How to buy the right walking boots

The question I’ve been asked most often over the 20 years I’ve been organising and leading walks is: “what sort of
walking boots should I get?”

Walking Boots

Walking Boots

To enjoy walking it’s essential that you have the right footwear. Ill-fitting boots can cause all sorts of problems, including bruising, sore ankles, blisters – even the loss of toenails! All are painful conditions guaranteed to spoil even the best walks. I speak from experience!

A few years ago I arrived in Wales to lead a walking group only to find I had left my boots behind. Crickhowell’s one outdoor shop did their best to find boots to fit, but with my big feet, there was not much choice so I had to compromise. By the end of two days, two toenails had turned black – not a pretty sight!

Despite this sorry tale, having walked literally thousands of miles, I can give you some tips based on knowledge and experience gained over many years.

What type of walking will you do?

  • A few miles of gentle ambling in lowland areas in fine weather? Fabric boots are suitable. They are lighter and more comfortable than leather in warm summery weather. And they look more stylish. However, we have found from experience that, despite the claims of manufacturers, fabric boots are rarely fully waterproof and they’re more difficult to clean. They are also less durable.
  • If you intend to walk longer distances, climb hills and walk in the winter, leather boots are best. These are tough, durable, waterproof and can cope with mud as they have anti-clogging soles. The tread should provide a good grip on slippery surfaces. When comparing brands, check that the ankle support is sufficient. And make sure your boots are lined with a water-resistant breathable membrane such as Goretex.

My favourite boots

I love my Brasher Hillmasters. I can wear them straight out of the box; they are fairly light yet durable, can be worn all year round and, for me, most importantly, they are made from leather. Brashers are renowned for their comfort and I happily wear mine from morning to night. Having said that, some people, because of the shape of their feet, cannot get on with them.

Where to Buy Your Walking Boots

We recommend Cotswolds or Blacks as their products are good and their staff are well trained and experienced in fitting boots. They will allow you to take boots home to wear indoors for a few days to ensure they really are comfortable, then, if not, you can return them, providing of course they are ‘as new’.

Fitting and Trying On

Buy boots later in the day when your feet are warm and swollen from the day’s activity. Allow about an hour to try out various boots; a good shop will be patient to ensure you get the best fit. Take along your own walking socks but make sure they are fairly new. Try on a number of different boots, preferably different brands, as each manufacturer will have a different foot mould and you need to find one that suits your foot, especially when it comes to the width.

Checking the Fit

  1. Your feet should feel nice and snug but not tight around the ankle or mid sole.
  2. Make sure you can freely move your toes inside.
  3. Then stub the front of the boot into the ground to mimic the action of walking downhill. If your toes touch the end of the boot, then they are probably too small. Some branches have a mock ‘hill’ you can use to test that your toes don’t hit the ends of the boot when going downhill.
  4. Ask the fitter to show you how to lace the boots correctly to hold your feet properly in place – this makes quite a difference.
  5. Walk around for at least 10 minutes to get a feel for how your foot moves in the boot and how comfortable it is. Watch out for tight spots – take your time.
  6. If you cannot find a comfortable pair, try different socks or ask the assistant about foot beds or volume adjusters. Whatever happens, make sure you are completely comfortable in your boots. Also, check the lining for awkward seams that could rub and cause blisters.

I hope this guide will help you. You may like to print it out and take it with you when buying your next pair of boots. I’m always happy to advise: just email me at