Many ramblers swear by hiking boots. Others, choose not to wear them at all. Here I weigh in on what's appropriate for the kind of walk that we do at UCL Hiking Club.
Why wear walking shoes or boots at all?
Often, walkers cite additional foot and ankle support as the main reason to wear boots instead of normal trainers for their hikes. While this is true, I think more can be said for how boots help us tackle tricky terrain - either rocks or mud! In the UK, we often find that the grass underfoot is wet, and the ground can be quite waterlogged and marshy in places. This can make the trails very muddy very quickly, especially in areas of high foots fall - just look at some of our pictures from the last few weeks if you need any confirmation of this! Unlike trainers, boots have a much deeper tread on the sole of the shoe. This helps to provide grip on most surfaces, and is great for when mud starts sticking to your shoes as the tread can often reach through the top most layer of mud, providing more stability when you step.
Another key benefit of boots is that they often come with a waterproof lining. If you're likely to be out when the weather is wet (or has recently been), this lining will help to keep your feet dry for much longer, and thus your feet will stay much more toasty inside as your footwear is not full of cold muddy water! The best boots are almost completely waterproof, and you'll happily be striding through even the biggest puddles. You can pretty much guarantee your feet will get wet if you try hiking in wet weather wearing only trainers, so this is one of the biggest advantages for walking on the hills in the UK during our autumn and winter. Another thing to point out here is that once your socks are wet, you're much more likely to develop blisters from the fabric rubbing against your foot - ouch! Look out for fabrics like eVent or GoreTex for waterproof but breathable walking shoes!
We've mentioned mud already, but I think we should consider the beauty of having a shoe that is designated as your 'muddy boot'. Generally, once your trainers are muddy, you'll never get them looking street-worthy again. Lucky for you, boots are often made in dark browns, greys, greens and blacks - perfectly complimenting the muddy tones you're about to add! Keeping your boots as your main muddy shoe will mean your trainers get to stay looking fresh for longer! As boots are often made with much tougher materials than trainers, you can also put them to one side to dry out, and then brush the mud off with a stiff brush - much more efficient than trying to wash your shoes!
As you're unlikely to be tempted to wear walking boots around town, you'll find that a pair of boots can last a pretty long time. If you take care of your boots, a good pair can last many years. While the initial payment can seem like a lot of money, think of how far you can walk in them before needing to replace your boots! I was pretty disappointed to find that my boots only lasted 2 years and a few months, until I worked out how far they've taken me…
Based on the trips I can remember doing, including UCL Hiking day walks and residentials, my personal walking trips to Scotland, the Peak District, Yorkshire, the Lake District, Wales and many more, I estimate my last pair of boots have done around 1400-1500 miles (2200-2400 km). If I could walk over buildings, and on water, that's the equivalent of walking from the UCL Quad all the way to Athens!! And this is only the walks that I remember doing!
What to look for?
There are obviously many different types of boot – from those that are more like a walking shoe/trainer to those that you can go ice climbing in winter in.
For the UCL Hiking walks, generally we’re not asking that you wear something super serious! As we mostly just want everyone to enjoy the walk safely, we only ask that your boots are comfortable and appropriate for the conditions – this mostly means looking for the features I’ve already talked about – deep tread on the soles and a waterproof lining. You can find boots from as little as £30-40, or as much as £200+, so look for something that’s within your budget, and fits your feet. They key is to try on a number of different boots before you buy, if possible. There are many outdoors shops in central London that can help you with your decision.
My top tip for buying boots is that there's no harm in trying them on, then saying to the shop assistant 'hmm I need to think some more to think about this' before going home and looking online for the best price! Flashing your student card is also likely to get you a discount in many outdoors shops. Don't forget that UCL Hiking Club members get 15% discount on non-sale items at Snow+Rock, and Cotswold Outdoors, so you can have a great choice of boots at great prices!