One of the most important ingredients for an enjoyable hike is having the correct footwear. As you know, boots can be very expensive so it’s essential that you know exactly what you’re looking for when you’re buying hiking boots. Tried and trusted hiking boots from reputable brands are generally the way to go in my opinion Sometimes you do get what you pay for:
“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.Captain Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness from the Terry Pratchett book “Men at Arms: The Play“
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”
The importance of quality
As you can guess, the focus of this article on buying hiking boots is quality. I’ll discuss how long you should expect your new hiking boots to last, the difference between hiking boots and walking shoes, the features of a hiking boot, what to look for when purchasing, key mistakes to avoid, where to purchase from and an outline of some of the well-known brands.
How long will hiking boots last?
You should expect a good hiking boot to last at least 1,000km of hiking across different terrains. This could be longer for those who generally walk on flatter, well maintained trails. Plus additional use will be gained through proper maintenance of your boots. I bought my hiking boots towards the end of 2013 and they are still going strong. I spent around €100 on them at the time. That’s working out at €14 per year (so far). And for that price I have dependable hiking boots that I have complete trust in. Which is pretty good value I think.
What is the difference between walking shoes and walking boots?
The main difference between a hiking boot and a hiking shoe is that a hiking boot has a raised collar that goes up over your ankle. While this makes the hiking boot heavier, it means that you are less likely for gravel or debris to get into your boot. It also provides more support to your ankles which should help prevent twists. This is important if you’re walking along uneven ground. Finally, this extra support will make it easier and more comfortable to walk uphill. It’s key to know the difference when buying hiking boots.
|Walking Boot||Walking Shoe|
|Who uses them?||Hill walkers, hikers, mountain climbers.||Seasonal walkers on well-maintained trails in good weather conditions.|
|What weather conditions do they suit||Suitable for all weather conditions.||Best for summer walks.|
|Support||Has ankle support which is needed for rough uneven terrain.||No ankle support.|
|Weight||Heavy and sturdy.||Lightweight and comfortable.|
|Distance||Ideal for long distances.||Suitable for shorter walks.|
Features of a hiking boot
Let’s start at the bottom of the boot. First up is the outsole. The outer sole. This has a tough job as it’s dealing with the conflicting pressure of the weight of the body above versus the toughness of the ground underneath. The repetitive nature of walking means that the high level of impact endured will really test the quality of the boot.
The outsole should be a stiff and dense rubber. Vibram soles are particularly well regarded. Tread patterns in the rubber help with grip. A general rule is that the deeper the lug (indentation or groove) the better the grip. Widely spaced lugs offer good traction and make it easier to remove muck and dirt.
The midsole provides cushioning for comfort. It also protects feet against shocks. The midsole will also generally determine a boots stiffness. A greater degree of stiffness is good for longer hikes on rough rocky uneven terrain. The downside is that stiffer midsoles are heavier.
Everything outside the boot above the midsole. The main function is of support and to keep your feet snug and comfortable. The upper is what gives each boot its own particular shape and style. Uppers will generally be made from leather (full grain, split grain or nubuck) or synthetics (polyester or nylon). Leather being more hard wearing and durable and the synthetics lighter, quicker drying and generally need less care and maintenance.
Uppers should be water-proof but at the same time allow the foot to breathe so as to prevent excess sweating/moisture (which can lead to blisters).
The tongue of the boot should be well padded so that it can deal with the pressure from the tied laces. Finally, the upper should contain sufficient ankle padding to help with comfort.
Where to buy Hiking Boots?
There are a wide range of Irish owned and operated stores that will provide expertise and excellent customer service for all your walking boot buying needs. I have previously made a post of some of the more well-known shops which should be a help.
What to look for in a new hiking boot?
It goes without saying that your boots need to be comfortable. That’s the most important thing. You don’t want anything that will take away from your enjoyment of your hike. So it is vitally important that you are completely happy with how the boot fits when you try them on. My top tip is to try while wearing proper hiking socks (which are a bit thicker than normal socks). Overall, the boots should feel snug but not tight. Your feet shouldn’t slip at all.
A lot of stores have little practice inclines so you can see how secure the boot feels when you are going up and down a slope.
You want a boot that is strong and durable. So this will depend on the quality of materials used.
Look for a boot with a deep enough tread (or lug) that will provide traction to give you good grip.
The weight of your body constantly hitting off the hard ground causes little tremors or shocks. The fatty pad under your heel provides the body’s natural protection against shock absorption. Consequently, the boot you choose should augment your body’s natural defences. Most importantly, a boot with good strong cushioning is key here.
The flexibility of your footwear should match the expected terrain you will be walking on. For example, a more flexible boot (or shoe) is fine on smooth easy ground. If you are going to be hiking over rocky rugged terrain, sturdiness is more important in order to protect your feet and ankles.
Let’s face it, this is Ireland so if you can be guaranteed of one thing, it’s that there is going to be water. In short, the outsole and upper of a boot will be the parts that keep water out. The type of material the boot is made from will generally impact how effective it is at keeping water out.
Some of the best known brands when buying hiking boots
So that brings to an end my guide to buying hiking boots. Certainly do get in contact via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or instagram (@wildirishwalks.ie) if you have any specific questions. Happy Hiking!