The top qualities people look for in a boot, David told me, are that they are supportive, waterproof, breathable, lightweight and comfortable. Modern Gore-Tex membranes are key to this, making today’s boots waterproof while also allowing the foot to breathe.
The sole should provide grip and durability and the enclosing ‘upper’ should be shaped to give the best possible fit, while also being lightweight. The insole should support the arches while the heel and toe area should have reinforced caps for the best foot protection.
How to choose the right walking boots for you
David says that the critical element is a correct fit. Everybody’s feet are different. They may be slim, broad, shallow or high volume. (In Sarah’s case, one foot is bigger than the other). He says Italian footwear is slightly slimmer and German footwear a bit broader, the latter suiting the British foot.
David believes the key features to look for depend on terrain and the shape of your foot. To walk in mud, the sole must have a deep tread. For walking in the snow, high sides around the ankle give less chance for the snow to enter. In hot temperatures you want a lining without a waterproof membrane, for maximum breathability.
For wide feet, you should choose a shoe modelled around a broader last (the mold around which the boot is constructed). For problem achilles or arches, David recommends they are fitted by a retailer, rather than bought online.
My main priorities in a new pair of boots are the stitching, overall workmanship and whether they cradle my feet (firm but not vice-like) and support my ankles. They also ideally should be light. Too often you either feel like your foot is in a concrete cast, or that the boots are so flexible they are likely to fall apart after the first 100 miles of walking.
One feature that does feel strange at first is the ‘rockered’ sole – raised at the toe and heel – which means that your foot pivots around the ball of the foot like a rocking chair. But once you get into a rhythm it adds a welcome forward momentum. The boots also have an extra protective rand over the toes and also felt very solid and grippy on icy ground, with excellent traction.
Meindl is one of the gold standard boot brands against which all others are judged. It was one of the first brands to use Gore-Tex. The Peru is an evolution of the Toronto GTX with which I tramped all over the South Island of New Zealand some years back. They are certainly very snug without being over-rigid and were faultless at keeping my feet dry. I like testing boots on downhill sections, which is actually when most accidents occur, and I felt safe as houses in these.
The Meindls are a great choice for hill-walking, particularly in the winter months. Perhaps in the summer, though, I might prefer something a little less leathery and solid, with a little more visual pzazz.
I did return with a slight pain and rubbing on my ankle after the first long walk but the second time out, with some steep climbs, there was no repeat. On doing some research later, I discovered that they have an extra layer of padding around the ankle to reduce pressure.
Key features: 680g weight, waxed nubuck leather uppers, Gore-Tex lining, air-active softstep footbed, rubber grip sole.
For comfort, it’s hard to beat the Keens. They have a glove-like feel half-way between the flexibility of a trainer and the rigidity of a mountain boot. Possibly not my choice for winter weather and steep, uneven terrain, they’re perfect for summer hikes in benign weather.
The Targhees slipped on very easily. Older walkers and those with wide feet would definitely appreciate this feature. Even in the January mud, they gripped well on slippery surfaces while the breathable membrane felt like it would keep my feet dry even on a hot, sweaty day in summer.
Ariat is well-known in equestrian circles for the comfort, strength and flexibility of its boots. The first thing that struck me was how light the uppers felt and how sturdy the sole. The contours of the sole and insole feel very supportive, particularly if you have a high in-step as I do. The combination is a boot that feels comfortable, snug and very light. They also support the ankles very well.
Unlike some of the other boots reviewed here, the uppers have a Gore-Tex membrane across most of the top of the foot, instead of leather. The upside is that they are certainly very comfortable, but I wondered how they would fare in the wet. After deliberately splashing around in puddles to give them a good soaking, my feet remained dry and I can imagine on a hot day, they would also breathe well.
The Scarpa boots are extremely comfortable and made of soft, pliable, but very tough, almost suede-like leather that is very comfortable to wear. Outside in the wet they performed perfectly thanks to the combination of the Gore-Tex layer and leather uppers.
The Vibram sole feels very strong and has the right balance of flex and rigidity to make you feel confident on both stony ground and slippery grass, but they also performed well on ice on one particularly cold morning. Some boots do give me pain around the ankles – perhaps mine are a bit nobblier than most – so I note that the Scarpas are particularly well padded in this area.
Key features: 600g weight, Vibram Energy II sole unit with improved rigidity, revised leather stitch design for increased durability.