Walking boots buyer's guide

Boots

Choosing the right pair of walking boots for your journey can make a big different to the success of your trip, but the amount of options available is so extensive that it can sometimes be a bit confusing.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with our partners at Cotswold Outdoor to bring you this expert guide to selecting the perfect walking boots.

Walking location

Where will you be walking?

The type of boot you need will be dependent on the terrain, so before picking a pair, think carefully about the type of ground you are likely to encounter.

If you intend to stick to even and well-marked paths then you can go for something that is very lightweight and has a good amount of flexibility. Walking boots and shoes should always be supportive, but by allowing for flexibility your foot can move naturally which will really help to make them more comfortable, especially when moving long distances over flat ground.  

If however you will be walking over rocky ground, across scree slopes or considering some scrambling, then you really want to have something with a very stiff sole and good ankle support. The stiff sole allows you to stand and balance on small edges with safety and confidence, whilst the ankle support holds everything in place, stabilising the foot and lower leg.

Of course many walks include lots of different types of terrain. But when you are in the shop really give the boots a good flex, ask advice and try on lots of styles. That way you can get a sense for the differences in flexibility and which one works best for you.  

Boot fitting

Get your feet measured

As well as identifying the type of walking you are likely to be doing, the other vital thing is to get your feet accurately measured. This is not just about the length, but is also the overall shape, taking into account things like the width of your heel, the height of your arches, or the flexibility of your toes, to name just a few.

Only when you know all of these things can you combine them to make an accurate judgement about what size you need.  If you have a pair of boots at home which you suspect may not be quite right, then you can find out more by following this handy boot fitting guide.

The importance of correctly fitted footwear cannot be stressed enough. It doesn’t matter how good your boots are; if they don’t fit, they will never work to their fullest potential.

Boot materials

Which material is the best?

Modern walking boots largely fall into two categories: leather and synthetic. But which one is best for you?

As always, the first thing to prioritise is the fit, which means that as long as it is strong enough for the intended terrain, the only boot to choose is the one that fits correctly. However if you do find yourself able to choose between a leather and a synthetic option, then you may consider the following:

Leather boots have a reputation of needing to be ‘broken in’. This may have been true in the past, but modern leather boots should be instantly as comfortable as synthetic options. The only real difference is in weight and care.

Leather boots may be slightly heavier and they may last longer, but this is only true if you care for them correctly. After use they need to be washed, with an occasional reproofing and conditioning.

Synthetic options need care too, but generally speaking they can take more abuse as the materials are less prone to dry out and crack.

The truth is that construction techniques have come a long way in the last decade, so the difference between these two styles is increasingly small.

Waterproofing

Are they waterproof?

The vast majority of modern walking boots will be waterproof; this is because of a sock-like lining built into the boot. GORE-TEX® lined walking boots are by far the best known, but there are many, high quality options now available.

The great thing about boots with a waterproof membrane is that they can be used in many weather conditions, even when it is dry. This is because of something called ‘breathability’. This is when sweat vapour is able to escape and is the reason why you can walk for miles and when you take off your boot, your foot is not dripping wet and covered in blisters.

Despite this, some people choose to have two pairs of boots: a waterproof pair for winter and a summer pair with no membrane, for maximum breathability. 

Socks

Don’t forget socks

Whether you choose to wear one or two pairs, prefer them thick or thin, up to the knees or around the ankles, socks are in many respects the unsung heroes of footwear performance.

Socks should not be an afterthought, but rather a central part of your overall footwear. They need to resist the friction, avoid bunching, not give you blisters, provide padding and above all else wick sweat away from the skin and pass it out to the breathable membrane. There are of course many breathable options available at all good outdoor retailers, but the important thing is to wear a specifically designed walking sock rather than an everyday, leisure or sports sock.