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Gear Matters: Boots Made For Walking

Gear Matters blog on walking and cycling gearEvery month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view.  This month he looks at hiking boots: the development of walking shoes, different types of hiking boots and some tips on how to clean your walking boots. 

There was a time when it was reckoned a good pair of hiking boots cost a month’s income. These days, modern developments have put a stop to that, but it goes to show how valuable mountain footwear should be regarded. It’s important to cover our feet from the worst of the elements and from environmental impediments that would otherwise prevent us from going on a nice hike.



Once, Hiking Boots Were All Leather..

Once, hiking boots were all leather, stiff, and had little tricorns of metal banged into them. Since the 1950s the Vibram sole has revolutionised the production of hiking shoes and the company still probably make the best sole units. The real revolution has been the variety of materials now used for walking boots and the different shapes, colours, levels of stiffness and cushioning. Horses for courses...


Hiking boots in different varities - walking gear is important - Sherpa Expeditions


Choose Your Walking Gear Wisely

So what boots you wear depends upon what kind of hike you do:

·        Boots with stiff soles, perhaps with insulation, for winter Alpine climbing,

·        Boots with hardly any sole flex if you need to take a crampon,

·        Semi-stiff leather or fabric boots for comfortable walking on rough surfaces,

·        Cushioned mid-soles for long distance walking,

·        Hiking boots with Gore-Tex linings for improved waterproofing, and

·        Meshed boots for hot environments or when drainage is important. 

The list is endless!


Generally there has been a move away from leather boots to modern fabrics and a fashion for minimalism, both on cost grounds and for lightness. The trick with a lot of fabric hiking boots is that they can get smelly after a time and they are generally not as durable. Gore-Tex linings in wet conditions are great. If you are generally walking in the dry though, your feet may become sweaty and you can end up with damp boot material that takes a long time to dry.


Giving our hiking boots a rest on the Great Glenn Way - Sherpa Expeditions


Walkers with different hiking boots in Austria - Sherpa Expeditions


If you can find a brand that fits you well, a full grain leather boot is probably the best for general mountain hiking wear. High enough to protect ankles, stiff enough so you don't feel rocks through the sole, perhaps even with a cushioned sole. It’s good to note that when hiking softer sole materials tend to get chewed up by stones pretty quickly. Well-made leather boots, from manufacturers such as Scarpa and Meindel, breathe naturally.


How to Clean Your Hiking Boots

All hiking boots need occasional cleaning and reproofing and especially with leather, if you neglect this it may lead to it drying and cracking. If your walking boots are muddy, soft brush them when dry, or damp-sponge clean them immediately and then apply sprays or waxes. Never force drying your boots (avoid hairdryers and fires at all time!). Do stuff your shoes with newspaper immediately when you come back from your day’s hike and maybe keep them in a warm place like your hotel room.


Personal Favourite Boots

So what do I use myself on my walks and hikes in Europe? Well, there are the leather Scarpa Mantas used for cramponing up volcano glaciers (and in the Ruwenzoris in Uganda). Then there is a synthetic Gore-Tex lined Asolo boot I use for general trekking holidays, such as the Coast to Coast in the UK, Dolomites in Italy, Tour du Mont Blanc etc. For just about everything else I use trail and fell running shoes. Salomon make ones with very bright colours, and for me brands like Inov, Keen, Adidas and North Face are good as well.


Well ahead of your walking holiday, decide what you want to use a type of footwear for and then visit a good retailer like Cotswold for a hiking boot fitting and selection. They can help you get booted ready for the great outdoors. For advice on the terrain you’ll be walking on, do get in touch with our team of experts in the London office. 

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