How To Choose Walking Boots
This is probably the most important purchase you will make out of any of your outdoor gear. Buy the right pair and you'll feel you can walk around the world. Buy the wrong pair, a 2 mile walk stretches out longer than a marathon, and has an impact not just on your feet, but on the rest of your body too.
This guide is split into the following sections, click on a title to jump to that section:
- Trying Boots Out
- Different Boots for Changing Seasons
- Construction Of A Hiking Boot
- Looking After Your Boots
Trying Walking Boots Out
There are a couple of issues you need to think of whilst looking for your boots and shopping with Webtogs
Cost - You could argue with some outdoor gear that you don't always need the highest most fancy piece of gear out there and we would probably agree. When it comes to your feet however, saving money should be secondary compared to how comfortable your feet are. Find the boots that your feet love, that do the job you want them to, and your time outdoors will be one of pleasure rather than pain.
Fit - Take advantage of our ZERO Hassle Returns Policy as the next most crucial point is how your boots fit your feet. At the end of the day, whatever a thousand experts say on any of the boots we have in stock, the person to trust is you. Listen to your feet and trust what they are telling you about how comfortable they are. Walk around in them (indoors please if you might send them back) and try them on at the end of a walk or a day out as your feet will be a little swollen and more of a realistic fit - similar to when you have been out on the hill.
Socks - Don't try them on with your normal day to day socks, get some designed for the job. Proper walking socks will all offer some cushioning and help prevent blisters. Good socks and good boots = smiling toes. You will not get the benefit of your boots if you are wearing them with the nylon football boot socks that have been rotting in your sock drawer since you left school nor the office specials with Bart Simpson on the side. Check out the range by Bridgedale (pictured).
Different Boots for Changing Seasons
You wouldn't take a hacksaw to chop up a carrot nor use a potato peeler to chop down a tree, and the same is true for your walking boots - get the right ones for the job! We'll start by having a look at the ratings boot makers give them. Manufacturers give a guide to boots by labelling them according to seasons, one through four. Lets take a look at what boots are suitable for different terrains according to the seasons guide.
1 Season - Good for straightforward walking where there is not a lot of up and down and you are mostly on the path. They are probably not good at keeping your foot dry in wet weather. Not a massive amount of ankle support and the soles will be pretty flexible. Lightweight fabric material in construction, these will probably be some of the lightest boots available.
2 Season - Stepping up a gear, these will probably have some kind of waterproofing in the uppers, a little better ankle support and a bit more traction. Good for varied terrain , they can still take you off road but you wouldn't want to wander too far off the beaten track. The soles are stiffer than 1 season but still pretty flexible, and the grips will probably be a little deeper. Mostly lightweight materials used, generally fabric.
3 Season - At this stage you have everything you need for a day out in mountains. These will most likely offer a good level of ankle support and as such roaming the hills and mountains away from tracks will not be a problem, being able to cope with some rough terrain. Combined with increased grip from chunkier soles with better lugs and complete waterproofing, you can be confident of a great day out in the hills. At the top end of this range you may be able to start thinking about crampons and some easy winter walking. You can get lightweight fabric boots for three season but they are more likely to be leather uppers. Overkill if all your are doing is valley walking on paths.
4 Season - Full on daddy-o mountain boots, these will be extremely stiff, great for the roughest terrain and capable of having various levels of crampons fitted and the worst that winter can throw at you with some insulation. These are very stiff however so you will find them uncomfortable and too rigid out of winter, will in all likelihood have a leather upper.
Construction Of A Hiking Boot
The seasons are a helpful guide, but there also some other points you might want to consider.
Ankle cut is a key guide to best use of a boot, from shoe to full boot, the cut of the ankle tells you where that piece of footwear is most at home. Remember the more ankle support you have, the better it is for rough and steep terrain. If you are prone to ankle strains and foot problems, it may be as well to get something with a little more protection too. Likewise a full boot will be wasted if all you will be doing is walking on flat paths, go for something that your feet will be a little more comfortable in.
In terms of material there are two main types, Leather & Synthetic;
Synthetic has a wide range, from the stuff trainers are made out of, right the way to the top range of waterproof fabrics like goretex and eVent. Remember that anything bar those last two will offer little or no protection in terms of waterproofing. Generally synthetics are a lot lighter than the leather which is the second material most boots are made from.
Leather in turn splits in to three main types, We firstly have split grain leather, where the leather has been split from the inner part of the hide. Lighter and more breathable than full leather, at the same time it is less rugged and no where near as waterproof as full leathers can be. Next we have nubuck leather which has been sanded on the grain side to give it a more flexible feel. More waterproof than full leathers, it offers a balance between the weight and level of waterproofing offered between split grain and full leathers. Full grain leather does exactly what it says on the tin, it is the strongest and most durable of all the leathers. It will take a battering, but it will also take looking after a lot more, as well as being heavier.
In terms of construction you might also want to think about a few other points. The fewer pieces of material used in boot construction, the less chances you will have of a boot being uncomfortable or more importantly leaking. If you have a one piece leather construction there are fewer seams for water to get in for example in comparison to say a three piece construction. You will also have fewer seams for your foot rub against. It's not so much of an issue now, but you may also wish to consider the welts used. A welt is the way that a sole is joined to the upper. The weaker way is to use adhesives (although these have improved in a major way) and the best is to use stitching to join the two.
The other thing to think about is how sweaty your feet get and how important a waterproofing lining is. Do your feet run hot or cold? If they run hot, it could be that a leather upper combined with a waterproof lining such as eVent or goretex will leave your feet roasting at gas mark 10 and very damp inside. This dampness will then result in blisters. Some walkers prefer a simple leather exterior with no waterproof lining if their feet get hot as a result. If your feet are colder than Siberia however, or if getting wet feet is not an option, a boot with a liner is worth considering.
Lastly, if you are going to be scrambling / climbing, it's always helpful to have a toe bumper around the front of the foot to protect the material when in a heavy scree environment or when getting a toe hold.
Looking After Your Walking Boots
This is perhaps the most underrated aspect of anyone owning a new pair of boots. If you spend a large amount of your money on a new pair of boots, the last thing that you would do when coming back from a day out is to take them off and put them straight in the bin. Unfortunately that is what most people do by not looking after them enough! if you ignore your boots soon they will crack, split, change shape or lose their waterproofing.
The first thing to do before you even hit the trail is to wear those boots in, trust me, your feet will thank you when you get there. Top tips are to wear them to the office or round the house. Wear them in until you feel comfortable with them.
Specifically for leather boots, after each day out, clean them and waterproof them using an oil based waterproofing product. If they are nubuck, use a specific nubuck product. For synthetic boots, silicon is best. Again, clean them and then apply the proofing.
For both of these, pay special attention to the seams as these are your boots weak points - particularly the join between sole and upper.
If your boots are wet, never let them dry out by a fire or hot radiator. You can crack or split leather, change the shape of the boot and even melt the cement holding the sole to the upper. Best to follow age old tradition of shoving newspaper down them and letting them dry slowly and naturally . Only after this should you clean and reproof them. Check out the walking boot care products by Brasher.