Walking Boots and Shoes
Whatever your activity, having the correct footwear is essential to support and protect your feet and to help you feel as comfortable at the end of a long day as you did at the start. The wrong choice of footwear could lead to aching and bruised feet and possibly an early return home.
To choose the correct category of walking boots, you must take into consideration:
Walking boots are generally split into the following types:
You should match the style of boot that you use to the type of walking that you will be doing. If you will only be doing Low Level and Approach style walking you will not require Mountaineering style boots. In fact, mountaineering style boots would be too stiff and inflexible for walking comfortably on low level trails. However it is essential that you use a boot which is tough enough to cope with the type of walking that you will be doing. Using inadequate footwear can result in sore feet and twisted ankles.
Low Level and Approach
Usually low cut walking boots or shoes. These hiking and walking boots are flexible and will only provide adequate support and grip for easier terrain where paths and trails would normally be encountered. Low level paths may be slightly uneven with some lose stones or gravel and would not be particularly steep. Boots designed for Low Level and Approach will not provide enough support if you intend to carry a full rucksack containing enough gear for overnight camping.
Hillwalking / Trekking Advice
Boots designed for year round hill walking except in snow or ice conditions. Generally made from leather or fabric with a waterproof liner. These boots will have an aggressive tread pattern, a medium level of support and will at least be waterproof for use in wet conditions. Hillwalking / Trekking boots will provide adequate ankle support for trails that are much rockier and steeper than Low Level and Approach boots, and will provide enough support for carrying full rucksacks.
Four Season Walking Boots
Generally a high cut boot offering plenty of support for moderate scrambling and walking in winter conditions. A four season (B1) boot will accommodate a flexible walking crampon (C1). It also offers the support needed for longer backpacking trips where heavy rucksacks will be carried. These boots are usually made from full grain leather for waterproofness and support.
Generally made from either plastic or leather, mountaineering boots (B3) have a fully stiffened sole ideal for alpine and winter climbing. These boots have high levels of all round support and are compatible with 'step in crampons' (C3).
Boot / Crampon Gradings
The introduction of lighter mountain boots and new types of crampons and bindings has brought to a head the difficulty many people have when choosing the correct combination of boots and crampons. It is vital for safety in the mountains that the correct footwear is chosen, particularly when used in snow and ice conditions.
Footwear manufacturer Scarpa have developed a grading system to help determine the correct boot/crampon combination. The grading System is based on a proposed System by Mountaineer and Mountain Guide Brian Hall. It should be stressed that this is only a guide and should be used as a supplement (not a substitute) for good advice from experienced shop staff, experienced mountaineers or mountain guides.
B0 Boots are unsuitable for crampons. Most walking boots are designed to flex for comfort and do not have sufficient lateral and longitudinal rigidity in their midsole. Additionally the upper is often made of soft calf leather or a combination of suede/fabric which compresses easily under crampon straps causing discomfort and cold feet.
B1 Boots are suitable for the easiest snow and ice conditions found when hill walking, using crampons more for emergency or for crossing a short patch of snow or ice, rather than setting initially fitted for a full days walk. They have a reasonably stiff flexing sole and the uppers provide enough ankle and foot support for traversing relatively steep slopes.
B2 Boots are a stiff flex boot with the equivalent of a three quarter or full shank midsole and a supportive upper made from high quality leather (probably over 3mm thick). These boots, designed for four season mountaineering, can be used all day with crampons, whilst easy alpine terrain and easy Scottish snow and ice climbs can also be covered.
B3 Boots are a technical mountaineering/climbing boot regarded as "rigid" both in midsole and upper. Used for mountaineering and ice climbing.
Compatible crampons are graded as follows:
C1 Crampons are a flexible walking crampon attached with straps, with or without front points.
C2 Crampons are articulated multi-purpose crampons with front points. Attached with straps all round or straps at the front (ideally with a French ring system) and clip-on heel.
C3 Crampons are articulated climbing or fully rigid technical crampons attached by full clip-on system of toe bar and heel clip.
Boots in the B3 category are ideal for C3 crampons and will also take C2 and C1. At the other end of the spectrum a B1 boot could only be recommended with a C1 crampon.
Quality boots are made on a 'last'. This is a foot shaped mould. Everyone's feet differ in size, shape, width, length and volume. And for some people, their left foot and right foot are considerably different. For this reason it is impossible for a single last to resemble everyone's feet. Because it is vitally important that your boots fit correctly you will probably need to try on quite a few pairs of boots before you find the pair that fit you the best.
When trying on boots always wear the socks that you will be walking in. Since walking socks are thicker than your normal socks they will increase the size of your feet. It is also a good idea to try boots on in the afternoon, or after you have been walking around for a while, since your feet increase in size during the day and during exercise. As a rough guide your walking boots should be a size larger than your normal footwear. However sizes can vary between different manufacturers and even between different types of boot by the same manufacturer. It is important not to buy a pair of boots that are too small. If your boots are a little bit too big you can always wear thicker socks or insert insoles.
First of all check the initial fit, put the boots on, do up the laces and stand up. Make sure that they feel comfortable. Your toes should not touch the front of the boot. Your foot should not be pinched across its width, especially at the toes. The boot should provide support under the arch of your foot. Around and above the ankle the boot should feel snug but not tight.
Take a walk around the shop. If there is movement between your foot and the boot then this will cause blisters on a long hike. The boot should not feel loose and your heel should not lift up from the sole. Also check to make sure the boots do not pinch, especially around the top of your toes.
If the boots are comfortable and fit properly according to the guidelines above then try out a few tests, as follows:
The Finger Test. When walking downhill, especially with a heavy pack on, your feet can slide forwards in your boot. If there is not enough clearance between your toes and the front of your boot, then your foot will bang into your boot. This will be uncomfortable and can lead to bruising of your toes. Fully unlace the boot. Move your foot as far forward in the boot as possible, so that your toes just touch the front of the boot. You should be able to slide your finger down inside the boot at the heel with just a little friction. If you can do this then there will be enough clearance at the front of the boot. If your finger does not fit into the gap, then the boot is too short.
The Sensory Test. Sometimes when wearing your thick walking socks it is difficult to sense whether or not a pair of boots are too tight for your feet. Take off your socks and put on the boots. Check to see whether the boots feel tight or uncomfortable in anyway. In particular check the area where your small toes are located, check around the ball and the arch of your foot. This test quickly elimates boots that are not desinged to fit your feet. If the boot is still OK, put your socks back on and check the boots again. Your feet should feel snug, neither too tight or too loose.
Women should pay particular attention to the width of the boot. Some women are used to wearing tight-fitting street shoes. Wearing tight-fitting walking boots can be uncomfortable. It can also cause the boot to stretch. If this happens the foot can extend over the edge of the sole, causing more discomfort.
The Boot Ramp Test Stand on a sloped board to see how the boots feel on inclines. Stand on the board and force your feet down to the front of the boot. Check that your feet do not slide down the boot and become jammed or pinched. Make sure that your toes do not touch the front of the boot, if they do you will require a larger size.
When you buy a new pair of walking boots it is likely that they will need to be broken in. The upper part and midsoles of new boots usually quite stiff. Breaking in your boots will reduce this stiffness and the boots will mould themselves to your feet, making them much more comfortable to wear. The best way to break in your boots is to initially wear them around the house for a few hours a time at a time. Then wear them outside for a few short walks, increasing the distance with each walk. It is inadvisable to wear boots that have not been broken in on a long hike or expedition, since breaking in your boots this way will almost certainly hurt your feet and cause blisters.
Generally Four Season and Mountaineering boots are made from thicker leathers and have stiffer midsoles than lower level walking boots, it is essential therefore that these high performance boots are broken in gradually. If you do notice that your boots are rubbing you can prevent blisters by putting an adhesive plaster over the area of you skin that is becoming sore.
After using your walking boots always rinse off any mud and dirt with plain water. Remove any stubborn dirt with a sponge, damp cloth or brush.
Dry your boots naturally over time in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Never force dry your boots using heat from fires, heaters or direct sunlight. Overheating your boots can cause them to shrink and can damage the uppers.
Regularly treat your boots with a suitable waterproofing treatment applicable to the type of boots that you have. Remember to apply waterproofing treatments to tongues, D-rings and hooks. Do not over treat your boots as this can soften the leather and damage the stitching.
Leather Walking Boots
The best watewrproofing treatment to use depends upon the type leather than your boots are made from. You can usually us Aqueous Nikwax, Nikwax or G-Wax.
Nubuck is a full grain leather where the outer surface of the leather has a finely sanded, texturised finish. Nubuck leather is a full quality leather and should not be confused with suede. If your boots are made from Nubuck leather, then use Nikwax Nubuck treatment. Using this treatment will tend to flatten the texturised finish of the leather. This can be restored using a suede brush.
Fabric or Suede Boots
These should be waterproofed with Nikwax Fabric and Leather, or Grangers G-Spot.