Does a FitBit Flex Accurately Track Your Steps if You Walk with Your Hands in Your Pockets?

It was bitterly cold here the last few days, making my lunchtime walks a little more challenging. I normally walk 3 times around the large block where my office is located, which amounts to about 3 miles, or roughly 6,000 steps on my FitBit Flex. With the weather as cold as it was, I was a little concerned about how my FitBit Flex would behave if I shoved my hands in my pockets. Earlier in the spring, I discovered how pushing a stroller skews the number of steps you take. How would shoving my hands in my pockets to keep them warm affect the way the Flex counts my steps?

In the interest of science and discovery, I decided to perform an experiment yesterday. I would walk each of my 3 laps at lunch in a slightly different manner:

  1. First, I’d walk the entire lap without putting my hands in my pocket.
  2. Next, I’d walk the second lap with my hands in my pocket the entire time.
  3. Finally, I’d walk the third lap as I always do, with a kind of hybrid mix of the first two.

I used the activity-tracking feature of the FitBit Flex to capture the data from each lap independently. When the experiment was concluded, here is how things looks:

Winter Walking
Click to enlarge

Let me examine each lap independently.

The first lap – hands out of pockets

On the first lap, I walked with my hands out of my pockets for the entire lap. I walked just about 1,800 steps in 14 minutes. The first thing you’ll note is that this is two minutes faster than the other two laps, each of which took me 16 minutes. I think there is a very good explanation for this. With the windchill, the temperatures were below freezing. I was walking ungloved with my hands outside my pockets. It was cold and I therefore walked faster.

The second lap – hands in pockets

On the second lap, I walked with my hands in my pockets the entire lap. I walked just over 1,900 steps in 16 minutes. I have already explained why this lap was longer by 2 minutes (with my hands in my pockets, I wasn’t as cold and my pace was slower). The same walk took about 100 more steps with my hands in my pockets. 100 steps is roughly 5% of the total, which one could argue is within a margin of error of +/- 5%. But I think there are 2 other possible explanations:

  1. Putting my hands in my pockets alters my stride, making it a little shorter. Over the course of 2,000 steps, this adds about 100 steps to make up the distance.
  2. I didn’t walk the exact same course. Each time around is a little different, weaving this way or that to avoid obstacles, detour around people, etc.

Each of these I think easily explains an extra hundred steps. The good news, for me at least, is that the step count did not drop with my hands in my pockets, the way it does when I push a stroller.

The third lap – hybrid

The third lap is closer to how I normally walk in cold weather, shoving my hands in my pockets for a little while, and then taking them out for a little while. As you can see from the data, it is almost identical to the second lap. This tells me 2 things:

  1. The first lap was an outlier, the numbers altered more because I was cold and wanted to rush through the lap.
  2. The 3rd lap differed from the 2nd by only 36 steps. This tells me that whether or not my hands are in my pocket, my FitBit Flex is recording my steps the same.

Conclusions

It seems, based on my simple experiment, that walking with your hands in your pockets in cold weather does not affect how the FitBit Flex records your steps. You don’t have to worry about “losing” steps in the way you lose them when pushing a stroller. As winter approaches and cold weather becomes more common, you can rest assured knowing that the Flex is capturing your steps accurately, whether you walk with your hands in your pockets, or outside them.

One thought on “Does a FitBit Flex Accurately Track Your Steps if You Walk with Your Hands in Your Pockets?

  1. Two comments on this, as I just got a flex…

    1. did you have your hands in top jacket pockets or in your pants pockets?

    2. have you tired just putting the flex in your pants pockets to see if that is any different?

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