Boots are an element of kit that alot of people get wrong. Buying online, becoming price led, blinded by brand loyalty. Either one of these things could land you alot of discomfort on your travels. Footwear is a very personal thing. The most important thing to consider when looking to purchase new boots is; ‘Do they fit properly?’ Alot of people that ask us for advice about buying new walking boots can quite often get lost in what they are actually looking for. Fundamentally, your boots need to be fit for purpose. That purpose, at its lowest denominator is; to protect your feet. This is achieved in a varying number of ways, so just what does make a good boot?
Aside from the size of the boot, the other thing that determines the fit of a boot is what’s known as the ‘last’. What we’re talking about here, is how the upper of the boot is shaped and what that means for your foot. Is the boot too tight across the top? Too narrow in width? Does your heel move around too much? All of these things are determined by the last. Ideally, there should be; no movement in the heel of the boot, no pinching on the sides of the feet, enough room to move your toes around, and about 1/2″ from the end of the your longest toe and the end of the boot to allow your feet to swell naturally when walking. The laces should pull the upper of the boot close to the top of your foot, to hold it in place. Getting these things right will likely save you from blisters, and other friction marks. Trying boots on is fundamental to finding the correct ones for you, and good retailers wont mind you spending time getting it right. Take any additional footbeds and a pair of your typical hiking socks with you to make sure you get the best fit that applies to who you will use the boots when you get them home.
A good outsole will stand up well to extended use without wearing down. Generally, for three season use you will want a decent amount of flex so that your foot can roll naturally as you walk, this is determined by the midsole as well. The lug pattern on the outsole is important too. You will need to have a lug pattern that is suited to the activity you are undertaking when wearing the boots. Lower numbers of wider lugs will hold well in slippy/muddy scenarios, while a smaller but deeper pattern will provide good grip on rock. If you are using the wrong lug pattern for a particular situation, you will lessen the grip that your boots can have on the surface. Some outsoles will have a well defined heel section with a different pattern to help to stop slipping on steep descents.
The midsole protects from impact. There will often be times when you are walking on uneven and loose rocky surfaces, which could cause problems if you feel every lump and bump on the trail. Hiking boots should have a plate between the midsole and outsole to aid in this protection. Flexibility in the boot is also largely determined by that of the midsole. Natural movement of the foot is really what you want to achieve, so some flexibility is needed. Although, too much flexibility can be a bad thing. Over long distances, the last thing you would want is for your foot to be wrapping around every rock or sinking into every uneven dip and feeling worn out and over stretched. A slightly harder midsole would give more support.
A sure fire way to increase the likelihood of blisters is getting wet feet, that could be from outside or inside your boots. So what that means is, in seasons that it is likely to rain heavily, you will have to think about how waterproof your boots are. In summer, it may be a wise idea to look at how breathable your boots are instead. Many boots now come with waterproof membrane linings, that will aid in waterproofness, but before water can hit the liner it can be held at bay by the upper material. Over time, we here at Second Summit have settled on full leather boots as being the best at keeping water out. They give good natural protection, and the treatments seem to last longer. Couple this with a waterproof membrane and we don’t think it gets much better. As we have said, though; perhaps looking at boots with more breathable fabrics for summer would aid keeping your feet dry better. In the U.K, that is probably always a bit of a risk even in Summer!
So, what makes a good hiking boot? – One that fits well, and serves its purpose in the situations you put them and yourself in!