Footwear, Outdoor

Buying walking boots

Back in September, a couple of days before an impromptu weekend on Dartmoor, I pulled my old trusty Salomon boots out of storage, only to find that time had done its worst and that they were literally falling apart. They were Gore-Tex boots at the mountaineering end of the scale and had been comfortable from day one but, such is the nature of man-made materials, the heel had started to pull away and there were splits appearing down the sides. I did try some good quality contact adhesive to save the day, but suffice to say there was no way those boots were fit for another day in the hills.

Having been a fan of the Salomon boots, I did order a couple of pairs online, but they were nowhere near as comfortable. They were an OK fit, but not good enough to fill me with confidence ahead of my Dartmoor plans – I guess that always going to be the problem with ordering remotely.

So it was off to Cotswold Outdoor to try some boots on… I need to say that the help I got at Cotswold for absolutely top notch. The knowledge, experience, measurement, everything was exceptionally good.

Note, a less discerning customer could easily have gone into Cotswold, gone through the whole measurement, selection and fitting process, and then walked away to buy their boots for £20 or so cheaper elsewhere. If that’s you, be aware that it sucks! Local shops, even big chains like Cotswold, offer an invaluable service – by all means buy some stuff online, but also support your local suppliers. End of lecture.

I was expecting to replace my old Salomons for a similar mountain boot, so top of my list was the Scarpa Trek GTX boot, but it was not set in stone, so I was open to ideas. The key factors to my were as follows:

My walking is UK hills (such as the Brecons and Dartmoor) mostly, with the occasional forays into the mountains (i.e the Lake District). So I needed a reasonably stiff boot that could cope with steep terrain and loose rocks, without being too restrictive for distances.

In terms of weather, I was looking for a boot that worked well all year round. It wouldn’t see a huge amount of snow, but would definitely see damp conditions, so needed to be waterproof and breathable. Because of the UK conditions, I was also looking for a boot that worked well with gaiters.

Being able to waterproof the boot was key. I’m not a great fan of Gore-Tex’s longevity, so I look for a boot that will take a good waterproofing treatment and hence I was leaning back to a leather boot, rather than a fabric upper.

At Cotswold Outdoor I discussed my thinking and the assistant produced three pairs of boots, two from Scarpa, one from Hanwag.

The first pair were the Scarpa Trek GTX boot that I’d originally considered. They felt like a comfortable boot, ticking all of the right boxes, and if they’d been my only option I would have bought them then and there.

The fitting process at Cotswold was very thorough – I’d taken my own socks to be sure of the fit I needed. The assistant tied the boots using their ‘corporate’ system, which involved a double turn in the laces before they went round the hooks, and another double twist before tying the knot. I then took a walk round the store, before walking up and down their fitting ‘hill’, stopping mid-way up and down to get a feel for my foot position with my weight on the toes.

However, I’d also considered the Hanwag Banks boot, as it looked like a boot that would be versatile throughout the year, i.e. getting more ‘daily’ use, rather than just those trips to the hills. My only concern with the Hanwag’s was that fitting a gaiter by its ‘toe’ hook wasn’t easy, as the laces thread through a leather flap. I was right to have the Hanwag’s on my short list, as they were beautifully comfortable, but their comfort did throw the question as to whether or not they’d be sturdy enough as my main walking boot, as did the sole design which isn’t particularly aggressive.

This is where the assistant at Cotswold showed her knowledge & experience and produced the second pair of Scarpa boots, the Kailash Plus. These boots sat neatly between the Scarpa Trek and the Hanwag Banks – they weren’t as stiff as the Treks, so I expected them to be more versatile, while retaining the attributes I was looking for in a mountain boot, absolutely ideal. So that my mind made up and I walked out of the shop with the Scarpa Kailash Plus GTX boots.

Two days later I’d banked a good six mile stroll onto Dartmoor, followed the next next by an extended hike into the depths of Dartmoor’s bleakness. At no point did the Kailash boots trouble me or cause any discomfort. The second hike did turn into a bit of epic, well off of the beaten way and, if anyone knows Dartmoor, into the hard going of damp & tuffets, so it was a good trial for any boots. The fact that I’d not had a chance to get any breaking-in into the boots was testament to fit and assistance that I’d had at Cotswold Outdoor.

Update – Two weeks later I went back to Cotswold Outdoor and bought the Hanwag Banks boots as well. Those are now my go-to daily boots. Since September, I’ve donned those boots almost every day and they’ve coped without a hitch. I’ve walked to the office, round town, run rugby training, driven in them, etc… everything that you’d want a pair of general purpose boots to do.

Cotswold Outdoor – Boot descriptions from their website:

o – Scarpa Kailash Plus GTX Boot

The Men’s Kailash Plus GTX Boot from Scarpa is a classic trekking boot that offers excellent comfort and long lasting reliability. The nubuck upper wraps around your foot for excellent comfort and a rubber toe cap protects against the inevitable scuffs and scrapes along the way. The Gore-Tex lining offers incredible weather protection and is breathable to help maintain a comfortable environment on the inside of the boot while the Vibram outsole offers durable and sturdy grip on a huge range of terrains.

o – Hanwag Banks II GTX Boot

The Men’s Banks II GTX Boot from Hanwag is a lightweight and comfortable boot for hiking and trekking as well as other outdoor activities.

It features a Gore-Tex lining to offer excellent wet weather protection as well as breathability to ensure a healthy environment for your foot. The Air-Pulse system in the boot helps to maintain air circulation for enhanced comfort even on long days out, it works thanks to a pumping action in the tongue and cushioning everytime you take a step. The sole of the boot can be replaced too so even if you wear them out you can keep hold of what will surely become your trusty, beloved boots.

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