I thought I knew how to tie my own shoe laces. I’m nearly in my fourth decade (shh!) after all. Apparently there’s more to it than meets the eye when it comes to walking boots though, as I discovered when I bought a new pair recently at Cotswold Outdoor.
Perhaps it’s because (I confess) I haven’t actually had a pair of walking boots for a while – relying instead on some sturdy walking trainers for most of the year and my wellies in the depths of winter – that my from-the-toes-up lacing logic failed so miserably.
So what’s the trick? Well, once you’ve laced up the lower part of your boots take a short cut to the top to ‘anchor’ the laces on the top hooks and then lace downwards, tying them across the hooks below. The result? A tightly-laced boot from toe to tip with no outward sagging at the top. Genius.
I had a few things to learn at my boot fitting, a free service on offer in all Cotswold Outdoor stores. Firstly: the size I thought my feet were was strictly speaking irrelevant; my feet were in decent nick; and that good socks really do make a difference.
My boot fitting began with a thorough foot measuring – an experience which simultaneously made me panic about the state of my toe nails and took me nostalgically back to trips to Russell and Bromley with my mum to get new school shoes.
I don’t remember having my feet measured both sitting and standing at Russell and Bromley, or a measuring scale that actually hugged my feet on all sides, but that’s what they do at Cotswold Outdoor to be sure they really know what your shoe size (whatever you think it might be).
Foot inspection done (I was pleased to hear I had healthy feet and that I was at an age where I could resist damage to my feet caused by bad shoes) and it was onto the real grit of the matter. What sort of walking would I be doing?
Having just moved to a village in the Cotswolds, walking for me will involve hills and uneven paths but no truly mountainous conditions. These days I’m likely to go for a two hour walk or head out for an afternoon, but I still like to go on the odd day-long adventure, especially when I get the chance to visit the Cornish coast.
Information in hand, my boot consultant Skot selected the Mesita GTX Boot by Asolo without hesitation on the basis the boots would suit my relatively narrow feet and the regular, lighter hiking I’d want to be doing (while reassuring me I could still tackle Snowdon).
My initial reaction was sceptical to say the least. My last pair of walking boots (bought for my travels through Bolivia and Peru in 2005) were of the traditional, more solid variety which the Mesita GTX Boot certainly isn’t. The boots felt too light, too shell-like. To be honest, too comfortable.
Skot challenged me to put them to the test on a bridge-shaped ramp with different surfaces. Walking up uneven pebbles the boots stood up to the challenging surface and on the downhill slope the foot measuring paid off as my toes didn’t hit the front of the boots.
With a minor sock adjustment – I decided to invest in some Smartwool hiking socks – I was happy. Almost. I couldn’t quite believe that a performance shoe could be so minimalist and asked to try on a more traditional hiking boot for comparison.
Any wavering tendencies vanished as I tried on the alternative boots. They felt like solid blocks of concrete in comparison to my second-skin Asolos which seemed to have momentarily transformed me into a gazelle. In the Asolos my feet had been in charge, in the second pair, at the mercy of the boots.
I should add at this point that I’m not ruling out traditional walking boots altogether. My old pair triumphed on the scree-like slopes of the peaks I negotiated in Bolivia and didn’t once give me blisters, but they were bulky and heavy to carry when packed.
My walking habits have also changed in the last decade – a walking adventure is still just that, but I tend to walk more locally and more regularly for the simple joys of being outside and my overall fitness rather than the challenge of bagging a mountain peak.
If I took anything away from my boot fitting experience at Cotswold Outdoor – they also offer rucksack consultations and can show you how to wear your existing backpack properly – it’s that walking boots are a very personal thing. If the boots fit, wear them, if they don’t there’s a better pair waiting for you.
If you would like any further information on how to care for your boots, we've got some great tips.
Emma Bovill is the Ramblers web editor. Read more about what inspires her, including her previous blog posts.