Choosing walking boots The ups and downs of walking boots


Hiking is a great way to exercise and spend time in nature, but having the right pair of walking boots is crucial.

After a few blisters you'll regret not splashing out on a more comfortable shoe, or not spending longer wearing them in.


How to choose the right walking boot

There are many aspects to finding the right boot, with comfort, budget, durability and safety all vital. Of course, you should also tailor your purchase to your goal.

You'll also need to learn to keep the boots clean and, if made from leather, apply wax, in order to keep them in top condition for years to come.

Good, durable walking boots aren't cheap. I believe that around £100-£160 is required to get you a reliable pair that should see you in good stead for years. You can pay silly money for boots, but I don't think this is necessary.

Fit, of course, is important. "Nothing can spoil a holiday or even a day out more than poor or ill-fitting footwear," I would highly recommend going into to shop and trying on lots of pairs with the seamless hiking socks that you are going to be using for your hiking.

Your boot should offer ankle protection and water resistance - these will all do a perfectly good job if you're hiking around the mountains of Britain in rain or shine.

Common questions when buying boots:

There are two main types of walking boots, leather and fabric, and each have their merits and pitfalls. "Leather boots are considered to be more traditional," and  is durable and breathable material, but it does require a little more upkeep.

What are the main benefits of leather? Aside from durability and breathability, there are many. Leather boots provide unrivalled comfort and fit (with a caveat that it takes a while for them to mould to your feet, like a pair of Dr Martens). They're remarkably weather resistant, especially when boosted by a Gore-Tex or eVent lining. They last longer than synthetic boots, partially because they're often made from one or two pieces of leather rather than several stitched together fabric layers. .

Fabric boots (and fabric-leather hybrids) are becoming more popular for a variety of reasons. They're lighter, require a little less maintenance, and come in a wider range of colours and styles. And there's another crucial factor as to why they're gaining the upper hand (or foot). The fit will be more what people are accustomed to,  as it is almost a trainer-style fit. A leather boot will often be put on a last, so it's got a certain shape to it, whereas fabric boots have a little less shape." Consequently, fabric boots are often ready to wear straight from the box.  Synthetic boots tend to have a shorter lifespan and cost less than their leather counterparts.

Wearing proper walking boots is vital when going on long hikes, particularly on undulating terrains with rocky or wet ground. One of the most obvious benefits of a proper walking boot is the ankle protection it offers. You can get some excellent trainer-style walking shoes, but if you're tackling rough terrains where you're likely to twist your ankle on a loose rock, the added protection from the ankle support can prevent a sprain or worse. Ankle protection stops movement inside the boot, so there's less chance of twists and strains and you want to feel, regardless of your size, the cuff of the boot hugging your ankle, so it's not completely loose like a flip flop." The high shaft provides that added benefit of offering more protection against scuffs from rocks, by the very nature of it being higher up your leg.

The soles are also crucial. You want good quality rubber, that's stiff and grippy, and tailored to the task at hand. "If it's very muddy you need a deeper lug in the sole, basically bigger grooves.  The best sole manufacturer is a company called Vibram, if you see that, it's an indicator of a good quality sole unit. Some brands have developed their own, like Salomon with their own rubber sole called Contagrip, which is excellent."

Additionally, boots should have a hardened toe cap or a rubber rand that fits around the boot, including the toe, which both protects the leather and your toes from a nasty stubbing.

Realistically, you need to spend around £100 to get something with a reliable, durable waterproofing membrane. The main two you'll come across are Gore-Tex and eVent, which vary slightly on breathability and waterproofing.

For example, eVent is a tiny bit more breathable, but it requires more care. Otherwise, boots will have own-brand technology, which can vary in quality. Essentially, the boot will include a waterproof membrane lining which, if the boot is maintained properly, should last a long time.

How often you should spray or wax your boot depends on how often you hike. "I think a minimum of once a month as a golden rule, though, if you use them once a year, then obviously just clean and wax after use.

This is what really affects the longevity of a product, we find with a pair of boots, the minimum they should last is three years for an athletic model, but on average you're looking at five to seven years, with good care.