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If you’re trying to track down the best pair of walking wellies for yourself or the man in your life, then you’ve come to the right place.
It’s no simple task to find good wellington boots, is it? When I was a kid, the choice was a simple one. You could choose between green wellies…or green wellies. They were generally hand-me-downs from an older sibling or cousin, were often 5 sizes too big (“just wear an extra pair of thick socks”), and were as uncomfortable as wearing, well, really over-sized floppy wellington boots. The grips on the soles were just as bad. Virtually non-existent when new, worn smooth on those older brother cast-offs.
Nowadays though, the welly shop shelves have become filled with an array of options. Any colour or pattern you want. Various leg heights. Thermal lined. Chunky grips on the soles. Safety toe caps. Neoprene. Toggles and straps to tighten the tops up. The list goes on.
The choice is a little harder now.
Because of this, my aim today is to help you out. Give you a few pointers in finding a great pair of walking wellies. So, I’m going to give you a rundown of the factors to think about in choosing a top pair of wellies for walking. Including more information than you ever thought you even needed about how wellies are put together. I’ll also give you some recommendations for a few pairs of my favourite men’s walking wellies along the way.
No time to waste, there are puddles to splash in out there, so let’s dive in and take a look.
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How to choose a great pair of walking wellies
Everyone knows that the welly was invented by the 1st Duke of Wellington, but here’s a couple of interesting facts which caught my eye about our beloved wellington boots. First up, the brief that the Duke gave to his London shoemaker for the original boot was that it had to be suitably hard-wearing for riding, but also smart enough for informal evening wear. I like this as I’ve always felt that wellies should be allowed at the dinner table and encouraged for post-prandial brandy and cigars in the drawing-room. Personally, I think they’re footwear for all occasions (including muddy walks).
Secondly, welly wanging. This is a sport which involves throwing a welly boot as far as possible. Current record is held by a Finnish chap by the name Teppo Luoma, who hurled a boot a distance of just under 64m in 1996. I have concerns about the sport (it feels like a poor way to treat a fine piece of footwear) but what I was intrigued by was the name of the village where the World Welly Wanging Association is based. It’s called Upperthong and it’s in West Yorkshire, just near Huddersfield. I have to visit, even if only to stand by the village signpost for a photo in my wellies, and my skimpy underwear.
But, enough of this childish humour, we’ve got wellies to choose. Let’s take a look at how a wellington boot is put together to get a firm grasp of the jargon used in the world of wellies. Then, we’ll look at the main things to consider when you’re choosing the right pair of boots for you.
The anatomy of a walking welly
Look in detail at a modern welly (even one that’s not designed for informal evening wear) and you’ll probably find that there are a wide range of components that have strange and bizarre functions and names. However, so far as we’re concerned, there are only five: Outsole, Insole, Upper, Toe bumper, Calf sizing.
Outsole – the Outsole has a couple of roles to play. To being it has to protect the sole of the foot from rocky and uneven ground. The outsole is often around 1”/2.5cm in order to give this protection and made from rubber. Additionally (and this is critical for walking) is that the outsole should have good deep treads in order to give you grip when it’s slippy, wet and muddy underfoot. Or if the surface you’re walking on is loose. The outsole is sealed to the upper to prevent water getting in at this joint.
Insole – this is often removable and gives a layer of cushioning under your socked feet between your skin and the lining of the welly. If you need a special medical insole, then you can replace the existing insole with your new one.
Upper – one of the most important parts on a welly boot. The upper on the Duke’s originals was made from soft calfskin leather but, from the mid-19th Century, this began to be phased out in preference for rubber or PVC. Great news for both calves and our own calves as this gave much better waterproofing. The rubber is often lined on the insides of the wellies to give more insulation.
An interesting development in welly design (which is a sentence I never thought I’d write) is swapping out the rubber in favour of neoprene. I’m a big fan of this as it can give much greater flexibility for the boots, which makes them more comfortable when you’re wearing them over longer periods of time.
Toe bumper – A common feature on safety boots, there are many safety wellington boots available which have a steel toe cap. This protects the toes from bashing against things or when things are dropped on them. These do add weight to the boots, but can be useful if you have a habit of stubbing your toes on rocks or tree roots.
Calf sizing – My main memory of wearing wellies as a kid is being in shorts and having the tops of the wellies flapping away as I walked. This not only made a ridiculous noise but also led to inevitable bright red rashes at the tops of my calves as the skin was flayed off. Thankfully here there’s been a great deal of progress. Firstly, I’m now allowed to wear trousers with my wellies. More importantly, wellies now come with a range of adjustments at the top opening to give them a better and comfier fit. Some have drawstrings, many have strap and buckle arrangements. I should also mention the neoprene wellies which I talked about a moment ago. Because the neoprene is more flexible than traditional rubber or PVC uppers, these can be made to have a much closer and more comfortable fit on your calves.
Choosing wellies for walking – the easy guide
So, now we know the key parts of a welly’s anatomy, how do we pick a great pair that’s perfect for our feet? Well, there are a number of things to consider, so let’s take a look.
Budget – Ah, money. It’s a dirty word that us Brits don’t like to talk about in public, isn’t it? But, when it comes to wellies, it’s very important to talk about up front. You see there are, very broadly, two types of welly. There are wellies that are for only very occasional use – these are cheap wellies. Then there are wellies that are what I’d call, proper wellies. These are designed for regular and fairly punishing use – big walks, hunting, even informal evening dinners. These are not cheap, but unlike the cheap wellies, they’ll cope with the kind of punishment that they will inevitably get on long walks over rough ground. Cheap wellies are fine for splashing in the odd puddle now and again, but they won’t stand the test of time if you do anything else with them. They’ll end up splitting or ripping and you’ll have to buy replacements. Better to spend a proper amount of money now on a proper pair of wellies
Terrain – if you’re planning on venturing far into the countryside when you’re out walking then it’s worthwhile going for a more rugged pair of wellies than you would buy if you were just going to take them for a short spin around the local park. Make sure that the outsole has good deep treads and that the upper is comfortable. A neoprene upper will likely be comfier than rubber or PVC, although you can also get rubber/PVC boots that are lined with a layer of neoprene and these are great too. If your walking is likely to involve lots of stoney paths or boulders then it may be good to look at builder-style wellies that have protective steel toe caps
Season – If you’re out in your wellies then it’s likely that the good old British weather is on the chilly side again. You can combat the cold with welly socks (these are different to normal socks as they come up higher on the leg and often fold over the top of the boot to keep them in place). I also like boots that have insulation built-in. This can be in the form of a thermal lining or a layer of neoprene
Styling – the world is your waterproof boot when it comes to welly styling. You can get them in different colours to match your outfit or day of the week. You can get them with lower or deeper outsoles. You can also get them with a variety of sizing attachments at the top edge to give a perfect fit
Wellies are a very practical option for walking, but you have to get the right pair. Choose a cheap ‘n’ nasty pair and you’ll soon feel that icy chill as the puddles start seeping into your boots and soaking your socks. Choose a proper pair of wellies though and they’ll be so comfy and waterproof that you won’t even think about them until someone comments on your fine footwear at the dinner table.
Happy walking. I’m off to Upperthong.