Apologies for missing a week last week. A combination of not having been out walking, and getting snowed under with work led to a distinct lack of blog postage. But I’m back now, and here’s a delightful post about shoes.
When you’re out walking, footwear is one of those things which either works perfectly, in which case it goes totally unmentioned, or it doesn’t work perfectly, in which case you can have a good long rant about your gallery of blisters, twisted ankle, and/or athlete’s/trench foot. I’ve suffered through all of these problems at one time or another in the past, but through trial and error, I’ve managed to avoid/minimise them. This post should help you out with minimising pain (in both body and wallet) and maximising enjoyment of the outdoors, without having to go through the learning pains. So without further ado, I give you my thoughts on footwear.
What do you want to think about when you’re looking at a pair of shoes/boots/wellies/sandals for walking in? I tend to look at a few different aspects: Comfort, weight, grip, resilience, waterproofing, breathability, and ankle support. If you can get the right balance of all of these, you should end up with the perfect footwear. However, where that balance lies depends on where you are, what time of year and weather you’re walking in, and what terrain you’re walking over, as well as how much money you’re willing to spend on keeping your feet alive.
Before we get into the meat of the post, I have one last comment. ALWAYS TRY WALKING FOOTWEAR ON BEFORE YOU BUY IT! You might find some super good boots on the internet, at a super good price, recommended by everyone, but if they don’t fit your specific foot shape/size then you’re going to be in all kinds of pain, and those boots will never see the light of day again. When I’m trying on some footwear for walking, I’ll go clambering all over the shop to test for bits which may rub on my feet, or where they may feel weird. The sign of good footwear is that you forget you’re wearing it. Wander around in the shop for 5 minutes or so to give them a good test before you buy them (and by that, I mean WALK, don’t stand still, that’s not going to help anyone).
(tiny disclaimer: I’m not being paid/rewarded for reviewing particular bits of gear from particular manufacturers, I’m just talking about pros/cons of what I know… ie what I own).
Everyone owns a pair of trainers right? So let’s start with them. Trainers are a very comfortable choice. They’re breathable and lightweight, but lack a good grip on the bottom, aren’t waterproof, and don’t have any form of ankle support. I tend to reserve trainers for urban walking, and walking in very touristy areas where paths are super well maintained (ie tarmac) in “good” weather. The major advantage of trainers is that they’re pretty comfortable and you can get a reasonably good pair fairly cheaply. My advice would tend to be: “unless you know exactly what terrain you’re going over, and know it will be dry the whole way, avoid trainers for walking… particularly longer walks”.
A step up from trainers are walking shoes. They’re half way between trainers and walking boots. Still breathable and lightweight, they have a thicker sole than trainers, with a better grip, and are generally water resistant (NOT “waterproof”) to some extent, and more resilient than trainers. These are the weapon of choice for lightweight walkers who don’t want to be lugging around the extra weight which boots impose on you. I often use walking shoes for short walks and walking on fairly well maintained paths. My walking shoes are cheapish ones (approx. £20-25), but they hold out ok in most situations. That being said, I think the next bit of foot related gear I’m looking to get are a better pair of walking shoes (again, how much you spend on gear for walking depends on how much walking you’re planning to do, and where you’re planning to do it).
Next up is the fully fledged walking boot. A lot of people seem to own a pair of walking boots because “when you’re outdoors you need to wear walking boots”. I can’t say that that’s a bad thing, but walking boots are often the main culprits of “blister the size of a dinner plate” syndrome, so I’ll spend a little more time on the walking boot section, to try and avoid this disaster. A good pair of walking boots should be comfortable, resilient to wear and tear, fairly (if not completely) waterproof, have an ankle support (their defining feature), and have a really good grip. These benefits come at the cost of often being a fair bit heavier than other footwear options. They range from fairly cheap, to ridiculously expensive, and of course each pair gives you different benefits. I own 2 pairs of walking boots, one made by Hi Gear (cheap), one made by Scarpa (… not so cheap), so let’s have a look at them in some more detail.
What do the two pairs have in common?
Both have a fair bit of padding, they have good grips and are pretty well waterproofed (as long as you don’t plan to go swimming in them). They give great ankle support, so when you slip off a rock, or stumble down a gulley, your ankles are fairly well protected from breaking. Obviously this doesn’t mean you’re impervious to damage, but you’re less likely to hurt yourself than with a pair of trainers or walking shoes. I’m very accident prone, and therefore having that added bit of support really helps when I’m tripping and stumbling my way through a forest or over a hill. They’re made of fairly sturdy material, so when you decide to climb up a holly bush, or tapdance on a barbed wire fence, your boots should remain in pretty good condition.
What do the two pairs not have in common?
The first thing you’ll notice (or you would notice if I gave you the prices) is that the Scarpa boots are 4 or 5 times the price of the Hi Gear ones (depending on sales etc). For some folks, that’s all you need to know. If you’re just wanting to go out for a laid back Sunday afternoon, then a cheaper pair of boots will often cover all of your needs (of course there are a lot of brands which offer boots at the cheaper end of the market). Similarly, if you aren’t quite sure whether you want to get into walking or not, you could get a cheap pair and give it a go. If it works for you, then you might feel inclined to buy a better pair later (which is exactly what I did).
So the Scarpa boots are more expensive, but what do you get for your extra money? Well the most obvious difference is quality. The cheaper boots aren’t bad quality by any means, but you can really see and feel the quality difference between the two. I’ve had the Scarpa’s for about 6 months now, going out for a good 10-15 mile walk approximately once every 7-14 days, and they aren’t showing any signs of wear on the inside or outside. In comparison, I’ve used the Hi Gear’s slightly less intensely (maybe going out once every 2-4 weeks) for about 2 years, and the inside is pretty well worn, and a few of the lace hoops keep popping out.
The weight of the two pairs is pretty similar, with the Scarpa’s coming in slightly lighter, but not much. The Scarpa’s also have a Vibram sole. I won’t go into the details of vibram here, but they are pretty much the gold standard of the sole world, giving resilience, grip, strength, and comfort. The Scarpa’s are also more breathable than the Hi Gear’s, meaning your feet don’t get as sweaty. They key difference however, is that after 10 miles or so, you can definitely feel that you are wearing the Hi Gear boots, whereas I’ve done 20 miles in a day a few times in the Scarpas, and they still just feel like you’re walking down the highstreet in your favourite old worn in trainers.
So when you’re looking at boots I’d suggest trying a range from £20-£100 to see what you actually get for your money. Maybe that extra money is worth it, maybe it isn’t. For me, the cheap boots were extremely useful to get me out and about, and to get me to the stage where I realised maybe I need some higher quality boots.
Wait, what? Sandals? Are you joking?
Obviously sandals are a pretty specialist piece of footwear, to be used in the right conditions. Let’s just be clear, I’m not talking about flip flops, or designer sandals. I’m talking about proper walking sandals. Let’s have a look at how they fit into my criteria. Comfort – if you follow my tips for trying on boots, you should end up with some comfortable, well fitted sandals. Weight – sandals weigh very little. Grip – Walking sandals will generally have a grip similar to that of a walking shoe. Waterproofing – skin is waterproof. Breathability – Skin is breathable. Resilience – I’ve owned mine for 8-10 years, and they’re still going strong. Ankle support – …no.
Usually I’ll wear Sandals if it’s ridiculously warm, and I know what sort of terrain I’m going over/through. I won’t wear them if I’m going more than 10 miles in a day, or if I’m likely to be near a lot of loose stones/rocks or painful vegetation. Basically sandals give you the freedom of walking bear foot, without sharp things digging into your feet. They certainly aren’t ideal in a lot of situations (so if in doubt, I’ll wear boots), but in a few situations they really pay off. I think more than any of the other footwear options, if you’re going to use sandals, it’s worth pushing the boat out a little, and getting a good quality pair, as there’s nothing fun about walking when your feet are steadily getting amputated.
Well there you go, that’s my thoughts on various aspects of footwear when you’re walking. I’m sure I missed some key points, and over-did other key points, so feel free to get in touch with thoughts and opinions.
As a general conclusive paragraph, I’d say that in my humble opinion, footwear is the key point of a walker’s attire. Your footwear is going to be on your feet from when you set off in the morning, until you get where you’re going. Regardless of weather, time of year, or what you’re doing, you’ll always be wearing it, and it’s worth keeping that in mind when you’re working out if what you have is adequate, or when figuring out how much to spend if you’re buying it new. There are a few different views of what type of footwear is the best, and this varies depending on where you are and time of year. From my point of view though, if you get yourself a good all-round pair of walking boots, which is comfortable, breathable, waterproof, and resilient, you won’t go too far wrong, and you won’t regret it.