Buying guide: walking boots

There’s no such thing as the best walking boot – just the one that suits you best. But get it wrong and you’ll have mile after mile of misery to deal with. Here’s our guide to finding the ideal model for your hillwalking adventures...

Dirty walking boots with red laces on rock

by Trail magazine |

Perhaps the most important piece of dedicated hill walking gear, the hiking boot has evolved dramatically over the years. Where once a stiff brown leather boot was your only option, now a vast array of choices lies in wait at your specialist footwear retailer.

Of course, with so many options to choose from ensuring you get the right pair for your feet might seem even more of a challenge. It doesn't have to be, though.

Without a doubt the best way to get the right boots for you is to go to a proper boot-fitting retailer whose expertise will have you skipping up the hills in no time. And to help you ask the right questions and give the relevant factors due consideration, reading this guide before you go can only help!

When are you walking?

Most people do the majority of their hillwalking in spring, summer and autumn, which is where the term 3-season boot comes from. They’re generally ideal for the typical conditions associated with each season – so pretty much anything apart from snow and ice. If you’re heading out in winter you should upgrade to a dedicated winter boot, which will be warmer, stiffer, more heavy-duty with the capability of kicking into ice and snow, and are usually crampon compatible too.

Where are you walking?

Do you stick to paths and grassy slopes, or do you prefer scree chutes and rocky ridges? Different boots are built for different terrain, with factors like the strength of the toe box, the level of ankle support, the tread on the outsole, and the materials used on the upper varying wildly depending on the end use.

Leather or synthetic?

This is probably the first big choice facing you when buying a pair of mountain boots. The traditional leather hillwalking boot is still very popular in terms of durability and its levels of protection from the elements, but synthetic materials are catching up fast in terms of performance and the differences are becoming less obvious. Weight and fit, for example, are probably more important factors to consider than the type of material used.

Keen walking boots on a grassy ledge overlooking the Lake District hills

Don’t sacrifice comfort

It’s always tempting to go for the most high-spec options, but remember you’ll be walking a long way, on steep terrain, and carrying heavy loads. So comfort is key. Once you’ve picked the features you want in your boot, focus on finding the most comfortable option you possibly can.

Not all boots are waterproof

Most walking boots tend to be waterproof, but always check before you buy so you don’t get a surprise later down the line. Gore-Tex linings are found in lots of modern boots, while many brands also make their own bespoke waterproof materials. Remember, you don’t just need your feet to stay dry, you also need them to stay cool while you walk, so if you do go for waterproof try to find a membrane that’s as breathable as possible.

Find the right fit

Boot fit isn’t just about the size of your foot; it’s about its shape too. The inside of the boot should be slightly longer than your foot (by around 1cm), because you don’t want your toes bashing against the front while you walk downhill. The upper should also feel snug and comfy, so your feet don’t slide from side to side. The best thing to do is visit a good outdoor gear shop, where you’ll get advice on testing the length, lacing the boots, checking the flex and heel movement, and lots of other important factors.

Get good grip

The grooves on the base of your outsole are known as lugs, with the depth and pattern determining the level of grip you get. The general rule is that the deeper the lugs and the deeper the heel breast (the cutaway bit between the forefoot and feel), the more grip you will get. For winter walking and hiking on loose or rocky terrain, good grip is very important; while for easier trails, you’ll get away with a more shallow outsole tread.

Does your boot pass the flex test?

A good way to test the stiffness of a boot is to hold it at the toe and heel, then try to bend it in the middle. Once you’ve done that, try twisting it too. The harder it is to bend and twist, the more suited it will be to more serious terrain. Another good tactic is to pinch the heel and press the toe to see how protective those parts of the boot are. The more solid they are, the more they’ll withstand bashing your feet on rocks!

Walking boots on sharp rock ridge in the mountains

LFTO's top walking boots:

La Sportiva Trango Tech Men's

Best mountain boots
La Sportiva Trango Tech Men's

View offer

Verdict: "A fully featured, durable leather boot thatu2019s ideal for big mountain days. As far as an all-round hiking boot goes, youu2019ll struggle to find anything better."

Trail magazine Gear of the Year awards

Scarpa Manta Tech GTX - Menu2019s

Editoru2019s Choice
Scarpa Manta Tech GTX - Menu2019s

View offer

Verdict: u201cA robust B2 mountaineering boot with a legion of loyal fans u2013 itu2019s a classic.u201d

Berghaus Supalite II GTX - Menu2019s

Best Value
Berghaus Supalite II GTX - Menu2019s

View offer

Verdict: u201cClassic lightweight hillwalking boot. A leather boot that balances weight, reliability and comfort u2013 but some may find the leather too soft and supple.u201d

Care and cleaning

Read our complete guide to caring for and cleaning your hiking footwear.

Don't forget to subscribe to the Live For The Outdoors newsletter to get expert advice and outdoor inspiration delivered to you inbox!

For the latest reviews - including extra photos and kit that won't appear online - pick up a copy of the current issue of Trail magazine!

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us