Probably the most important piece of advice when buying walking boots is to try some on. All the advice in the world is no comparison to going into a shop to try on various types, styles and brands to find a boot that fits YOUR foot.
Every brand has a different shape ‘last’ (like a mould) that they use for making their boots, and most brands will use several different lasts depending on what kind of boot they are making. Finding the one that is most similar to your foot is very important. But be warned, the manufacturer who made those leather walking boots you bought 10 years ago, may not be using the same last, so don’t expect the same brand to still fit.
Trying on walking boots.
When you go to try on boots, its best to go in the afternoon, if possible, as your feet are slightly more swollen and the fit will be more accurate. Always take your walking socks with you to try on with your boots. If you don’t have any, it’s a good idea to invest in some at the same time as your boots. If you have just forgotten them, then many shops will have some for you to borrow (we do!)
Try to walk around the shop as much as possible, check for slipping at the heel, tight spots and rubbing, and check to see if your feet slip to the front of the boot when on a downhill slope (most shops also have a ramp to test this on).
If you mail order your boots, take out the insoles and stand on them. There should be a good thumbs width at the end of the boot, to stop your toes from getting bashed on downhill slopes.
Most companies can’t take boots back once they have been used outdoors, so once you’ve purchased your walking boots, try them on at home as much as possible to ‘break them in’. This should give you a bit more time to make sure they aren’t making your feet sore. Going out for a long walk straight from buying your brand new boots is not recommended, however comfy they may feel in the shop.
What kind of walking boot do you need?
The million dollar question! First you need to think about what you will be doing in your boots. The obvious answer is walking. But where, how long for and carrying what. These things all need to be considered when picking the right boot. One boot is unlikely to cover every type of walk that you may do, so you either need to compromise or decide to have more than one pair of boots, as one pair just won’t suffice.
Take a look below to see which kind of walker you are:
Summer walking (2 Season)
Short walks - occasional use – trails - gentle terrain - easy hills - carrying just a day sack
If this sounds like you then a lightweight boot built for comfort is what you’re after. Look for something well padded with a more flexible sole and breathability for warm conditions. These boots won’t have the same support as more rigid boots or be as durable. For example the Salomon Quest or Meindl Montana
Trekking (3 Season)
Multi-day expeditions or longer walks - carrying a heavy pack - steeper hills - rough terrain - frequent use
These boots will need to be more rigid, and with better support to be able to take the strain of carrying a heavier pack. The boots will tend to be heavier in weight but more durable for the harsher terrain. Look for a good tread and ankle support but still allow the sole to flex. For example Meindl Vakuum or Zamberland Vioz Plus GT
Mountaineering (4 Season)
Scrambling - winter walking – expeditions - via ferrata - rough, rocky and steep terrain
The boots need to be rigid, hard wearing and very supportive. Look for a 4 season boot that will take crampons. These tend to be the heaviest of all the boots and take the most time to ‘break in’. For example Scarpa SL (B1) or Mammut Monolith (B2)
Leather or fabric walking boots
Leather boots provide good durability, excellent support, protection and water resistance. They do tend to be heavier than fabric boots but this does tend to make them more hard-wearing and suited to regular or rough terrain. Leather boots will tend to take a little more breaking in than fabric boots.
Fabric boots are generally softer, lighter and easier on your feet and are well suited to day trips and less rough terrain, as they are not as durable as leather boots. Fabric boots usually come with a waterproof membrane such as Gore-tex which has a 100% waterproof guarantee, however although breathable they do tend to be warmer than leather boots.
For treatments and cleaning please see washing and reproofing.
Insoles and Volume Reducers
There are many different insoles and volume reduces that can be added to boots to make them more suited to your feet and provide greater comfort and support. A volume reducer is basically just another insole, which does exactly what it says- reduces the volume within the boot. Meaning the foot won’t slide around as much. Volume reducers may help if you have slightly wider feet and need to go up a half size or one foot is larger than the other (which is very common).
There are now several different makes of insoles available to provide added support to your feet, knees, hips and back. These moulded insoles help to support the arch of the foot, stopping it from collapsing, have hollowed heel areas to stop the foot slipping around and provide additional cushioning. Some of these foot-beds are also custom mouldable, (by warming in an oven or in the sun) such as the Montrail Enduro In Soles. and Sole™ custom footbeds. These provide an even better fit and greater comfort and support.
There’s no point spending money on a well fitting, comfy pair of boots and then wearing cheap socks underneath. There are many reasons why walking socks are better than supermarket cotton socks, and investing in a decent pair of socks will help to keep your feet happy and pain free. As the technology in socks has advanced, there is now less need for liner socks, and many socks work better on their own.
Socks should provide;
Cushioning and protection
This is especially important around the heel and toe areas. Check for seams that run across the top of the toe as these can irritate and rub on the foot. Also make sure the cuff of the sock is not too tight as restriction of blood flow to the feet is not good!
Most walking socks are made from Merino wool or nylon with a cool max® lining. This will keep the feet warm but still allow them to breath, so your feet won’t become too hot. Most socks come in varying thickness depending on what activity you expect to be doing in them. Usually the thicker the warmer but manufacturers such as X-bionic has produced winter socks that are not as bulky as conventional walking socks.
This is the wicking of moisture away from the skin, to keep your feet dry and reduce rubbing and blistering. It also helps to prevent your feet becoming cold if you take a break, as moisture on your feet will soon cool them and they may become uncomfortable.
Some other features include:
Silver fibres- This prevents bacterial growth and can help with odour control. An excellent idea if you’re on a multi day expedition and don’t want to take multiple pairs of socks.
5 Toe Design- the best way to describe it is a glove for feet. Designed to help align the toes for better posture, gripping and balance. Wicks away moisture from in between the toes and prevents skin on skin friction and blistering, whilst enabling natural movement of the foot from heel to toe.