I feel like I’m walking on air”, I proclaim, as my girlfriend Nic and I tramp up Sale Fell, a dinky 359m Wainwright near our home in Cockermouth. On my feet are a pair of ultra-light, uber-comfy, sneaker-inspired hiking boots. “Well, I feel as if I’ve got anvils strapped to my ankles,” says Nic. On her feet are a pair of super-traditional, extra-sturdy, full-grain leather boots. Five minutes later, however, I tiptoe cautiously around a muddy quagmire and over a rushing beck, while Nic marches straight through the bog and icy stream without a second’s thought. “Are your socks wet?” I ask. “Nope, dry as a bone.”
Our gear tests in this north-west corner of the Lake District highlight the dizzying array of boots available to consumers in 2021. One option is go modern and lightweight. These synthetic, trainer-like boots offer out-of-the-box comfort (no blisters here) and enable you to move fast and nimbly through the mountains. But durability is compromised and the risk of water ingress is higher. Option two is to go for old-school ramblers – strong, reliable, single-piece leather boots. They’ll keep your feet dry no matter what, but could be heavy with an unforgiving fit (beware of blisters). And then there’s the boots that try to strike the perfect balance between weight, comfort and weatherproofing...
It’s a tricky choice for anyone in the market for new footwear. But, whatever you’re looking for, here’s six of the best 3-season boots for your feet, from ultra-light modern pairs to hybrids and traditional leather boots.
Craghoppers Kiwi Trek £150
If you’re looking for a well-priced full-grain leather boot, but don’t want to be weighed down by a pair that’s heavy, clunky and blister-inducingly rigid, then the Craghoppers Kiwi Trek is a decent bet.
At up to £100 cheaper than premium leather boots in this list, the price-tag is attractive, while the lightweight construction – 100-150g lighter per boot compared to other leather options – provides superior out-of-the-box comfort. This is achieved through the use of a full grain, tumbled leather that’s soft and supple, ensuring a closer, comfier fit – but, on the flip side, it’s more prone to scuffs and wear and tear. The lightweight build, however, is preferable for long-distance, multi-day use than the stiff, severe fit you get with heavier leather boots.
A padded collar and tongue further enhance comfort, while the toe and heel counter provide decent rigidity. The Vibram outsole provides good traction, and waterproofing is via Craghoppers’ proprietary AquaDry membrane.
If we’re being fussy
The soft, supple leather won’t offer the same long-term durability as boots made from stronger leather, and the overall quality (it’s not one-piece construction) feels cheaper than others. The lightweight build will provide less stiffness, protection and support than heavier duty pairs too. And there’s no specific women’s fit.
Men’s sizes 4-13 | Women’s sizes n/a | Weight 540g per boot (men’s size 8)
An affordable lightweight, full-grain leather boot – but it’s not as premium as other pairs.
Hoka One One Sky Toa GTX £160
An old-school, compass-wielding rambler would tut condescendingly if he saw you hiking up Great Gable in these. But the Instagram-savvy millennials at Windy Gap would ogle your fresh ‘kicks’ with admiration and a hint of jealousy.
Fusing the technicality of a premium trail running shoe with a touch of urban flair, the cool-looking Sky Toa boots are unbelievably comfortable, exceptionally lightweight and designed for ‘speed hiking’. They feel so featherlight, springy and flexible, you’re almost compelled to move athletically and agilely through the mountains – aided by the rocker geometry that ensures a smooth roll to each step. The cushioning, courtesy of a rubberised foam midsole, is top-notch and the rebound for each new step’s take-off feels fast and dynamic.
The Vibram MegaGrip outsole has multi-directional cleats for grippy traction and the synthetic upper is light, breathable and comfy. Waterproofing comes via a Gore-Tex bootie and construction is 100% vegan.
If we’re being fussy
More like a trainer with a mid-height cut, there is minimal ankle support or structural protection. The synthetic upper is so lightweight it’s difficult to imagine long-term durability won’t be compromised, and the overall look, feel and design won’t float everyone’s boat.
Men’s sizes 7-12 | Women’s sizes 3.5-9.5 | Weight 410g per boot (men’s size 8)
An ultra-light, trainer-like boot with excellent cushioning – but it won’t suit everyone.
Inov-8 Roclite Pro G 400 GTX Women’s £200
Billed as Inov-8’s ‘toughest ever hiking boot’, the Roclite Pro G 400 is a burly upgrade to the best-selling Roclite G 345. It feels stronger and sturdier than its predecessor, with a stiffer heel counter for enhanced stability, a tougher toe cap for added protection, and an EVA midsole plate for extra side-to-side stiffness. The result is a boot that can cope with rocky, rough terrain.
But don’t get the wrong impression – this is far from a heavy, hefty number. As is Inov-8’s modus operandi, the Roclite Pro G 400 is exceptionally lightweight (370g) and extremely comfortable. It offers trainer-like comfort, with soft, flexible ankle support, and is clearly designed for fast and light adventures.
A Gore-Tex membrane provides waterproofing and the upper – a Schoeller ceramic-coated fabric in a honeycomb pattern – is lightweight yet reasonably tough. But this boot’s pièce de résistance is the graphene-infused rubber outsole with 6mm deep studs for excellent traction.
If we’re being fussy
Despite Inov-8’s claims of superb durability, the upper is so lightweight it’s undoubtedly vulnerable to rips and tears, and there is so much flex in the forefoot (near the back end of the toe box, at the base of the lacing system) that creasing and cracking could be an issue.
Men’s sizes 6-14 | Women’s sizes 3-8.5 | Weight 370g per boot (women’s size 6.5)
Ultra-light, with excellent grip – but not as durable or sturdy as some might like.
Meindl Tonale Lady GTX £225
If you neither want ultra-light modern boots nor traditional full leather numbers, the Meindl Tonale strike a neat halfway house. They feel sturdy and robust, with technical features and confidence-giving all-round support, yet light (495g) and comfy enough for regular use without pinch-points or rubbing. It’s the best of both worlds.
Resembling a cross between a technical approach shoe and a hefty mountaineering boot, you get a full wraparound rubber rand for increased durability, a high cut on the ankle for good support and a lacing system that extends down to the toe box for a very precise, snug fit. A Gore-Tex membrane and gusseted tongue help prevent water ingress while underfoot there is EVA foam shock absorption and reliable grip from the Vibram sole.
The main materials are suede leather and mesh uppers, which combine to provide good flex and a soft feel that belies their overall sturdiness.
If we’re being fussy
There’s a fair bit of stitching joining the suede and textile panels, which will reduce long-term durability. The close fit and narrow cut won’t suit all foot shapes, and you might want some more midsole stiffness for scrambling and technical rocky terrain.
Men’s sizes 6-12 | Women’s sizes 3.5-9 | Weight 495g per boot (women’s size 6.5)
A fully-featured boot that strikes a good balance between weight and sturdiness.
Alt-Berg Tethera Lady £230
They don’t make ’em like this anymore – except they do in Yorkshire. Like a throwback to a bygone era of burly leather boots made to last a lifetime, Richmond-based Alt-Berg produces traditionally-styled hiking boots using premium craftsmanship and quality materials. This old-school approach has a loyal fan base and, while the heavy and stiff style won’t appeal to all,
Alt-Berg’s bombproof and highly waterproof boots offer weather-resistance that lightweight pairs just can’t match.
Built from one piece of 2.6mm thick Anfibio leather with minimal stitching, the Alt-Berg Tethera is no exception – it’s extremely durable and weather-resistant. You get a Sympatex waterproof lining, 360° rubber rand, deeply-lugged Vibram outsole and lots of stiffness, which is great for big mountain days over rocky ground. The bellows tongue is excellent, with a very high flood level, and the ankle cuff provides good cushioning. The Tethera is available in five widths for a fine-tuned fit.
If we’re being fussy
These are heavy and cumbersome – and anyone used to lightweight footwear will find them infuriatingly slow and clunky. The stiff and rigid construction means comfort isn’t a strong point and bedding-in will be required if you want to avoid blisters.
Men’s sizes 7.5-14 | Women’s sizes 3-8.5 | Weight 690g per boot (women’s size 6.5, medium width)
An extremely durable and waterproof leather boot – but it’s very heavy and stiff.
La Sportiva Trango Tech Leather GTX £255
Of all the boots on test in this list, the Trango Tech Leather GTX most resembles a proper mountaineering boot, with enough technical ability to tackle scrambles and exposed ridges. The rubber Vibram sole unit provides slip-free traction, with a front climbing zone for edging, and there is good all-round torsional stability and stiffness to the construction.
On foot they feel reassuringly protective and supportive, yet surprisingly comfortable – for long mileage days they didn’t cause blisters or pinch points as you might expect with a sturdier boot. The clean, modern design features a nubuck leather upper – made from a high quality, single piece of leather with minimal stitching – and rubber protection at the heel and toe. The high-ankled cut ensures a high flood level and the soft, stretchy tongue has a sock-like snugness. Waterproofing is via a Gore-Tex Performance Comfort lining, and La Sportiva’s 3D Flex System enables the ankle good freedom of movement.
If we’re being fussy
For some, they might prove a tad too heavy and stiff with an unforgiving fit. Underfoot cushioning and rebound could be better, and the penultimate lace loop, which is made of cord, is fiddly and awkward to use.
Men’s sizes 38-48 | Women’s sizes 36-42 | Weight 650g per boot (men’s size 8)
A fully-featured, durable, leather boot that’s ideal for big mountain days – but a tad heavy.
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