Updated: May 4, 2020
Hiking boots/shoes are one of the most essential pieces of kit when you are heading to the mountains, choose incorrectly and you could be left struggling to walk and in serious pain. For those who ever borrowed there dads old boots 2 sizes too big for there first hike will know this pain. Boots are very personal and eventually mould themselves to the shape of your foot.
Where to begin?
Choosing the correct boot can leave you with hundreds of questions, so I’ve written this blog to help break down the different types of boots and reasons for buying them. The reality is there is no single boot that will be suitable for every occasion, so my advice is to decide which type of hiking you do most of, or predict you will be doing most of and go from there. Match your boots with your ambitions! But more than anything choose the boots that are most comfortable, regardless of how they look on your feet, 2000ft up a mountain in snow, ice, wind and pain I can guarantee nobody is looking at your feet.
Types of Hiking/walking Boots
Hiking boots can be split into 5 different categories:
Fashion boots: Don’t make the mistake so many people make when looking around the shops, some really nice looking boots (mainly women’s) can be mistaken for a hiking boots, when in reality they are made with no intention of being used on the hill but more for in the towns and cities on cold wintery days.
Light hiking shoes: Looking similar to it's cousin the running shoe, these low-cut shoes are generally light flexible and great for a day hiking in the summer months when the weather permits. Fell runners and ultralight backpackers will generally find good use from this style of shoes.
Hiking boots: Generally this type of footwear is a mid-cut but high-cut is also available, they are intended for day hikes or short 2 day expeditions carrying light loads. They have a mid flex in the sole but lack the ankle support and durability for long distances with a heavy rucksack.
Backpacking boots: Moving a step up from hiking boots in terms of support, these boots are designed to carry a heavy rucksack (or you may be a heavy person) and provide a stiffer soul, great for mountain terrain on multi-day expeditions.
Mountaineering boots: Heavy boots built for heavy loads, ice and glaciers. They have a stiff almost unmovable bend which is great for traversing over mountain ridges. They are crampon compatible and easy recognisable due to the lip on the heal to attach the crampon. If your reading this post to buy your first pair of boots chances are these are not what you’re looking for.
Everything in the middle: sometimes boots don’t clearly fit solidly into any of these categories and can hover between the two. The best advise is to find something that suits you best. For me I spend most of my time in the Lake District doing day hikes so I chose a boot with a fairly flexible soul and high ankle support, waterproof was a must. That being said I also own a pair of mountaineering boots for when the fun snowy/icy weather arrives or spending time in a Scottish winter.
Fitting into Boots
This is by far the most important factor when choosing a boot. A good fitting boot should look at 3 specific variations of your foot:
Length: I always recommend people to get half a size up from what you normally wear. If you haven't had your feet measured in over a year please ask them to measure your feet, your feet grow with age! Your toes should wiggle easily inside the boot. A good time to try on boots are after a good long walk or hike as your feet swell.
Width: Your feet should not slide around inside the footwear; nor should they be compressed from side to side.
Volume: The volume is an essential part of a good fitting boot, this will be the thing that stops the blisters and black toenails. The boot should feel like it’s holding your foot with a big hand.
Trying On Boots
Tip one: Don’t buy online without trying any on. If there is an online deal, try them on in a shop first, get the correct size, then buy online (if you can look the hard working shop assistant in the eye without guilt, knowing you're buying online, you're dead inside). #supportthehighstreet #buylocal
Tip two: Very important tip, make sure the sales assistant isn’t on commission. Sales staff on commission (due to no fault of there own) will sell you anything because they need to make money. It’s important to find a shop that has experience in selling boots to find someone who will fit you properly. I have worked for Gaynors in Ambleside, Lake District for many years and we typically spend up to 45 mins with each customer and only really care about making the sale if the customer had found the right boots.
Tip three: Try on a minimum of 3 potentially suitable pairs of boots, find out if you have a skinny or wide foot. Different brands of boots such as Zamberlan, Asolo, Scarpa, Dolomite tend to fit a slimmer foot. Berghaus, Lowa, Altberg tent to have a wider fitting boot.
Tip four: Bring with you a pair of hiking socks that you find comfortable and will be more than likely wearing with your boots.
Tip five: It’s a myth that your boots will “break in”, if they don’t fit you in the shop, they will only slightly get better.
Tip six: Test your boots, walk up and down the stairs, use a ramp (most boot stores will have a tester ramp), walk facing up the ramp, turn around and walk facing down. Walk on your toes, walk on your heals, stamp your feet, get a real feel for the boot.
It may be difficult to feel if these are the correct boot for you but if you feel any discomfort, pinching or squishing then these boots are not for you (even if they do look like the sexiest pair).
If the boots feel comfortable (and you will know when they do because they will fit you like an old pair). Then make that purchase and carry on testing them inside your house (don’t take them out yet as this may invalidate your chance to return them within 30 days, which most shops offer). Don’t forget even the best fitting boots may cause blisters at first if your not used to wearing that type of footwear, so use them in before embarking on a massive hike!
Don’t feel like you need to buy something just because your in the shop, if you have tried 10 boots and they all don’t fit then try another shop, after all the sales assistant will just be happy someone has spoke to them.
Ok, you have followed all my advice word for word because I’ve been selling and using boots for a long time and you have found the perfect pair. How do you make sure they last as long as possible? Here’s some do’s and don’ts:
- Do wash/wipe the mud off with water them when you return home. (shower head is quick but angers the missus when you don’t rinse the mud away)
- Don’t allow mud to dry on your boots, especially leather this can make them crack.
- Do allow your boots to dry naturally.
- Don’t dry them on the radiator or in front of a fire, this can effect the adhesive that connect the shoe to the sole.
- Do use footwear cleaner to clean your boots occasionally, this helps with breathability and can help them last much longer. I clean my boots with product roughly every 3 months, even if you are not using them dust can build up and block the pores. I use Nikwax because it works great and is environmentally friendly. You just scrub the boots clean, then spray on the Nikwax, wiping away any droplets you see.
- Don't use detergent, bleach, dubbing (regardless of what your grandad says) or anything harsh on your boots, these products can rot the stitching over time. Also just to bear in mind, salt from beaches and some acidic soils can ruin your new boots.
How Long Should Boots Normally Last?
That question is personal to the user. Look after them and they will look after you. I wear my boots 3/4 times a week for guiding groups, camping and hiking, so they take quite a beating, I normally get 12-18 months before I have worn the sole away. I’d expect someone who only hikes occasionally to get around 5-10 years from a pair of decent boots.