Gear: Choosing the right footwear


I remember when I started to focus on walking and hiking and thinking it would be a good choice of hobby given it can’t cost that much to go for a walk… many visits to outdoor activity shops later and I see this may have been just a little naive!

One of the earliest quandaries I encountered was choosing footwear. I knew getting it right was important, yet with limited experience I had little other then brand names to base my early purchases on. I also seemed to think that walking boots were the only way to go. Good sturdy, heavy, old school leather type boots were what I had always worn before so didn’t cross my mind to change now.


My good old Brashers

When I first started getting blisters in my training for the first 100km challenge I decided to make an investment in new footwear. It was a Saturday morning and I’m sure I spent more time trying things on that morning then I had in all previous shopping excursions in the past. Initially starting with good old pair of Brashers I started to then work my way through boots, to mid boots, to walking shoes, to approach shoes, to trail shoes… it was a long morning and thankfully I got on well with the assistant helping me out!

What I did not appreciate is the subtle differences in shape between makes and sizes, then you have what socks you’ll be wearing, how the shoes break in, how you lace them, how my feet will change shape during a long walk, the type of sole, Gortex or not. The number of variables over shorter distances wouldn’t make much of a difference, but for 50km or more they become serious considerations. Then, on top of all that you have the anecdotal evidence coming from people’s personal brand loyalties and individual experiences when seeking help from the internet via reviews and forums. Throw in the pressure that you’re likely taking on a serious walk for some sort of cause and choosing what to wear on your feet can become as daunting as the challenge itself.

Yellow Shoes

Such wonderful looking shoes, yet not for the wet!

The first thing to do is realise that you are simply not going to be 100% sure on your choice of footwear until you’ve walked serious distance in them. Wearing a brand new shoe walking up and down a shop floor, even if they have a little ramp, is going to tell you next to nothing other then the initial fit. There’s an element of luck in play here. All you can look to do is try and take on as much knowledge as you can prior to purchase and make an informed decision. Don’t be disheartened if those amazing shoes you just spent a fortune on end up not being ‘The one’. I had an amazing pair of bright yellow trail shoes from Salomon which looked fantastic. They got me through a full 100km challenge in the dry but did have some serious discomfort in the toes. I ignored this and then they went on to cause a blossoming of toe blisters over a very wet 50km walk where the weather was terrible. The narrow fit was just a little too much for wet weather and actually gave me my first failed 100km challenge (A post on that coming soon).

Scarpa Shoes

My trusty Scarpas, once cursed are now the best I have for serious hill walking

Going back to wearing boots… I actually started my training wearing a pair of Scarpa boots for my long distance walking. Soon after I got a tendonitis injury out during a training walk. Now I’m sure there were several contributing factors to this injury. It was early on in my training and I was pushing my limits, I had trained a lot that week and the boots I chose were tight around the back of the heel. I also believe I laced them too tight. Looking back I have no idea why (other then habit) I was wearing boots to do long distance walking. I still have those boots, and they are fantastic for hill and mountain walking, but I would never now wear them for distance, sticking to shoes.

The key points I would consider when looking to invest (And it is an investment) are the following. I hope they help you…

  • What distance will they generally be used for?
  • What terrain will they be used on (Road, trail, rocky, muddy etc…)?
  • What general traits does the make have (e.g. Salomon narrow fit, Meindl wider)?
  • Will lacing them differently help (Google ‘Lacing Techniques)?
  • What socks will I be using (and wear those socks when going shopping)?
  • How do my feet change shape over time or in heat (I tend to go up 0.5 of a size)?
  • Do you know other people who use the same brand or model?
  • Do you know your gait and general walking style? I walk with more weight on the outside of my foot so look for makes with more cushioning there.
  • If boots, can you get a finger down your Achilles snugly in to the rear of the boot?

The look of the shoes simply should not factor in to it. I know I know, I’ve fallen for amazing looking shoes before too, however we’re not talking fashion here, we’re talking on footwear that you will be relying on. If they look great it’s an absolute bonus, but don’t make the mistakes I’ve made going for looks over fit.

A final point on aftermarket insoles. Unless you have a specific issue to manage with your feet most standard insoles that come with the shoes will suffice. Many people think they need arch support when they don’t, and insoles being used when not needed can cause all sorts of issues with both feet and legs. If in doubt make a visit to a recommended podiatrist for some advice before spending that same money on some insoles that you’ll likely not need. Good luck!