We often get questions along the lines of ‘Which boot should I buy ?’. There’s no really hard and fast rules other than you get what you pay for. Good boots do cost a lot of money but you can avoid paying over the odds for your chosen pair by shopping around for the best price. Without going into an enormous amount of detail, here are some things that you might consider.
The Fit of the Boot: The fit of the boot is the most important factor in considering a purchase. Boots made outside the UK (especially Italy) are often a narrower fit than boots made in the UK. Apparently British people have wide feet so if you try on a non-British boot and it’s a bit of a squeeze try and find a boot made in the UK. Regardless, try on as many boots as you can in the price range you can afford as no two boots will be the same anyway.
The Boot Size: Most people will require a boot that is larger than their normal shoe size. A good rule of thumb is, while wearing a pair of socks that you intend wearing with your boots, put your intended purchase on your foot *without* lacing it up. Now push your foot forward so that your toes touch the toe of the boot. If you can comfortably fit a finger or thumb into the gap between your heel and the heel of the boot then the boot is probably the right size. The toe gap allows you to descend a slope while taking your body weight on the instep of your foot rather than your toes. Move your heel well into the heel cup of the boot and lace it up, making sure that you’re not lacing too tight. Walk around the shop to see if the heel of your foot ‘rises’ within the boot despite being laced up. A significantly rising heel will probably blister on even the smallest walk and the boots are unlikely to ever be comfortable. The rising is caused through a combination of the stiffening of the sole of the boot and too large an instep gap in the boot cavity. The foot flexes away from the stiffened sole into the instep gap causing the heel to rise. If you have already bought a boot that permits too much movement consider fitting it with a padded foot inlay to reduce the amount of space in the boot. Extra socks may also help but the inlays will reduce the amount of vertical space in the boot without affecting the other dimensions. If an inlay uncomfortably restricts the space available in the toe of the boot then consider using heel pads. Some insoles double as a shock absorbing medium.
The Midsole: A midsole is piece of stiffened material, usually nylon, that is incorporated in the sole of the boot. If you intend doing a lot of hill walking then a boot with stiffened midsole will help considerably in stopping your feet from getting tired too quickly. Some boots have significantly stiffened midsoles and these will also permit the use of walking crampons if you are going to go winter walking. If all you are going to do is low level walking then a moderately stiffened midsole will probably prove sufficient as something quite stiff will probably prove uncomfortable.
Leather or Fabric : Fabric was trendy for a while but “most” people have found it to be less hard wearing and reliable than leather. It’s still pretty good for summer walking though. If buying leather, then boots made from a single piece are less prone to leaks but are correspondingly more expensive. Multi-piece boots, usually manufactured from the off-cuts of single piece boots, need a bit more care but are cheaper.
Type of Boot: A 4-season boot is one that is designed for all-year-round use but, in that it is suitable for winter walking, it is likely to be too heavy and warm for comfortable summer walking. A good 3-season boot will cope with non-extreme winter walking and, if stiff enough, will take a walking crampon while still being light enough to be comfortable in all but the hottest weather.
Breathable linings: Many manufacturers these days offer at least one model of boot in their range which incorporates a breathable lining. The most common lining is Goretex but there are others. Theoretically the lining permits the foot to breathe while minimising the likelihood of wet feet. In reality breathable linings offer minimal improvement on the basic design of boots and make the care of the boot more complex. All boot linings are prone to abrasion by the foot and breathable linings are no different. The lining is thus unlikely to remain intact physically for more than a fraction of the potential lifetime of the boot structure. In fabric boots the lining can become clogged with the fine dust that penetrates the nylon shell or even by spray- based boot care products. Also, breathable fabrics work through vapour pressure differential. A water-logged outer shell is likely to have a much higher vapour pressure than the inside of the boot causing water to migrate into the boot eventually. Linings in leather boots are likely to be more effective while they last but a well built and looked after leather boot can offer all of the characteristics offered by breathable liners while at the same time being infinitely more robust. Many feel that it’s a gimmick aimed at parting the unwary purchaser from their readies but if the boot is only intended only for occasional, light use and is unlikely to be used so heavily so as to threaten the physical integrity of the liner then it may be worth the added expense.
Try before you Buy: A good shop will let you try the boots on in the shop and will invariably provide you with some walking socks to use while doing so. They will let you pay for the boots and take them home so that you can wear them around the house for a couple of days. If they turn out to be really uncomfortable then, as long as they have not been taken outside the house or damaged in any way the shop should either allow you to exchange them or give you your money or a credit note back. Don’t take our word for it though, check with the shop before you buy.
Don’t forget Socks: It’s logical to chuck in a short discussion about socks when talking about buying boots. Unfortunately there’s loads of different ones and you can’t really try them on and take them back in the same way you can boots. It’s unlikely that you’ll find your preferred sock the first time you buy. It may take years which is a pain when these days walking socks cost a pretty penny. As a general rule, modern, cushioned walking socks are designed to be worn as a single pair but if a single pair does not afford your feet either the protection or the comfort that you require then consider wearing a pair of thin inners underneath them. You can buy special inners, they’ll be on the same shelf as the outers, but these are expensive and you may just require a thin pair of cotton sports socks. The theory is that the inner and the outer will move relative to each other as you walk. This significantly reduces the risk of abrasive blistering. Beware, however. In hot weather this combination is likely to cause excessive sweating which in itself can lead to blistering. Reputable names in the sock manufacturing arena include Bridgedale. They are not cheap. But you get what you pay for.