One of the most important investments you can make before heading out to the hills is in a good pair of walking boots. Here’s our guide to finding the best boots for you.
By investing in a good pair of walking boots, you’re also buying yourself many miles of enjoyable walking in the hills. Fitted and chosen well they’ll keep your feet warm and dry, protect you from ankle sprains and diminish the chances of developing blisters or bunions. But where to start? Our buyers guide to walking boots lays out the key things you need to consider for miles of happy hiking.
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How do your walking boots fit?
Good fit is one of the most important factors when choosing a pair of boots, and not just the length but the width too. To check it, put the boot on and your foot flat on the floor and gently push your foot forward in the boot. You should be able to insert your index finger between your boot and Achilles heel. Before buying, lace them up and walk around the shop, flexing the toe to check for comfort. It’s well worth visiting a specialist boot fitter for your first pair.
The level of support you need depends on where you’ll be walking, your personal preference and ankle strength. Generally speaking, rougher ground requires greater support with a higher ankle cuff providing more protective structure. If you plan to walk mainly on easy paths or are very confident in your strength and want more flexibility, you might want to go for a mid-height cuff or approach shoe style. For most, a sturdy pair of boots with ankle support will be the best bet.
The sole of your walking boots
Grip is provided by the depth of the tred, the materials the sole is made from and the blockiness of the heel, which helps braking when walking downhill. Some boots also feature a rubber rand, which wraps around the boot, preventing water ingress, and a rubber toe cap which protects from abrasion. The midsole dictates how stiff the boot will be. For general walking, more flexibility is more comfortable while for scrambling a stiff midsole gives more security and control.
Waterproofing your boots
Some fell runners swear by shoes without a waterproof membrane as water can more easily drain away but for most walkers, a breathable waterproof membrane like Gore-tex will greatly increase walking comfort. This allows sweat to dissipate as well as preventing water ingress. It’s vital to keep your boots clean, otherwise the pores will block up and water won’t be able to escape. Give them a regular scrub and reproof to keep them performing at their best.
Leather or synthetic boots?
The differences between leather and synthetic boots are largely, these days, cosmetic though leather boots are traditionally seen as being more durable and easier to care for. Perhaps as important are the number of seams holding the upper together as each one is a potential weakness for water ingress.
The best boots you can buy today
If you’re looking for a flexible and versatile pair of walking boots that will be comfy on mountain paths as well as supportive in the snow, you want a pair of 3-4 Season Boots. We’ve tested five of the best to see which ones you should invest in.
Men’s size 6-13
Women’s size 4-9
Weight 1722g (size 11)
This is a very well-priced boot for what you get. The upper is nubuck leather with a Gore-Tex waterproof lining, and this is protected by a full rubber rand for more durability. Underfoot you get a Vibram sole unit with deep, well-spaced lugs and a deep heel breast for grip in soft terrain. Sole stiffness is also good, so this makes the boot great for scrambles and edging on snow. The ankle cuff is slightly softer than some other boots, so you get slightly more comfort when walking below the snowline than stiffer boots. So all that for less cash and less weight is pretty impressive.
Men’s 5-14, with five width fittings
Weight 1982g (size 11)
The size range and width fitting options set this boot apart from many, so this is a great option if you are struggling with fit. It’s a classic design using 3mm-thick leather that is virtually stitch-free, so there is little chance of water getting in or abrasion having too much impact. However, you do also get a Sympatex waterproof lining to manage any leaks. The outsole sports an exceptionally deep set of lugs and towering heel breast, making this ideal for getting grip in scree, snow or mud. The sole is well stiffened too, so again it is great on more challenging terrain. To allow easier walking the toe does flex more easily than some. However, there are no women’s versions, but with a good range of size and width options they might fit anyway.
Weight 2040g (size 46)
These boots are designed to fit wider feet better than some other designs. The boot features a very robust Hydrobloc waxed full grain leather upper, which offers plenty of durability and weather protection. You also get a Gore-Tex waterproof lining and a wide rubber rand for even more protection. The outsole is a Vibram unit with very deep and widely-spaced lugs that are great for biting into soft ground. A great mountain walking and backpacking boot for rough terrain and easier snow slopes, but others are slightly better on more technical ground.
Weight 1918g (size 46)
For its 80th anniversary, Scarpa has produced the ninth version of the SL. This latest makeover brings a closer heel hold and a leather lining inside the ankle cuff, as well as a reduction in weight, thanks to a new mono-density outsole for more cushioning underfoot. You still get great stiffness and support for years of durability in this boot. Still no women’s version, though.
Weight 1866g (size 46)
This is lighter than other boots with its support, but you still get plenty of stiffness in the sole to allow it to perform really well when scrambling or edging on snow slopes. The ankle cuff is a little more supportive than others too, so again this is great when tackling slopes or scrambling up rock. The fit is slightly unusual as it is quite broad in the forefoot and very close around the heel and ankle cuff, and then you get a choice of footbeds to refine the volume. This is a lighter 3-4 season boot with a more supportive ankle cuff, though durability of the upper could be a potential drawback for harder users.
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