THE BIG TEST: WALKING SHOES VS. WALKING BOOTS (2018)

Trail shoes are popular in summer but do they have their limits when heading into the mountains? To find out, Trail headed into the heart of the Lake District with three pairs of trail shoes and three pairs of 3-season boots from across the price ranges.

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THE RUNNERS UP


Hi-Tec Wild-Fire Low i WP £70

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Material Upper suede and synthetic mesh, Dri-Tec waterproof lining

  • Sole M-D Traction sole

  • Men’s 6-13 n Women’s 3-8

  • Weight 1202g (size 11) 

On paper, this lower-priced shoe has all the basic features needed for walking outdoors: a waterproof lining, some reinforcement in the toe box and heel cup, and an external synthetic toe cap and heel cup to protect these areas from abrasion. Underfoot there are some quite aggressive sole lugs, but you don’t get a substantial heel breast for added traction. Once on, this did not provide the closeness of fit of other shoes either. On rocky paths it was noticeable how little stiffness there was in the forefoot of the sole, as jagged rocks easily pressed through, leading to discomfort. So while the cushioning works well on level paths, as soon as the terrain becomes rocky, the drawbacks of this shoe are very noticeable.

Pros

Price, weight, comfort on level paths without rocks, waterproof

Cons

Even level rocky paths caused the sole to flex too much to maintain comfort, lack of heel breast limits grip on muddy slopes, upper is unlikely to be as durable as those with less stitching and less mesh

Buy it if

You want a shoe just for forest tracks or moorland paths rather than anything too rough
and rocky


Keen Targhee II £100

Tester: Anna Humphries

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  • Material Upper suede leather and synthetic mesh, Keen.Dry waterproof lining

  • Sole 4mm deep lugs

  • Men’s 6-16 n Women’s 2.5-8.5

  • Weight 824g (size 7)

A well-established shoe that carries the Keen trademark design of a broad toe box with the sole rubber extending over the toe for more durability. The upper is leather and synthetic mesh, and there’s a waterproof lining to keep feet dry. You also get Cleansport NXT treatment to control odour. This shoe was noticeably wider than others, and they felt a little too wide once I got onto the rockier ground, as the edges tended to roll off smaller holds and my foot moved side to side within the shoe. The foot space was great on level paths though. The outsoles performed well on paths and there was enough stiffness to prevent rocks poking into my foot. Like others, a deep heel breast would give better grip.

Pros

Good lugs for grip, reasonable stiffness to make rocky paths comfortable, good toe protection

Cons

Wider forefoot is a drawback on rockier ground, needs a deeper heel breast for slopes and more stiffness for rocky terrain, upper unlikely to be as durable as those with less stitching and less mesh

Buy it if

You have a wider foot, or are walking on level paths and want better protection against stones


Meindl Meran GTX £214

Tester: Tim Butcher

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  • Material Nubuck leather, Gore-Tex waterproof lining

  • Sole Vibram Meindl Multigrip 3

  • Men’s 6-15 n Women’s 4-8

  • Weight 1642g (size 12) 

On the shelf these look like stunning boots, with a wider fit as standard, a full leather upper, a Gore-Tex lining and a Meindl Multigrip sole. First impressions are of great comfort, with a soft footbed and higher than average ankle cuff which together provide cushioning underfoot and gentle support and protection for the ankle on well-maintained paths and grassy fells. The sole unit was a surprise when we hit rockier ground though, as it flexed and twisted far more than other 3-season boots I’ve come to trust, and the softness meant I felt every rock through the flexible sole. The lugs were not as deep as I’d have liked, so grip was not ideal, especially on rock and scree. The Meran GTX would be ideal for moorland paths, forest tracks and boggier ground where its overall comfort and waterproof lining would excel – but on rockier ground I’d prefer more stiffness and deeper lugs.

Pros

Comfort, soft ankle support, wider fit than standard Meindl boots

Cons

Outsole did not offer the same depth of lugs or stiffness as others

Buy it if

You want a very comfy boot for use on easier paths, moorland and boggy ground


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The Top Three


Anatom Q2 Classic/Q2 Ultralight £140

Tester: Graham Thompson

Is this low-priced leather boot the best alternative to shoes in the mountains – or is it worth paying more?

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  • Material Full grain leather, waterproof tri.aria lining

  • Sole Vibram Grivola

  • Men’s 41-47 (Q2 Classic)

  • Women’s 37-42 (Q2 Ultralight)

  • Weight 1546g (size 46)

It’s good

For the price the Anatom Q2 has become a benchmark product, as it offers most of what hillwalkers need. This prized package includes a relatively stitch-free leather upper, with no mesh, which means durability is great. The toe box is well stiffened, and the ankle cuff provides enough support to protect the foot when stepping through rivers, crossing moorland bogs or rubbing your feet against rocks during scrambles or scree crossings. 

Underfoot there’s a nice deep set of well-spaced lugs, as well as a substantial heel breast, so this sole really does bite into softer ground better than shoes or boots with more shallow lugs. 

Importantly the sole is also well stiffened, so you can securely stand on jagged rocks without the boot flexing too much. But the sole still has enough flex to make walking on easier paths comfortable. 

In terms of fit, these fitted well. Overall it was a relief to get these on in place of the bendier shoes I was wearing.

However

At this price you can’t expect perfection, and some higher-priced boots do offer better performance. While the Q2 fitted me and performed well on rocky scrambles, other boots have a closer and neater fit that allows far more precise placement. 

Some pricier boots also have a more controlled flex from toe to heel, so you get comfort for level paths but with a little more stiffness and support when scrambling. The boot tended to buckle and bend more than is ideal for scrambling, so while scrambles were still possible they would be easier in some pricier boots. The upper seems very durable, but the rands on higher priced boots would be more so.

Verdict

Superb performance for the price when used on a wide range of terrain – but spend more and you’ll get a lighter, more precise feel and fit.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 4/5

  • Comfort 4/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%


Asolo Finder GV £178 

Tester: Anna Humphries

Does the extra precision of fit and increased performance on rock make this the best choice for hillwalkers for an all-round do-anything boot? 

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  • Material Suede leather, Cordura synthetic materials, Gore-Tex waterproof lining

  • Sole Asolo/Vibram Duo Radiant

  • Men’s 6-13.5

  • Women’s 3.5-9

  • Weight 1034g (size 7)

It’s good

Designed as an entry-level model, but one that offers a welcome step forward in performance compared to lower priced products, the Finder GV is built around a suede leather upper with Cordura synthetic materials and a Gore-Tex waterproof lining. This made it a great boot to step straight into as the material slowly loosened to fit my foot shape. 

Underfoot there is a very good sole unit with deep lugs and a substantial heel breast to provide grip. On the foot this felt quite neat and precise, with a solid heel grip and a great feel at the toe that was ideal for scrambling. The sole flexed enough to make walking on easier ground comfortable, but also provided all the support I needed over rockier ground. 

It was also nice to see a boot designed for women without the requisite pink flashes to prove it!

However

The upper is a mix of suede leather and Cordura with minimal stitching, but paying more would get an upper with a bonded rather than stitched construction for no seams, while a one-piece leather upper would be even more durable. Also the rubber rands on higher priced boots would be even more durable. The precision of fit was great, but you can get boots that offer even more precise foot placement when scrambling. 

The sole stiffness was superb, but pricier boots might have stiffer soles that offer an even smoother role for the optimum in toe to heel comfort when walking. These are all minor niggles and only come into play if you are going to be out on the rockier hills regularly as for most hillwalkers it is hard to justify paying more. This is a great boot for sure, but pay more and you could get even more comfort and precision.

Verdict

This all-rounder is ideal for most walkers, but if you can afford to pay more then even better performance can be found.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 88%

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Scarpa Mescalito £160 

Tester: Tim Butcher

Can the best shoes compare to a boot for a wide range of terrain... or should they stick to what they do best?

  • Material Suede leather

  • Sole Vibram Dynamis LBT

  • Men’s 40-47

  • Women’s n/a

  • Weight 1062g (size 47)

It’s good

I can see why this is a popular shoe with outdoor instructors and climbers, as it’s designed for technical approach routes to crags, such as scrambles and rockier paths – and it was certainly comfortable enough to be worn all day. 

The good-looking upper is suede leather, but without a Gore-Tex waterproof lining I had to be careful where I stepped. The fit is neat and precise, with lacing that extends right to the toe keeping my foot secure, and there’s good cushioning underfoot, so my feet remained comfy, even during the long descent at the end of the day. 

Even without huge lugs or a defined heel breast, grip was assured as we descended in the rain down a man-made stone pitched path. But this shoe really stood out from the crowd when scrambling, with great sole stiffness in the forefoot and toe area. I’d certainly choose these, rather than any boot I own, for scrambling up reasonably difficult rock routes. 

However

Although my feet were dry on Great Gable, for sustained walking on wet days in the hills boots with a high ankle cuff and a Gore-Tex lining will keep feet drier and more comfortable for longer. And when crossing steep scree, I needed far more support than a shoe can offer, and I was pleased to have the option of a pair of boots to swap into at such times. 

While the sole was great for scrambling over rock, the shallow lugs and absence of a heel breast would make descending wet grass and boggier paths quite dicey. 

These are great shoes for what they are intended for, but are an expensive luxury for footwear that’s not ideal on all mountain conditions. Boots will always have their place for big mountain days where you’ll meet a wider range of terrain. 

Verdict

 Ideal for scrambling over rock and very comfortable on rocky paths, but for a wider range of terrain other shoes and boots have real benefits.

  • Features 3/5

  • Fit 4/5

  • Comfort 4/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 3/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 72%


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