Which walking boots are right for you?
Looking after your feet as a walker is one of the most important things you can do. Choosing walking boots can often be confusing, but choosing the right pair of boots can mean the difference between a comfortable day walking or a painful and in some cases, dangerous walk.
Unlike buying normal shoes where aesthetics are often a major factor, walking boots need to be chosen for purpose. It's important to consider a range of aspects like: what terrain will you be taking on? when will you be walking? are the boots right for your foot shape?
In this guide we will take you through the basics of walking boots, and give you things to consider when choosing your next pair.
Do you sometimes find yourself bewildered by jargon when shopping for boots? Knowing the components of a walking boot can often help with knowing exactly what type of boot you need for the activity you will be taking part in.
The outsole is probably the thing everyone looks at when buying new walking boots. This is the strip of rubber or TPR along the bottom of the boot which features the tread. Tread patterns will vary depending on brand and boot, but all serve a purpose for a certain type of terrain. Chunkier patterns are better in mud, while shallow tread is better suited for a rockier path.
When it comes to the outsole, the most popular and best known brand is 'Vibram'. A Vibram sole has long been a sign of quality, but that isn't to say standard soles won't be suited to your activity.
The midsole as the name suggests, fits between the insole and the outsole. The job of a midsole is to act as a shock absorber, helping to cushion and protect your feet as you walk.
The upper is everything on the outside of the boot above the midsole. Uppers are often made from different materials such as sturdy and hard wearing leather, or synthetic fabrics which make for lightweight boots.
Some boots will feature a waterproof liner such as GORE-TEX, whilst this makes the boot waterproof and therefore ideal for wet weather walks, it can compromise breathability. For hot weather walking, it's advised that you choose a boot with no liner to help your feet breathe.
The activity you have planned is one of the main factors of consideration when choosing walking boots.
Lowland rambling can be anything from dog walking, to a trip to a national park - anywhere without particularly steep climbs. Lowland walking boots are flexible and often comfortable out of the box.
The flex of this type of boot can be seen in the images below.
When it comes to tackling hills and steep slopes, your boot needs to be much more rigid. This offers your foot, ankle and even calves more support. A hill walking boot will often be much tougher and stronger than a standard rambling boot, as they are built to take on tougher terrain.
In the images below you'll notice hill walking boots are a lot more rigid and don't flex as much.
More information can be found on this subject in our 'How to choose walking boots' video below, hosted by GO Outdoors founder John Graham
In all GO Outdoors stores we offer a full boot fitting service, with footwear experts on hand and ramps to to mimic walking on a slope, so that you can be sure to find a pair of boots that are right for your feet. However not everyone can get to one of our stores, and if you're looking to find the right fit by yourself, then we have a few tips for you to try out:
- Remove the insole and check it against your foot
Remove the boot's insole and stand on it. Make sure your heel is at the very back. You’re looking for around a finger width between the end of the insole and your longest toe. We generally recommend buying a boot an extra half size larger than your normal shoe size. This is to keep you comfortable during descents.
- When lacing your boot, ensure the tongue is central
Angle your boot so that your heel rests into the heel cup. When lacing your boots, ensure the tongue is fixed centrally. For many the tongue will want to drift to one side, when you sweat it will train the material to fall this way which can be quite uncomfortable.
- Walk up a slope, exaggerating the movement through your toes
Pushing the weight through your toes on a slope will encourage your heel to lift in your boot. What you are looking for here is, how secure is your heel? You’re looking for minimal or no movement at all. If your heel slides up and down the back of the boot, this will cause rubbing, blisters and discomfort.
- Walk up the slope again, focusing on the boot crease
Try the slope again, focus on where the boot creases. Does it feel normal? Is there a feeling of discomfort? If the boot is uncomfortable it can mean the boot is too deep for the shape of your foot, and the material is gathering in an airpocket and creating a sharp V. If that is the case, it may be best to try another brand/style of boot.
- Walk down the slope, stamping your feet
This will force your toes toward the end of the boot. If you have that finger of space from earlier, your toes shouldn’t touch the end of the boot if the boot fits and you have it secured. If your toes do touch the end, this can lead to discomfort on long descents. It may be worth trying a larger boot.
Looking for more information on boot fitting? Check out our 'How to fit a pair of walking boots' video hosted by GO Outdoors founder John Graham
Much like your waterproofs, your walking boots will last longer if you take care of them. Rapid drying, heater drying, not nourishing the leather of the boots can all lead to a boot cracking and eventually splitting.
Caring for your boots is simple, and here are a few things to remember:
- Clean your boots, thoroughly removing all mud and debris
- Boots need nourishing when they look dry
- Reproof little and often
- Do not dry boots in a hot room or near a heater, this can cause leather and material to shrink and crack
- If stuffing with paper to help dry, try not to overstuff and misshape the boot.