Walking boots are a vital item of any backpackers’ equipment. Whether you’re planning a long trip or a weekend break you should always have a pair with you. Even if you’re not planning on hiking or outdoor activities and plan to spend most of your time wandering around a city, walking boots are still a good idea. If you’re walking around cities you’ll be on your feet all day and want something comfortable.
However, walking boots are only as good as their fit. It is important that you try on a few to find the perfect match. A badly fitting boot can cause pain and discomfort, ruining your trip. In extreme cases an ill-fitting boot can even cause permanent injury! There are also a few types, so you need to think about which type you require.
Types Of Walking Boots
There are three main types of walking boot. Which one you require will depend on what activities you plan to partake in. I tend to have a pair of Day Hiking Boots as I feel this sort is a good ‘baby bear’s’ porridge’ type i.e. it’s in the middle for most things.
Hiking shoes are low cut and so don’t offer much ankle support. However, they are lightweight and have flexible midsoles. These shoes are good for short hikes along well defined paths and tracks, carrying very little weight. Although some seasoned hikers may choose these for more rugged trails, or if they have a little weight to carry, as they have already developed strength and support in their leg and ankle muscles and so are not relying on the shoe to provide support.
Why not take a look?
Day Hiking Boot
The day hiking boot has a mid to high cut and so offers some ankle support. They also generally provide better protection and so are heavier than the hiking shoe. They tend to flex easily and so have a short break-in period. These boots are intended for day hikes and moderate loads. They are great for beginner or occasional hikers that need the ankle support as they haven’t developed the strength and support in their ankles and legs. They are also good for those prone to ankle and knee injuries.
Why not take a look?
Backpacking boots are high cut, generally above the ankle and so give the best support. However, they also have stiff midsoles and are heavier than other types of walking footwear. These boots are designed for carrying heavy loads and on multiple day trips over rough terrain, in the deep backcountry. They also have a longer break-in period.
Why not take a look?
Parts Of The Walking Boot
There are several parts of the makeup of a walking boot that you should consider before buying. Think about what you’re more likely to use the boot for as you look at the components.
A boot’s exterior design influences the weight, durability, water resistance and breathability. All important features of the boot that will influence the comfort!
Hiking boots and shoes can be made of several different materials. All of which have benefits and negatives.
Full-Grain Leather – This material is used mostly in backpacking boots and intended for heavy loads, long trips and rough terrain. This material is stiff and durable, resistant to abrasions and waterproof. However, it is not as breathable as other materials, is heavy and requires an extended break-in period.
Split-Grain Leather – This material ‘splits-away’ the rough inner part of the leather from the smooth exterior. Normally the leather is split using nylon or nylon mesh. This creates a lighter, more breathable boot than full grain leather boots. However, they are not as water resistant (though some may come with a waterproof liner) or as durable.
Nubuck Leather – This is simply full-grain leather that has been buffed to look like suede. Like full-grain it has resistance to water and is durable. It is a little flexible, but does require a break-in period.
Synthetics – Synthetic materials include ‘synthetic leather’ polyester and nylon. These materials are much lighter than leather boots, faster drying and require a shorter break-in period. However, they are less durable and show wear and tear much quicker.
There are a few features a boot may boast off. The main features to look for are:
Waterproof Membranes – Most walking footwear that states that it is ‘waterproof’ are made with a breathable and waterproof membrane, such as Gore-Tex, that keep feet dry in wet conditions. However, these membranes are not as breathable as mesh and so can cause feet to sweat in hot conditions.
Insulation – Synthetic insulation may be added for boots designed for mountaineering.
Crampon Compatibility – This feature is only important if you plan to do mountaineering or winter backpacking. If you do plan any hikes that require you to hike through snow and ice, you will need boots to be crampon compatible.
The midsoles determine the boot or shoes stiffness. They help to reduce shock on the feet and provide cushioning. Stiffer boots provide more comfort on longer hikes and rougher terrain as they don’t wrap around everything you step on. There are two main materials used for the midsole:
EVA – This is the lighter, softer material. Varying densities are used for different parts of the foot that require firmer support.
Polyurethane – This material is generally found in boots designed for extended backpacking as it is generally firmer and more durable.
Internal support is obviously important to ensure your feet are supported and comfortable on hikes. There are two main inserts added to walking footwear that can be used in conjunction with each other, or separately:
Plates – These are light, thin, semi-flexible inserts that are positioned between the outsole and and the midsole. They protect your feet from becoming bruise on uneven ground.
Shanks – These are thicker inserts positioned between the outsole and the midsole above any plates that may also be inserted. These can vary in length and add load-bearing stiffness.
All outsoles are made of rubber, sometimes with additives to increase the hardness. Increased hardness can feel slippery, but have increased durability. Two important features of the outsole:
Heel Brake – This is the heel part of the footwear. This helps to reduce slipping on steep descents.
Lug Pattern – These are the bumps on the outsole that help with grip by creating traction. Deeper, thicker lugs give better grip and are generally used in backpacking boots. Widely spaced lugs also create more traction and even shed mud better!
Tips For Buying Walking Boots Or Shoes
Once you have decided on the sort of boot or shoe you want and what features you require, it’s time to go and find your footwear! Give yourself plenty of time to do this, go to several shops and try on a number of boots or shoes until you find the perfect match. Here are some extra things to think about when you are buying:
Get measured And Fitted – Get your feet measured at a specialist store, then you can try the measured size and go from there. Trying a size up or down depending on how the boots feel.
Don’t religiously go for your shoe size though, remember you generally wear thicker socks when hiking. For example, I am a UK size 2 (which is a child’s size foot, for those that don’t know UK sizes), occasionally I may get into a UK size 3 (adult, yay!) but for my walking boots I need a UK size 4.
Have the store assistant help you – they are trained! Ask them questions, make sure the fit is good. There should be a thumb’s width between your longest toe (if you’re like me, this is not necessarily your ‘big’ toe) and the end of the boot.
Try Footwear Later In The Day – Believe it or not, but feet swell during the day. Your feet will have swelled towards the end of the day and after activity, so try boots and shoes when your feet are at their biggest. That way the boots won’t start to feel tight and uncomfortable after a few minutes walking – your feet will have the room to swell.
Have The Correct Socks – Wear (or take with you) socks that are similar in thickness to what you will wear with the boots/shoes. Many outdoor retailers have a box of hiking socks that you can use if you forget yours. However, if you are wearing socks that you are used to, you can assess the feel of the footwear much quicker.
Expect To Spend A Bit Of Money – Walking boots and shoes are one of those items where you tend to ‘get what you pay for’. It is not worth going cheap and having the boots fall apart after two days of hiking, or worse being uncomfortable. Have a budget for your boots, but do expect to pay a decent amount for a decent pair.
Spend Some Time in The Boot – When you try a pair of boots on, spend some time in them, so that you can assess them properly. Take a stroll around, try stairs and inclines if they are available (most good outdoor stores have an incline for trying walking boots). No one will mind you spending time to get a feel for the boots!
If there’s no incline, gently tap the toe of the boot on the floor. Your toes should not hit the front of the boot, either on a downwards incline or when tapping. When walking upwards your feet should not slip back.
When walking around your heel should not lift or slip. You should also be able to put your index finger between your heel and the heel of the shoe.
Walking boots should be snug, but not tight. They should offer support but you should still be able to wriggle your toes.
No one will mind you spending time to get a feel for the boots!
Comfort Is More Important Than Durability – If this is your first pair of walking boots, go for comfort over durability. More durable boots tend to be less comfortable if you’re not used to them! This can cause some people to give up. Once your feet toughen up due to walking more, you can then go for more durable boots.
Buy Way Ahead Of Your Trip – The more break-in time you have, the better. Break-in time allows the boots/shoes to mold to your feet, making them much more comfortable when you’re in them for long periods. The break-in period also allows you to have extra time getting a feel for the boots, if they are still uncomfortable after a some time you can return them as long as you haven’t worn them outside.
There’s a lot to think about when buying walking boots or shoes (especially if it’s your first pair), It’s not just a case of ‘do they look good’? You really have to think about what you need, what they will be used for. Comfort is the key to walking boots! Don’t be afraid to shop around and ask advice for the trained store staff! Take plenty of time when buying your walking boots and make sure they are right for you!