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.

Fit 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.

Size 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 lasting.

Midsoles 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.

Material 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.

Seasons 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.

Service 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.

Socks 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.