One of the most crucial things that you can do as a walker is to look after your feet. There are so many different styles and brands of walking boots out there, choosing the right pair for you can be confusing.
So, with that in mind, I’ve put together this guide to show you how to choose the best walking footwear to suit your needs.
Boots or shoes?
When choosing footwear for walking and hiking, your safety and comfort are the priority, rather than aesthetics.
Boots are generally a better choice than shoes, as they provide support and protection for your ankle, which is crucial if you’re walking or hiking over rough terrain.
1. How much?!
There’s no getting away from it; a decent pair of walking boots are not cheap. However, I recommend that you buy the best pair of boots you can afford. If you buy a cheap pair of boots, the chances are that they’ll fall apart or start leaking after a few months, whereas good quality footwear should last you for years.
2. What material?
Walking boots are made from either leather or fabric, and there’s pros and cons for each.
Leather boots are breathable, durable, waterproof, and tough.
Leather boots are usually heavier than fabric ones, and they do need breaking-in. Also, if you want boots for summer, bear in mind that leather can be hot and sweaty in warm weather.
Fabric boots have a more modern look. Fabric is breathable, doesn’t need breaking-in, and is generally a little more comfortable than leather.
However, fabric boots are less water-resistant and they do need reproofing regularly. Generally, fabric boots are best suited to day trips and less strenuous walking.
3. Walking boot construction
Understanding how walking boots are built is essential in helping you to choose the right boot for the activity you plan on doing.
The outsole is the strip of rubber tread (TPR) that runs along the bottom of the boot.
Tread patterns vary depending on the brand of boot and are typically designed to cope with a particular type of terrain. For example, a chunky tread pattern will be best when it’s muddy underfoot, whereas a shallower tread will perform better on a rocky track.
The boots midsole is sandwiched between the insole and the outsole.
The midsole acts as a shock absorber, protecting and cushioning your feet as you walk.
The insole is a thin, padded piece of fabric that’s there to cushion your foot.
Insoles are removable, allowing you to swap an existing insole for a thicker, more cushioned one if you need to.
The upper is the term that describes everything above the midsole on the outside of the boot.
Walking boot uppers can be made from lightweight, synthetic materials or hardwearing leather.
Many walking boots are lined with some kind of waterproof material, such as GORE-TEX. Although that’s great for keeping your feet dry on wet days, a liner can prevent the boots from breathing properly, making your feet sweat on hot days.
Walking boots can take a pounding when you’re out on the trails, so look for a boot that has some form of reinforced protection around the heel and toe and a rubber band that runs around the outer edge of the boot.
4. How to choose the correct walking boots for your activity
Probably the main factor when choosing a pair of walking boots is what kind of activity you want them for.
Lowland walking and hiking
Boots designed for lowland rambling, dog walking, and hiking along easy trails are generally very flexible and don’t need much breaking-in.
If you’re planning on tackling steeper terrain, you need a pair of boots that’s more rigid in construction that will provide much more support to your foot, ankle, and calves.
Hill walking boots are much more rigid, robust, and stronger than standard walking boots to cope with tougher terrain.
5. How to check that new walking boots fit properly
The last thing you want is a pair of boots that pinch or rub your feet when you’re an hour into a day’s hike. So, now you have a clearer idea of what kind of walking boots you want; you need to know how to make sure that they fit properly.
When fitting walking boots, bear in mind that you may be wearing thick socks when you go hiking. So, take your socks with you when you’re trying on boots.
Fit the boot correctly
When you put on the boot, angle it so that your heel sits in the boot’s heel cup.
Before lacing the boot, make sure that the tongue is central. If the tongue falls to one side, it can be pretty uncomfortable, so always ensure that the tongue sits centrally.
Walk up a slope
Walk up a slope, pushing your weight down through your toes. That will lift your heel in the boot. Ideally, your heel should stay put with zero or minimal movement. If your heel slips and slides up and down against the back of the boot, you’ll end up with painful blisters.
Walk up the slope again, this time looking at where the boot creases across your foot. The boot should crease around where your toes join your foot.
If the boot isn’t comfortable and pinches, it could be that the boot is too deep for the shape of your foot, causing the material to ruck up and create a sharp “V.” In that case, you should try a different brand or style of boot.
Walk down a slope
Now walk down a slope. That will push your toes toward the end of the boot. Your toes should not come into contact with the end of the boot if you’ve fastened it properly. If your toes do touch the end of the boot, they will get bruised on long descents. In that case, try a slightly larger size boot.
Wear your boot indoors
When you get your new boots home, wear them around the house for a day. If the boots are still comfortable at the end of the day, that’s great!
However, if you breathe a huge sigh of relief when you take the boots off, or there are any signs of pinching or rubbing, return the boots to the shop, and try a different, size, brand, or style.
BONUS: How to keep your new walking boots in perfect condition
Having gone to the expense and effort of finding a pair of walking boots that fit you well and suit your activity level, you need to look after them properly. Caring for your boots doesn’t take much effort and means that your investment will last longer and stay comfortable.
- When you get home, clean your boots thoroughly to get rid of all debris and mud.
- Leave your boots to air dry well away from heaters or radiators. If your boots are leather, placing them near a heat source can cause the material to shrink as it dries, which can cause cracking.
- When the boots are dry, apply a nourishing leather dressing to keep the leather supple.
- Reproof canvass boots little and often.
- If your boots are soaking wet, you can stuff them with paper to help absorb the excess moisture. However, don’t overdo the paper, as you could misshape the boots if you overstuff them.
To wrap things up…
A good quality, comfortable pair of walking boots are essential if you are to enjoy getting out and about in the countryside, whether you enjoy lowland dog walking or hardcore hill hiking.
Buy the best quality walking boots that you can afford, make sure that your boots fit correctly, and choose a style that suit the activities that you want to do. Once you’ve found the perfect walking boots, take good care of them, and they should last you for years.
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