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I can cope with a lot of hardship when I’m out hiking. Rain, wading through bogs, lack of handy benches when I’m huffing and puffing up a steep hill and need to, ahem, stop and appreciate the views. I can even cope when my flask of hot tea runs dry. Though only if there’s a handy café nearby for a pitstop.
There’s one thing that I can’t put up with though and that’s hiking boots that aren’t right.
Over the years I’ve walked a lot of miles in a lot of different pairs of hiking boots. I’ve put up with boots that leaked and gave me soggy socks. Boots that were uncomfortable and gave me painful blisters. And boots that were ridiculously over-specced for what I needed (TIP: Only buy ‘Mont Blanc Pro Mountaineering Boots’ if you actually intend to use them for climbing up that particular peak…) But I’ve also had some fantastic hiking boots that were comfy and waterproof and helped me power up and down the hills. Sadly boots will wear out and then you have to start the search all over again.
There are some fantastic pairs of hiking boots available at the moment that punch well above their price tag in terms of build specification and features. I’ve got a number of recommendations for you today for excellent boots in a variety of different styles. I’ve also got a guide to choosing great budget hiking boots to keep your feet happy. Let’s dive in and take a look.
Name Image Check prices **Women's Hillwalker here
**Women's Hillwalker here
How to choose great hiking boots
We’ve all been there. Standing in the outdoor gear shop staring blankly at the vast wall of hiking boots. In every conceivable colour, style, and shape. How do you choose the ones that are right for you? Which are the ones that will keep your feet comfy? Which are the ones that will leave hobbling painfully around after every outing? Let’s take a look at some of the main features to be aware of.
1. Types of hiking boot
There are three main types of walking boot suitable for general hiking and these are defined according to the height of the boot:
Hiking shoe – these have a similar height to standard shoes and trainers, with a more rugged construction suitable for hiking. Because they go below you ankle bone, they won’t offer the support that taller boots offer. However they’re great particularly if you are after a lighter weight shoe for hot weather / summer hiking when conditions will generally be dry underfoot. They’re cooler to wear than chunkier boots so are less sweaty. They also weigh much less so you’ll find that your feet get less tired over the course of a hike.
High-rise boot – at the other end of the scale, we have boots that go higher up the ankle. These are the heaviest hiking boots, but are great if you need significant ankle support. They’re also of benefit if you’re backpacking as your ankles will take more of a battering on a multi-day hike when you’re carrying a heavy pack.
Low-rise boot – in between the two we have the classic hiking boot shape. These are the sweet spot between with some ankle support (whilst not being overly constricting) and still being light enough to wear throughout the day.
2. Upper construction
When I was a scout it used be that you could have “any kind of hiking boots you want, so long as they’re brown leather” and, yes, my scout master was a bloke called Mr H. Ford. Loved his cars, so he did.
In our crazy modern world though we have two types of material used for the uppers on hiking boots: classic leather (in brown OR black!) and tough fabrics. Both can be waterproof and both are hardwearing. The fabric boots will often be somewhat lighter and have more flex than leather. On the flipside, leather can give your feet more protection from rocks.
3. Sole construction
Look for boots that have wide-spaced lugs on the soles. This allows the grips to press into soft earth and provide traction. Also look for boots where the rubber ‘sole’ extends around to the toe area. This will give your little piggies protection from rocks as you stumble along tiredly at the end of a long day’s hike.
If you’re just going to be hiking in dry conditions, then there’s no to buy waterproof boots. And, actually, it’s better to avoid waterproof boots in that situation as they will tend to trap more moisture in hot, dry weather making your feet feel sweaty.
However, in other conditions where you’re likely to encounter puddles, mud, rivers, and boggy areas then it’s a good idea to go with a waterproof boot as keeping your feet dry is a good way of avoiding blisters. If your budget can stretch then I’d recommend boots made using Gore-tex fabrics. These give excellent waterproofing with very good breathability – the best of both worlds.
5. Shoe size
There are as many schools of thought on this as there are pairs of hiking boots in Britain. Here’s my take on it.
I’m a size 10 in the hand-stitched leather brogues that I normally buy from my tailor in Saville Row…and yet I buy size 11 hiking boots. Why? Well, two reasons, thicker socks and swollen tootsies.
The socks I wear for hiking are all substantially thicker than the socks I pull on when I’m wearing my brogues. That can account for a half size easily. The swollen toes happen throughout a hike as feet naturally swell to a certain extent over time as we’re standing and walking on them. It’s also good to have a little extra wiggle room beyond our toes to allow for them to move, without hitting the front of the boots, if we happen to kick rocks or tree roots as we’re moving along.
6. Break your boots in before a big hike
Boots have got much comfier these days and it’s not unusual to be able to wear them for a hike ‘straight out of the box’ without experiencing any pain from fresh boots. That’s a marked difference from days gone by (thinking back to my time in the Scouts) when ‘breaking in a pair of boots’ was something to be scared of. However, it’s still worthwhile trying out your boots over a series of short walks before any planned longer hikes to ensure that they are a good fit and in order to loosen them off slightly.
To paraphrase Nancy Sinatra, “These boots are made for walkin’…And that’s just what they’ll do…One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over with you”
A good pair of hiking boots is going to go places with you and become something of a friend. A bad pair of boots will be the only thing that you can think about as you tend to the blisters on your feet.
There are some great pairs of hiking boots available, that have a fantastic spec and are highly comfortable, but come at a budget price that won’t break the bank.