Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

A change of boots

21st August 2007

Your choice of walking footwear can be as individual as it is important. Choosing footwear that is unsuitable for you or the terrain that you are crossing can bring a hike to a premature end. For instance, I remember a tale of someone who attempted the West Highland Way in trail shoes with the shoes’ footbeds replaced with insoles and had to bail out at Crianlarich following several days of misery; replacing the original footbeds removed much of the shoes’ foot support and padding. On the other end of the scale, there is another story told of a WHW walker who had to cry out early because his boots were not well broken in.

Traditionally, hiking footwear has meant boots offering copious amounts of foot and ankle support with waterproofing to keep those feet dry in boggy terrain and there are those who consider any challenge to this orthodoxy to be heresy. That hasn’t stopped others asking if you really need that Gore Tex lining when leaving it out allows for more breathability and feet that are less sweaty. There are even outdoors folk who rate drying ability above waterproofing. Sandal fans like Chris Townsend will no doubt appreciate this thinking. Moving on to foot support, questions have been asked about the amount of support that footwear really needs to supply; the faith of Innov-8’s Wayne Edy in the biomechanics of the foot comes to mind on this one. On a more conventional, I remember Walking World Ireland’s Andy Callan opining that foot support was more important than waterproofing or ankle support, which seems to sale up the middle somewhat.

One thing that can answer all of these types of questions is the type of walking that you do. Of course, that consideration starts with the terrain that you frequent. The requirements of dry dusty trails in the U.S. are very different from boggy hill tracks in the Scottish Highlands and the contrast between the tow path of the Macclesfield Canal and the side of Tryfan is equally as stark. Fitness (a very dangerous word following outbursts in the OutdoorsMagic forum…) and experience also come into the frame.

For my walking, I have tended to stay with the conventional thinking and use boots most of the time. My walking does range from good tracks to boggy terrain to craggy slopes so a general purpose boot is what I tend to choose. What has brought all of this to mind is my discovery of a hole in the Nubuck uppers of one of the Salomon boots that have been my mainstay over the last few years. It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that water ingress has been experienced as a result. However, I have noticed wetting out as well and would be rejuvenating the Gore Tex lining with the likes of Nikwax were it not for the hole. In addition, the other boot was letting in water too so I was on the market for replacements.

That brings me on to another potential point of discussion: buying outdoor footwear over the internet. I must admit that I have done it but there is a lot to be said for going to a well stocked shop and that is what I did on this occasion. The shop that got my custom was the Manchester branch of Cotswold. I popped in on the muggy damp day that was last Sunday and spent a spot of time inspecting their selection. The Scarpa ZG10’s caught my eye so I got help from the shop staff with their fitting. To my surprise, I was told that I needed UK size 9½; and there I was thinking that it was only Salomons where you needed to go at least a size larger than your normal shoe size (I take 8’s). The width fitting seems good and my heels are held securely with plenty of ankle support. There is some space about the toes but that stops them getting bashed on my way down hills. The Vibram soles look designed for the job too and the rubber rand about the uppers look as if they could deal with the rough stuff too. The other advantage in going to a shop is that a spot of boot care advice is on offer too. The Scarpa’s weren’t cheap so I plan to look after them.

However good the fit is, any boots are going to take time to break in and, despite the leakiness of the boots that are being replaced, I am not going to rush things. For one thing, I have an older pair of Salomons that look tatty but I never remember them to leak (they were retired before that could have happened) and I am planning to press these into service for any forthcoming outings. In fact, I took them out for a recent ramble over the Gritstone Trail between The Cloud near Congleton and Kidsgrove with a walk in along the Dane Valley Way from Eaton was the warm up. The old clobbers did that job well.

I suppose that I could use trail shoes but I’d rather the security of boots. That said, I have been using trail shoes from Columbia and Salomon on walks on paths and tracks near home, where I go a little more lightweight anyway. I might even try them further afield where I can be sure that I am crossing less challenging terrain.

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