Last year my fabulously comfortable walking boots officially reached the point being worn to shreds. We’d done thousands of miles together. It was time for new boots.
Buying new boots has been an interesting process for me over the years. From the first pair of fabric boots (they got very wet, I put them a little too close to the camp fire…), I’ve been through the pair that were a smidge too small (ouch!), a brief foray with a pair that had very high ankle support (yuk), a second fabric pair that fell apart far too quickly, and finally to the deleriously comfortable pair that retired last year after so many miles, simply worn out.
There’s been much boot related learning. My current boots, and the preceding retired pair have been a major success, a pinnacle of instant comfort, value and experience.
So whether you’re thinking of getting some walking boots for the first time, or are facing the imminent replacement of your well-worn uber comfortable boots, here’s a reminder of just how to get boots that quickly feel like home!
More to… Buying Walking Boots You’ll Love
1) Socks first – wear the socks you’ll be walking in. This should be proper walking socks, and maybe liner socks too which help wick moisture away and can give added comfort.
2) Choose your shop – Quality of advice is important when you’re investing in boots. If you can find an outdoor shop where the staff actually go walking a lot and have great product knowledge, that’ll help. Find one with a good range of brands, and see if they’ve got a little downhill slope gizmo in the store for you to test out walking uphill/downhill. Ask around locally for good outdoor shops, or consider travelling a little way to get to one with a good range. My personal favourite place for boot shopping is Ambleside, there are so many great gear shops, so many really skilled retailers. In Surrey, Lansdale is a hidden gem – not exactly a shop but you can buy online if you know what you want, visit them to try stuff on, great prices and they’re incredibly helpful.
3) Expectations – these days you can expect walking boots to be comfortable from the moment you put them on. You don’t have to settle for less so make sure you seek true comfort. The source of hillside blisters is often an, “Oh, those will do….” moment in a gear shop.
4) Leather or Fabric? – Your choice, but in the UK if you want to walk a fair bit my personal recommendation is leather boots. We have lots of green because there’s lots of rain. Leather boots take that in their stride, and last for a long, long, long time. Many people carry a bias against leather boots because of dodgy experiences attempting to “wear in” stiff and uncomfortable boots in the past. Things have moved on, you can expect better. And the weight of leather boots is scarcely noticeable once you’re walking. Fabric boots are lighter though, and good quality ones will be waterproof. I’ve just found that they wear out quicker, and in really soggy weather I’ve stayed drier in my leather boots. As usual – your choice. Whether you choose leather or fabric outer, look out for boots with a Goretex lining – added waterproofing and comfort.
5) Basic features – Make sure the top few lacings on your boots are hooks or D rings, not eyelets that need threading or you’ll go nuts every time you put your boots on. Check the tongue padding which should be thick enough for you not to feel the laces. Check the sole – plenty of good chunky grip. Check the top of the ankle cuff – should be soft and pliable and when you try it on, at a comfortable height for that knobbly ankle bone.
6) Width Fit – This is the important bit. Some brands have quite a narrow fit. Others like Meindl and less-known but fabulous Hanwag have a broader fit, might not suit very petite feet. Try on different types to get a feel for how the width suits you. Walk around the shop, use the downhill slope gizmo in the shop – great to check how the boots feel on a slope. (Downhill slope gizmo is a small ramp in the shop – lets you feel what the boots are like walking up and down a slope.)
7) Length Fit – Once you’ve found a boot that suits your ankle and width of foot, length sizing is easier. Start by trying on a boot that’s your normal shoe size. Take the insole out, stand on it with your heel lined up with the heel-end of the insole, and there should be about a finger width gap (1.5cm) between the end of your toes and the end of the insole. Less than that, you’re going to get numb toes going down hill. More than that, you might slop about in your boots and get blisters. Half a size too big or too small makes loads of difference. When you think you’re there, top tip is to try out next size up and next size down – just to check the one you’ve picked feels best.
8 ) Colour – Hey, who said this had to be all serious? If you find any good boots in radical colours let me know. Otherwise, set your sights on traditional brown, solid black, or a slightly radical charcoal or navy.
9) Final adjustments– bear in mind that the lacing can make the last subtle differences for you. Check the tightness of the main foot area. If the boots feel too tight around the ankle, loosen the lacing there and put a locking lace (half bow) at the joint between ankle and foot to keep your foot secure whilst your ankle has more freedom to move.
10) Ultimately – all the above is just a starting point, the best possible guide is that your feet feel comfortable when you walk around the shop, and walk up and down their slopey gizmo. So if you’re in the store with your walking socks and brand new boots on and your feet are going, “Mmm…alright!” then buy them. Take them home, do some laps of the lounge, the stairs, the bedroom. Sit and watch TV in them, then walk around more. Put them on the next day, do all that again. When you’re really sure, snip that label off and celebrate the start of a long and happy relationship. (For me, this is the point where I go out and find a large muddy puddle to introduce the boots to the real world).
11) Cost How much will boots cost? There’s a good variety on the market. Prices are generally £70 and upwards, and can easily be £120 – £150: but depending on the kind of walking you do, your boots can last you for 10 years or more with a little basic care.
My last pair of boots (Hanwags) did over 2000 miles in the Welsh mountains, Highlands, Himalayas, Andes, Alps, and Surrey countrside. They scrambled, ambled, handled altitude and occasionally yomped if we were close to a pub at the end of the day. Well worth it! And now? They’ve retired from walking, but are still very much in use!
I wish you and your boots every happiness!!
Sarah Maliphant, www.more-to.org
Relax, recharge, walk, talk, get pampered and eat home cooked food in the Welsh mountains near Hay-on-Wye.