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Walking and Hiking Boots Guide

It is perhaps due to the ever increasing presence of technology in our daily lives that has led to walking and hiking reaching new heights of popularity in recent times. The act of walking for pleasure first truly entered the public consciousness in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, where the cramped conditions and detachment from nature found in urban life popularised trips into countryside.

Hiking is great exercise; it helps improve creativity; it can even make you happier. We’ve always been big believers in helping each and every one of our customers reach their potential, and so we’ve worked hard over the last few years to curate a fantastic selection of footwear designed specifically for hiking, hill walking, trekking, or whatever you wish to call it.

Whether you’re popping out for a quick stroll on a Sunday afternoon or a truly mammoth expedition , the first thing you should consider is what to put on your feet - after all, they’re the ones that will be bearing the brunt. So without further ado, here’s our definitive guide to hiking boots. The buttons below will allow you to navigate to a specific section.

What shoes or boots are right for you?

The first thing to say here is that it’s almost impossible to find a pair of hiking shoes or boots that will serve every hiker’s every need. The reason that professional hikers have multiple pairs of shoes is that everything from the weather to the terrain affects what footwear would work best.

However, most people will have a good general idea of what sort of routes and the time of year they’re most likely to be walking will be. We’ve done our best to create a range of shoes and boots that covers almost every specific need, as well as several excellent all-rounders.

If you anticipate walking in water-logged areas, or at least in all weathers, leather shoes or boots are generally a good choice thanks to their water-resistant qualities. If the tracks you’ll be using are rocky and require some climbing, or if you’re prone to injury, then some sturdy boots with ankle support and pronounced outsole lugs would be a wise choice. If you’re going to be carrying a heavy load over a long trek, then durability and ruggedness are a must.

The lighter the load you’re carrying, the lighter footwear you can get away with - if you’re going to be carrying a serious pack, you’ll need boots or shoes capable of taking the punishment - which unfortunately often means wearing slightly heavier styles.

Styles of hiking footwear

While there are plenty of slight variations on the theme, there are - broadly speaking - two major types of walking and hiking footwear:

Boots

  • Provide more ankle support than shoes and tend to be more watertight.
  • Come in two key varieties:
    1. Lightweight - more flexible boots designed to offer comfort on day trips
    2. Tougher and Stiffer- boots designed to withstand prolonged backpacking trips. While stiffness may not sound like a comfier option, if you’re going to be walking over a period of days, stiffer boots will help insure against twists and slips, and thus are often more comfortable in the long run.

Shoes

  • Are often more breathable and lighter than boots thanks to using less material.
  • Perfect for shorter, easier trips.
  • Experienced hikers who base every gear-related decision on weight and durability often favour hiking shoes (also often called ‘trail runners’) thanks to the weight advantage that they hold over boots, provided their route allows for the reduced ankle support.

Materials

Just as with designs and sizes, the materials that hiking footwear comes in vary significantly, and picking the one that’s right for you depends on what you’ll be using the shoes for. If you imagine you’ll be braving the elements, then a strong leather upper is a must. If you’re more of a fair-weather walker, then waterproofing is perhaps a feature you can afford to go without.

Leather

Leather tends to come in three major variations in walking and hiking footwear:

  1. Regular, non-full-grain leather offers good abrasion and water resistance, and is frequently combined with synthetic materials such as nylon. Outside Online’s Billy Brown recommends these combinations, as they tend to be extremely lightweight without sacrificing durability. Merrell trail runners are excellent examples of this blend, and can be seen below in the what makes up a hiking boot section.
  2. Full-grain, is higher quality than the above type of leather, and as such is often more expensive. It is often used to form the majority of a shoe’s upper, and offers superb resistance to wear and tear, as well as being waterproof. The downside is the amount of time required to break the leather in.
  3. Nubuck leather, is typically found on our range of Timberland boots and shoes. Nubuck is simply full-grain leather that has been treated with the same methods used to create suede, which gives the leather a softer appearance while retaining all of the beneficial properties of untreated leather. Again, it requires a bit of time to break in, so make sure to get a bit of wear in before you start hiking properly.

GORE-TEX and other membranes

Many hiking shoes and boots today feature GORE-TEX or similar breathable membranes in some part of their design. These mesh constructions are designed to stop water from entering the shoe or boot - a potentially massive addition of weight, which is the last thing you want at the end of a long walk - while allowing moisture from the foot to escape.

Mesh or mesh-leather hybrid shoes tend to be lighter than ones made mostly with leather, however they are more prone to rips and tears, so bear that in mind if a lot of your routes involve walking through thick, jagged undergrowth.

Lacing

How you tie your shoes is critical to both safety and fit (more information on that can be found by clicking here). Here’s a handy video guide that demonstrates several ways you can tie your laces depending on the style of footwear, what kind of terrain you’ll be tackling, and how your shoes or boots fit your feet.

Blisters can be a painful annoyance that can be avoided, simply from lacing your hiking boots correctly. Check out these different techniques and see which one suits you best.

Diagram showing different methods of lacing hiking boots


How hiking and walking footwear should fit

No matter what style you opt for, the fit of your hiking boots or shoes is absolutely critical. Get it right and, combined with the right type of footwear for the trail you’re walking, you won’t notice a thing. Get it wrong, however, and even the most experienced of hikers will struggle.

Everyone’s feet are different, but there are several quick tests that will help you quickly identify how well a pair are fitting:

  • Try your boots on in the evening- Over the course of the day your feet can expand up to an entire shoe size, particularly if you’ve spent time walking. To get the best idea of the right fit when buying a new boot, try them on in the evening. Also remember to wear thick socks when trying your potential boots or shoes on, as thick socks will be needed on every hike.
  • Allow room for your toes- You should have plenty of room for your toes, and they shouldn’t bang against the front of the shoe when walking down a decline.
  • Your heel should be stable- When walking your heel shouldn’t slide forward in the shoe, as this creates stability and grip issues. This may be solved by replacing the manufacturer-provided insole with a specialised insole.
  • Make sure you have room- A good measure of whether you’ve got enough room is to loosen the laces of the boots and slide your feet toward the front. You should have enough room to fit a finger between your heel and the heel of the boot. However, if there is too much room, your boot will be too loose regardless of how thick your sock is, so make sure you take your time trying on your boots.
  • Find the right lacing technique for you- Remember that different insoles and lacing patterns can drastically alter the fit of hiking footwear, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Many boot-wearing hikers and walkers like to keep the lacing fairly loose at the bottom of the shoe - to allow the front of the foot room to move - and quite tight at the top - to promote ankle support and stability, and stop the heel from sliding.

  1. The tongue - Usually a combination of mesh and leather to be both breathable and waterproof.
  2. Eyelets - Most eyelets found on hiking boots and shoes will be sturdy and made of metal. The laces play a vital role in both the fit and the grip of the shoe, so they need to be held securely in place once tied.
  3. Breathable mesh - Typically made of GORE-TEX or similar materials, these membranes are an excellent accompaniment to leather in forming the upper. They allow the foot to breath and moisture to escape while stopping water from getting in, and their mesh fabric makes them extremely lightweight.
  4. Midsole - The part of the shoe that your foot rests on, in hiking footwear the midsole is one of the areas with the most attention paid to it by manufacturers. Materials that offer some cushioning while being lightweight, such as EVA, are often used, however a degree of stiffness is required to keep the foot comfortable over long distances.
  5. Outsole - Normally made of tough rubber in most hiking footwear.
  6. Lugs - These will typically be more pronounced on hiking shoes than on regular footwear, as their purpose is to provide extra traction and grip for the wearer. Commonly, the depth of the lugs is related to the type of hiking shoe or boot - pairs designed for tough, long hikes or poor weather conditions will have deeper lugs than trail runners.
  7. Heel brake - The heel brake is a separate area of the outsole and will often have a different lug pattern than the rest of the shoe. This is designed to provide maximum grip and reduces your chance of sliding and falling on steep descents.


How to break in walking boots

As discussed above, what materials feature in the construction of your hiking or walking footwear plays an important role in how quickly they can be broken in. Getting used to your new shoes or boots - and getting them used to you - before using them properly is absolutely critical, as even seemingly innocuous injuries such as blisters can quickly take a huge toll.

If your boots or shoes are a mix of leather and GORE-TEX or a similar mesh material, and they fit correctly, then they shouldn’t require much breaking in. The extra give compared to predominantly leather boots or shoes means a much easier ride for your feet from the off.

However, there’s lots of advantages to shoes or boots with a leather upper, and this is the style that needs the most care and attention before you head out on any major hikes or walks.

  • Treating the leather with a softening wax or conditioner such as this will help weatherproof the boots and soften the leather.
  • Wearing the boots around the house - and doing so in the socks you’d use for walking - will help both break the shoes in and soften the materials, and help your feet get used to the boots. This is important, as it can help identify any issues you have with the boots, and can flag up the need to get a different insole or perhaps try a different lacing pattern.
  • Start with short walks and gradually increase over time before trying anything too lengthy. Again, this will get your feet used to your boots, as well as getting your boots softened up.
  • If your boots feel particularly stiff in the sole, then you can loosen it up by gently flexing it back and forth. However, do bear in mind that the stiffness is there for a reason, and will be beneficial on longer walks in particular, even if a soft, cushioned sole may seem preferable initially.
  • Similarly to short walks, you can help loosen your boots up for a range of movements and for walking on inclines and declines by practising some squats and other dynamic movements while wearing them.


How to care for and clean walking boots

Naturally, any good pair of hiking boots or trail runners should be able to withstand a fair amount of punishment. However, there are several steps you can take to squeeze a few extra hikes from your shoes.

  • With boots or shoes made predominantly from leather, applying a wax will help both soften them and make them more water and abrasion resistant.
  • As the boots age, you may notice they lose their ability to resist water - this can be remedied by using a waterproof treatment.
  • Many manufacturers will offer specialist cleaning kits for your boots. However, you will often find a small brush and some warm water are more than enough.
  • Aim to give your boots a gentle clean as quickly as you can after a hike.
  • When drying your boots, loosen the laces and remove the insole to ensure the boots are thoroughly dried out.
  • Do not try to speed up the process by drying them next to a source of heat; this can cause shoes to dry too quickly and crack.
  • Stuffing the boots with newspaper can help speed up the drying process without risking the structural integrity of the leather.


Buying your hiking footwear with Cloggs

We’ve worked hard to make Cloggs the ultimate destination for buying hiking boots and trail runners online. Our great range of hiking footwear include Palladium, Merrell, Sorel, Timberland, and more.

We’re also known for our award winning customer service qualities. We offer free delivery on all items over £50, and free returns, so if you find that your new boots don’t quite fit as we’ve explained they should in our fit guide, then don’t panic; you can easily return them and have a replacement pair sent with zero hassle.

We’re also always around to answer any questions you may have, so if you’re wondering about anything to do with hiking boots, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook.

Notes

Images courtesy of Pexels and Sierra Trading Post.