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Hiking Footwear: A guide to keeping your toenails

10:29 19th December 2012 By Andrew Cremin
Get the boots right, and they should see you right for miles. And miles. And miles.Photo: Florian Prischl/Wikimedia Commons

Get the boots right, and they should see you right for miles. And miles. And miles.
Photo: Florian Prischl/Wikimedia Commons

Get the feet sorted and the rest will follow, a great man probably once wrote. When heading outdoors looking after your feet should be high up on your list of priorities. A godo bit of footwear can make all the difference between a goood day and a misery.

Fit. Fit. Fit.

The absolute most important thing when it comes to buying  footwear for the outdoors is fit. Regardless of whether the are the right colour with all the shiniest bits of plastic on them, if they don’t fit properly, then you probably won’t wear them. That’s not only a waste of cash but also means that you’re less likely to get out there, which is what it’s all about really.


Fit doesn’t just mean whether they are big enough to get your feet into without crying. Each brand and model of boot has a different fit that offers more or less width and volume in different ares of the shoe. Not every boot will suit your feet. The only way to tell is by visiting a decent outdoors shop where they will fit you for a pair of boots.
This service is normally offered free of charge and is more like a guided shopping experience than an afternoon in a laboratory. Depending on where you plan on going with your boots along with guage of your foot size, the shop assistant should offer a few model suggestions for you to try, all with slightly different size variations.

Boot or Shoe?

When out in the wilds, the choice between boots and shoes can be something of personal preference. The higher ankle of a boot provides support and stops feet from getting wet more easily than they would in a pair of shoes. The higher ankle can make boots warmer and uncomfortable in the summer.
Shoes are lighter than boots and cooler when it’s warmer


+ High ankle provides protection and support.
+ Less likely to get wet feet.
+ Long lasting.
+ More support on rougher ground.
- Can be sweaty when it’s warm.


+ Lighter weight on your feet.
+ More freedom of movement.
+ Might be able to wear them to the pub without looking ‘a bit outdoors’
- Less support
- You will get wet feet.

Key Points


• Leather: The traditional fabric for walking footwear. It’s naturally breathable and waterproof. There are different types of leather suited to different uses though.

• Full grain: Just like your going-out shoes, with a shiny finish that repels water. Best for all weather use.

• Fabric: Lighterweight than traditional leather and with no natural water repellence. Needs a coating of waterproof membrane to keep the wet out. Good for warmer weather or when you don’t want something so big and bulky as a full-on leather boot.


The bottom of any footwear is the equivalent of the tyres on a car. A good set will keep you stuck ot the road. Not so good and you’ll be in a ditch somewhere.
Just like tires there are different tread patterns and rubber compounds that provide the traction. Softer rubber will provide more grip but also wear down on abrasive surfaces much faster than something.
Lugs are the knobbly bits on the sole. Big thick ones with space around them are good for mud but wear down faster than shallower types.
This is the powerhouse of a shoe or boot. It’s the bit that you’re unlikely to ever see (unless you have a very bad day) sandwiched between the outsole and the inside of the boot. ade from either plastic or metal, it is from here that the stiffness and therefore the power of a boot is generated.
Once again the stiffness of the boot you buy  will be determined by where you are likely to be using is. Generally, the rule of thumb is, the higher you want to go, the stiffer your boot should be. Super stiff models like Robocop’s Hush Puppies are built for high-end mountain trips, with a sole stiff enough not only to provide support on uneven and rocky ground, but also stiff enough to work effectively with a crampon.


As we said earlier, proper full-grain leather boots are waterproof in themselves and really need little more than cleaning and a bit of conditioning to keep them breathable and waterproof for years. However, most boots now come with an extra layer of weather protection in the form of a waterproof and breathable membrane (Gore-Tex, eVent etc). This is formed into a booty shape and sandwiched into the walls of the boot. You should never really see it but, have faith in the fact that it’s there hidden away and doing it’s thing.


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