Hiking Boots

 

Key points to look at when you are buying hiking boots:

  • Make sure the leather uppers made in only one piece of leather.
  • Check that there is a high rubber-rand between the sole and the uppers.
  • The tongue has to be sewn all the way to the top of the ankle.
  • Soft, but supportive ankle guard.
  • Minimal amount of sewn seams.
  • The innerlayer should be de of Gortex to make the boots breathable.
  • The soles should have good grip on rock and grass.

Boots and other footwear

Boots are perhaps the most vital piece of equipment for spending time in the mountains. They should be comfortable, durable and waterproof if you are going on extended multi-day hikes. If you are doing a shorter trip or day hike it may be more comfortable to use a lighter nylon boot or even a hiking/approach shoe.

Hiking footwear can basically be divided up into 3 types:

  1. Leather boots – for serious hiking, long distances and heavy backpacks.
  2. Nylon boots – less serious, shorter hikes and light backpacks.
  3. Approach / hiking shoes – day hikes, light loads and approaches to rock climbs.

Hiking boots today are either made of leather or nylon or a combination of both types of material. Some more expensive models have Gortex incorporated into the uppers, making them almost fully waterproof.

Leather hiking boots

Leather boots must be made of thick cowhide leather with double stitched seams on good rubber soles such as those made by Vibram. How the upper is joined to the sole (called welting) comes in two distinct forms. The traditional way is by the upper being double stitched, flat onto the last and the sole is then glued on underneath. In addition, it may also be nailed or screwed on to add strength. This traditional method works well, but does suffer from water working it’s way through the stitching when wet conditions are experienced for a long time.

The newer way of upper to sole attachment, is by using a rubber rand around the edge of the boot, which then holds all the components together as one. This is both highly durable and more water resistant than traditional welting, but does not allow the foot to breath so easily.

The upper and randing should be the same width or slightly wider that the sole. This enables the wearer to get a grip on smaller edges when walking on steep gradients, a term known as “edging”.

Leather boots are also more water resistant and stronger when the upper is made from a single piece of leather. This design has fewer or no seams exposed on the upper, making it a better design and far more durable than boots made up of many pieces of leather. The tongue of a leather boot should also be sewn all the way to the top of the ankle guard area.

Leather boots are usually quite stiff and hard when new. It is therefore best to walk them in over several kilometers prior to using them in the mountains.

If snow or prolonged rain could be encountered on the walk or if heavy backpacks are to be carried over rough ground, then full leather boots should be worn. Ankle or full snow gaiters can also improve water resistance of boots.

Nylon hiking boots

Nylon hiking boots are often more comfortable than leather and they seldom need to be walked in prior to proper use. Due to all the stitching used in these boots they are never fully waterproof even, when Gortex has been used in the construction. Nylon boots tend to be “lighter” and are best used for less serious hiking. They are very good when doing easy low level hikes and where most of the walking will be on good paths.

Approach shoes

These come in both nylon and leather design. They are lightweight and comfortable and used for easy hiking and scrambling. Due to their design they can give remarkable support and stability. Most often they aren’t water resistant and should not be used for carrying heavy loaded backpacks.

Hiking Boot Care

All types of footwear should be washed after each trip. In the case of all-nylon boots, ordinary soap can be used in combination with warm water and a scrubbing brush. If there is Gortex in the upper of either nylon or leather boots then follow the manufactures care instructions and use Nikwax Footwear cleaning gel.

In the case of full leather boots, wash off any excess mud and grit. Then wash the leather with Nikwax Aqueous Wax or Nikwax Nubuck & Suede. Rinse and then dry in a warm, dry area. When the leather is dry, treat it with a modern type leather care product such as one of the leather care Nikwax products. Again, if there is Gortex in the upper, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and only use Nikwax. Ordinary soaps will degrade the Gortex.

Gavin Raubenheimer

Gavin is the owner & operator of Peak High Mountaineering. He is a certified Mountaineering Instructor (M.I.A.) endorsed by the Mountain Development Trust of SA. He is a NQF National Mountaineering (level 7), Cultural and Nature Guide (level 4). Gavin is a past President of the KwaZulu-Natal Section of the Mountain Club of SA. He has been involved in mountain rescue since 1992 and since 2005 has been the Convener of Mountain Rescue in the province. Want Gavin and his team at Peak High to guide you on a hike? Put yourself in the hands of the certified and experienced experts in mountain hiking, guiding and climbing. See Gavin's Google + profile