What’s the best footwear for hill walking and backpacking, boots or shoes?
This is the how I answered the above question and ended up wearing the footwear that I do now. The decision I’ve come to may not suit everyone but is definitely worth thinking about.
For nearly 40 years I’ve been wearing leather walking boots, for all types of walking, all over the UK. I’ve done thousands of miles over the years, mainly in Zamberlan boots.
I’ve spent many hours waxing the leather, but often it failed before the soles were worn out. My kids usually wear fabric boots and I’ve found they don’t need as much wearing in and less work to look after them. So in 2015 when I decided it was time to tackle the Cape Wrath Trail. (Regarded as Britain’s most challenging long distance walk.) I started planning and updating my walking gear, looking at the weight of everything to see if I could reduce my packs base weight. I realised that I could also reducing the weight of my walking boots. So I tried lighter weight synthetic boots, La Sportiva TRK GTX.
This turned out to be a real eye opener, having less weight on my feet. I felt more agile and walking felt easier. I was using less energy for each step, which meant I was covering more miles every day.
The La Sportiva boots did really well during the 230 mile Cape Wrath Trail. But I was disappointed to find the Gore-Tex waterproof membrane in these boots, only lasted about 300 miles.
The boots no longer being waterproof, meant I often had wet feet and they would take forever to dry. The waterproof membrane would let water in and then trap it there, meaning they would dry really slowly. So I thought why not get a breathable boot that would dry fast and wear a waterproof sock with them. The socks being replaceable fairly cheaply if they fail.
This got me to the Inov-8 Roclite 325, a very light weight, non waterproof, highly breathable boot. I’ve found these to be perfect for 3 season hill walking and backpacking. They were very comfortable straight out of the box and didn’t need any wearing in, take very little looking after, just the occasional wash and a lot cheaper to buy.
The Inov-8 Roclite 325 have been my every day boots for the last couple of years. I even used them on the TGO Challenge walking from coast to coast across Scotland in 2018. (you can read more about this here).
The Inov-8 Roclite 325 are extremely breathable, so no more sweaty feet, (unless it’s extremely hot). Yes I get wet feet when it’s raining or the ground is wet, but they pump the water out and dry surprisingly quickly. I do have the option to wear waterproof socks in prolonged wet or cold weather. This does however add about 100 grams to my feet. But does mean when they start leaking, I don’t need to replace the whole boot, just the £20 to £30 socks.
I’ve found the Inov-8 Roclite 325 boots do not last as long as heavier weight footwear. The tread gets worn out and they start looking fairly tatty at around 400 miles. Even though the inside of the boots is still good and they are still comfortable.
I like walking in boots (even light weight boots like these) because they offer support to the ankles and lessen the debris getting into them.
In January 2019 I needed something warmer and more durable. So I tried going back to waterproof boots for my 1,200 mile walk from Lands End to John O’Groats. I was setting off in winter and expected to walk in snow, so I needed to keep my feet dry. I didn’t want to risk getting frost bite. So I purchased a pair of Inov-8 Roclite 345 GTX boots. These have a Gore-Tex membrane in, making them waterproof and warmer.
The Inov-8 Roclite 345 boots They are classed as a hiking and running boot. And have a more pronounced rocker, the front of the boots are about 10mm higher than the 325 boots. This and the Graphene soles makes them a very good long distance walking boot. I was amazed to walk the whole 1,200 miles in them, and still have tread left when I finished.
They did look tatty but they were still comfortable. I’m not using them now and am unlikely to buy any more. because they Gore-Tex lining failed in them, again at about 300 miles. Which has brought me to my boot of choice, the Inov-8 Roclite 275 shoe.
The Inov-8 Roclite 275 is classed as a trail running shoe but I find it makes an excellent walking shoe. It grips well, on all types of surface, from wet grass and mud to dry rocks. I only struggled with grip when the rocks were wet. It has a Graphene sole so will do the mileage and won’t need replacing too often. It doesn’t have a waterproof membrane in to fail and is highly breathable. I am going to try the Inov-8 Roclite 370 G-Grip this winter.
Think carefully about the type of walking you are going to be doing, the time of year you are going to be using them.
Or if you’re a gear fanatic like me and can afford too….. buy them all……
They all have their uses, depending on the time of year and terrain you are walking. The heavy duty walking boots are essential in full on winter conditions, especially if you’re going to be kicking steps in frozen snow or wearing crampons. But other than that, I use the lightest boots I can find. I have been surprised just how much it’s possible to do in the lighter weight walking boots and running shoes. I wear them year round.
My decision to change to light weight footwear and especially non waterproof, highly breathable trainers, has changed my life and I highly recommend trying it. I’ve had a lot less blisters and not had any trouble, at all, with the softer soles or lack of ankle support.
I love the Inov-8 Roclite shoes and boots because they are so comfortable, and I recommend them, if you’ve got average width feet. However, if you struggle with finding footwear for wide feet, I recommend trying the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 shoes or the Lone Peak 4.0, which are light weight waterproof boots. Instead of using a Gore-Tex waterproof lining, they use an Event one. They are so wide, you might find you’ve too much room for your toes
Altra Lone Peak 4.0
I now take the weight of my hill walking boots or shoes seriously. As the saying goes, a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back.
You can read about the abuse that I gave the La Sportiva boots on my Cape Wrath Trail here.
And my Inov-8 Roclite 325 boots on my TGO Challenge walk here.
And my Inov-8 Roclite 345 GTX boots on my Lands End to John O’Groats+3 peaks walk here.
More information on the Inov-8 Graphene shoes and boots here.
Update Note: Inov-8 are updating their range all the time and adding Graphene soles to more and more of their shoes, so check the Inov-8 website for the best choice of foot wear for you.