First things first, you’ll need to think about where you’re going and the type of walk you'll be doing. For example, tackling technical trails or moving fast and light will be far easier with a specific type of footwear. You’ll benefit from having different footwear for a walk in the mountains to a walk in the park. Let's start by taking a look at some of the most popular types of walking footwear, followed by the more specific......
My chosen footwear for a costal day walk
Sturdy leather walking boots do a great job at keeping your feet dry on wet and muddy walks. They are no good if you want to travel fast and light, but they will give you the greatest level of support and protection, especially over tricky terrain. If you’re prone to twisting your ankles, you may feel more confident in boots. Boots are especially suited to heavy pack loads, providing more stability, so if you struggle to keep pack weight down to a minimum, boots may be for you.
Consider trying ½ a size bigger if planning longer walks or you intend to wear thick socks. If you are using leather boots, make sure they are regularly re-proofed and polished to maintain their waterproofing, and dry them slowly to prevent the leather from cracking. With proper care leather boots can be almost entirely waterproof and last for years.
Leather hiking boots
Like leather, fabric boots with a waterproof membrane such as GORE-TEX® will keep your feet warm and dry in cooler conditions. Many newer-style fabric walking boots have a GORE-TEX® layer and are much lighter than traditional leather boots, offering support without the weight. Fabric boots need less care but do need occasional cleaning and may need re-proofing – follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully as you may reduce the breathability by using unsuitable cleaning products.
Trail running shoes
The technology in trail shoes has dramatically increased in recent years and many will argue that trail running shoes are just as good as walking boots for long days on the trail, especially in summer. This is mainly due to comfort and breathability. Trail running shoes are much lighter, making it easier to walk as you won’t have as much weight to lift. They also provide more arch support to walking boots or shoes. As well as a grippy sole, many technical trail shoes boast a rock plate, extensive mid-sole cushioning, and toe protection to ensure you’re prepared for any adventure. Like boots, they come in GORE-TEX® versions that offer a good level of waterproofing.
Lightweight trail shoes
Historically, it’s not been recommended to wear trail shoes
with a heavy backpack but there has been much debate in recent years. Most hikers
on multi-day trips now opt for trail shoes instead of boots,
especially as equipment has got lighter over the years and many people now see the benefit of lightweight or ultralight backpacking. Trail shoes are great in summer months or on routes where getting wet feet is inevitable (which means you'll want quick-drying, breathable shoes). However, it really is down to personal preference.
Walking shoes sit somewhere between walking boots and trail shoes. They can offer more support and protection than trail shoes but are generally lighter and more flexible and versatile than walking boots. Again, most models are likely to come in a GORE-TEX®/waterproof version. If you’re a boot lover, then a pair of walking shoes may be your footwear of choice in the summer months.
Waterproof walking shoes
Waterproof vs non-waterproof?
Non-leather shoes and boots often come in a waterproof
version which has a special membrane to keep your feet dry. The most common is
called GORE-TEX®. Waterproof footwear are great at keeping you dry, especially
if you’re marching through puddles. However, if your waterproof shoes/boots do
get wet, they will take a lot longer to dry than those made from a more
breathable material. You may want to consider this if you’re heading off on a
multi-day hike where you may not have a chance to dry your shoes out before the
next day. Waterproof footwear is also less breathable so your feet may sweat in
warmer conditions, making you damp from the inside! If you really hate getting
your feet wet but like the idea of fast-drying trail shoes, consider waterproof
socks. Popular brands like Sealskinz do a good job at keeping feet dry but they
will add weight to your pack. Also consider gaiters which will prevent water
and debris from entering your shoe, especially useful in rain.
Walking sandals are great for the summer and offer good
protection underfoot with a sturdier sole to casual sandals. Most also protect
your toes but still allow your feet to breathe. If you’re hiking in summer
on a route that involves multiple river crossings, then walking sandals will
save you the hassle of having to take your shoes and socks on and off each time
– with sandals you can simple glide right through! Sandals are popular with
long distance hikers who like the carry an extra pair of shoes as a backup.
Approach shoes are popular with rock climbers as they are
great for technical rocky terrain. They sit somewhere between walking shoes and
climbing shoes. As the name suggests, they are designed to be worn on the
approach to a climb. They have a thick sole which has good traction on all
types of rock. Whether you’re scrambling or heading to the pub after a climb,
approach shoes will cover both.
If you’re heading up into the mountains where there’s likely to be snow and ice then a specialist mountaineering boot is needed. They are much stiffer and sit higher up than walking boots as they are designed for the use of crampons. They offer a lot of support and insulation but are only suitable if you’re going to be walking across this type of terrain. They’ll be a deadweight for a leisurely countryside stroll. These are, of course, fully waterproof in order to protect you from snow.
Heavy-duty mountaineering boots
There’s much discussion around minimalist or barefoot-style
shoes and many who have given them a go, have continued. These shoes are
designed to encourage natural movement and are said to help with injuries by
strengthen your foot muscles. They're not for everyone though and they’ll need
a bit of getting used to as it will completely change your walking and running