I have a confession. I went to buy some new walking boots yesterday and came out with a pair of shoes instead. That’s it, I’ve said it: I’m out. I bought shoes instead of boots. For hill walking, for trekking in Nepal, for scrambling weekends in the Lakes and Snowdonia, I bought a pair of shoes.
First off let’s make it clear that when I say shoes I don’t mean a nice pair of smart black lace up shoes that I can polish with a tin of Kiwi Parade Gloss nor do I mean a pair of Dunlop Green Flash plimsolls. Nor do I mean a pair of something spiritual like Gandhi’s flip flops or a pair of sandals last seen walking to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. No – none of these would cut the mustard.
I have actually bought a pair of approach shoes. (Scarpa Crux approach shoes work well for me – but there are other brands and options out there).
It all started back in May 2015 when we had a corporate team of 32 lawyers joining us for the Welsh 3000s Challenge. I remember being so incredibly busy organising the event that when I got to the area, I realised that I’d left my walking boots at home. The next day I was due to be leading teams over the Snowdon mountain group and then over the Glyders … And I didn’t have my boots. What I did have however were a new pair of Scarpa Crux approach shoes, there on my feet. Furthermore, I knew that the weather that weekend would be dry. So I thought sod it – I’ll wear the shoes.
At the end of a long day on the hill, I’d climbed 8 mountains and covered around 14 miles and my legs felt remarkably fresh! What’s more, my feet weren’t blistered at all. In fact it was a revelation and I’ve not looked back since. But’s it’s only yesterday that I consciously ditched the boots.
1. Shoes are much lighter than walking boots
The boots that I nearly bought instead of the shoes are 800g heavier a pair. And “a pound on your feet is worth five on your back”. So that 800g saving from my feet is equivalent to not carrying 4Kg in my sack. (That’s four litres of water, or a very good two man mountain tent, or a very lot of my wife’s flap jack).
2. They’re way more comfy
When I go to buy new boots I get the salesperson to get out all the boots that fit my criteria (I’m a nightmare) and then I play winner stays on: one boot of the pair that fit the best stays on. That way I can compare as I go along. The boot I’d been wearing was a good fit. I’d been buying the same boots for 7 years: I knew they fitted really well. Then I tried on the shoes and they were so much better! Shoes are lighter and more comfy. But also boots don’t bend with your feet so much, so they are more likely to lead to blisters than shoes. (And blisters are no fun).
3. No boots really keep your feet dry
Well, boots are better than shoes for keeping your feet dry, but they’re not going to work in all conditions, nor will they work once the Goretex membrane lining them wears through and they start leaking. Nor will they work if you don’t look after them properly. Additionally, the more a pair of boots is made to resist water the less they allow your feet to breathe. So while they may stop water getting in, your feet will end up getting wet with sweat instead. Finally, no boot will ever keep your feet dry when you step into a famous man-eating bog and your legs end up balls-deep in mud and water!
4. “But boots offer me ankle support”
Again, boots do offer better support than shoes, but your ankles will never get strong unless you start walking (and running) across country without that permanent cuff of support around them. More and more people are questioning if ankle support is actually a good thing. You don’t see seasoned fell runners with walking boots on (when they’re out hill walking). That said I do use walking poles which do cover a multitude of sins and have stopped me many a time from going over on my ankle!
5. Boots cost more
The walking boots that I would have bought cost £55 more than the approach shoes that I did buy. That’s £55 I could then spend on other shiny new kit!
6. Approach shoes perform better on the rock
Many days I spend out on the mountain with clients will involve guiding on grade 1 scrambles. The approach shoes I wear are designed with stickier, grippier soles and on technical or steep terrain these make a huge difference. And, very occasionally I need to be able to move around my clients in order to be best placed to support them, and in these instances being able to trust my feet is paramount.
Some caveats …
If I’m headed out in wintry conditions (including the famous Peak District man-eating bogs), I know that boots will be warmer than shoes. And yes to be fair – they will keep out the rain for longer than any pair of shoes.
It’s really important that whatever you buy has a good aggressive lug in the sole unit. In other words it needs to be able to grip in the mud and rain. Boots grip better than shoes.