What to look for when you buy walking shoes or boots
Water resistant, breathable, flexible, comfortable, supportive, lightweight, grippy walking boots – it’s the Nordic walking equivalent of gold dust. No wonder it’s the topic of conversation that comes up during most walks. And like the weather, we never seem to tire of talking about it!
If you are looking to switch from walking shoes to boots here’s a few things to consider if you are about to buy:
Leather is the only material that will stay waterproof for any length of time.
A waterproof boot is essential for an enjoyable walk. We have all been lured by the generation of fabric walking boots with waterproof membranes which are light and breathable, but the conclusion of virtually every Nordic walker we have ever met is that they just don’t stay waterproof for long. About ten months on average if you’re out in them most days – no matter how diligent you are with your re-proofing and general maintenance.
We don’t know whether it’s the Nordic walking active heel-toe roll putting a greater stress on the delicate membrane, or if it’s the constant wet grass/mud/stone combination of the areas we walk in, but for most of us it seems that leather is the only consistently reliable waterproof material.
You need a flexible but grippy sole.
Boots become more flexible as you wear them in, but try and choose a pair with good pliability at the outset. It makes the walking action so much more effective. Also check the tread – you want something with a good grip across grass, mud and stony ground. Ask the sales assistant for help on this as boots have different outsoles and lug patterns depending on what the boot is primarily designed for.
Vibram soles are the benchmark for quality but many manufacturers are now using their own, similar brand.
Weight is important.
A small difference in the weight of your boot makes a big difference to your hip flexors on a long walk. This is where fabric walking boots come up trumps as they are generally lighter than their leather counterparts. You don’t need a toe-box for Nordic walking.
Ankle height and lacing design provide support but it’s a matter of personal taste.
For many the ankle is a vulnerable area, so the height and rigidness of a boot’s ankle support is a big deal. The tighter the boot sits around your ankle, the more support it gives that area, but it comes at the cost of restricted freedom of movement and possible overheating.
The way a boot is laced is also surprisingly important. The closer the lacing starts towards the toe the better you will be able to mould it to your foot. Particularly useful if you have wide or narrow feet.
To help your choice further we asked our instructors what they wear so you have some tried and tested recommendations…
Our most highly recommended boot is worn by three of our instructors and is the Womens Scarpa Terra GTX. It has a Vibram sole which gives a decent grip, extremely important when you hit mud. They’re flexible which is important to get the correct heel/toe roll, lightweight, supportive and you’ll be able to use them through autumn, spring and winter. They keep you comfortable without weighing you down.
A great all-rounder, not the cheapest but you get what you pay for – a good quality, attractive and very waterproof boot.
Being a vegan Lindsay was delighted to discover vegan Scarpa boots, the Maverick GTX. She’s had them for a few weeks now and so far so good, still waterproof and very comfortable. We’ll follow up with her in spring to see how the waterproof Gore-Tex lining held up over the winter.
Patsy tried Scarpa but they didn’t fit her well, so she’s on her third pair of Berghaus Ridge GTX and she says they’re as comfortable as slippers. They’re a good looking oiled nubuck boot with Vibram soles and excellent support around the ankle without being restrictive. The cushioned footbed adds another level of comfort.
Marcus loves his Fremington Lite Altberg boots. Altberg are a company from Yorkshire with an excellent reputation and a wide selection of hiking boots (they also do military and police boots). The leather is tougher and Marcus says he prefers these as they’re more waterproof than the softer leather.
Lorna swears by her Lowa Renegade GTX Mid WS boots. The Renegade is Lowa’s best selling boot and comes in narrow or wide fit. As the leather is nubuck it’s important to keep waterproofing them. Regular conditioning and waterproofing will make your boots last a lot longer, it’s well worth the time and effort.
Sarah finds boots uncomfortable around her ankles so she wears walking shoes all year round. Her current favourites are Alphacross from Salomon.
If you want to keep your feet extra warm and dry in walking shoes or boots it’s worth investing in waterproof socks, a snazzy invention which are much more comfortable than they sound. Just make sure when you wear them you keep your toenails short, don’t wear them round the house as they snag easily, wash them only in non-bio detergent and let them dry naturally (tumble drying will ruin them). We wear a lining sock under ours to help protect the membrane and to give our feet an extra level of warmth.
Sealskinz are the most popular brand but there are other brands around. Aldi and Lidl sell great priced waterproof socks but you’ll need to get in quick as they sell out in no time.
Whatever you choose make sure your shoes or boots are comfortable, fit your feet well and you’ve walked around in them before you buy, in the socks you intend to wear. Some shops do a free boot fitting service which can really help.
Check out the Boot Buddy a brilliant way to keep your boots and tread nice and clean.
We look forward to seeing you on a beautiful, blustery autumnal Nordic walk with the wind in our hair and dry, warm feet. Bliss!
The Bristol and Bath Nordic Walking Team
You can find our favourite Nordic walking poles here, plus if you’re looking for our advice on best walking kit here’s our recommendations on the best:
walking socks (socks are an important but forgotten factor!).