Walking & Hiking Boots Buying Guide
Buying walking boots can be a little confusing, particularly if you don’t really know what you’re looking at. Do you need hiking boots? What should you consider when buying? Which material is best for you?
In this buying guide, we’ll shed some light on what you should bear in mind when choosing pair of new hiking boots so that you can make a more informed choice and buy a pair that’s right for you.
Read on to find out everything about walking and hiking boots as well as what you need to know when buying a new pair…
What are the different parts of a walking boot?
The ‘upper’ is the name given to the top part of the boot and is what gives your foot and ankle support. It’s also the first line of defence against the elements, so needs to be waterproof and breathable. The upper will be made either from leather or a synthetic material.
Some boots may also have a waterproof liner, which is particularly useful in wet weather. However, you will need to check how breathable this layer is, as it may make it harder for moisture to escape.
You can’t really see the midsole, but it’s one of the most important parts of the boot. It sits between the outsole and the rest of the boot and is responsible for the flexibility of the boot, as well as having shock-absorbing properties.
More flexible midsoles are better for light walking and easier routes. However, more rigid midsoles are preferable for more demanding and uneven terrain.
The outsole is the very bottom of the boot, the part in direct contact with the ground. This includes the tread, which varies depending on the type of boot. You’ll need to know what type of walking you intend on doing so you know which type of tread will give you the most grip.
Tip: A deeper tread is better suited to muddy ground, while a shallower tread is advisable on dry or rocky terrain.
Probably the best way to choose the general type of walking boot you need is to do so based on the type of activity you’ll be doing.
For those who enjoy general, light walking, whether that’s walking the dog or just going for rambling the countryside, then more flexible boots will suffice. You may even find that walking shoes are suitable if you’re not planning on doing anything too strenuous or you feel that full ankle support is a little overkill.
Hillwalking & mountaineering
If you’re serious about walking, and you’re going to be going up hills and mountains or over more uneven terrain, then you’re going to need a more substantial boot. You’ll need a more rigid midsole to prevent the boots bending too much, and a tougher upper to help support your feet and ankles.
For climbers who want something a little more sturdy than their regular climbing footwear when walking to and manoeuvring around the crag, it might be wise to invest in a pair of approach shoes. These are somewhere in between walking boots and climbing shoes, so will still provide support but also plenty of flexibility and mobility over slightly more tricky terrain.
How to fit new walking boots
Buying an all-singing, all-dancing pair of walking boots is all well and good, but they’ll be next to useless (and potentially damaging to your body) if they don’t fit you properly. Here are some top tips on how to make sure your new walking boots fit properly.
Check the time of day
Your feet swell slightly as the day goes on, so bear this in mind if you’re trying new boots on. You might even need to take into account the time of year, as your feet will swell more in summer than they will in winter.
Wear suitable socks
It’s very important that you wear your normal walking socks when trying on a pair of new boots. If you don’t then you won’t get a true feel of how well they fit and how they’ll feel when you’re out on the hill.
Leave enough room at the end of the boot
Just like when you used to get new shoes, leave enough room at the end of the boot. This is particularly important with hiking boots because when walking up or downhill, your feet will need room to move depending on the angle of your feet.
A finger’s width is a decent amount of room to leave, and if you’re unsure about how much room there is, take out the insole and check it against your feet.
Lace them up properly
If the boots aren’t properly laced up then you won’t get an accurate feel for how well they fit. Make sure the tongue is central and firmly lace the boots up, using all the eyelets. However, be careful not to lace them too tight or the boots will be uncomfortable.
Take a walk in them
If you really want to know what the boots feel like, then have a walk around in them. If possible, try and walk on different gradients to see how your feet feel in them going uphill and downhill.
If that’s not really possible, then move your feet around in the boots. Push your feet forward to see how much room there is. Then, squat down to ensure your heels don’t rise up too much. Roll your feet slightly from side-to-side to check there is enough support.
One of the most important features of walking and hiking boots is that they’re waterproof, and so all boots should have at least some form of waterproofing.
No boots are 100% waterproof, particularly if you’re wading through water, but many will feature a waterproof membrane to help keep water out. Leather boots are generally more waterproof than synthetic boots, but you’ll need to make sure you treat them regularly with water repellant.
You can also wear gaiters to further reduce the chances of water getting into your boots. These are particularly handy if you know your boots are going to be fully submerged in water or even snow.
Read more: What are gaiters? Gaiters Buying Guide
It’s also important to note that waterproof membranes can severely hamper the breathability of a boot, so try and find a pair that have breathable membranes, such as GORE-TEX. For warm weather, it might even be worth having a pair of boots without a waterproof membrane to aid breathability.
Leather or synthetic walking boots?
We’ve already mentioned that leather walking boots are generally more waterproof (but less breathable) than synthetic boots, but there a few other differences to consider as well.
Leather boots will usually take a little longer to break-in, are often heavier, and can be a little more expensive. However, they are also more durable and supportive, so are probably more suited to intensive hiking. For more casual walks, a lighter synthetic boot should do the trick.
Other walking boot FAQs
Are walking boots or shoes better?
That very much depends on the kind of walking you’re going to be doing. For more strenuous or intensive walking over rougher terrain, we’d recommend using walking boots as they offer more support. However, if you’re doing lighter, more casual walking, then walking shoes are a great choice.
What socks should you wear with walking boots?
To provide added warmth and protection, walking socks are typically thicker than the socks you’d wear every day. They may also feature extra padding on certain areas of the foot that take the brunt of the pressure.
Synthetic fabrics or natural merino wool socks are a good choice as they’re breathable and dry quickly, meaning they won’t get drenched with sweat, and they’re also kinder on your skin than cotton.
Are walking boots good for snow?
Walking boots should be fine for general snowfall, as the grip on the bottom should provide adequate traction. However, for deeper snow, you might need to consider a pair of snow boots, and for very icy conditions you may even need to equip a pair of crampons.
Tip: Remember to treat your boots with waterproofing treatment prior to walking in the snow.
Why do my walking boots cause blisters?
All footwear can cause blisters, and this can make for a miserable time if you’re halfway up a mountain. There could be several reasons why your hiking boots are giving you blisters:
- Your boots don’t fit properly, either from buying the wrong size or from stretching over time
- You’re wearing the wrong kind of socks
- The cushioning in the midsole has worn out
- Your boots aren’t breathable enough, causing your feet to swell and sweat
- You don’t have enough arch support
Read more: How to Avoid Blisters When Hiking