This article is for people who are wondering what kind of walking boots they should get.
My last visit to Scotland was transformed because I took my big hiking boots. They added a lot of bulk and weight to my rucksack and this made me determined to use them.
My visit was transformed because I did three hikes in the rolling hills of the Borders Region, hills that I had admired for many years from the comfort of a car, hills that I hadn’t actually walked thorough until now.
Then I went to Milan for a conference. The event finished on a Sunday and I took a train to Lake Como – only 30km away – and from there took a cute “funicular” railway up a steep mountainside. I then walked into the Italian Alps, which are green and forested, and looked over the border into Switzerland. It was glorious and not too strenuous.
Had I not packed my hiking boots I never would have done any of these walks. I would now be less fit, would not have seen the Alps, and would not have discovered an unknown wilderness just an hour away from my parents house. I now that I realise that these big, stiff, heavy mountain boots are the ideal thing to take on most journeys.
You might ask how can a pair of boots make you do all that. The best answer it is to imagine that you somehow got your hands on a brand new 4×4 jeep: the next thing you’re planning is a weekend in the hills so you can test it out. The same thing happens with a cool new bike, or even a pet dog – simply having these things makes you get outside and get some exercise.
For many years I looked down on these mountain boots. Here’s why: in my mind they were for winter climbing, through deep snow as I used to do in the Highlands of Scotland – not for hiking in “normal” hills. They were for the kind of extreme situations that I didn’t do anymore. Last time I went on a big hike I used “Mountain Sandals” and I loved them because my feet would dry immediately and they had stiff ”Vibram” soles.
Earlier this year I climbed one of Romania’s most impressive peaks – the high ridge of Piatra Craiului – and I took my mountain boots. It make the trek almost effortless. It was like driving over rough terrain in a big 4×4. Great mountain boots can do that. The stiff soles that I had thought were a problem became an asset as you can jam a toe into a ledge and the boot will support the whole body.
We followed a steep gorge down from the peak and the thick, high leather protected my feet and ankles from the hazards of loose stones that littered our route. At one point I slipped down a huge boulder and could have broken my legs had not my stiff heels found purchase in the loose rock below and held me fast. Ordinary walking boots, the soft kind you find in sports shops, the kind which are ideal for cycling or jogging, could not have done this.
A friend in Frankfurt asked my advice about getting hiking boots and said her main consideration was the colour. It would be easy to dismiss that criteria as being a typical feminine whim, but it is important to get a boot which inspires you and – above all – feels comfortable. As with any item of clothing, or a car for that matter, the colour is important and you need to like it.
I then looked online for articles on the subject and saw a few that were written by mountain hikers for people just like them. These articles were too technical, full of categories, names and jargon I didn’t know and I soon got bored. My advice is for people who aren’t familiar with this subject and I’ll keep it simple.
My advice: get the stiffest, thickest, highest, strongest mountain boots you can get your hands on. Ignore those boots in the sports shop as they’re too soft and they’re usually not really waterproof (there’s nothing worse than wet feet on a cold mountain. It can be fatal in the winter).
The key rules for mountain boots is that they are comfortable, they grip your heel tightly and your toes have wriggle room at the front. This last feature is essential on the way down – otherwise your toes will hurt like hell.
Good mountain boots are expensive but it’s money well spent. The more you spend on them the more likely you are to use them frequently – and the longer they will last.
Please let me know your experiences with hiking boots. Add a comment below.