How to Choose the Best Walking Boots

It’s important to have the right footwear for your level of hiking, more so if you are going on a walking holiday or a long distance walk like the Camino de Santiago, (and the right backpack and waterproofs). Different styles are more suitable for different levels than others. For instance, if you enjoy light hiking or backpacking, some features may be surplus to your needs and therefore add unnecessary weight. On the other hand if you’re a serious hiker, the absence of necessary features can greatly impact on your safety and comfort.

Keeping your feet Dry

Make sure your boots are waterproof. Choose footwear made with full grain leather upper material using limited stitching, or with waterproof membranes such as Gore-Tex. Prolonged dampness in your footwear will lead to infection and blisters. Remember- dry feet are happy feet!

Get Your Boots Fitted Properly

When you consider the length of time you’ll be wearing your boots, and the places you’ll be in them, you’ll understand the importance of taking the time to get your boots fitted properly. At 53° North they have footwear specialist who can take you through a number of steps which will ensure you make the right selection, it is where I buy my outdoor gear.  This thread on the forum is the experience of one of the members having to return boots.

Get Good Socks

Don’t skimp on the socks. A pair of breathable, cushioned socks will vastly improve your comfort when hiking. We recommend Merino wool socks, as they are comfortable and breathe exceptionally well.

Types of Walking Boots

Light walking footwear is very flexible and designed principally for day hikes. It will have a lightweight upper with a stable yet very flexible sole. Due to its lightweight nature, casual travellers will appreciate this style of footwear also.

walking shoes

Hiking footwear is intended for day trips or longer journeys with a light load. Such footwear offers good flexibility, cushioning and breath ability, but with less support and less durability than backpacking boots.

Backpacking walking boots are built for all kinds of loads, on or off trail. They are durable and supportive and have varying degrees of flexibility. It’s worth noting that boots like these usually require some breaking-in time.

Mountaineering boots, with stiffened midsoles, are designed for moderate to heavy loads on or off trail. These are the toughest boots with the greatest level of support. Some of these boots are compatible with crampons.

Design of Your Boots

Low cut boots give you the greatest amount of lightweight flexibility which is ideal for hiking with lighter loads on well maintained trails or paths.

Mid cut boots wrap just around your ankles, giving some cushioning and resistance to roll in the ankle. They also give a degree of protection to your ankles from rock and debris.

High cut boots come up higher over the ankles and give a greater amount of protection and support on uneven terrain, especially when carrying a heavier load. If you routinely go on longer trips and carry heavier loads, high cut boots are essential. For those not accustomed to wearing a higher cut boot, there is a period of adjusting to the more restrictive fit.

How do Upper Materials Differ?

FULL-GRAIN LEATHER is the best for durability and abrasion resistance. A good pair of leather boots can last for years. They offer great water resistance, especially where the stitching is limited in their construction. Full grain leather is more breathable than leather with a waterproof membrane. However these boots require patience – when you buy them they can be stiff and rigid, so you’ll need to break them in. Through time and wear they will mould perfectly around your feet. Once broken in, they will be supremely comfortable.

SPLIT GRAIN LEATHER is lighter and takes less time to break in than full grain leather.

NUBUCK LEATHER is full grain leather buffed to resemble suede. It’s very durable and resistant to water and abrasion.

SYNTHETIC MATERIALS are much lighter in weight and easier to break in, but offer less durability and abrasion resistance.

Waterproofing & Breathability

Firstly, do you need your boots to be waterproof? For walkers and casual summer hikers, a light fabric upper with no waterproofing but enhanced breath ability may be more suitable.

If you’re trekking near water or in wet conditions, then waterproofing becomes a must. Full grain leather with limited seams is the optimum choice, combining waterproofing with breathability. The alternative footwear with breathable membranes, such as Gore-Tex .These keep feet dry with only slightly less breathability.

MIDSOLE. A midsole is a piece of stiffened material, often nylon, built into the sole of the footwear. Stiff midsoles provide a stable platform on uneven terrain while also reducing foot fatigue. For low level walking, boots with a more flexible midsole are more suitable.

CUSHIONING. The heavier the equipment you’re carrying with you, the more important your boot’s cushioning becomes. Less cushioning is better for scrambling and climbing.

OUTSOLE MATERIAL. Rubber or Vibram rubber is used on most outdoor footwear. Vibram outsoles are known for their grip and durability. It’s worth noting that some brands are now developing outsoles made from recycled materials.

Getting the Right Fit

Walk around to check for foot movement and heel lift. In well fitted boots your feet should be held firmly, your toes should be able to wiggle freely and your feet should not be touching the top of the boots.

Walk up an Incline to see if you can detect unusual heel lift. If so, check your foot’s positioning in the boot and tighten laces if necessary.

Go Down an Incline to check that your foot does no slide forward and that your toes do not touch the front of the boot.

Arch Support – Supportive foot beds, either off the shelf or custom moulded in-store, can improve the fit of your boots, by returning the foot to its neutral position, holding the heal & arch in place and raising the foot closer to the boots laces whilst improving shock absorption. By taking these measures to support your foot in the boot you reduce foot fatigue considerably.

Posted in Outdoor Gear
20 comments on “How to Choose the Best Walking Boots
  1. Melanie dorien says:

    Thanks for putting up this advice. I am planning to walk part of the camino in 6 months and am starting to lok for the right boots to get them broken in so this is very handy.. I am going to walk a lot from here on in order to be fit enough to tackle. The Camino

    • James(Santiago)D. Cain says:

      I did. It think I needed poles so did not take any with me. I soon heard from others that I “should” try walking with poles. A fellow pilgrim allowed me to try his for about a mile and I found that the poles made walking SO much easier, i bought my own in the next village we came to. So, don’ t just wonder about it, try them out and you will want your own. I promise! Burn Camino!

  2. donron says:

    A couple of years ago I planned to do a partial Camino Hike from Burgos to Leon. I had been careful to get good hiking boots from REI well fitted & comfortable. What I did not know about was that the soles needed to be a bit stiffer than I had gotten. The path between Burgos & Leon is built up with lots of sand & GRAVEL. You cannot avoid all the little pebbles and I think I felt every one of them on the bottom of my feet. After 5 days I had very sore feet & many blisters. Please consider how stiff & sturdy the soles of your boots are.

    • Mae Arsenault says:

      I plan on walking in Sept. starting on the 5th. I have boots but will now check the foot bed and the soles. Thanks for the above info. Am going from Leon to Santiago.

  3. James D.Cain says:

    My walking/hiking boots are leather, lightweight and waterproof. I have walked over 100 miles in them and find them very comfortable. No blisters or sore feet! I started my Camino without walking poles, big mistake. Bought a pair in Spain and discovered how Important they are. They were one third the cost than in California and really excellent quality.
    “Take care of your feet and your feet will,take care of you.”
    Buen Camino

    • C says:

      Why did you find you needed poles? I walk in mountains most weeks and never use poles (except down a steep mountain on ice)… am I missing something about the Camino? Or is it becasue you walk day after day on the Camino? I’d be interested in your view as someone who has done the Camino.

      • Leslie says:

        I don’t use walking poles, my other half does. I think if you are in good physical shape they are not necessary. However I have read and been told that they help a lot for people with knee, leg, or back issues.

        • EhorShk Canada says:

          Hey Leslie – I’m with you re poles, and I’m 69 years old. I tried them for a year on various local hikes but never found them useful – maybe later if I become unsteady.

          But another thing, since you are open-minded about poles, I think you should have a look at Teva Taochi sandals. I used them last year from Pamplona to Finisterre. They are well made with a great foot bed (with a heel drain that actually works!), are light, amphibian and have great grip on wet surfaces. Yep, even wore them through that red mud/clay during 3 days of rain! I wear them with merino socks, except when showering!

          My feet became swollen on the Camino last year – no problem with the adjustable Tevas! After showering I go out on the town with them and they dry on my feet within an hour. There’s not much to hold water.

          I’m heading back to the Camino this year in mid-September and I’ll be wearing my light Tevas and not carrying any other footwear.

          I hasten to add that sandals aren’t for everyone. I’ve been a walker all my life and I’m a light guy at 140 lbs. Also my pack is only about 14 lbs (not including water and food).

          Our feet developed over millions of years of walking. However our ancestors were small (Lucy was some 3′ or 4′ in height). I’m not sure whether our exquisitely designed feet and ankles maintain their design effectiveness carrying a weight of over 200 lbs of body and pack. Also maybe more relevant is our sedentary lifestyle.

          Sorry for the long-winded comment. I just wanted to throw in the idea of wearing good sandals. If you don’t need ankle support, seems to me Tevas are superior to light trail shoes, all things considered.
          /Ehor.

          ps: On my 2014 Camino walk, I looked at everyone’s footwear and only saw one young fellow with sandals. He was “plugged in” and moving briskly, so I couldn’t engage him on conversation, which raises a different issue…

          • Leslie says:

            I have worn my sandals on days when my feet have become sore. But I am a larger guy at just over 200lbs and they don’t work well for me for longer than a few hours.

            Thanks for the great comments.

        • James D. Cain says:

          In regard to using poles or wearing sandals… I say and have said yes to poles. I find they make long walks much easier for me. Ye can do what ye like in that regard. Sandals are a big no for me. I just do not feel comfortable wearing them. I do wear TEVA hiking shoes. They provide great suppor, are very comfortable and are waterproof. They do not cost a young fortune.
          So… I feel in regard to both non-issues it is all a matter of personal choice.
          And I will drink to that!

      • James D. Cain says:

        I tried using poles on the advice of a fellow pilgrim who was using them. I was skeptical. But to shut him up, I tried them and found that walking was SO much easier for me. I congratulated myself for becoming so intelligent so easily. I have been told that the poles take pressure off your walking muscles and you expend less energy as a result. Less stress, etc. Keep an open mind..try them once. If you do not like them or they don’t seem to help you. Well you can sell them on eBay.
        Buen Camino!

    • It’s James cain again…my walkingoles take pressure off your entire body. They made my walking so much easier. I started my Camino without poles because I did not think they were needed. WRONG! I found themto be essential. When I do my Camino again, my poles are coming with me!
      Buen Camino!

  4. Sharonn says:

    Hi
    We are walking part of Camino in June/July. I have new Saucony Triumphs which I have started wearing in. I’m not sure that they are waterproof at all though. They seem to be half a size too wide for me and the front part of my feet are shifting around a bit when walking on uneven or slippery surfaces. Other than that they are very comfortable and provide good midsole support. I’m also using mohair socks.

    • Ron Adam says:

      Try a supplemental footbed to help provide support and to fill up the shoe volume. If you do a lot of walking, your feet swell up a bit, so the extra “space” might end up being beneficial. I use a “Sole” footbed because I have flat feet and wouldn’t hike without it. A thick or double layer hiking sock might also help you keep from getting blisters.

  5. heartlinepictures says:

    I walked the Camino at the end of September, and wore running shoes and double layered socks. Not one blister. I started off with boots but realized that I didn’t need them and then switched to the running shoes. My socks were the envy of all.

    • Ron Adam says:

      They say a pound lighter in your shoes is like five pounds lighter on your back. I recently started hiking with trail running shoes (New Balance Leadville model) and they are great on many trails.

    • C says:

      Interesting – why do you say you didn’t need boots? I have trail running shoes but presumed I’d need some lightweight boots for the Camino… I walk most weeks in the mountains of the UK Lake District in boots, but had thought my boots far too heavy for the Camino. What do you think?

  6. pippa10 says:

    Thanks for the information. I’m walking the Camino Ingles in October with a friend. planning on a mix of mid cut boots & trekking shoes depending on weather, terrain & the state of my feet. Undecided about socks still. Normally when I’m walking I wear trekking socks (the ones with specific L & R feet). However, I’ve noticed that the soles of my feet get hot if I’m walking for a long time so have also (just) bought some liner socks. I’ve also got some pairs of double layered socks & some of the ones with towelling interiors (just sports socks?) so guess I will just have to experiment over the coming months & see which suits me best.

  7. C says:

    Hi Pippa – please let us know how you get on with your footwear?

    I’m hoping to set off in Spring and am thinking of lightweight boots with lightweight Smartsocks. Can’t decide about poles. I only use them currently for icy and very steep descents – I walk in the Lake District most weeks… and usually leave my pole at home. I have walking sandals and trail running shoes… wonder if they might be useful too.
    Ooooh it’s exciting isn’t it?

  8. Fred (AKA-MichiganMan) says:

    Some peregrinos may do just fine in trail runners, or running shoes but at 69 this pilgrim stayed with hiking boots, My Oboz boots from REI were not my regular hiking brand but when I upsized for the Camino Frances they were right for me in arch height and placement and in toe room. Many people get awful toe blisters from footwear that is too small in the footbox. I also used a thicker insole to fill some of the extra volume and to give more cushioning. My Camino was May/June so I expected rain and relatively cool weather so I chose waterproof boots. No falls and no blisters. Socks were sometimes changed mid day for overall comfort and blister prevention. My feet were a bit warm a couple of days on the meseta when it was a lot of pavement. My feet never got wet in the rain. My 19 y/o joined me in Leon and wore similar boots from Keen. We both used double socks and often foot powder. We both felt poles were essential. We observed many people not using poles properly. We wore sandals in the evening.

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