That’s how long my main walking boots last.
After that time the uppers might still look pristine but the soles are tyres without treads, rubbed smooth from doing their best to keep me upright whilst negotiating steep goat trails. It takes a couple of skittery ‘Ministry of Silly Hiking Walk’ moments to alert me to there being a problem down below (note to self: always check sole treads before hiking trips). I’m invariably shocked to see how little tread on is left on boots after not having had them for very long. If there were hiking police monitoring trails when this happens, I’d be ordered to get off the ‘road’ immediately and find myself with a hefty fine for walking with dangerous soles.
In the last decade and a half I’ve learnt a lot about hiking boots and shoes. Which is why we have a shoe rack inside our front door filled with them. We own five pairs each; different ones for varying conditions. Wherever we’re travelling to and whatever type of walking is required determines which comes with us.
First choice boots
These are top dog in the rack; the ones which have the life span of two years as they get worn most. They have to be comfortable (obviously); relatively light (I used to have a cracking pair of Brashers but they were so heavy my feet sighed when I took them off after a long hike); be waterproof; have a confident grip on steep surfaces; give good ankle support; and feature a hard toecap to protect my tootsies from boulders with malicious intent. Their cushioned soles need to be thick, this is what distinguishes them from the number two pair in the rack. These are the boots we use for level 3 type walking; lots of steep ascents and descents on the sort of terrain which batters the soles of feet if you’re not wearing the right boots.
My current number one boots are an inexpensive pair of Qechua Trek 100, chosen simply because they felt right. Salomon, Lowa, and Merrill of an equivalent type were all tried and discarded because they didn’t. So far this year they’ve been tested on hard, volcanic slopes on Tenerife and skittery forest paths on La Palma, as well climbing in and out of valleys in the hilly north east of Portugal. They’re as comfortable at the end of a long, challenging walk as they are at the start. I’d buy them again when the soul wears out.
Second in command
The differences between my number one and number two boots include a lighter upper (no reinforced toe cap) and a not so robust sole. Apart from that, they have good tread, some ankle support, and are waterproof. I was given a pair of Lowa GTX3s to test on a Gore-Tex trip which involved spending three days walking the final section of the Camino de Santiago. There wasn’t any ascending/descending as such and the path was mostly even and wide. The boots proved extremely comfortable on that terrain. Then I made the mistake of taking them to the island of Andros in Greece where we were helping put together a new itinerant walking holiday for Inntravel. Andros is a hilly island where routes involve climbing in and out of valley after valley. Although the island’s paths are immaculately maintained former trading routes, their stone surfaces are hard on the soles. The Lowa boots were too lightweight; lesson learned. On lower grade walking, however, they’re perfect. They’ve helped me comfortably negotiate paths in the Minho and Arrabida in Portugal as well as lavender field-lined trails in la Drôme Provençale in France. The thinner soles also make driving easier – almost like just wearing shoes.
Special snow boots were bought purely for a winter trip to Zermatt. As snow walking isn’t something that’s usually on our agenda I opted for the cheapest I could find which would prevent frostbite/trench foot. Decathlon came up with the goods with their Qechua SH520 snow hiking boots (€45). These promised to both keep my toes warm in temperatures of -16C and ensure I stayed upright on snow-covered paths. Bottom line, I absolutely loved wearing them. They had all the specs of my main walking boots, but felt extra cosy in deep snow and biting cold. Plus, their firm grip on the path was confidence boosting, even on steep descents. In fact, I found descending forest trails in the snow far easier than on snow-free paths. The crunch they made on freshly fallen white stuff was especially satisfying. They’ll also be good for non-snow walking, so a good investment.
Lightweight walking shoes are my go to footwear for easy, unchallenging walking – around the cork forest next to us; a stroll on flat, soft terrain to the Sado Estuary 7km away. They’re also great for city walking. We can easily notch up more kilometres walking around a city than we do walking in the countryside, so comfy shoes are essential. I’ve been using Decathlon’s Qechua NH100 walking shoes (around €14) for years, replacing them on a semi-regular basis. The big problem with them is they are useless in wet weather. Even damp grass leaves them sodden. Once the insides are wet that’s it, they’re finished. Maybe it’s time I invested in a more expensive brand which are waterproof.
At one time I wore walking sandals a lot. On Tenerife they kept my feet cool on average length walks on non-rocky terrain such as pine-covered forest paths in the upper Orotava Valley. But annoying things do have a tendency to sneak between the foot and the inner sole; twigs, pine needles, sand, painful pebbles. Now I only wear them for strolling about in short-wearing summer months.
Ultimately, each plays an important role in keeping my feet happy in various walking scenarios. Unlike in the realm of hobbits, elves, dwarves and men, there isn’t one ring to rule them all. Or, in this case, one boot to walk them all.