Choosing a pair of boots is perhaps the most personal choice a hill walker can make. There are hundreds of brands and potentially thousands of different options to choose from. Each option offers differing levels of support and comfort catering to a different gait and preference, not to discount the cosmetic look of the boots, which is important for some people too.
Your boots are your method of transport and are perhaps the most important piece of kit when out on the hills. They can take you on many happy, fun filled adventures; but they are also your best method of transport out of trouble should things not go to plan in the hills. It is important that you select boots that are comfortable, well fitting and supportive enough for you.
I am going to take you through my decision making process for choosing a new pair of boots, to give you some idea of how to go about choosing your next pair. Please remember that your choice is personal, so whilst my choices may not suit you, you will at least have a process to eliminate those options that will not suit you. We will look at the different factors that I take into account when it’s time to buy new boots.
Factor 1: Price
I am in the unfortunate position that I do not have hundreds of pounds to spend on a pair of boots. My wife insists that my children have clothes and food to eat prior to me buying climbing gear 😉. This means that I will set out with a very specific amount of money that I have to spend. This is the first factor that I use to narrow down my options. I do also accept that to buy cheaper boots likely means that they may not last as long as more expensive boots. I’m ok with that. Some people prefer to invest more money in a more expensive pair, and not replace them as often. Either way works depending on your preference.
Knowing my budget, I will first narrow down the brands that I can afford. I will disregard those brands that are at the top end of the price range. Generally, these are the mountaineering specific brands like Lowa or Allweg and I focus on brands that are a little more diverse, such and Trespass or Karrimor.
Whilst I would love to have dedicated hiking equipment, and one day I will graduate to this level of boot, right now my budget and time/walking style etc dictate this is the best option for me.
Factor 2: Type of Hiking
This is really important. You will need to select a pair of boots that will stand up to the type of walking you are planning. Walking in the UK in summer is much different to the deep winter (you’ll need boots that fit into crampons for example) or if you’re planning overseas trips that require different technical features or walking on technical trails, will require different boots with different abilities.
I do all of my walking at the moment in the UK and mainly in Spring – Autumn. I walk at all levels up to 3000ft+. Experience tells me that I will come across various types of terrain, some of it quite steep and uneven, so I will need good ankle support. Because the temperature will be relatively warm, well ventilated, but waterproof, boots would be advantageous.
Using my budget and the knowledge above, I can narrow down further my list of choices. To a couple of brands and a couple of models that they offer.
Factor 3: External Factors
This is an all encompassing section covering anything that is not already covered. Things like weather. For example, here in Scotland, the ground is usually wet, except in the middle of summer. Any boots that I buy will need to be able to deal with that and have some level of waterproofing built in to them.
Similarly, the terrain I plan to cover will impact my choice. If I am mainly on trails, I could get away with a trail shoe. If you are planning on off path cross country walking, boots with ankle support might be more suitable. Winter walking or climbing on ice and snow will require specialised boots and equipment.
Equally, how much walking I am planning on doing will also be a factor. As I am not a professional or full time climber, my walks are limited to weekends, during the 3 warmer months, mainly consisting of day walks, dog walking and low level walks with my family. I therefore do not need expensive high altitude mountaineering boots.
Sizing and Fit
As with all footwear, buying the right size is a given. However, there are a few factors to take into account when buying walking boots that are different to buying a pair of trainers.
Once you have chosen a couple of types of boot, head to your local outdoors store and see if they have your chosen model in stock. I would always do this where practical. The reason is that whilst you might be able to select your right shoe size online, the fit will differ from boot to boot. For example, I have narrow feet with skinny ankles. I know I need a boot that can tie tightly around my ankle to quite a small diameter to prevent slippage within the boot. I also combine this with a slightly funky lacing mechanism to aid top collar tension. Check out my post on boot tying for other options for other types of feet.
On the other hand, if you have particularly wide feet, you will need to look for a boot that can accommodate your feet. A top tip is to go to the shop towards the end of the day. This is because your feet swell during the day, mimicking their condition during a walk. Knowing how your boots fit once your feet swell, will help prevent blisters and hotspots developing over time towards the end of your trip.
When you are in store, try on your shortlisted boots, if available, and really give each boot a good amount of time on your foot before deciding. Don’t put them on, stand up and carry them to the till, really test them, and see how comfortable they really are. One size does not fit all in this case.
In summary, there are a lot of factors that you can and should consider when choosing your new boots. Far more than shoe size and width fitting. I start with my budget, so I don’t fall in love with a pair and then realise that I cannot afford it.
I then consider what I am going to be using the boots for and the expected conditions I will face. Knowing these key pieces of information, I can then narrow down my choices to a couple of models and then choose my preferred option based on the comfort, support, look and feel of the boot.
My current set of boots is the Karrimor Mount Mid. I’ve reviewed these in the past. An excellent boot, if you’re working to parameters like mine.