Buying walking boots - the jargon explained

Buying guides

What you need to know Read less, get out more

When you put on a pair of walking boots the chances are that you plan to do more walking than you would without wearing them, you'll probably be walking over terrain that is rough and uneven, and the elements are likely to be all that nature can throw at you. For all of these reasons wearing the wrong boots can really spoil your day.

Choose the right walking bootsTake care to choose the right boots, you'll be spending a lot of time together!

We demystify some of the options and language around walking boots so you can make a better buying decision.

Buying walking boots - the jargon explained

Choose a bad jacket and you can find ways to make do, but ill-fitting or poorly made boots have no cure once you're out and about. It's equally important to chose the right boots for the job; a pleasant weekend with the ramblers in a pair of top of the range rigid soled plastic boots won't be pleasant and tying on for a winter ascent of the Tower in the best approach shoes is close to life threatening!

We think we've taken the risk of poorly made boots out of the equation by only listing boots and shoes that we believe are fit for purpose. If you're sensible about trying boots on first and don't make your first outing and epic then you shouldn't have too many problems about size (all of our merchants will exchange boots that turn out to be the wrong size). Gender specific boots makes bad fit even less likely.

So which boots to chose?

We list walking footwear in 3 categories and within those categories there is a range of boot or shoes for a range of needs. Before you start looking think about what you want to do, any how many pairs you want to own.

Then the equation is relatively simple: if you want to walk all seasons and ice climb with one pair of boots then you are going to find yourself making some compromises in much of what you do because the stiffness and structure that you require to ice climb will be the defining factor in you choice... opt for 2 pairs and your comfort will be more than doubled! If you want to walk the dog through all weathers and walk the South Downs Way this summer then one pair is probably the optimum number.

Those 3 categories...

Approach shoes

The first is Approach Shoes. Which by definition aren't boots but are relatively stiff soled, solidly constructed trainers that can do 90% of the low level, easier terrain that we find in the UK. Mooch Towers in within spitting distance of the Ochils where, in all but the most extreme weather, our approach shoes are often to be found trailing the dogs. Much debate goes on about the limits of approach shoes, for us they are for life on the lower level path where ankles have no fears...

2-3 season boots

2-3 Season Boots is a very broad category with a massive variation in price and function. The recurring question is what do you want to do in your boots? This will determine the material you chose and whether crampons are a consideration (see below).

Once you are clear about your needs and you’ve set a budget you’ll probably find the rest falls in to place. We’ve written our recommendations below. Pay attention to the weight of the boots heavier may be stronger or they may be less well designed…

4 season mountaineering boots

4 Season Mountaineering Boots are, as the name suggest, all year, all activity boots. Not the best bet for bagging a couple of Munros in August but absolutely essential for anything beyond the most basic winter walking. Warmth, strength and stiffness of sole are the key differentiators here. All will be compatible with rigid crampons, as you’d expect.

Which material is best for walking boots?

If you are going to buy a good pair of boots you can be reasonably comfortable that the materials selected by the manufacturer will be more than fit for purpose. Modern leather treatment means no more soggy mass on the end of your legs and fabric technology means that your boots won’t tear at the very sight of a sharp rock.

Most manufacturers offer Goretex most often in the GTX XCR guise and many users swear by it. As well as Gore-tex there is event which also offers waterproofing and breathabilty.

What about Gaiters?

Short and standard gaiters will fit on pretty much any boot.

Yeti Gaiters are produced by a number of companies and these form a waterproof seal around the rand of the boot turning them in to mountain wellies. If they don’t fit well they’re not worth the effort so be aware when buying. If you do decide on Yetis we’re right behind you – we love our Yeti Gaiters!

Crampon compatibility – what do all the different terms mean?

The simple rule is – the higher the number the more extreme the crampon and you can’t use your boot with a higher graded crampon.

Crampons are graded C1, C2 and C3. It’s these grades that the determine compatibility with your boot. 

Boots are graded B0 which are incompatible with crampons (not usually mentioned by the manufacturer), B1 for solid 2-3 season hill walking boots, B2 for stiffer mountaineering boots and B3 on 4 Season fully rigid ice climbing and mountaineering boot).

The grade of your boot must be equal to or higher than the grade of the crampon, so a B3 boot would generally be compatible with all types of crampon. A B2 can be used with a C2 or C1 crampon and a B1 boot can only be used with a C1 crampon.

So there we are a whistle stop tour of boot selection. If it seemed at all complicated then our reassurance is that we wouldn't list them if we didn't think they were worth your money.

What boots do we recommend?

It's one of the most commonly asked questions on here - what boots should I buy? We hesitate before giving concrete advice - everyone's feet are different and boots that feel great for one person might not suit another at all. That said, here are a few suggestions based on our personal experiences: