Walking shoes and boots: hiking we're liking
Walking shoes come in handy if you're going fastpacking, peak bagging, hiking, or even just walking.
The perfect walking shoe or boot should be luxuriously comfortable, unstintingly waterproof, heroically breathable, tank-like in its ruggedness, with grip like Spider-Man's socks. It also needs to feather-light so your calfs aren't working overtime. As with most outdoor clobber, the perfectionist's dream isn't yet a reality – compromises have to be made somewhere. But we're getting ever closer.
Shoes are an item worth buying from a shop (remember them?) as a bad fit could cause you grief on the hills. Ask an assistant for advice on fitting. Anything that feels even slightly tight is too small, as feet expand during a long walk. That's why it's better to go shopping in the afternoon of a warm day, when your feet have already expanded.
Treat your boots well – clean off muck and re-waterproof them sometimes – and they'll repay the favour. Chuck them, still dirty, in the bottom of the cupboard and they'll wreak their revenge on you. Consider yourself warned.
Our man Damian is an outdoor journalist who's happiest when running or walking long distances in lumpy places. His next book, the self-explanatorily-titled Long Distance Walking in Britain is out in spring.
Salomon X Ultra Trek Gtx • £150
French brand Salomon is renowned for its premium, cutting-edge, lightweight gear, worn by elite athletes such as multisport mountain god Kilian Jornet. High top, lightweight but with reassuringly aggressive grip make the X Ultra Trek Gtx a great option for fast backpacking and day hikes in rugged terrain.
Rubber protection against toe-hating rocks, and waterproof Nubuck full leather upper make these feel all the more bombproof – but with extra comfort in key places and crucially without weighing you down. These are tough but for the spring-heeled.
The North Face Ultra Extreme II Goretex Boots • £140
Aimed at the winter walker, TNF's Ultra Extreme II combine the renowned waterproofing and breathability of Gore-Tex and the commonplace for good reason grippy Vibram soles, in this case Icetrek.
These are ideal for those whose toes get cold easily, as Duratherm insulation provides additional warmth for cold weather walks. The other trick feature is the patent-pending Snake Plate, a forefoot plate that allows the foot to flex, bend and contort to changing terrain, while retaining rigidity. Impressive.
AKU Bellamont FG GTX • £130
AKU's new Bellamont FG GTX are a lightweight option that'll have you happily gallivanting over mixed terrain but are equally comfortable when you're settling down in the beer garden afterwards.
Reliable grip comes courtesy of a Vibram ECO STEP rubber, while full grain leather means comfort and durability, and a Gore-Tex liner adds extra waterproofing. The more conscientious will be pleased to know the double-density die-cut EVA midsole is made from recycled materials.
This avant-garde trainer-shoe-boot hybrid is perfect for pub walks or days split over the rural and urban activities.
Merrell Capra Leather • £140
In the Capra, Merrell may just have designed the most comfortable but rugged shoe yet.Aimed at fastpacker types but actually a very versatile shoe, it boasts a UniFly air cushion in the heel that absorbs shock and keeps you stable.
Vibram MegaGrip keeps your feet on the ground, while a hoof-inspired (rather than inspired on the hoof) split-toe outsole helps you deal dextrously with steep and uneven terrain, and a leather Gore-Tex upper does everything you'd expect of it. Plus they just look damn fine, and are suitable for scrambling and even trail running, especially in the low-cut option that's also available.
Teva Kimtah Mid Event Leather • £120
There's very much a sense of the old-school being brought up to date with Teva's new Kimtah Mid Event Leather. They're more rugged and aggressive than their appearance suggests.
As well as being waterproof – using eVent plus leather – the boot has stubborn Spider365 Rubber grip and big hungry lugs. Stabilising technology helps keep you in control on tricky terrain and if you do misjudge a step, shock absorption is thoughtfully provided by a soft Shoc Pad in the heel.
Anatom Q3 Braeriach • £145
Designed specifically with Scotland's hefty granite Cairngorm mountains in mind, these are a Munro bagger's dream, and dripping with old-school charm.
The downside of Gore-Tex is if water gets in over the top of a boot it's likely to slosh around your toes for a good while. Leather, by contrast, isn't as waterproof, but will let the wet stuff out quicker. The Braeriachs are made with 2.6mm Anfibio Leather, with a Rubber Tow Bumper, so they should be fine for rock football. Underneath Vibram grip is like tractor tyres, but also offers good shock absorption, and there's surprising levels of comfort and stability.
Salomon Evasion GTX • £100
Another of Salomon's desirable, elite-level, lightweight clobber, the new Evasion GTX may look more shoe than boot, but it's as rugged as a barrel-load of angry rocks.
A suede leather and Gore-Tex mix make them durable and waterproof, while Contragrip is superbly effective underneath and rubber reinforcements at the toe mean that stubbing a pinkie isn't felt unduly… or even at all.
The shoe is perfectly comfortable, breathable and can handle much more than its relatively subtle appearance suggests.
AKU Nuvolo GTX • £135
These part suede offerings from AKU are an intriguing mix of hill conquering ruggedness and festival-, street- and even pub-level social acceptability. However, that trainer-esque appearance belies a tough cookie, with rubber toe caps and Italian leather, lined with Gore-Tex Performance Comfort, whileelsewhere, AIR8000 is claimed to be 11 times more breathable than traditional textiles.
Like most shoes here, the grip is from Vibram, in this case Predator II MegaGrip, specifically aimed at wet/mixed terrain. A three-level inner sole provides great comfort, making this a versatile wolf in sheep's footwear.
The North Face Verbera Backpacker Goretex • £180
Aimed primarily at the backpacker or those who might carry heavy loads over challenging terrain (so not necessarily the Cotswolds), The North Face Men's Verbera Backpacker GTX boots are Gore-Tex so they're waterproof while being breathable and your little pinkies shouldn't get too sweaty, which leads to blisters.
They're fearlessly functional, but classy and techy too, with full-grain Italian leather uppers, Smartlite mudguards, Northotic foot beds and Ortholite cushioning for support. Vibram outsoles provide traction on slick terrain. For the mountain man.
Zamberlan 132 AIROUND GTX RR • £145
They mightn't please everyone aesthetically, but Zamberlan's Airound shoes are another good option for those wanting to travel fast and light over challenging ground.
Here, comfort is laid on by the “exclusive” Zamberlan Vibram Speed Hiking Lite outsole that also makes use of new Gore-Tex Surround technology membrane, for dependable waterproofness and breatheability. Stay-on-your-foot-in-a-peat-bog comfort and reassurance is provided by the 3D mesh upper with PU sealings, net inserts and elastic gusset. Live fast, die young and all that.
Mammut Comfort Low GTX Surround • £88
Another shoe aimed at fastpacker types, Mammut prioritises comfort (there's a clue in the name) with the lightweight new Mammut Comfort Low GTX Surround. The Mammut-patented Rolling Concept includes an IP EVA wedge that promotes cushioning and integrated arch support, plus a protective liquid rubber toe cap – ideal for big-toe protection on fast downhills.
These also boast high-quality ventilation thanks to new Gore-Tex Aurround technology, which should also keep your toe ring rust-free. The new Sonar comfort sole by Gripex features multi-directional lugs and two different rubber hardnesses, for effective grip on multiple terrains.
Keen Wanderer • £120
Keen's new Wanderer prioritises comfort over ruggedness, being aimed at fast-paced treks on tough terrain rather than more leisurely, low-level yomps.
Sterling shock absorption is provided by the unique 'direct injection PU Midsole', which focuses on cushioning and stability, with an integrated heel cushion locking directly into the footbed to add to that five-star feel. A dual-compound outsole combines two types of rubber for reliable traction, and mesh-lined suede leather and KEEN.DRY waterproof membrane should keep the classic British weather out.
Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi WP • £150
A leftfield option from the French running shoe company that divides opinion, mainly on aesthetic grounds. As you can see, for Hoka One One it's all about the cushioning (and making short people feel taller). The Tor Ultra Hi WP put 32mm (at the heel; 28mm at the front) between you and knee-troubling slabstones or other hard surfaces.
Weighing an unlikely 485g, despite appearances they're barely heavier than most other options here. Wet weather protection comes from Gore-Tex's main rival eVent®, while natural leather and sturdy nylon mesh help provide good ankle support. Again Vibram MegaGrip helps keep you upright.
Inov-8 Roclite 286 GTX • £125
Despite sounding like an early 90s rave act, Inov-8 primarily makes very popular trail running shoes with suction-like grip. Its Roclites, however, are well suited to the fastpacker or peak bagger.
Like most of the options here, they're Gore-Tex, so waterproof and breathable, and in fact they claim to be the world's lightest GoreTex boot, at just 286g, so will suit those who want to mountain-goat nimbleon mixed terrain. Fuss-free protection from the elements is combined with excellent flexibility, but also targeted stability at the ankle, and therefore great comfort. It's unlikely anything will grip better in mud at, for instance, an all-night, outdoor rave (or up a hill).