Walking Boots are your passport to freedom, so it’s imperative that you get the right footwear to suit the conditions and the type of activity you're looking to do. Our guide takes you through the elements you should consider when buying your next pair of boots.
Decide what the principal activity you want to do in the outdoors is, and then choose a boot designed for that activity. All boots can be categorised into one of the following ways:
B0 – flexible 3-season boots for valley, hill and mountain walking, backpacking, scrambling and via ferrata. They are not recommended for use with crampons or for use on snow in the mountains.
B1 – stiff but flexible 3-4 season boots for use on or off the snow when hillwalking and backpacking in the mountains. They are recommended for use with crampons and for use on snow in the mountains.
B2 – very stiff 4-season boots for use on snow when hillwalking, climbing or mountaineering. They are recommended for use with crampons and for use on snow in the mountains.
B3 – totally stiff and flat-soled ice-climbing boots for serious snow and ice-climbing and mountaineering. They are recommended for use with crampons and for use on snow in the mountains.
B0 boots are not recommended for use with crampons
B1 boots can be used with C1 types of crampons
B2 boots can be used with C1 or C2 crampons
B3 boots can be used with C1, C2 or C3 crampons
You’ll find two sizes– UK and Euro – in many boots these days. We’ve listed them all here (left) so you can work out whether they’ll fit you!
Stiff uppers are better for rocky ground and winter use, and they allow crampon straps to be comfortably fitted. Softer uppers are more comfortable and so are best for valley walking where less support and protection is required than on rocky mountains.
For winter walking, look for grooves that are at least twice as deep as the thickness of a pound coin. Lug depths less than this are ideal for hill and valley walking. But if the lugs are less than the depth of a single coin, they won’t give much grip in mud or on grass and they’ll also wear down quickly on harder surfaces. The heel breast (the cutaway section between forefoot and heel) should be three times the thickness of a pound coin for hillwalking above or below the snowline. Boots with shallower heel breasts are best kept to good paths at valley level.
Press the toe box with your thumb and then pinch it on the sides. If it flexes easily, the boot is best restricted to good paths in the valley, while a stiffer toe box is better for rocky mountains and winter use.
Grab the boot by the toe and heel, and bend the heel towards the toe. Then twist the toe while holding the heel steady. The harder it is to bend the boot, the better suited it is to snow and rocky ground, and crampon use. The softer the flex, the better the boot is suited to use on good paths in the valley. A 3-4 season boot is stiffer than a 3-season boot but not as stiff as a 4-season boot.
Support Choose boots with minimal underfoot support for walking on good valley paths, but go for those with a stiffer sole and plenty of support underfoot for use on rocky mountain terrain.
Cushioning With the boots on, stamp your feet on the ground to get an idea of how well they can cushion impact. More cushioning is best for walking, but climbers may prefer less cushioning to allow a greater ‘feel’ for what they are standing on.
Pinch the heel cup between the fingers. If it is soft and flexible it won’t offer much support, so such boots are best restricted to valley path use, while boots with stiffer heel cups are better for rocky mountain walks and winter use where maximum support is useful.
Stitching will come apart over time, so a boot with minimal stitching will be most durable. But double stitching improves the durability considerably and adds extra security to the seams. Stiff uppers made of thick leather will be more durable than those made of synthetic materials. To improve durability, look for a rubber rand around the sides, toes and heels. The most durable boots are best for rocky mountain use and winter use, while less durable designs are best kept to valley paths.
If the upper is made of one piece of leather, or is relatively stitch-free, the boot will be as waterproof as most people will require – particularly if it is made of thick leather. Boots that are covered in stitching or those made with synthetic materials will leak more easily and are more prone to wear, while a waterproof lining such asGore-Tex will make the boot waterproof.