Buying a new pair of boots, especially if you are new to walking, can be a little daunting. A good pair of boots that will last you for years will cost upwards of £ 100, no small investment.
Firstly, go to a good outdoors shop where the staff are knowledgeable. It is no good buying from a place where the staff are clearly not the outdoors types. Talk to the staff, tell them the sort of walking you will be doing and how often and they will be able to make some recommendations.
Below is a guide that could help you to avoid the bullsh *% t factor from sales assistants …
Starting at the front of the boot, check the toe box, that will save your toes from a battering while crossing rocky ground. A firm toe box is needed if you intend doing a lot of mountain walking, it is not so critical if you will be mainly on fells and farmland or other easy and fairly even surfaces.
Leading back from the toe you will find the rubber rand, this adds durability to the boot and protection from rocks; a full rand, such as those found on Meindl boots, helps keep the water out of the bottom of the boot when wading through shallow puddles.
Talking of waterproofing, a boot with a Gore-tex lining is the best, but only initially. The lining will inevitable fail well before the boot is worn out. It also can make the boot a little more clammy, despite its breathability. Leather treatments are getting better and better and you will find most boots will be pretty waterproof if treated regularly. A shop in the Lakes told me not to clean my boots before treating them as the dirt helps to seal them against water. I am not so sure about that, it sounds that could make them less breathable – I find that the waterproofing is absorbed better after they have been cleaned. Make up your own mind! One piece uppers are a definite if you are looking for waterproof boots – fewer stitching holes and seams to allow the ingress of water. Most boots now also have bellows tongues – the tongue is linked to the upper which also helps to keep water out.
At the other end of the boot, the heel cup is the next thing to consider. For mountain walking or walking over rocky ground, you need a stiff heel cup – this will hold the foot in place and reduce the likelihood of blisters. For the same terrain, you also need a boot with a stiff midsole. The midsole is hidden from view, between the sole and the footbed of the boot. Test the stiffness of the heel cup in the same way as the toe box. To check the midsole stiffness, try bending the toe up and also twisting the boot. If you intend to do winter walking using crampons, you need a very stiff midsole.
For walking on uneven ground, support for the foot is essential, to test this, either use something hard under your sole or use the corner of a step. Boots that offer little support in these situations will leave your feet fatigued and possibly sore after a day on an uneven surface. Consider also the ankle cuff, this can give useful extra support but if it is very stiff, it can easily rub your heel or ankles on a walk.
On the sole, look for deep, broadly spaced lugs and grooves, a useful measure is the thickness of 2 one pound coins placed together. A softer sole will give better grip on rocks but will wear out faster.
OK, so you have selected your ideal boot but remember, it must fit properly and be comfortable! Check for tongue padding by lacing the boot up, you should not feel the laces through it. Check the fit is right by wearing your walking socks when you try on the boot, it should be about 15mm or a little less. A convenient way of testing this is to loosen the laces and push your foot forward, until the toe contacts the inside of the toe box. You can then check the gap at the back of your heel. When laced up, the upper should feel snug and comfy round your foot. If you are aware of the lace eyelets against your feet then that can lead to soreness. Squeeze the upper of the boot as well, a soft upper may be more comfortable initially but unless you are going to be sticking only to gentle walking on good surfaces, you are better with a stiffer upper.
To sum up, decide on your style of walking before buying a boot, take your walking socks with you and talk to the staff when you are trying on the boot. This short guide is not the definitive guide to buying a walking boot but it may help you to spot sales BS.
Disclaimer (probably not necessary but here goes …): This is intended for your information only, you need to accept the responsibility for your own purchase – we can not be held responsible for any problems that arise from the purchase of your boots. We recommend that you take the advice of the sales person in the shop and make up your own mind about the boot.