Choosing Walking Boots | Webtogs Gear Guide
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Choosing Walking Boots

A pair of walking boots is probably the most important purchase you can make, as far as outdoor gear is concerned. Choosing the right pair for your needs leaves you free to forget about your feet and enjoy your experience in the great outdoors. Choose the wrong pair and even the shortest of walks can become an ordeal, leaving your feet crying out for mercy. As well as discomfort, a poor pair of boots can have ramifications on the long-term health of not only your feet, but also on the joints and tendons from your ankles to your knees, hips and back. This page covers the boot choosing process – i.e. up until purchase, and has been designed to help you choose an appropriate pair of boots for your needs online. For guidance on how to find out if your boots fit well once you’ve recieved them, you can visit our Fitting Walking Boots page in the Gear Guru section, to help you with the final step before heading out into the hills!

Here’s a quick list of the contents of this guide:

1. Factors to Consider when Choosing Walking Boots

2. Walking Boot Rating Systems

3. Leather or Fabric?

4. Waterproof Membranes

5. What to do When You’ve Received Your Boots 

Factors to Consider when Choosing Walking Boots

Cost - Whilst we agree that you don’t always need the highest-priced state of the art outdoor clothing to stay comfortable and safe during your outdoor activity of choice, cost is not something that should have a dominant influence over your choice of walking boots. It can feel like an opportunity that’s too good to miss when a pair of boots is reduced to a great price; but no matter how good the boots may be, or how great the reduction, if they’re not the right shape for your feet, your time in them will still be one of pain rather than pleasure!

Our advice is to find a pair of boots that feel supremely comfortable on your feet, and have the necessary features and properties for your chosen pursuit.

Fit - The most crucial point is how a pair of boots fit your feet. Regardless of what reviewers, ‘experts’ or friends have to say about a particular boot, the only surefire way to find out if they’re right for you is to try them on, and listen to your feet. Be sure to walk around in them (indoors if you are considering returning them), and try to do this at the end the day (i.e. afternoon or evening), as your feet swell naturally throughout the course of the day. This ensures a more realistic fit – similar to that which you would experience out on the hill.

Webtogs offer a zero hassle returns policy, one of the reasons being to allow sufficient time for customers to try out their product. When trying on boots, please be sure to do it indoors, as all retailers require returned boots to be in clean, re-saleable condition.

Socks - Don’t try out boots with your normal day-to-day socks, unless you happen to wear quality walking socks every day of the week. Simply, be sure to try on walking boots with the socks you intend to wear them with. A decent pair of walking socks will give you a better impression of how the boots will feel out on the trail, as well as giving you cushioning and additional support in the areas of your foot where you need them most. We’ve got a great selection of Walking Socks for all seasons and activities on Webtogs, to complement our walking boot range. Head to the Socks section to check them out:

Boot Rating Systems

You wouldn’t use an axe to dice a carrot, or a kitchen knife to fell a tree, and the same principle applies to walking boots: it’s important to select the correct ones for the task in hand. Boot manufacturers use a number of systems to rate their boots according to what terrain and climatic conditions they can handle. The two most common are the ‘season’ rating system, and the B0-3 rating system. Understand these, and you’re a long way towards being able to choose a suitable pair of boots for your needs!

Here’s a quick interpretation of the two systems:

‘Season’ Ratings

1 Season – Good for low-level walking in mild conditions, on defined paths and trails. These boots place emphasis on light weight and mobility, so will have only very limited ankle support, and flexible soles, unsuited to carrying anything heavier than a light daypack. The construction will usually be from fabric, and they will not normally have a waterproof membrane.

2 Season – A step up from 1 season boots, these will usually have some kind of waterproofing, improved ankle support and better grip on the sole. 2 season boots are good for varied terrain, being suitable for taking you off the path, as well as on it. They will however not give you the support you need on very treacherous ground – i.e. scree or boulder fields. Stiffer than 1 Season boots, 2 Season soles are still fairly flexible, allowing the wearer to support light-to-moderate loads. Mostly lightweight materials used, generally fabric, but occasionally lightweight leather.

3 Season – These boots provide everything you need for a day in the hills or mountains of the UK. They will offer good ankle support, and as such roaming off the beaten tracks will not be a problem. They will be rigid and grippy enough to handle rough terrain such as scree and steeper gradients. At the top end of this range you may be able to use flexible crampons and attempt some easy winter walking; but be sure to check the product specification. Three season boots are available in fabric forms, but will more likely be leather. A 3 season boot is all you need if you are only planning on walking, and even these would be overkill if only walking on low-level tracks.

4 Season – These will be extremely stiff, and capable of handling the roughest terrain. These correspond with B1-3 rated boots (see below), and will be compatible with various kinds of crampons. Due to very rigid sole units, you will find 4 season boots uncomfortable and stiff if not worn on rough ground or in winter conditions. They will in all likelihood have a leather upper, and will often incorporate harder materials such as PU (polyurethane) or fiberglass in their construction.

B0-3 Ratings

B0: Unsuitable for crampon use due to their flexible, lightweight construction. These roughly correspond with 1-3 season boots. Ideal for spring and summer conditions where ice or snow will not be a factor, B0 boots are the best choice for moderate terrain at low level, or in the hills. Though they help you feel in touch with the ground beneath you, these boots do not have the support necessary for carrying heavier packs.

B1: Stiffer than B0 boots, B1 boots have enough stiffness in their sole to take a C1 (flexible/walking) crampon, usually thanks to a PU mid-foot shank. They will give your feet the support they need over rough, mountainous terrain when there’s no snow on the ground, and also handle easier stretches of ice and snow with crampons. B1 boots are advisable if you’re trekking over long distances with a heavy pack.

B2: These will usually have a 3/4-length shank in the sole, allowing only for a minimal amount of flex in the toe. This means they can be used with C2 (semi-flexible/articulated) crampons, suitable for steeper, more severe ice and snow. B2 boots, in their various forms, are ideal for Scottish and Alpine mountaineering.

B3: The stiffest boots, designed only for technical winter mountaineering or ice climbing routes. They will be fitted with a full-length shank made from a stiff material such as plastic, steel, fibreglass, or carbon fibre – to accept a C3 step-in crampon. These boots are not suitable for walking (they’ll wreck your feet if used incorrectly), being designed for high altitude, and extreme use.

Here’s a definition of the corresponding ‘C’ Rated crampons – just to clarify what we’re talking about:

C1: Flexible crampon designed for walking over easy snow and ice.

Compatible with: B1 Boots.

C2: Articulated, or semi-flexible crampons with stiff toe and heel. Suited to prolonged use on snow and ice, including steeper slopes.

Compatible with: B2, B3 Boots, according to need.

C3: Robust articulated, or fully rigid crampons. Stiff build, and clip-on front and rear design for steep slopes and ice climbing.

Compatible with: B1, B2, B3 Boots, according to need.

Walking Boot Construction

Most walking boots are constructed along similar lines, featuring an upper designed to encase the foot, protect and support it; a stiffener or shank element to give the boot lateral stability and torsional rigidity; a mid-sole to provide cushioning; and an outsole of lugged rubber to provide grip and protection.

 Being able to identify, and assess the quality of these different elements is useful when searching for a new pair of walking boots, especially when you’re faced with a multitude of different styles of varying quality. On Webtogs, construction elements (shanks etc.) will be listed in the product description wherever possible, along with materials used in their construction. If you’re looking for a stiffer boot for backpacking, look out for a midfoot shank made from a rigid material such as PU: if you want something more flexible for faster lightweight hiking, avoid boots with this sort of stiff reinforcement. Of course the B1-3 rating system can also help you in this respect. You can find out how to perform some simple tests on your boots (once you’ve recieved them), to test their rigidity and supportiveness, in the Gear Guru guide to Fitting Walking Boots.

Now that we’ve touched on the various elements involved in boot construction, another important factor to consider is the construction materials used in boot uppers. The following sections cover the pros and cons of leather and fabric, and waterproof membranes. 

Leather or Fabric?

Two main material groups are used in the construction of walking boot uppers, namely leather, and fabric. The two have different properties, strengths and weaknesses, so deciding which you prefer is an important step along the road to choosing your perfect boots. here’s an explanation of the two material types:

Leather

Leather is the material traditionally used in walking boots, and will last for years, even decades if well maintained. They will also shape to your feet with wear, providing excellent levels of comfort with use. One of the defining features of leather is that it needs to be ‘broken in’ by gentle use, before it can reach its optimum level of comfort. Different types of leather require various levels of breaking-in. Leather can be split into three main types: split grain leather, nubuck/suede leather, and full grain leather.

Split grain is the most flexible, as it has been split from the inner part of the hide to create a thinner, lighter material. As split-grain leather boots will normally only require only a couple of walks before they become supple.

Nubuck and suede leathers have been sanded or brushed to give a softer, textural finish. This increases their flexibility over full-grain leather, and provides a good middle ground between split and full-grain leathers.

Full grain leather is formed from the full thickness of the hide, and as such is the strongest and most durable of the leather types. This makes it well suited to use in backpacking and mountaineering boots, where support and strength are key. Full grain requires several weeks of wear before it becomes supple and reaches its comfort potential, so be sure to wear full grain leather boots around the house for a few days before going on a few short walks to break them in. Only after this should you consider use on longer walks, backpacking trips or serious ascents.

A final note on leather boots: although they will become more comfortable with wear, do not settle for any boot that feels uncomfortable, rubs, or causes pressure on any part of the foot straight out of the box! A boot that’s uncomfortable when new will rarely become comfortable with wear – even a brand new full grain leather boot should fit well and feel pleasant on the foot.

Best Selling Leather Walking Boots

Fabric

Fabric boots will normally be made up of a mixture of nylon and/or cordura, often with sections of suede or nubuck leather. Such boots will be more supple and comfortable from the outset than leather boots, meaning that they require significantly less breaking-in time!

Waterproof Membranes

Both fabric and leather boots often feature a waterproof membrane, and whether or not you need one is something you should consider before investing in a new pair of boots. In more expensive walking boots, waterproof membranes are likely to be branded, for example Gore-Tex and eVent, and you can be guaranteed that these will be of the highest quality. They should keep your feet dry and breathe well to boot. Excellent own-brand alternatives are available from many boot brands, for example, KEEN.Dry, and these will often perform just as well in real world conditions.

Regardless of branding, walking boots with a membrane will not be as breathable as those without one. If you’re planning on using your boots predominantly in warmer, dryer conditions, you may decide that your feet will benefit from the extra breathability (not to mention the cash you’ll save) of a non-waterproof boot. Modern leather boots are normally highly water-repellent, even without a waterproof membrane, so there are varying degrees of water repellency even within non-waterproof styles. If you’re planning on going off the beaten track on a regular basis in the UK, or are looking for a boot for 4-season mountain use, a waterproof membrane is definitely advisable!

At this point, you’re probably ready to shop for some boots! Follow the link below to browse the great range of walking and hiking boots on Webtogs:

When You’ve Recieved your Boots…

Even once you’ve chosen some boots that on paper look ideal for your chosen activity, you’ll only be able to really tell if a boot is truly right for you once you’ve got it in your hand. This is where boot fitting comes in. Thanks to Webtogs’ 60 day exchange policy, you’ve got plenty of time to ensure that your boots fit well at home. Go to the Fitting Walking Boots Gear Guru page for guidance on how to ensure their fit is right for you, and help ensure that your new boots don’t give you blisters and bruised toenails for years to come!