Up epic hills, down coastal paths, trudging through bogs – we love hiking, but it takes tough gear to withstand an outing into the wild.
Buying a pair of walking shoes can be a minefield of complicated design buzzwords and seriously painful prices – but we can happily inform you that you can most definitely purchase a fantastic, lightweight, durable pair that is worth every penny.
Whether you’re a competitive mountaineer or simply out for a summer stroll, everyone can benefit from our footwear buying guide (courtesy of Charles Clinkard) to help you find shoes that will keep up with you.
There are a number of elements that you should take into account when choosing the perfect walking boot - including terrain, weather conditions and surroundings. Here’s our favourite tried-and-tested advice for getting off the tarmac and into the great outdoors:
The fit of your new walking shoes is the most important step to get right – a good fit is vital for comfort and support. The fit isn’t just about the size of your feet, but also the shape; from the width of your heel to the flexibility of your toes. If you want to ensure your boots will remain comfortable on long hikes, make sure you have enough room to snugly put your finger behind your heel in the boot or shoe before you lace it up, without having to force it. This gives a good indication of length.
The next step is to fasten the shoes. Start at the toes and apply firm, even pressure. Do the laces bulge outwards or did you have to really tug them tight? This could be an indication that the width is not quite right. Stand up and feel how your weight shifts. If your toes reach the end or you feel pinching, try a larger pair. If the boots crease excessively, they may be too large.
If you just fancy a light walk along local forest footpaths, you’re most likely seeking a decent entry-level walking boot that’s pocket friendly too. To get you started, soft and supple synthetic uppers will fit your price point and provide a no-fuss, easy clean option – however if you like to use and abuse your boots, look to more durable leather. Be aware that leather boots are often a lot stiffer than mesh boots, so require more ‘breaking in’.
Waterproofing and Breathability
There are two main reasons your feet could get damp - wet conditions and sweat. As much as we love pulling on our wellingtons, they’re not always the most practical choice – which is where GORE-TEX® comes in. This magic fabric technology will keep feet dry while allowing them to breathe, so even the most active feet are always just the right temperature. Breathability is important to consider when buying walking boots, as often people will believe their boots have leaked when actually they have wet feet as a result of sweating! If the boot is breathable this means that moisture can escape keeping your feet dry.
With walking and hiking boots, it is essential that you give them a breaking in period before you head for the hills – no matter how comfortable they might be when you first try them on. Even the most scenic slice of stunning English countryside won’t be enough to distract you from the pain of blisters, so wear your new shoes whenever you can – start around the house in case you do need to return them, before testing them out on short walks across different terrains and elevations. Remember to always wear the socks you would when hiking the trails.
Walking boots are getting lighter and more minimal – you might be surprised by just how little some pairs weigh when you pick them up! Lightweight shoes help you feel more nimble on your feet; you’re lifting less weight with every step and expending less energy so you can keep going for longer. They can even help to reduce aches and injuries, as a lighter shoe helps to promote a more natural stride. Once you’ve tried a lighter pair, you may find it hard to go back to more traditional, heavier boots.
The outsole is probably the thing everyone looks at when buying new walking boots. Almost all outsoles on walking boots or shoes will be made of rubber or thermoplastic rubber (TPR), with cleats or lugs, called the tread. The pattern of the tread will vary depending on brand and boot, but all serve a purpose for a certain type of terrain. Chunkier patterns are better in mud, while shallow tread is better suited for a rockier path - as a rule, the deeper the lugs the better the traction. For hill walking or mountain climbing the tread should be deep enough to get a good grip in the mud and in wet conditions, but not too deep that they feel unstable on rocks.
Ankle Support & Protection
The most obvious difference between a boot and a shoe is the cut at the ankle – but did you know that you can get mid and high cut boots? When choosing your perfect pair for walking, the amount of support you need at your ankles will depend of the terrain you are traversing. Walking shoes are best suited to flat, well-defined trails – they won’t stop much debris on rockier walks. Mid-cut offer better protection for ankles on shorter walks, and if you’re heading off the beaten track a higher cut will offer maximum safeguarding, but they won’t allow feet the same flexibility as a lower cut boot or shoe. Look for heel and toe bumpers too – these will protect your feet on rocky terrains and help the boots to last longer.
It’s important to consider the time of year you will be wearing your walking boots when choosing the right pair – lightweight, flexible shoes won’t offer the protection feet need in winter, while the weight and stiffness of a chunky leather boot will quickly become tiring and uncomfortable in warm weather. It is possible to buy a pair that will be suitable all year round if you’re just walking for leisure – a solid but light pair that will often be made from a mix of leather and mesh materials, with waterproofing to ensure their versatility.
To choose your next pair of walking boots or walking shoes please visit Charles Clinkard which has a great website and stores across the country.