Which boots are best for
A good pair of approach shoes or soft fabric boots are fine for treks on simple tracks, but more rugged terrain requires a sturdier mountain walking boot, especially in poor weather. It must be well constructed, water resistant, have an aggressive tread pattern, a medium level of ankle support and, most importantly, a good resistance of the sole to twisting. Fabric boots are lighter, dry faster and are cheaper, but they often provide little ankle support and have poor lateral stiffness making it difficult to get a good grip on wet, grassy slopes. A good quality leather pair, looked after with a ‘water proofing’ agent is still the most popular choice with serious mountain walkers, but fabric boots are improving rapidly. Gore-tex boots are great in hot conditions, but not if it’s muddy - then the only boot that is waterproof is a Wellington boot!
Getting a good fit
A well-fitting, comfortable boot is due as much to the socks you use as to the model you choose. Socks should be snug, with a smooth knit, good shape, and elasticity, and made of wool or synthetic fibres to draw moisture away. A thin liner and a thicker sock will reduce the chance of blisters. For very wet conditions a Gore-tex sock worn over a thin liner sock will function like a Gore-tex boot. Don’t roll your socks over the ankle of your boots as it makes it easier for grit to get in.
Your feet change shape during the day so try boots on in the afternoon or after exercise. A rough test of fit is to put the boot on un-laced. Push your foot forwards until your toes hit the front; you should then be able to squeeze a finger down the back of the heel. Next lace the boots properly by standing up to weight the foot, but not too tightly over the arch, the foot is very sensitive to pressure. A good fit is one where there is no pressure on your toes, you can wiggle them, there is no side to side movement of the foot and your heel does not lift, if in doubt buy larger. You can create tension in different parts of the boot by tying a knot at any stage in the lacing then continue to the top. Put both boots on and simulate uphill and downhill walking. Wear a loaded rucksack because this will alter the shape of your foot. Finally try male and female versions - you never know!
Breaking boots in
High performance mountain walking boots are less soft and supple than soft trail boots and may require ‘breaking in’ by doing progressively longer walks. It is very risky to use new boots for a long trek. Orthotic footbeds will help to prevent long-term foot, leg and back problems
Care of boots
If your boots get wet, stuff them loosely with newspaper and leave them to dry in a warm, but not hot, place. Apply waterproofing to clean boots a few days before it is needed, to allow it to soak in, but avoid too much treatment as it can soften the leather too much.
Look after your feet
Wash them every day, use moisturiser to keep them soft and a pumice stone to remove any hard skin. Air your feet regularly and use powders or antiperspirant to keep them dry and reduce the chance of blisters. Cut your nails by following the contour of the nail, so that the nail corner is visible. If you cut the nail too short, the nail corner can grow into the skin and end up as a painful in growing toenail.
If your boots fit, you have laced them correctly, you wear good socks and you look after your feet, you should never get blisters. If you feel a hot spot, act immediately. Pop or not pop? Always pop but do it neatly. Use a sterilised needle and pop a couple of holes in the blister, press it flat and apply a small square of gauze to pad it. Tape it down with Duck tape because it sticks and is slippery. Plasters and Zinc Oxide fall off and make a sticky mess at the first moment of perspiration.
Twenty five percent of the bones in your body are in your feet - that’s 26 bones in each foot! How these bones move in relation to each other when walking has a major effect on comfort, balance, posture and long-term foot health. Check how you walk by looking at the soles of an old pair of shoes. If the wear is centralised to the ball of the foot and a small portion of the heel, you have a normal amount of foot movement. If you over-pronate there will be wear patterns along the inside edges, while under-pronation results in wear along the outer edges.
Some pronation is normal in walking as the foot settles on the ground but when this type of movement becomes excessive, it can generate pain. Over-pronation (flat foot) is when there is too much movement of the foot. It causes you to walk on other parts of your foot, and is a common cause of pain at the heel and throughout the lower extremities. Under-pronation (supination) occurs when the foot rolls outwards at the ankle. If under- or over-pronation goes uncorrected, it can also lead to posture and back problems. Orthotic foot beds, volume adjusters and stretching can all make your boot more comfortable and ease painful rub points. Insoles also provide extra insulation.