naked, separate from the group for a while, and then dress before rejoining them
  4. Always keep a garment handy so you can cover up in built-up areas and busy places
  5. Cover up if it is apparent that anyone you are about to pass is upset by your lack of clothes

Last Updated: Jan-08 by Chris Lamb