Boot FAQ (v.1.5)


Chris Gilbert

Archive-Name: uk/walking/boots
Posting Frequency: 28 days

UK.REC.WALKING Frequently Asked Questions (Boots)

Version 1.5 Last Updated Monday 30th December 2002

This FAQ contains material pertaining the acquisition of boots
designed for and appropriate for country and hill walking.


We often get questions along the lines of 'Which boot should I
buy ?'. There's no really hard and fast rules other than you get
what you pay for. Good boots do cost a lot of money but you
can avoid paying over the odds for your chosen pair by
shopping around for the best price. Without going into an
enormous amount of detail, here are some things that you
might consider.

The fit of the boot is the most important factor in considering
a purchase. Boots made outside the UK (especially Italy) are
often a narrower fit than boots made in the UK. Apparantly British
people have wide feet so if you try on a non-British boot and it's
a bit of a squeeze try and find a boot made in the UK. Regardless,
try on as many boots as you can in the price range you can afford
as no two boots will be the same anyway.

Most people will require a boot that is larger than their normal
shoesize. A good rule of thumb is, while wearing a pair of socks
that you intend wearing with your boots, put your intended
purchase on your foot *without* lacing it up. Now push your foot
forward so that your toes touch the toe of the boot. If you can
comfortably fit a finger or thumb into the gap between your heel
and the heel of the boot then the boot is probably the right size.
The toe gap allows you to descend a slope while taking your body
weight on the instep of your foot rather than your toes. Move your
heel well into the heel cup of the boot and lace it up, making
sure that you're not lacing too tight. Walk around the shop to see
if the heel of your foot 'rises' within the boot despite being
laced up. A significantly rising heel will probably blister on even
the smallest walk and the boots are unlikely to ever be comfortable.
The rising is caused through a combination of the stiffening of the
sole of the boot and too large an instep gap in the boot cavity.
The foot flexes away from the stiffened sole into the instep gap
causing the heel to rise. If you have already bought a boot that
permits too much movement consider fitting it with a padded footbed
to reduce the amount of space in the boot. Extra socks may also help
but the footbeds will reduce the amount of vertical space in the
boot without affecting the other dimensions. If a footbed
uncomfortably restricts the space available in the toe of the boot
then consider using heel pads. Some insoles double as a shock
absorbing medium. Specific brands include Sorbothane, Eagle Rock
and Superfeet. The author's own preference is for Sorbothane which
has been found to be both extremely comfortable and very long

A midsole is piece of stiffened material, usually nylon, that is
incorprated in the sole of the boot. If you intend doing a lot of
hill walking then a boot with stiffened midsole will help
considerably in stopping your feet from getting tired too quickly.
Some boots have significantly stiffened midsoles and these will also
permit the use of walking crampons if you are going to go winter
walking. If all you are going to do is low level walking then a
moderately stiffened midsole will probably prove sufficient when
something quite stiff will probably prove uncomfortable.

Leather or Fabric ? Fabric was trendy for a while but *most* people
have found it to be less hard wearing and reliable than leather.
It's still pretty good for summer walking though. If buying leather
then boots made from a single piece are less prone to leaks but are
correspondingly more expensive. Multi-piece boots, usually
manufactured from the off-cuts of single piece boots, need a bit
more care but are cheaper.

A 4 season boot is one that is designed for all-year-round use but,
in that it is suitable for winter walking, it is likely to be too
heavy and warm for comfortable summer walking. A good 3 season boot
will cope with non-extreme winter walking and, if stiff enough, will
take a walking crampon while still being light enough to be
comfortable in all but the hottest weather.

Breathable linings
Many manufacturers these days offer at least one model of boot in
thier range which incorporates a breathable lining. The most common
lining is Goretex but there are others. Theoretically the lining
permits the foot to breathe while minimising the liklihood of wet
feet. In reality breathable linings offer minimal improvement on the
basic design of boots and make the care of the boot more complex.
All boot linings are prone to abrasion by the foot and breathable
linings are no different. The lining is thus unlikely to remain
intact physically for more than a fraction of the potential lifetime
of the boot structure. In fabric boots the lining can become clogged
with the fine dust that penetrates the nylon shell or even by spray-
based boot care products. Also, breathable fabrics work through
vapour pressure differential. A waterlogged outer shell is likely to
have a much higher vapour pressure than the inside of the boot
causing water to migrate *into* the boot eventually. Linings in leather
boots are likely to be more effective while they last but a well built
and looked after leather boot can offer all of the characteristics
offered by breathable liners while at the same time being infinitely
more robust. Many feel that it's a gimic aimed at parting the unwary
purchaser from thier readies but if the boot is only intended only for
occaisional, light use and is unlikely to be used so heavily so as to
threaten the physical integrity of the liner then it may be worth the
added expense.

A good shop will let you try the boots on in the shop and will
invariably provide you with some walking socks to use while doing
so. They will let you pay for the boots and take them home so that
you can wear them around the house for a couple of days. If they
turn out to be really uncomfortable then, as long as they have not
been taken outside the house or damaged in any way the shop
should either allow you to exchange them or give you your money
or a credit note back. Don't take our word for it though, check with
the shop before you buy.

Boot Care
There is a wide range of footwear care products that are designed
to be used in conjunction with the usual cleaning described below.
Look for the following;

Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather (the original Nikwax)
Nikwax Aqueous Wax for Leather
Nikwax Nubuck and Suede Waterproofing
Nikwax Fabric and Leather Waterproofing
Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel
Nikwax Conditioner for Leather (restores suppleness)

Grangers NT Footwear Protector (for all materials)
Grangers NT Footwear Conditioner (for leather)
Grangers NT Footwear Cleaner
Grangers Footwear Proofer (Spray -for leather, nubuck, suede and fabric)
Grangers Footwear Conditioner (Spray for nubuck and suede)
Grangers Footwear Cleaner (Spray)
Grangers G-Wax Beeswax Proofing for all smooth leathers (Spray or Wax)
Grangers Leather Conditioner
Grangers G-Sport Waterproofer (Spray - for all materials)

Caring for leather boots: Some manufacturers these days coat their
boots with a hydrophobic substance which is an effective repellent
for water but which will eventually wear off. The boot should be
periodically cleaned in warm, clean water and allowed to dry
naturally ( as opposed to dry by placing next to a heat source).
Leather boots should *never* be force-dried as it will encourage the
leather to crack) before applying one of a number of different
waterproofing/conditioning substances all of which have their merits
and demerits; Natural Wax (Dubbin) is readily absorbed but may
cause the leather to become overly pliable with prolonged use.
Synthetic Wax (eg. Nikwax) is best applied with the fingers as the
warmth makes it easier to apply. Liquid Repellents ( eg. Liquid
Nikwax ) are applied with a brush and do not have to be 'forced'
into the stitching of the boot. Prolonged application of liquid
reppellent may also cause the leather to become overly pliable. If
your boots get really wet then you should stuff them with newspaper
to draw any water out of the liner while the leather is drying. The
newspaper should be replaced periodically.

Caring for nubuck leather: Dried in a similar fashion to ordinary
leather boots but to clean, wash in warm, soapy ( non-detergent )
water with a soft brush. While still damp ( as opposed to wet or dry )
apply a liquid repellent like Liquid Nikwax.

Caring for fabric boots: Care of fabric boots is pretty much the same
as for leather. If they are not waterproofed you can use a water
repellant such as Grainger's G-Sport, which you simply spray on
when the boots are clean and dry. You need to apply a couple of
coats and allow a few hours for the boots to fully absorb it. The
coating should be re-applied as necessary, e.g., after you have
washed and dried the boots. To keep the boots clean, simply brush
off any excess mud, and then wash them in clean warm water. The
best way to dry them (as with leather boots) is to stuff them with
paper and leave them in a warm place. You can get away with
putting fabric boots next to a heat source to dry but beware any
leather or suede reinforcing patches. If the boots are a fabric/suede
mix, you can use a special brush to revitalise the nap of the suede
bits. You should do this before applying any water repellant.

It's logical to chuck in a short discussion about socks when talking
about buying boots. Unfortunately there's loads of different ones
and you can't really try them on and take them back in the same
way you can boots. It's unlikely that you'll find your preferred sock
the first time you buy. It may take years which is a pain when these
days walking socks cost a pretty penny. As a general rule, modern,
cushioned walking socks are designed to be worn as a single pair but
if a single pair does not afford your feet either the protection or
the comfort that you require then consider wearing a pair of thin
inners underneath them. You can buy sepcial inners, they'll be on
the same shelf as the outers, but these are expensive and you may
just require a thin pair of cotton sports socks. The theory is that
the inner and the outer will move relative to each other as you walk.
This significantly reduces the risk of abrasive blistering. Beware,
however. In hot weather this combination is likely to cause excessive
sweating which in itself can lead to blistering. Reputable names in the
sock manufacturing arena include both Thorlo and Bridgedale. They are
not cheap. You get what you pay for.

And a final word
Is it really a boot that you need ? There is a presumption that
if you are going out into the hills then you should have a 'stout
pair of walking boots' but the experience of many people is
that while there are many circumstances in which boots are a
must there are just as many where they clearly are not the best
thing that you could have on your feet. Lugging around an
extra Kilogram or more on each foot on a dry, warm day is
perhaps not the best strategy when a pair of well-made,
lightweight cross-trainers or even walking sandals might well
make the whole experience even more enjoyable than it
would be in boots.