Following on from my comments on cheap waterproofs I’ve been asked my opinion on cheap walking boots too. Funnily enough I bought a pair earlier this year. Ostensibly I bought them for bike packing, but of course that includes a lot of walking too.
The reason I thought I’d try some cheap walking boots was to do with drying. I like to wear hiking boots or shoes when I’m bike packing as I do end up walking quite a bit. I bike pack as a way of travelling through the mountains rather than for any love of cycling. All round footwear suits me well.
I’m a big fan of leather boots and they will always be my ’go to’. I like their waterproofness and the fact that I can top that up with wax, I’m using beeswax from Grainger’s at the moment. I like the support they give, the firmness of the sole and the fact that they don’t wear out too quickly. I've often found with a synthetic boot that once the waterproofing goes there’s no way of getting it back. Leather boots breathe comfortably, not too hot, not too cold and they keep your feet dry. So why experiment with cheap synthetic boots?
On a journey it can be tricky to dry boots out. Wet boots don’t dry in tent porches. Even when you get a night indoors, unless they have a dehumidifying drying room (which, I’m told, is bad for you or boots anyway), it’s touch and go as to whether or not your boots will dry. So, on a big bike ride around the Scottish Highlands this May, a big off road (with much walking!) bike ride this is. I thought I would try some cheap synthetic boots in the hope that they’d dry quicker than my leather ones if they did get wet.
These were cheap boots. They cost £35, albeit in a sale, from a high street outdoor shop. They are comfortable and warm. The soles are OK, a bit soft, but clearly not as good as those on my best boots. The sole is, however, perfectly satisfactory on footpaths. The boot doesn’t breathe, whatever it says in the blurb, and they are rather sweaty. They did keep my feet dry, but once they got wet they were no easier to dry out than my leather boots. I ended up wearing them with bare feet on some days, which works fine on the bike, just so that I didn’t get another pair of socks wet!
In conclusion, cheap boots actually work fine on paths. They won’t have the lifespan of an expensive branded leather boot, but for people just trying out walking or for those with tight budgets they are perfectly acceptable. They will not cut the mustard for a serious mountain leader or mountaineering instructor though and you should be modelling what you think is the most appropriate footwear for the journey in hand.
Which neatly brings me on to walking shoes. Often mixed up with crag approach shoes, I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference though really, these are attractive alternatives to boots. If I am on paths all day, especially modern, highly maintained and well surfaced paths I wear walking shoes. So, for example on Yr Wyddfa for the day I wear walking shoes. Heading up to the Glyders I wear walking shoes; I’ll be on paths or rocky ground and the lightness and grip for my shoes actually work better on this terrain. I wear boots if I’m heading off the path. If I’m heading into heather, into bogs, in untrodden terrain then I do prefer boots. I believe there is no difference in the risk of ankle injuries in boots or shoes. I’d argue you are nimbler in shoes and less likely to turn an ankle. On rocky ground I like shoes, on grassy ground I like boots.
What you wear is obviously up to you. I’d just say it’s horses for courses, but don’t be too sniffy (the boots will take care of that bit!) about cheap boots. They’re actually OK, if a little sweaty and unsupportive, for much of the time and will get people started on footpath walking whether it's in the hills or the lowlands. Off the beaten track though (and how much time do we spend there?) I don’t think you can beat a pair of leather walking boots.