Outdoor Footwear

GearWeAre’s own terminology for footwear.

We find the different descriptions for footwear confusing, so we’re going to stick to 4 easy terms:

  • Casual – footwear suitable for walking on pavements
  • Walking Boots/Shoes – footwear suitable for well-made tracks, gravel roads and easy trails. Generally, this type of footwear has a little bit of support.
  • Hiking Boots/Shoes – footwear suitable for rougher tracks, rutted farm tracks, cross-country walking. This type of footwear has good ankle support, sole, padding and adjustability.
  • Trekking and Mountain Boots – footwear suitable for very rough off-track walking, long distances and high-intensity use. Lots of ankle support, a more structured sole and ample foot protection.

What’s the rating system for ‘proper’ trekking boots?

If your boots are the type which can be fitted with crampons, i.e. proper winter or mountain hiking boots, then they’ll have a rating of either B1, B2 or B3. What this refers to is how stiff the sole is, and thus how much support your foot is going to get.

  • B1 – 4-season boots with some degree of flex in the sole. Good for hillwalking and light ‘strap’ crampon use.
  • B2 – 4-season boots with a very small degree of flex in the sole and more support than a B1. Good for articulated crampons (clip and strap) and serious mountaineering.
  • B3 – Climbing/Mountaineering boots with extremely stiff soles and maximum support. They’re good for clip-on crampons and hard-core winter use.

What’s Vibram?

Vibram is a manufacturer of shoe soles who sell to a lot of other manufacturers. They are known for producing high quality outdoor soles.

Gore-Tex / Sympatex / Waterproof membranes

This usually sits between the external material of the boot and the internal liner. A breathable waterproof boot is LESS breathable than a non-waterproof boot, so if you’re doing summer trekking consider a ventilated boot rather than a waterproof one. In winter a waterproof boot is a must, but unless you’re hardcore hiking are your feet going to generate enough sweat to warrant the £100 for a breathable boot? It’s all a trade-off, so think carefully about what you’ll need before buying.

Leather or Fabric, which is better?

Well, that depends what you’re doing, and what your personal preference is. A good quality full-grain leather boot, teamed with nice trekking socks will be a friend for many years, requiring treatment every so often with waterproofer (Nikwax, dubbin or leather food). Once broken in, a leather boot is usually very comfortable and rugged. A fabric boot is often lighter in weight, but more susceptible to damage and dirt. It too will need treating with waterproofer to stop the outer layers soaking up water (even if it has a waterproof membrane). A fabric boot can be more suitable to summer wear.

There is no substitute whatsoever for going along to a good outdoor retailer and talking to a boot expert before buying.

Boot fitting – what to look for?

A good walking boot should be comfortable, which means that what your friend swears by could be completely wrong for you. Never buy by brand, but always by fit and purpose. You want to go boot shopping whilst wearing a pair of medium thickness trekking socks, and go after a walk or in the afternoon when your feet are tired and swollen. Sounds odd, but this is what your feet will be like on a trek, so it’s worth it.

A good fit should be a boot which is very slightly too large for you rather than too snug. A boot may ‘give’ a little bit after a few hours, but this isn’t enough to justify pain when walking for the first 3 weeks. Adjust fit using insoles and lacing. A lot of people just yank at laces and completely knacker the fit of the boot. Most good boots will allow you to do some lace holes tight and others looser to fine-tune fit.

Which socks do I need?

A sock is an easily overlooked, but amazingly important piece of outdoor gear. Imagine how much abuse it gets and what a tough job it has to do – protect your foot from rubbing, chafing and impacts with your shoe. If you’re trekking, look to get a sock with some padding in the forefoot and heel. A good fit is essential, and a snug ankle will help stop it bunching as you walk. Match your sock to your boots. There’s no point in a breathable, wicking sock underneath wellies since your sweat has nowhere to go. Whereas a cotton sock with a non-waterproof boot is just asking for blisters when it gets damp. Wool and wicking manmade fabrics are a good all-rounder. Lycra sections to keep the sock in shape can be a good idea.