Hiking Boots And Walking Boots Guide
1 – Introduction To Walking & Hiking Boots
Hiking boots, walking boots, backpacking boots or mountaineering boots, or whatever you call them, are one of the most important items of hiking equipment. Your decision on hiking boots or walking boots is important because they protect your feet from harm and you will be wearing them throughout your hiking trip.
Your choice of hiking boots could also make your trip into an enjoyable memory or an unpleasant recollection. For this reason, we strongly suggest that you never purchase hiking boots or walking boots that you have not tried on or had fitted properly. It is not worth the risk of pain and discomfort that could result. If you are replacing a pair of hiking boots you have already used or tried on then you could shop on-line and have them delivered.
Finding the right walking or hiking boots, can be a daunting task as it is one of the most important items of hiking gear, especially for the beginner, and particularly if an over enthusiastic salesperson is looking over your shoulder. There are a wide range of walking and hiking boots from a wide range of walking equipment manufacturers and brands.
You usually get what you pay for and you do not need to pay for features that you will not really use. It is best to begin by considering the type of terrain in which you will be walking, your own weight and whether you will be carrying a heavy hiking backpack.
Contents On Boots For Hiking And Walking
With so many to select from how do you know what’s best for you? You can use this guide to help with your selection of hiking boots and walking boots and to aid you when selecting the features that are most suited to your situation:
- 1 – Introduction To Walking & Hiking Boots
- 2 – Boots Classified by Season
- 3 – Functional Features of Boots
- 3.1 – Material
- 3.2 – Ankle Support
- 3.3 – Waterproof
- 3.4 – Breathability
- 3.5 – Underfoot Protection
- 3.6 – Grip
- 3.7 – Stiffness
- 3.8 – Anti-Microbial Treatments
- 3.9 – Lacing
- 4 – Caring For Your Boots
- 4.1 – Why Clean Boots?
- 4.2 – Leather & Suede, Fabric Or Combination Material Boots
- 4.3 – How To Clean Boots
- 4.4 – Two Main Cleaning Product Manufacturers
- 4.5 – Cleaning Boots After Hiking
- 5 – How to Choose The Best Boots For You
- 6 – Some Brands of Boots For Hiking And Walking
- 7 – Summary on Walking & Hiking Boots
2 – Boots Classified by Season
Boots can be classified in different ways but the following season classification can help identify the type of boot you need when shopping:
2.1 – One To Two Season
For low level rambling, walking or hiking in spring and/or summer conditions, on firm low level paths that are not particularly steep. These hiking boots provide relatively more flexibility and often come in a low-cut form.
2.2 – Three Season
For hillwalking and backpacking on paths that are rockier and steeper than those you come across when low level walking. These hiking boots usually have a waterproof liner with a sole and ankle cuff designed to give sufficient good support when carrying a full backpack.
Three season boots can be used for all year round walking and in most weathers except snow and ice. They have an aggressive tread on the sole which gives a good grip in rough terrain.
2.3 – Four Season
For winter walking in snow and ice. These hiking boots are stiffer, both longitudinally and laterally, compared to 3 season walking boots and can accommodate crampons for short periods of time. The support provided is sufficient for use when carrying a heavier pack on longer backpacking trips. Although they may be a bit heavy on your feet they are comfortable enough for year round use. If you walk over rough or rocky terrain you may be better off with these than many lighter hiking boots, which do not last as long. They are expensive but should serve you all the year and you should only have to buy one pair.
2.4 – Mountaineering
Mountaineering boots are highly technical in their design. They are used in the high mountains where snow and ice exist all the year round, on glaciers or when climbing. They are usually taller and stiffer than hiking boots to help support climbers in steep terrain where flexible boots may result in unsure footing and possibly cause a fall. They are also insulated to protect from extreme cold conditions.
Mountaineering boots may be constructed from leather, plastic, or a modern synthetic material like Kevlar. The additional stiffness may be achieved by using a full steel shank or the use carbon fibres. Mountaineering boots are also usually designed to be used with crampons.
3 – Functional Features of Boots
Men’s hiking boots tend to be larger and broader than women’s. However, if you are a man with small and narrow feet, please do not feel that you cannot go out and buy women’s hiking boots, and vice versa. Nobody will be able to tell the difference, unless of course the colour does not suit you. On the functional side, the factors to consider are:
3.1 – Material
Boots can be found in two general types of construction:
- All Leather – A boot construction of all leather provides extra protection and also greater durability, especially in rugged terrain, at the same time as being breathable and resistant to water.
- Fabric & Leather Mix – A combination of fabric with leather boot construction generally gives a lighter boot which is more flexible and more easy to break in.
3.2 – Ankle Support
They come in two types of ankle support: high cut which gives better support; and the more comfortable but less supportive low cut variety.
3.3 – Waterproof
Do they prevent water ingress in rain and snow, and on muddy or wet tracks? Also, do you need them to be waterproof, for example, if on a short dessert trip?
3.4 – Breathability
Are they breathable to prevent your feet from feeling hot and sweaty, and also to reduce moisture build up inside them which can cause rubbing and blisters?
3.5 – Underfoot Protection
Do they offer underfoot protection to prevent bruising your feet when you step on rocks and other jagged things. A thicker sole will generally provide better protection.
3.6 – Grip
For any boot you need to have the maximum amount of grip. Many modern soles are also designed with anti-clog tread, so they shed snow and mud more easily. If you want to stay upright on snow and all the thick mud that collects in the valleys during winter, you’ll need a boot with a deep tread. A softer sole will give better grip on rocks but will wear out faster.
3.7 – Stiffness
A winter boot needs to be stiff to enable the wearer to kick steps in snow, traverse frozen slopes and wear crampons. A stiff sole is therefore very important and can be tested by grabbing the boot by the toe and heel with your hands and having a go at bending and twisting it. The greater difficult you have in bending it the more suitable it is for winter. A stiff upper is also needed to withstand winter and is ideally made from leather. It gives improved support, protection and will also keep your feet dry for longer.
3.8 – Anti-Microbial Treatments
Are treatments incorporated that prevent the build up of unpleasant odours?
3.9 – Lacing
Lacing should be easy an easy task to perform, even when your hands are freezing cold.
Look for hooks and D rings to make lacing up easier.
Locking hooks can be useful as they hold the laces tight on the lower part of the boot whilst you adjust the upper section of the boot.
4 – Caring For Your Boots
4.1 – Why Clean Boots?
Each time you flex your boots, bits of either grit, sand or dirt can get into the fabric or leather upper of the boots and grate in a similar way to using sandpaper. Also, moisture can be sucked away from the leather as it dries by mud which can result in the leather being less flexible and hasten aging.
Ideally, you should clean your hiking boots after each hike. This may not be practical in all circumstances but you should endeavour to clean them as often as possible.
4.2 – Leather & Suede, Fabric Or Combination Material Boots
These days, in addition to traditional leather or suede, you can obtain hiking boots made from different types of synthetic fabrics with waterproof protection (e.g. Gore-tex) which also provide high levels of breathability (i.e. let water vapour or sweat escape) and therefore enhance foot comfort significantly.
Synthetic fabrics generally breathe better than leather, but are generally less durable, and offer less support and protection.
You can also get boots made from a combination of materials, for example, suede with synthetic.
You may wish to consider the general cleaning methods for leather and fabric walking boots before deciding between which type of boots to buy:
- When leather or suede boots get muddy, the uppers are generally easier to clean. When leather walking boots get soaked they should be left to dry naturally, not in front of a heater as cracking may occur and your walking boots will be ruined. Then when they are dry, treat them with a boot conditioner, not ordinary polish, or a waterproofing treatment.
- With fabric walking boots, just clean off any mud and leave to dry naturally, and occasionally treat them using a water-repellent spray. Waterproofing membrane-lined fabric walking boots will help prevent the material from being waterlogged and extend the life of the walking boots. However, note that when fabric or combination material boots get muddy, removing the mud from the fabric can be more difficult than with leather boots.
4.3 – How To Clean Boots
When you purchase a new pair of hiking boots, keep the care instructions that come with them so that you can always refer to, and follow, the care advice of the boots manufacturer. Virtually all new boots are waterproof treated in the factory with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish, so they shouldn’t require treatment straight out of the box. After you have used your boots the basic tools needed to clean a pair of hiking boots are:
The general guidelines for cleaning boots are:
- Dry Naturally – Let the boots dry naturally at room temperature. Do not expose the them to extreme heat source such as a fire or direct sunlight as this can cause the boots to crack.
- Remove Insoles – Before you start the cleaning process, remove the insoles to allow the insole and the inside of the boot to breath and dry more easily. Some insoles may be machine washable but check the manufacturer care instructions before washing them.
- Waterproofing – When water no longer beads on the uppers of your boots, apply a waterproofing treatment to restore the water resistance of the boots.
- Remove Laces – If you are going to apply a treatment to your boots, remove the laces so that you can access the areas under the laces.
4.4 – Two Main Cleaning Product Manufacturers
Please clean your hiking boots regularly as this optimizes the performance of the boots. The two main manufacturers for cleaning, conditioning and waterproofing products are:
- Nikwax – Nikwax products include: Footwear Cleaning Gel; Leather Cleaner; Nubuck & Suede Proof; Fabric & Leather Proof; Conditioner For Leather; and Waterproofing WaxFor Leather. They even sell duo packs: Footwear DuoPack Fabric & Leather; and Footwear DuoPack Nubuck & Suede.
- Grangers – Granger products include: G-Max Footwear Cleaner; Dirty Scrubber; G-Max Leather Conditioner; G-Max Universal Waterproofer (sponge or spray applicator); Footwear Proofer; G-Wax; and Paste wax.
Both product ranges are excellent. Take a look at both ranges and select the products to suit your needs in terms of boot materials and method of application.
4.5 – Cleaning Boots After Hiking
If you don’t clean your hiking boots straight after a hike because you are just too tired, then make sure you clean then the next day. How you clean your boots will depend on how dirty they are; where you are and what cleaning facilities you have available.
If you are on a multi-day hike then you may just be concerned with removing major debris from your boots and making sure they are dry for the next day. If you are at home and between hiking trips you make perform a thorough clean and treatment your boots. Use the following tips as the basis of your cleaning process:
- Prepare Boots – Remove insoles and let them air-dry naturally, separately from the boots. Remove laces, let them air-dry naturally, separately from the boots and remove any dried on dirt.
- Remove Loose Debris – Turn your boots upside down in an appropriate area and knock them together by the edge of the treads to loosen any dirt, seeds, and other debris that has collected on the outside and inside.
- Clean Dry Dust & Dirt – If the boots only have a little dust and dry loose dirt on them, a simple brush-off may be sufficient. Gently brush away the dust and dry loose dirt from the uppers and the outer sole using a toothbrush, vegetable brush or special boot brush.
- Clean Caked Tread & Outer Sole – Using either a stick, knife or other sharp instrument like a screwdriver:
- Scrape off any caked on mud from the edges of the outer soles.
- Dig out any caked on mud or other stubborn debris from the lugs of the tread of the boots, one at a time.
If necessary, soak the tread and edge of the outer soles in a shallow container of water for a number of hours before bushing the mud away with a brush and swilling with water.
- Wet Clean Uppers – If a simple dry brush-off is insufficient to clean the uppers of the boots then brush away the dirt with the aid of water, before rinsing and wiping dry.
- Dry Overnight – Let wet boots dry naturally at room temperature overnight, or longer if possible. For more speedy drying:
- If possible turn boots upside-down.
- Place the boots in the way of a fan within a normal, room-temperature environment.
- Treat Clean Boots – Clean your boots with a cleaning treatment prior to waterproofing or conditioning them. After removing all major debris from the boots, use water with a special boot cleaner or saddle soap. If you don’t have either of these, a mild dish-washing soap may be used. Do not use a bar soap or detergents to clean your boots as they usually have surfactants in them that attract water. In addition, detergents can contain fabric brighteners which might leave residues of the boots.
- Conditioning And Waterproofing – Condition and waterproofing your boots helps to keep your boots healthy and thus maintain their performance:
- Conditioner – Leather boots will remain healthier for longer when moisturized. Use a conditioner to help prevent your leather boots from drying out or cracking. Use a conditioner carefully as too much conditioner can cause your boots to become too soft and hence reduce the support they provide on rough terrain.
- Waterproofing – Waterproof your boots when they need it. When water no longer beads up or quickly rolls off the surface of your boots, it is time to waterproof them. How often you waterproof your boots will depend of the type of hiking you do and how often you hike. If you are a serious hiking and do a lot of hiking in wet weather then you will probably waterproof your boots several times a year. You may even waterproof your boots before every hiking trip.
5 – How to Choose The Best Boots For You
5.1 – Terrain
If you want to walk comfortably and safely in a variety of terrains, moorland, hills and mountains, you would need to protect your feet in purpose designed hiking boots for each terrain. In an ideal world, you would have a different pair of hiking boots to suit each terrain and the conditions encountered all year round. However, this would be too expensive for most people and you need to choose a pair that will have to perform in a range of circumstances. A compromise would therefore have to be made between the features associated with winter and high level walking boots such as crampon compatibility, ankle support, shock absorption, warmth and waterproofing; and those associated with summer and low level walking such as flexibility, lighter weight, breathability.
5.2 – Fit & Comfort
Once you know the type of terrain you intend to traverse and therefore the grade of boot you need, fit and comfort should be the most important factors you consider. Although we know the choices people make will be influenced by cost and looks, a comfortable fit is more essential. Try not to make your choice based on how they look or your usual shoe size but be guided by how they feel. Also, buy the best you can afford but that does not mean that a less expensive pair cannot provide you with the fit and comfort you need.
5.3 – Fitting Tips
When trying on hiking boots or walking boots, always wear the socks you intend to use on your trip and make sure your feet do not slide inside them. Boots should be sufficiently wide so as not to feel too tight, particularly across the base of the toes. Don’t think that they’ll stretch to fit you over time as you’ll have blisters before that happens. Lace them properly and take a walk to check that your feet are held firmly without binding or pinching. Also ensure there is no foot movement and no heel lift. If possible, step on a downward incline to ensure the feet do not push forward and bump into the front of the boot and that the heels do not move from side to side.
5.4 – Large Is Better
It is better to have hiking boots or walking boots that are a half-size larger so that there is extra space past your longest toe. Also, if you have one foot a little bigger than the other, fit to your larger foot. Your hiking boots will probably need to a be size or two bigger than your normal everyday footwear to be able to accommodate your walking socks and because when you are walking for an long time feet tend to swell and need extra room.
5.5 – Fit After Walking
An additional tip for fitting hiking boots is to try on the boots later in the day when you have done some walking around and your feet have expanded to their largest size.
6 – Some Brands of Boots For Hiking And Walking
Some popular and famous boot brands are Columbia, Hi-Tec, Merrell, Scarpa and Timberland. Other manufacturing brands of hiking boots to note are: Berghaus, Brasher, Gelert, Hanwag, Helly Hansen, Karrimor, Lowa, Meindl, Montrail, Mammut, Patagonia, Rohan, Salomon, The North Face, Trespass, Vasque, Vaude and Zamberlan. Most of the companies supplying hiking boots will have a variety from which you can choose.
If you know of a brand that I should have included in the above list then contact me. If you do some research you will be able to find a brand that provides the features you need within your budget. You could try searching for hiking boots on Google or another search engine or start by searching our hiking brands post to find out more about the various brands of hiking boots. Or how about taking a look at our list of hiking boots brands in our post entitled Best Hiking Boots Brands.
7 – Summary on Walking & Hiking Boots
Selecting the right hiking or walking boots, like other types of walking gear, can be a tricky task.
Decide on the type of hiking or walking you will be doing before buying your hiking or walking boots.
Take your socks with you and talk to the staff when you are trying on the hiking or walking boots.
The information contained within this article, although detailed, is not a comprehensive or definitive guide but it could help you to spot any sales banter and nonsense.
We hope this article assists you in choosing hiking and walking boots that are right for you and which enable you to have comfortable, safe and hence enjoyable hiking holidays and hiking trips in the great outdoors.