One of the most popular questions our store staff get asked is “what are the best walking boots?”, well it is not simple question to answer. It comes down to it, it is intended use and the fit that dictates what the best boot is for you. This guide will break down the anatomy of a walking boot, to help understand the different components of a boot, so you can choose the right hiking boots based on your own needs.
At Snow + Rock, we stock a wide range of walking boots, so whether you are looking for a boot for a light hill ramble or something to take on a mountain, you can be sure that you’ll be able to find a boot with the correct fit and the best materials to do the job.
The sole of a boot has a massive impact on its overall performance. The majority of walking boots soles are made out of vulcanised rubber, for its unrivalled grip and durability. It is the sole is the first line of defence against the elements.
The depth and pattern of the lugs has a direct impact on which conditions the boot will perform best in. Chunkier tread will perform better in muddy, slippery conditions, whilst a thinner pattern will handle a rocky terrain better. It is important to consider the terrain you intend to use the boots on, to help choose the best sole.
The midsole is found buried away inside the boot and offers support to the natural shape of your foot. Made out of either EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) or PU (Polyurethane) the midsole forms most of the impact protection and underfoot support. For lightweight performance and overall comfort EVA midsole are the best option, however PU midsoles, offers far greater longevity than the EVA midsoles but are usually heavier.
The structure of the midsole defines the flex of the boot; a lightweight flexible boot will be similar to as walking shore stiffness and are ideal for light day hikes on a maintained path, however will not be supportive enough for more challenging terrain.
A medium flexing boot will be noticeably stiffer and are ideal for longer walking in rough terrain when carrying a heavier pack. This flex range is suitable for anything between day walks to multi day backpacking when support and durability is needed.
Stiffer boots will have a B1, B2 or B3 rating and are ideal for multi day hikes, carrying heavy packs over rough terrain, scrabbling or via ferrata climbing. The minimal flex in the sole makes some boots crampon compatible.
B1 Boots are compatible with C1 strap on crampons. These can be good all-rounder boots for those who expect to do a small amount of winter hill walking.
B2 boots are compatible with C2 crampons. These boots offer more support for front pointing and kicking steps in snow but have enough flew to sustain comfortable walking action.
B3 boots are compatible with C3 crampons, made for ice climbing. These boots are great for climbs on snowed up buttresses, steep gullies and arêtes.
Some boots will feature a liner in between the materials of the upper. Traditionally a liner made a boot waterproof, but can also compromise breathability. However, with today more advanced membranes, a boot can be both waterproof and breathable.
A wide range of waterproof walking boots that we stock here at Snow + Rock, use a Gore-Tex membrane. Gore-Tex is well known as an industry leader in producing highly waterproof and breathable membranes. Some walking boot manufactures will produce their own waterproof membranes, which will usually have the benefit of a slightly lower cost.
Another product to look at to help keep the wet out is a gaiter. This is a waterproof cuff that goes over the top of your boot and fasters around your lower leg.
The upper of a hiking boot is built for support, with a high over the ankle cuff to protect you from both the elements and torsional strain. The upper on a walking boot is usually constructed from leather or synthetic fabrics, but which material is best?
LEATHER OR SYNTHETIC?
When it comes to looking at the upper material, the first thing to priorities is the fit, but if you do find yourself choosing between a leather or synthetic upper, consider the following:
Leather boots are sturdy and offer great support and protection at the cost of being slightly heavier. These boots will generally last longer if cared for correctly, this involves washing and occasionally reproofing them.
Synthetic Uppers tend to be lighter weight and incredibly breathable making them ideal for warmer climates. These boots tend to need less care as they are less prone to dry out and crack.
What Other Technical Features Make Walking Boots?
Fits the shape of the foot by applying even pressure across the upper from toe-to-cuff.
Also known as the ‘collar’, this offers padding around the lower shin and support for the ankle and Achilles tendons on challenging terrain. The collar also helps stop grit from entering the boot.
This must be padded enough to resist abrasion and cushion pressure from the laces. Gusseted tongues (which are attached to the inside of the boots with bellows down the sides) provide more water resistance.
Also known as the ‘toe box’ or ‘toe cap’, this encapsulates the toes and maintains the shape of the upper.
This protects boots and makes them more durable, especially when utilising crampons. The more flexible and lightweight walking footwear, however, does not require a rubber rand.
Deep lugs provide more grip on muddy terrain, while patterned or textured outsole offer greater traction on rocky surfaces.
When buying walking boots, it is important to get a good high quality sock. A technical sock uses breathable fabrics to draw sweat away from the foot to keep them dry and comfortable all day, whilst offering extra protection with specific areas padded. This superior breathability and padding prevents rubbing and provides a more comfortable feeling.
Read more about technical socks here >
Insoles are another addition to think about when looking at walking boots, if you are going to spend all day in them, why not get a truly personal fit with a customer footbed. An insole maximises comfort by supporting the arch and relaxing the tendons under the foot and holding the heel in place. If fitted correctly, an insole can help to neutralise the foot, stopping it from pronating or supinating, this causes less fatigue meaning you can walk more comfortably for longer.
Taking care of your boots ensures lasting performance, a greater lifespan and even better value for money. Boots will need reproofing to maintain their water resistance and cleaning to oust odours after many muddy miles in the great outdoors.