Walking boots are arguably the most important consideration when walking or hiking. The right walking boots and walking socks can mean the difference between an enjoyable walk and an uncomfortable, even dangerous one. This guide will help you decide which are the best walking boots for your walk or trek.
There are various factors you should consider when choosing your boots, these include:
Thinking about these factors when purchasing your footwear will help you decide which type of walking boot is best for your chosen activity.
You need to consider whether you’ll be walking in the hills, on uneven ground or on a flat surface, as this will affect the type of walking footwear you buy.
If you’re going to be walking in the hills/mountains or on uneven ground a walking boot is recommended over a shoe. It will be very easy to twist your ankle on uneven ground and a walking boot will provide better ankle support than shoes.
If you are walking on flat, even ground then you may prefer a walking shoe. Walking shoes or trainers can be less obtrusive on the ankle and provide more flexibility in the foot over boots. However, they will not provide the same levels of support and protection that boots can offer.
Virtually all outsoles on walking boots or shoes will be made of rubber or thermoplastic rubber (TPR).
Vibram® is probably the most recognised brand of high performance soles on walking boots. Vibram soles are made from a mix of rubber, carbon and silicone and are stiffer and denser than other types of rubber. Vibram soled boots such as the Men’s Field Waterproof Vibram Boot and the Women’s Excalibur Vibram Waterproof Boot are renowned for providing exceptional grip thanks to the tread patterns designed for enhanced performance.
These are Mountain Warehouse’s high traction soles. Iso Grip 5000 soles have been tested at an international testing facility and are guaranteed to last 5,000 miles without wearing through. Examples of boots with IsoGrip Soles include the Men’s Hurricane IsoGrip Waterproof Boot and the Women’s Hurricane IsoGrip Waterproof Boot.
The upper refers to everything on the outside of the shoe, above the midsole. The upper can be made from a variety of materials but the most common would be leather/suede or fabric, usually mesh. The types of upper material offer different benefits, for more on this see ‘Leather vs Non Leather’ below.
The insole is the inside part of the shoe and will sit underneath the foot, it’s also referred to as the footbed. The insole is often removable and provides supports for your foot, particularly at the arch and toe and extra cushioning.
Insoles are often removable and can be replaced to improve comfort and fit. Take a look at a range of different insoles in our footwear accessories.
The midsole is a layer of material between the inner soles and outsoles. It provides support and is important for shock absorption and, along with the outsole, protects the wearer from sharp objects under foot.
The primary materials used for midsoles are EVA or Phylon (Compressed EVA). EVA, although lightweight and comfortable, loses its shape over time as the air trapped within the foam is squeezed out. Phylon is denser, more durable foam that holds its form better than EVA and gives better levels of cushioning for a greater length of time than a standard EVA midsole.
The purpose of heel and toe bumpers is to protect your toes and heels from knocks, which is particularly important on rocky terrains. Heel and toe bumpers also protect the boot from damage so they last longer.
The tongue should be thick enough to protect the top of the foot from the pressure of the laces. Padded tongue and ankles provide comfort and support as well as providing impact cushioning for tackling tough terrains.
Walking boots can be made with suede, leather or fabric which will normally be mesh. Fabric boots are lighter and more breathable than traditional leather uppers and generally more affordable.
However, leather boots are usually more durable and naturally more water resistant than suede or fabric.
For many, the choice is often down to personal preference but here are some pointers to help you decide between the two.
Leather Walking Boots
|Tougher material so will cope in more abrasive areas||Heavier|
|Fully covered so will protect from elements well||Often more expensive|
|Naturally water repellent||Takes time to wear in|
|Long lasting if cared for properly||Less breathable than non-leather|
|Easy to clean|
Fabric Walking Boots
|Lightweight||Doesn’t give as much protection against the elements|
|Highly Breathable||Not as good in abrasive areas as leather footwear|
|Generally more affordable than leather||Hard to clean|
|Less breaking in required||Need reproofing regularly|
There are generally two types of cut for a walking boot- mid and high. There is no such thing as a low cut walking boot; this would in fact be a walking shoe. Walking shoes are suited to walks on flat, well-defined trails but do not offer any ankle support or as much protection as boots from debris for rockier walks.
Mid cut boots, opposed to shoes, protect your ankles and offer support and are ideal for shorter day walks. Higher cut boots offer more ankle support on rougher terrains but do not allow the same flexibility as a mid-cut boot.
As with sleeping bags, walking boots are often given season ratings. These ratings give the buyer an idea of what sort of conditions the footwear is designed for and what they will not be suitable for. Season ratings should be used as a guide only.
Season one boots are designed for mobility so will be lightweight with flexible soles. They will have little ankle support and usually be made of mesh and lightweight synthetics.
They are most suitable for flat, easy trails in the summer months or general, everyday use.
Not Suitable For:
Multi day hikes or walks carrying anything heavier than a daypack. Nor for rugged terrain where ankle and foot protection are important. Most will not be waterproof so are not suitable for wet and cold weather. The sole is also not stiff enough to be used with crampons.
The best walking boots for more varied terrains, 2 season boots will generally be stiffer than a 1 season boot, have better ankle support and more substantial toe and heel protection. Materials tend to be a little more durable with a mixture of mesh, synthetics and lightweight leather used. They may also be waterproof.
The best walking boots for summer/spring, where the terrain is fairly firm and low level and not particularly steep. As most are waterproof they would be suited to British Summer which may be drizzly.
Not Suitable For:
Multi day hikes or walks carrying heavy loads. Although there is more foot protection than a season 1 boot, they will not be suitable for circumstances where the terrain is very rocky and weather is very cold, wet or snowy. Can’t be worn with crampons.
The most versatile and popular walking boot in the UK. Not as stiff as a 4 season boot but much more solid than 1 or 2 season boots without needing much, or any, breaking in. Generally an EVA or PU midsole will provide comfort and support for longer walks. Made from either full leather or a mix of suede and mesh with the suede being the majority of the upper. However, there are more and more synthetic and mesh 3 season boots on the market.
Suitable for year round use in the UK, including on rocky terrains and steeper paths. Almost always waterproof so very versatile. Can be used up to the snowline and, in some cases, for short periods of time with a flexible crampon when crossing a snowfield (always check with the manufacturer if your boots are crampon compatible).
Not Suitable For:
Not suited for use above the snow line when extended crampon use is necessary and very extreme conditions, where it will be very cold, wet or icy, for example scaling Everest or glacier walks. Boots at the higher end of the 3 season category could need a fair amount of breaking in and if only used on very easy, low level walks could be tiring.
Will often be referred to as Mountain boots. A much more specialised piece of footwear for tougher conditions. The soles will be stiff and the upper will be very durable. Most 4 season boots will be made from leather with thicknesses of 2mm or more to protect the foot. More recently 4 season boots made from very light synthetic materials have been introduced (often referred to as Alpine boots).
4 season boots can be used in more varied condition but the weight and stiffness does limit their use.
Not Suitable For:
Low level, lightweight summer walks due to their weight and stiffness. They will make the foot very tired quickly and potentially be uncomfortable.
It doesn’t matter how appropriate walking boots are, if the fit is bad the boots will not be comfortable. The fit is the most important factor to think about when buying walking boots.
An ill-fitting or incorrectly laced boot is the primary cause of discomfort and blisters. Heel blisters are generally caused by the boot lifting up and down when you walk. The boot should fit snugly around the heel and ankle but you should be able to wiggle your toes. It should also feel tight enough to hold your foot in place but not so tight it’s uncomfortable.
The best time of day to try on boots is the afternoon as your feet will have swollen slightly, so it will be more reflective of how your feet will be on your hike. Always try on both boots as most people will have one foot that is slightly bigger than the other. Wear the socks you plan to wear on your walk as this will give you the best fit for the boots. Try walking up and down stairs, if you will be hill walking, you need to make sure your toes don’t get too squashed on the downhill.
If possible wear your boots indoors for a couple of hours, if they are not comfortable they will not get more comfortable with time and you should try a different pair.
Now you know how to choose the best walking boots, why not use the links below to check out the Mountain Warehouse range.