In this post I’m going to be looking at the best footwear for hill walking and back packing in the UK: boots or shoes?
Leather walking boots
I’ve been wearing leather walking boots for over 30 years, because that’s what you did when you went to the hills. I had trouble with blisters, spent months doing short walks to wear them in and they were extremely expensive.
In 2017, I decided to tackle the infamous Cape Wrath Trail and needed a new pair of boots. My old leather boots were just too heavy and I needed to rethink and lighten my kit weight.
After some research, I bought a pair of La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX boots, which at the time I thought were lightweight boots.
The Cape Wrath Trail walk went well and I loved the boots. I didn’t suffer as much with blisters as I had with my old leather boots, but the waterproof lining failed after only 300 miles.
So I was looking for a new pair of boots again. This time, I wanted even lighter boots with no waterproof lining, mainly because I cannot afford to keep buying new boots just because they’re not waterproof anymore. I could just use waterproof socks with breathable, non-waterproof boots if I needed to. It’s upsetting throwing away boots that still look perfectly good, just because they leak.
The trouble with waterproof linings in boots is they don’t breathe very well. They trap sweat when it’s warm and when they fail, they let water in and trap it there. The boots then take an absolute age to dry.
So there I was, looking for cheaper walking boots without a waterproof lining. I came across the Inov-8 Roclite 325. They were comfortable straight out of the box and I used them on the TGO Challenge across Scotland.
I thought I’d found my perfect 3-season walking boot: cheap, no sweaty feet and not a single blister….Only to discover the tread was gone after about 400 miles and they were looking fairly tatty sooner than expected. Funnily enough, the inside of the boots was still in near-perfect condition and they were still really comfortable. So I thought I would just suffer replacing them more often.
Then in January 2019, I couldn’t believe my luck when Inov-8 brought out the Roclite G 345 GTX boot. It meant going back to a waterproof boot but they have a graphene in the soles, making them last 50% longer. So in February I set off walking 1,200 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats via the three peaks of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis, expecting to wear the soles smooth long before the end.
Surprisingly, the tread lasted the whole way but yet again the Gore-tex waterproof lining failed at around 300 miles. So I was back to wishing for a non-waterproof lined boot (I was impressed to get a surprise refund from Gore-tex on these!)
I walked the last part of my 1100 mile Dover to Cape Wrath walk, through Scotland in some Salomon X Ultra mid 3 Aero walking boots. These were perfect for summer hiking in the mountains, I just added waterproof socks when the ground was wet.
That’s how I’ve ended up with my perfect footwear. It’s a running shoe, the Inov-8 Roclite G 275. I add mini gaiters and waterproof socks too, when needed, and this is the perfect combination for most of the year in the UK. In full on winter conditions I use a more expensive and heavier pair of boots.
Conclusion – which is best?
So my question was which is the best footwear for hill walking – boots or shoes? My conclusion is: both.
This way I get the best of both worlds – Light weight boots or shoes for comfort and speed most of the time. Then tougher and heavier boots able to accept crampons and warm enough for winter conditions. For the few occasions I’m able to get to the mountains in the snow.
If you’re only wanting to buy and use one pair of boots and don’t do any serious winter hiking in the snow. Myself I’d choice the Salomon X Ultra mid 3 Aero walking boots. Then add a pair of waterproof socks when needed. This way my feet wouldn’t be too hot and sweaty in hot weather and I could add the waterproof socks when my feet were likely to be wet for long periods or cold. They are also light weight and flexible enough for high mileages on easy paths, but have enough ankle support for hiking of trail with a heavy pack.
That’s my opinion and what I’ve found best for me but foot wear is personal and everybody’s feet are different, so try them on in the shop and see what’s best for you in different situations.
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