Fabric walking boots are traditionally seen as lighter, nimbler, comfier and cooler than their leather counterparts – in short, they’re nicer to wear in spring and summer. That’s still fine and logical, but most walkers will happily wear fabric boots even in deep midwinter, when by instinct you might normally want to reach for leather. It all depends what type of fabric boot you go for, of course, but some of them are truly year-round investments, as resilient through snow and sludge as over parched soil, mountain rock and sandy beaches. Leather boots will still score highly for firmness, support and (as a general rule) longevity – but when you want something that’ll carry you fleet-footed into new adventures, these are the things to consider when buying the best fabric walking boots consider.
The most important consideration. Every foot is different, so we don’t usually review boots based on how they happened to fit us. We’d also never recommend buying online untried – always try them on to see how they fit in three key areas: the toe, the Achilles tendon and the upper. If it pinches any of these, be cautious.
High-collared boots offer more support, especially if you’re on rock-hopping terrain where an ankle can easily turn. Lower-cut boots (often called ‘mids’) have less support but also weigh less and leave you more free to control your moves, if you’re very sure-footed.
All the boots we tested include a waterproof/breathable membrane. Gore-Tex is still the market leader; you may also find other marques like eVent or OutDry. Or the bootmaker may use their own technology, usually to save weight, reduce cost or improve breathability.
A sturdier toe with toughened rubber bumpers will serve you better on higher, rockier ground. Lighter boots that minimise toe protection work better for lower country footpaths.
A soft, squishy insole is very comfy and perfect for low-level walks, especially if you have podiatric issues. A harder insole works better on rock and is less likely to make your foot overheat.
Fabric boots are generally softer and more flexible than leather, meaning they are adaptable over a range of terrains. But flexibility often means less in the way of protection and support. As a general rule, the higher you climb, the stiffer your boot should be.
Look for a locking eyelet – an extra runner that is usually placed further down the body of the boot than the rest. This helps secure the laces firmly. Just be careful that the eyelets, and the pressure-points where the bow rests, do not sit on top of a tender bone or tendon.
A flatter outsole allows your foot to roll naturally, generally making for a smoother ride. A more pronounced arch and aggressive heel will bite harder into the ground for firmer traction. The tread pattern affects how the boot grips the terrain: see panel on Lugs over page.
SIX STEPS TO A PERFECT WALKING BOOT FIT
1 GET THINKING
Think about the when, where and how often you’ll be wearing them. Mountains usually demand a stiffer boot; if you’re staying low, look for greater flexibility.
2 GET MEASURED
All feet are different, and so are the lasts (foot shapes) used by boot makers. By measuring length, width and volume, a fitter can show you the boots which best match your feet.
3 GET FITTED
If the size is right but there’s too much volume, you can improve the fit using volume reducers, heel lifts and podiatric insoles. Thicker socks can help fill out any excess space too.
4 GET TOUGH
Don’t pussyfoot around when trying on boots. Walk naturally, just as you would on a rough path. See how they feel on a gradient, feeling for toe-pinching and heel-rubbing niggles.
5 GET LACED
Laces should be taut enough to hold your foot firmly inside the boot, but you can ease pressure by locking off tension with a surgeon’s knot (watch a demo video atwww.animated knots.com)
6 GET READY
Most fabric boots are good to go from the box, but by breaking them in slowly (around the house, for instance), your boots will stretch and supple up ahead of that first trip out.
TOP TIP: TAKE THE HEAT
Go boot-shopping in the afternoon, when your feet have had time to swell with heat and activity. This means you’ll get a much truer indication of how well a shoe will fit you when you’re walking.
TOP TIP: CLEAN AND PREEN
Aftercare is everything when it comes to fabric boots. After cleaning, an all-over douse with a fabric boot reproofer such as Nikwax Fabric Proof (£4.50, www.nikwax.co.uk) or Fabsil Footwear Proofer (£4.99, www.grangers.co.uk), and a dab with a clean cloth, should see them right for another day.