Everything you wanted to know about walking boots but were waiting for an appropriate moment to ask...
If there's one thing that can really ruin your day, it's a pair of
ill-fitting boots, or simply ones that aren't quite right for what
you're doing. So to help you beat the misery of blisters and spring
lightly from rock to rock, here's our OM Buyer's Guide to walking
boots. Everything you wanted to know about boots but really couldn't
be bothered to ask...
Manufacturers really like season ratings, but they're not always
helpful - for all year round mountain walking below the snowline,
most people will be happy with a 3-season boot. If you occasionally
wear crampons, a crampon-compatible 3/4-season boot is a reasonable
compromise. If you plan to use crampons a lot, budget for a
four-season boot for winter use and a lighter boot for the rest of
Our advice would be to choose the lightest boot you're happy with,
but bear in mind that on rocky ground or with a heavy pack, some
people prefer a stiffer sole unit for added support. Fully-stiffened,
four-season boots though tend to be too inflexible for comfortable
walking and are a short-cut to the blister ward...
no such thing as the 'right boot', just the right boot for your foot.
Different manufacturers make boots in different shapes and volumes
based on what they reckon the typical buyer will want. That means
Italian boots may be narrower than, say, American boots.
The shape the maker chooses is called a 'last and is actually a
wooden or plastic artificial foot, which the boot is designed around.
You want the brand who's last is closest in shape and volume to your
foot, so shop around and try different brands. The best reviewed boot
in the world is useless if it doesn't fit you.
Leather or Fabric
Leather is a great boot material. Modern hides use special tanning
processes to give a durable, highly water repellent finish while
maintaining toughness and breathability. 'Fabric' boots on the other
hand, tend to use a mix of Nylon or Cordura and suede leather with a
wateproof liner for added protection.
Fabrics tend to be lighter and can be more comfortable at first,
but the water-proof liners can be sweaty in hot weather. For all
round performance, leather, we think, has the edge.
More and more boots are lined with a combination of wicking fabric
and foam. High quality foam will give an immediately comfortable feel
and minimise breaking in - not generally an issue with modern boots
anyway - but fit is still crucial, so feeeeeel for those tight spots
and potential rubbing zones.
Waterproof Breathable Liners
Lots of boots both fabric and leather are now available with
waterproof and breahtable liners like Gore-Tex. In some conditions
these work pretty well, but our experience is that in warmer weather,
they simply aren't breathable enough and can lead to very hot,
sweaty, damp feet and eventually blistering.
Well-tanned waterproof leather performs extremely well and
combined with a high-wicking Cambrelle or similar lining, is arguable
a better all round solution for most walkers.
We'll give you some tips on actually buying boots later, but most
boots are made
along the same lines: an upper, designed to encase the foot and
protect and support it, a stiffener or shank element which gives the
boot lateral stability and torsional rigidity which you need to walk
on uneven ground, a mid-sole to provide cushioning and an outsole of
lugged rubber which provides grip and protection.
Some of this is visible from the outside, much isn't, and often
it's the invisble bits which give better brands an advantage. There's
a simple three step guide to checking the basics though:
1. Pinch the heel area of the boot upper between thumb and
forefingers. You're looking for a stiff, supportive heel-cup which is
essential to stability. If the area feels soft and pliable, your heel
is more likely to shift around leading to overall instability.
2. Grasp the forefoot and rear section of the sole and try and
twist them in opposite directions. There's should be minimal give. If
the sole twists easily, it will give limited support on uneven ground
and when using a heavy pack.
3. Try bending the forefoot. You're looking for a flex point that
corresponds to where your foot bends. The boots doesn't need to be
massively stiff, but it needs to flex where your foot flexes.
Get these three right and you're on the way to a good boot.
Bits and Bobs
hooks might not sound interesting, but a well designed set can make a
real difference. We like free-flowing eyelets - look for rounded
contours - that make it easy to get an even pressure with one tug of
the laces. Even better are setups that allow you to lace the ankle
and forefoot sections at different tensions, particularly with full
Rubber rands and toes bumpers are great for protecting the leather
upper, particularly in stoney or scree environments, less useful for
First, put aside a decent amount of time. You don't want to make a
snap decision. Shop in the afternoon when your feet will have swollen
slightly, take your own walking socks along with you and choose a
shop with experienced staff and a decent spread of brands.
Explain to the shop staff what you're looking for and try a
selection of boots for fit. In general terms, you're looking for a
comfortable fit with no tight spots. The boot needs to be long enough
that your toes don't hit the ends on descents but still prevent your
heel from lifting when climbing.
When you've found a pair that feel about right, wear them around
the shop for ten minutes or so and see how they feel - watch out for
rubbing, itght spots, heel lift or a forefoot that flexes in the
wrong place. If you're happy, buy them and take them home. Next wear
them inside for a while. Good shops will happily exchange a boot
you're unahppy with as long as it hasn't been worn outside.
Don't think that just because a boot has been reviewed well in a
magazine, it's right for you. If it doesn't fit, it's next to
If you really can't get a good fit, it's possible to modify
leather boots to improve things. A skilled boot fitter can use a
rubbing bar to stretch the leather in a localised area and remove a
tight spot for example.
Another option is a volume adjuster, a flat foam insole that sits
under your foot and effectively makes the boot smaller, this can also
sometimes help with heel lift by raising your foot further up the
tapered section of the heel.
It's better though, to find a boot that fits well in the first
Want the low down on individual boot models? Check out the