Learn Gear How To Choose Hill Walking Boots

How To Choose Hill Walking Boots


With such a wide range of walking boots and shoes available, it might feel like an impossible task to narrow down the options and find the best hill walking boot for you. Boots can be expensive and should last a long time, so it’s worth shopping around and taking your time over your decision. This article looks at some of the factors to consider before buying hill walking boots.

What Type Of Hill Walking?

The first factor in choosing boots is to decide what you will mainly be using them for and the features that are important to you. One pair of boots can’t be perfect for all conditions, so if your hill walking activities cover a wide range of terrain and seasons then you might have to make some compromises, or consider buying multiple pairs.

Boots are generally aimed at a specific type of walking. The main difference is in height at the ankle and stiffness in the insole, which will determine the flex of the boot - the steeper and rockier the terrain, the higher and stiffer the boot required.

Boots are broadly categorised into four groups, with most manufacturers adopting a rating system from B0-B3, with B0 being the easiest conditions and terrain and B4 being suitable for four season mountaineering. If the end use will vary, then buy for the more serious activity, and consider a second set of footwear for lower level walking.

Does The Boot Fit?

A good fit is crucial for comfort, so it’s important to try before you buy.  Most outdoor shops will provide a professional fitting service, asking the right kind of questions to advise which boots will suit you, and making sure they’re a good fit. Too loose a fit can leave room for movement, causing blisters, but too tight a fit in the toe area can cause bruising on downhill slopes. Other considerations will be the height of the ankle, where badly fitting boots can cause painful pressure, and the shape of the insoles. Some people may require specially shaped insoles to correct the posture of the foot during walking to avoid excessive stress to the foot, ankle, knees and lower back.

Fabric Or Leather?

There are a number of factors you should consider before deciding whether you want boots made out of leather or fabric. For example, if you’re walking in winter and need to use crampons or do a lot of rocky scrambling, then fabric boots are less likely to be suitable. Generally, leather boots are tougher and more durable whilst fabric boots are more breathable, cooler and lighter, and more comfortable. Although leather isn’t actually waterproof it is very water resistant and thick leather with a good tanning treatment will keep out water all day long.

Fabric boots often incorporate a fully waterproof and breathable lining, but care must be taken to avoid damaging this (a stone in your shoe could puncture a lining). If visiting a hot climate, it may be worth considering an unlined fabric boot for maximum breathability.

Man-Made Materials

Some boots are made from fabric and plastic composites, and may even include integral gaiters. Some boots feature waterproof and/or thermal liners. A waterproof liner, such as one made from Gore-Tex, won’t stop water coming in from the top, and can be punctured by sharp stones (or toenails!). Don’t expect miracles, but for wet or cold conditions these can make your day much less unpleasant.


Although they’re not strictly part of the walking boot, sock choice can make a massive difference to how comfortable boots feel. If you have a favourite pair it’s a good idea to wear them when you try on new boots. Good walking socks can help avoid blisters and keep your feet feeling fresher over the miles. Avoid cotton socks, they retain moisture from sweat, which makes your feet feel clammy and susceptible to rubbing from the boot. Most manufacturers make a variety of socks in moisture wicking fabrics, although if you anticipate cold conditions good quality wool socks are warmer and can still be best. You can even combine wool socks with a thin wicking liner sock.

Other Options

Trail shoes

This includes all types of trail, fell and mountain running trainers. Usually very lightweight and fast drying, they are aimed at fell runners, mountain marathoners and those that like to travel fast and light. The main benefits of trail shoes are that they are significantly lighter than walking boots, and are designed to give comfort and grip over a variety of muddy, boggy or rocky terrain. On the downside they aren’t generally waterproof so can be colder once you have wet feet, don’t offer ankle support if you need it, and most don’t have stiff enough soles for more technical scrambling. Trail shoes don’t last as many miles as walking boots, so expect to replace them more often.

Approach shoes

These are basically beefy trainers, usually used by climbers to walk in to crags, they have stiffer soles and are suitable for scrambling and easier rock climbs. If used for longer distances they might wear out relatively quickly.

Do Your Research

Different manufacturers will suit different types of feet. Do your research and compare different brands, read reviews, and take advice from a good outdoor shop. Once you’ve decided on a pair, take them home and wear them around in the house for a few days before using them outside. This should identify any discomfort which may develop into a real problem on a long hike. Most retailers will allow you to return the boots over this test period as long as they haven’t been used outside. The first time you wear new boots for a walk, plan an easy day and pack a blister care kit, just in case.