A pair of ill fitting boots or boots that aren’t right for the activity you’re doing can ruin your day. We hope to give you that extra bit of knowledge and avoid those blisters.
Manufacturers really like season ratings, but they're not always that helpful - for all year round walking below the snowline, most people will be OK with a 3-season boot. If you occasionally wear crampons, a crampon-compatible 3/4-season boot is a reasonable compromise. If you plan to use crampons a lot, budget for a four-season boot for winter use and a lighter boot for the rest of the time.
There's no such thing as the 'right boot', just the right boot for your foot. Different manufacturers make boots in different shapes and volumes based on what they reckon the average buyer will want.
The shape the maker chooses is called a 'last’ and is actually a wooden or plastic artificial foot, which the boot is designed around. You want the brand who's last is closest in shape and volume to your foot, so shop around and try different brands. The best boot in the world is useless if it doesn't fit you.
Leather or Fabric?
Leather is a great boot material. Modern hides use special tanning processes to give a durable, highly water repellent finish while maintaining toughness and breathability. 'Fabric' boots on the other hand, tend to use a mix of Nylon or Cordura and suede leather with a waterproof liner for added protection. Fabrics tend to be lighter and can be more comfortable at first, but the waterproof liners can be a little warm in hot weather. For all round performance, we think leather has the edge.
Waterproof Breathable Liners
There are lots of boots, fabric and leather that are now available with waterproof and breathable liners like Gore-Tex. They are effective, can be a little warm in summer but with the right socks not a problem. Well-tanned waterproof leather performs extremely well and combined with a high-wicking Cambrelle or similar lining, is a great combination for most walkers.
Most boots are made along the same lines: an upper, designed to encase the foot and protect and support it, a stiffener or shank element which gives the boot lateral stability and rigidity which you need to walk on uneven ground, a mid-sole to provide cushioning and an outsole of rubber which provides grip and protection.
Some of this is visible from the outside, much isn't, and often it's the bits which are invisible that give better brands an advantage. There's a simple three step guide to check the basics :
1. Pinch the heel area of the boot upper between thumb and forefingers. You're looking for a stiff, supportive heel-cup which is essential to stability. If the area feels soft and pliable, your heel is more likely to shift around leading to overall instability.
2. Grasp the forefoot and rear section of the sole and try and twist them in opposite directions. There's should be minimal give. If the sole twists easily, it will give limited support on uneven ground and when using a heavy pack.
3. Try bending the forefoot. You're looking for a flex point that corresponds to where your foot bends. The boots doesn't need to be massively stiff, but it needs to flex where your foot flexes.
Lace hooks might not sound interesting, but a well designed set can make a difference. Free flowing eyelets make it easy to get an even pressure with one tug of the laces. Even better are setups that allow you to lace the ankle and forefoot sections at different tensions, particularly with full winter boots.
Rubber rands and toes bumpers are great for protecting the leather upper, particularly in stoney or scree environments, less useful for lowland walking.
Shop in the afternoon when your feet will have swollen slightly, take your own walking socks along with you and choose a shop with experienced staff and a decent spread of brands.
Explain to shop staff what you're looking for and try a selection of boots for fit. In general terms, you're looking for a comfortable fit with no tight spots. The boot needs to be long enough that your toes don't hit the ends on descents but still prevent your heel from lifting when climbing. If you’re a little unsure about boot length, pull out the footbed and match your heel to the back of the footbed. You should be able to place a finger in front of toe without it being over the end of the footbed.
When you've found a pair that feel about right, wear them around the shop for ten minutes or so and see how they feel - watch out for rubbing, tight spots, heel lift or a forefoot that flexes in the wrong place. If you're happy, buy them and take them home. Next wear them inside for a while. Good shops will happily exchange a boot you're unhappy with as long as it hasn't been worn outside.
If you really can't get a good fit, it's possible to modify leather boots to improve things. A skilled boot fitter can use a rubbing bar to stretch the leather in a localised area and remove a tight spot for example.
Another option is a volume adjuster, a flat foam insole that sits under your foot and effectively makes the boot smaller, this can also sometimes help with heel lift by raising your foot further up the tapered section of the heel.
It's better though, to find a boot that fits well in the first place... If you have a particular foot problem that you’d like to discuss please call in, email or phone and talk to Nick or Richard in our boot department.