Thursday, 21 February 2013

Buying the right walking boots

I see there were a few questions in the comments yesterday, on the latest walking post. Rather than skim through them, I thought I would do a mini series on all aspects of walking, whether it be easy walks for the beginner, or longer distances on unfamiliar routes for those wishing to up their game. Although I have quite a lot of experience, I tend to forget that not everyone has the confidence or the ability to walk 20 miles in a day, using a map for navigation. Perhaps if I go through the basics it might inspire anyone thinking about getting started. You don't have to walk great distances to reap the benefits of walking, a few miles pottering around your home town is enough to keep the muscles flexible. If you are not used to regular walking you will find that in the beginning you will ache a little, but over time, and walking at every opportunity, your body will become more flexible and the muscle ache will gradually become less noticeable.

I have always loved walking, and getting away out into the countryside. I have old Ordnance Survey maps for the Peak District where I used to walk regularly when I was in my twenties. It was a short drive from my home in Burton upon Trent to Ashbourne, Buxton, or Bakewell. I enjoyed many long days out on the hills. My walking was mostly alone, because I didn't have any friends who had similar ambitions. Walking is a great stress buster, it gives you time to ponder, time to take in the beauty of the landscape around you, and for a while be at peace with yourself and the world.

Then work got in the way, and for a long time I wasn't as able to get out as much as I would have liked. Working 60 hours a week at a physically and mentally demanding job leaves little time for anything else except flopping down on the sofa at the weekends. But now I am retired, I am pleased that I can take it up again and delighted that I have the energy to do it. I didn't start walking longer distances, and by that I mean over a period of several days, untill 2011, when I got a train to Blackpool and walked back home, a distance of 137 miles in seven days. The first few days were hard, but I felt a great sense of achievement at the end of it, even though I hadn't done the full distance that I had planned. The fact that I managed to walk the thirty miles from Selby to the Humber Bridge on day seven, still amazes me even now when I think about it.

In this first post of the mini series on walking I want to talk about the most important part of the equipment you will need. If you want to walk a long way, you need to make sure that your feet will stand up to the hours and hours of pounding over all terrains, from tarmac roads, cobbled paths, rough dirt tracks, muddy uneven footpaths, slippery wet grass, jagged boulders and rocks, and boggy fields. Your ankles will need support so proper walking boots are a must.

I have several pairs of boots, but only one good pair for walking long distances. I have cheaper boots which I bought for a few quid at car boot sales and charity shops, these are ok for local walks for up to about three miles, but any further and my feet would be sore, because they are not a perfect fit. My best boots fit me like a glove.

How to chose boots. The only way is to go to an outdoor shop and spend time trying them on. It took me a couple of hours of trying almost every boot on in the shop before I found mine. Take socks with you, preferebly the socks you might wear while out walking. I wear a thin pair and a thick wooly pair. Wearing the right socks is a bit trial and error, try several combinations on short walks first before you tackle a long walk. You do not have to pay a fortune to buy good socks. I use the socks I already have, I've got a drawer full of them. My feet don't sweat very much at all, but if your's do you need to get socks that won't get damp soon after you start walking.

What causes blisters? If your feet move in your boots, the rubbing will give you blisters. What you are aiming for is no movement at all. This is why you try lots of socks until you find the right ones. So, you want snug fitting boots. After an hour or so you might need to stop and re do your laces, because they stretch and can work lose. If you find your feet moving about adjust your laces to stop it. Don't tie them too tight so that your toes get squashed as that would be uncomfortable and will give you cramp in your toes. There should be some ankle support in the boots, to stop your foot going sideways if you step on a wonky bit of rock. Put your fingers inside the boots and feel around for any hard surfaces or uneven stitching that might become a problem later on, especially around the heels. Always check that the boots fit correctly across the widest part of the foot. I have large bunions, no pain at all I may add, so I need wide fitting boots.

These days a lot of boots are made of fabric which has been treated to make them waterproof. I am not too keen on these, as they are not very easy to clean. I much prefer leather boots, where I can brush the dry dirt off them and cover them in boot wax. My boots were waterproof when I first had them, but now I find after nearly three years they are leaking. I think all boots leak eventually. I will keep on wearing mine because they are so comfortable. If my feet get wet on a long walk, I just dry the boots out each night.

You can buy a decent pair of boots for around £100, I wouldn't go much lower than that because you will find that they use materials of inferior quality. Mine were £110, I paid £55 in the half price sale. I must say they have been excellent boots. They told me that I could try them out at home. If I only wore them on carpets in the house and found they weren't right, they said I could bring them back and change them. I didn't need to, they were perfect from day one. When you buy boots ask about the try at home deal.

Once you have your boots, you might think about getting a waterproof jacket and over trousers. There is some very expensive kit out there, some walkers like to go for the must have names, and wouldn't be seen dead in some cheap Joe Bloggs gear. There is no need  to spend a fortune. My jacket was £30 from Trespass, and my over trousers were £12 from a department store. Perfectly adequate. If you need to buy a small back pack for day walks, you can get them quite cheaply. Put things in plastic bags as you pack them, then if the pack isn't fully waterproof it doesn't matter. All other clothes can be what you already have, nothing fancy needed.

Tomorrow, I'll answer the question of how to keep safe while walking alone, I am asked this question constantly. Toodle pip.

18 comments:

  1. Have you ever tried Aldi or Lidl for waterproof trousers or jackets. They are very good and really reasonably priced. Unfortunately they are not on sale all the time, but are well worth keeping an eye out for. You can keep tabs on weekly offers on their web sites. I also bought some walking boots from there. They were comfortable for short walks and well priced.

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  2. Totally agree with you. As I couldn't afford anything expensive I got some cheap boots from sprtsdrct and within a few months the rivets came away. OH's aren't even a year old and they have started to leek (and you are right they are a pain to clean!) We have decided to go for leather this time as OH's old leather walking boots were years old before they started to leak. He bought them quite cheaply from the Army Stores - does this store still exist?? I remember it being great for walking gear.

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  3. I entirely agree re the boots. My first attempt at walking 'properly' was in the early 90s. I bought some boots and they dug in me and made my ankles swell. I bought Brasher after that. You're right, fabric boots are so difficult to clean, leather all the time.

    The last time I did some serious walking was Manchester to Todmorden along the canal, 21 miles but I forgot my thick socks and hobbled the last half as my feet were all over the place in the boots. I was walking awkwardly to compensate and it was hell. I had to finish as pride wouldn't let me fail. Also I had to get a train from Todmorden to Manchester where husband would pick me up.

    Re Sals View's comment as above, I bought a waterproof soft shell jacket from Lidl which has been great for cycling but I spilt paint on it when I was painting a milepost on the Transpennine way! Still wear it though.

    I've never worried about walking along, as I have walked mostly alone, for the same reason as Ilona.

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  4. Thanks for this great post full of info I've been wondering about.

    from Nancy in Northern California

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  5. What about hats - I get cold ears.

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  6. I have been looking at walking boots but all I see are the canvas ones. I was glad of your post and will look for leather ones next UK trip...you answered the questions I had. It is always scary to spend a lot of $$(or £££) on boots you hope will work out!

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  7. My boots are Brasher and really comfortable . I got them last year for £4.95 in the salvation army shop . They can't have known how expensive they are to buy . They had never been worn so a real bargain

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  8. I'm right with you on the boots, Ilona. A guy I know really really well :) sells very good quality workboots at his shop, and he's especially annoyed about customers who'll think nothing of spending lots for the latest electronic gizmos, but who balk at paying a fair price for boots that they'll wear every single day to work. And don't get him started on people who don't spend the few minutes to take care of the leather in those boots ......

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  9. Really enjoy reading your blog......am hmmm (40)older student returning to education.......overweight and no engery.

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  10. I had some great walking boots that served me well on many walking holidays here (Algonquin park was a favourite).They died a death a while back...I miss those boots... and the holidays.
    Jane x

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  11. So helpful, thanks so much for sharing.

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  12. Hi there.Jan here.Glad your walks have started again.I can't do much at the moment as my old canine pal has a constitutional rather than the long treks of yesteryear now.Means I'm totally out of practice but great to hear about your treks.I have some great walking boots,from one of the vegetarian shoe companies,look and act like 'proper'ones,which I wouldn't have.I remember they were pretty expensive though,but have stood the test of time and have many more miles in them yet.I marvel at your ability to navigate on your walks,can't wait for some tips.Thanks.

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  13. Lots of good tips there, comfortable feet are an absolute must when walking over any distance.

    Sue xx

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  14. Loving those funky pink socks!

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  15. I so agree about leather boots rather than fabric ones. I don`t often get the chance for a longish walk but do have good boots for such an event. I`m like Ilona and Campfire. I like the time out there on my own. I relish the peace and the oppertunity to listen to nature. Not having to chat to anyone occasionally is also biss. It re-charges the physical as well as the mental batteries.

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  16. Great post ! The only thing about fabric boots is that they are lighter. Thanks for all the advice.

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  17. I think sometimes fabric boots are ok for a shorter, good-weather walk as they are lighter. But like some of those before me I have leather Brasher boots. They look a bit old-fashioned now as I have had them for nearly 20 years and I think they cost about £70 when I bought them. Don't do as much walking as you Ilona which is why they have lasted so long, but the comfort on any walk is imperative. I always use thickish socks to keep my feet warm and snug and so far have not had any problems with blisters. Your advice is very welcome from such a knowledgeable walker and I look forward to reading the rest of your 'lessons'. Thank you. Ann x

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  18. My favorite shoes ever where a pair of leather walking shoes I bought at Decathlon. They where reduced to 30€ from 150€ (I have a big shoe size, so I sometimes get deals like that when they are getting rid of old stock). Lasted me about a decade, and when they where trow out was because the leather was worn, they where still in one piece.

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