Walking boots are made with a specific environment in mind. Characteristics such as sole stiffness or ankle height will vary dependiing on the terrain and conditions you will be heading into.
If, for example, you intend to stick to well-trodden and predictable paths, you can go for a lightweight boot or shoe with a reasonable amount of flexibility. In less challenging terrain, flexibility is good as it helps your foot move naturally and can aid your comfort on longer journeys.
If, however, you intend to be moving over uneven or very steep ground then you will need a more rigid boot with good ankle support. Stiffer soles will provide a more stable platform to stand on, and a higher cut will support your ankles.
Of course, walking encompasses many different landscapes and the majority of people will be somewhere in the middle of this scale, so err on the side of caution to make sure you’re not caught out.
Are they waterproof?
Most boots are lined with a waterproof membrane, which is really useful for not only weatherproofing your boots but allowing you to cross streams without a problem on your adventures. But, to avoid soggy feet, you don’t just want to keep the wet out; you need to let it out too, otherwise your boots will be full of sweat and condensation.
In other words, you need your boots to breathe. GORE-TEX® walking boots are particularly good at allowing sweat vapour to escape, but many different and effective waterproof membranes are available to suit everyone.
Another thing you can do to keep the wet out is to use a gaiter: a waterproof cuff that goes over the top of your boot and fastens around the lower leg. This helps prevent water running down into your boot as you walk through rain, snow or wet grass. They are also particularly useful when walking over scree or loose gravel, as this type of terrain can flick into your footwear.
Leather or synthetic?
Thanks to advances in materials, the differences between leather and synthetic boots are increasingly small. In the past, it could have been said that leather boots were more durable and easier to care for, whereas synthetic boots were lighter and required less ‘breaking in’. However, today these differences are less pronounced, so the most important part of your decision should be the fit. If they fit correctly then this is the best place to start.
Do they fit?
The right fit is absolutely essential when choosing your walking boots. Boot fitting isn’t just about the size of your feet, though – the shape is also a key consideration, from the width of your heel to the flexibility of your toes. To check the fit of a pair of boots or shoes you have at home, you can follow our boot fitting guide.
With so many variables to consider, we would always recommend a free in-store boot fitting service with our experts. This involves being accurately measured and talking through your needs to find the perfect boots for your adventures.
What’s on the inside
While you’re getting fitted, make sure you check out socks, too. The right socks, with the right padding, insulation, wicking and elaticity, can make a big difference to the feel of your boots.
The Anatomy Of A Boot
Here’s a quick overview of the parts which make up a walking boot.
The Sole Unit
1. The rubber outsole provides grip. Deep lugs dig into the ground, and high-friction rubber compounds help to stop you slipping on smooth rocks.
2. The midsole is buried inside the boot to provide the correct amount of flex. Moulded from various composites, this stiffener needs to be really rigid if you intend to stand on small, rocky edges or scramble, but can be more flexible if it’s just for walking. When picking your boots, bend them with your hands to check the flexibility.
3. A footbed or insole provides you with cushioning so you’re not standing straight directly on the hard midsole. The insole is usually removable and many people who may have issues with their arches, for example, choose to replace it with a more specialised footbed.
Inside The Boot
4. A soft leather or wicking fabric lining provides comfort inside the boot, as well as protecting the membrane from dirt and abrasion.
5. The tongue will usually be attached to the rest of the upper with a bellows, to stop water and debris getting in. When fitting make sure the tongue is correctly aligned, with no pressure points or folds.
6. The cuff or collar wraps around your ankle. The cuff should be soft on the inside, but its overall rigidity is dependent on the style of the boot. Technical boots should have a high, firm cuff, whereas more leisurely styles can be a bit more flexible all round.
7. The toe-box and heel-counter, like the midsole, are buried away. Sitting between the lining and the outer, they provide the shape and structure at the front and back of the boot. The size and shape of these vary between brands and styles, so be sure to try on a few options.
8. The rand is a rubber reinforcement around the edge of the boot to guard against abrasion and protect the stitching between the sole and upper. Not all boots will have this, as it is a characteristic mainly reserved for the stiffer, more technical boots.
9. On a walking boot you’ll find robust hooks, eyelets and locking cleats for the laces, ensuring a secure, customisable fit.