If you’re heading out for a walk, hike or trek, the most important gear you’ll need are the shoes on your feet. Having the correct footwear can mean the difference between a comfortable, pain-free journey and having to call it quits after only a short stretch. Matching your footwear to the terrain is essential and there are several factors you need to consider when selecting a new pair.
Water defence, breathability, flexibility, support, materials, cushioning and grip all play important roles. We’re going to break down some of the main options available and help you prepare for your next outing.
Walking boots are rugged and built for tough terrain and harsh conditions. They are a solid choice for all kinds of walking as they effectively protect feet in a variety of ways and even protect your ankles too. Hiking boots are best suited to harsh conditions and won’t offer the same level of breathability and comfort over prolonged use as other shoes, however their protective capabilities make them a smart choice for long, hard hikes and distance trekking.
Hiking boots will generally have either Leather or synthetic upper sections. The primary difference between these two materials is waterproofing and breathability. Leather will effectively block out moisture for a prolonged time but won’t be as good at moving sweat vapour. Synthetic is the opposite and will provide a high breathability thanks to mesh patches but won’t be as successful at keeping moisture out. To that end it’s best to pick leather for wet days with marshy terrain and synthetic for lighter rain on warmer days.
The midsoles of our hiking boots are made from several different materials and have different features to aid use. EVA is regularly used in producing midsoles thanks to its high cushioning, while still remaining a lightweight fabric. We regularly use a specialist form of EVA called Phylon, which creates a structure that promotes further comfort and cushioning. In addition, you may find some boots are made with a steel shank that helps them keep their shape. This is helpful for protecting your feet and giving you freedom on rocky terrain as the boots will remain rigid on uneven ground.
Typically, walking boots‘ outsoles will be made from rubber because it’s durable, waterproof and tough. You need a sole that protects, offers an effective grip and keeps your feet dry. Rubber does all of these, which is why it’s such a fantastic material for use in soles. You’ll also find that many of our hiking boots are made with Vibram soles. These are specially designed for improved traction and durability, making them perfect for a range of conditions and varied terrain. Most hiking boots will have wide grips; these are best suited for slippery terrain.
Trail shoes are a lighter style of shoe and don’t have the same ankle protection as boots. They weigh a lot less and are closer in style to a typical trainer. These shoes are the favoured choice of trail runners but have become popular with hikers too for their comfort and versatility. While they don’t offer the same weather protection, they are great for technical stretches and scrambling.
Trail shoes uppers are primarily made with suede or PU for flexibility and comfort. In addition, almost all trail shoes will have multiple mesh patches to promote breathability. While this won’t keep moisture out as well, it is designed for maximum comfort. This is perfect for warmer conditions with milder weather and the lightweight design helps to keep you light on your feet. The low ankle cuff also lightens designs but you won’t get the same protection from debris or the stability the ankle cuff offers.
The midsoles in trail shoes play a similar role to the midsoles in boots but are generally more flexible. Most of our midsoles will be made from EVA or PU. While very similar, a simple way to differentiate is that EVA is best for cushioning while PU is better for flexibility. Consider your needs when selecting one or the other.
The soles on trail shoes are often made of similar materials to hiking boots such as Vibram or simple rubber. They differ, however, in that they are generally thinner for more flexibility, thus decreasing protection. Additionally, trails shoes will have tighter grip patterns which are better suited for rocky terrain. To further increase their grip on rocky terrain, they are designed with tough sections beneath and around the toe for technical reasons. While similar in style, it is not advised to use trail shoes in place of climbing shoes.
If you’re going to be walking on flat ground that is generally stable, trainers are perfectly fine to wear. Lightweight and flexible, these shoes are designed for roads and pavements so won’t handle rocky terrain so well and are generally built for comfort over protection.
Designed for maximum breathability, the upper sections on trainers have multiple mesh patches and the most lightweight materials. These will keep you cool, even on hot days but won’t defend against the cold and wet as well as their tougher counterparts. Padding and defence will be lower too, so you won’t be protected from debris in simple trainers.
The midsoles on our trainers are primarily made from the same materials as our other footwear. The likes of EVA and PU are a common variable, although in trainers the padding will be lighter to keep the weight of the shoe down. However, trainers are designed to prevent injury from repetitive movements and downwards pressure, so they will help keep you safe over a long walk.
Our trainers generally feature a layer of rubber beneath the EVA or PU midsoles that protects the shoe and helps prevent moisture getting in. The thin layer still allows full flexibility however, as trainers are meant to compliment your foot’s natural stride. Generally trainers will have wider grips as slipping is the main issue. This makes them a good choice for paths rather than uneven ground.
With these three options you can cover yourself for a range of conditions. Which pair of shoes is right for you is based primarily on where you’ll be walking. Hiking boots are a smart choice for tough conditions in the wind and rain when the ground is unstable and varied. They may seem cumbersome but their protection is unparalleled on the mountain. Trail shoes are great for uneven terrain and will allow quick traversing on rocks and other rough ground. They won’t offer the same protection so they are often considered a more advanced choice. Trainers are perfect for uniform ground such as roads, pavements and well-beaten paths. They are the lightest in weight but also offer the lightest protection.
Consider what kind of conditions you’ll likely be facing and use this guide to help steer your choice. You’ll quickly find footwear that suits your walking style and your destination with our neat nuggets of advice.